Rose-Tinted Views: My Optimist View of Mongolia

By Julian Dierkes

Had a really interesting conversation! Wow, what a network of worldly, interesting Mongolians, Bataa has assembled!

A number of his friends were kind enough to mention that they read the blog and it turned out that I had actually interacted with a number of them online.

Am I too Easy on Mongolia in my Analyses?

I have heard this comment before. The blog focuses on vaguely positive aspects of developments in Mongolia. I look for the good side of people/programs/events.

Yes, I think that’s true.

Here’s why:

  1. evidence
  2. comparative perspective
  3. long-term trajectory
  4. respect

1. Evidence

For many analyses of current developments in Mongolia, evidence is hard to come by. Take my strong sense that corruption really has become paralyzing for Mongolia over the last several years and that from the perspective of Mongolians I interact with, there are virtually no political leaders whom they don’t suspect of being massively corrupt (i.e. putting their personal, often financial, gains ahead of the good of the country). There, I’ve said it. But, note that I’ve said, “from the perspective of Mongolians I interact with” that is a big caveat. A. I’m not reporting on any kind of systematic research of popular opinion. B. There’s a lot of hedging in that statement.

So, why don’t I come straight out and say, “Politician X is corrupt and should be removed from politics” to stay with the corruption example?

Well, one of the most unfortunate aspects of Mongolian politics in my mind is that it is dominated by allegations, hearsay, and conspiracy theories. Those are not helpful factors in a democracy. If there are allegations of corruption or other malfeasance, they need to be investigated or dropped! In every election that I’ve observed, voters and party officials have told me that rampant vote-buying, etc. is going on. But since there is never any solid evidence offered, I have no time for such allegations.

I do not want to make allegations that I cannot back up with evidence.

For anyone who actually follows through on allegations by collecting evidence, presenting that to the public and demanding prosecution where needed, I have the deepest respect and strong belief that they are the people that will save Mongolian democracy. There are not enough people like that, but I am not one of those people.

2. Comparative Perspetive

As much as I wish I was, I am not Mongolian. I know this comes as a surprise to some of you. ????

I write about Mongolia from a foreign perspective and I think about Mongolia very often in comparative terms. Sometimes those comparisons are explicit (i.e. mining regulation in Mongolia compared with Australia, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, etc.), more often implicit (my German, Canadian, sometimes Japanese, Western or whatever biases).

Most of our readers are not located in Mongolia. Over the seven years of our blogging, approximately one quarter of our over 108,000 thousand readers are located in Mongolia. Note that I say, “located in Mongolia” not “Mongolian” as that’s what’s reported by Google Analytics. Many of those readers located outside of Mongolia will be interested in Mongolia in a comparative perspective, i.e. not “Is Mongolia democratic?” (of course it is!), but “What elements of democracy are strong in Mongolia compared to …?”.

If I focus on two of the main areas that we cover in the blog, democracy and mining policy, Mongolia looks like a great success in an international context.

When I speak to Mongolians about politics, I discuss many flaws in Mongolian democracy. When I speak to Russians, Chinese, or even Americans about democracy, Mongolian politics look wonderful!

Of course there are challenges related to the emergence of a mining economy in Mongolia, but some ten years into the second coming of that industry (the first being Erdenet), I would have to summarize that Mongolia is not cursed by its resources, but blessed, at a very high level of generalization, obviously, especially compared to many other cases.

3. Long-term Trajectory

I believe that Mongolia is on a positive long-term trajectory. While I do have some romantic attachments to country living or nomadic pastoralism (though, somewhat typically, more for others than for me, or more during vacation that otherwise), I do believe that Mongolians are better off today than 150, 50, 10 years ago because they have greater freedom to choose their fate, and they have more resources to act on these choices. I do recognize that economic growth does not lead to spiritual happiness and that the days of necessary de-growth may be upon us sooner than we anticipated, but even in that, there will be a greater quality of life, I believe. Democracy and freedom is good for Mongolia, and Mongolians are good at it. There are many young(er) Mongolians who are very well-educated, and very well-intentioned. Their future and thus the country’s future is bright.

And, at the end of June 2020, vote for Julian, candidate of the Canadian-German Party. Just kidding.

4. Respect

My role is not to praise Mongolia or Mongolian decision-makers, but it is also not to criticize. My role is to offer research-informed analyses! I do so with respect for the sovereignty of Mongolians over their affairs, their responsibility for these affairs, but also with a great appreciation for the hospitality I enjoy in Mongolia and with Mongolians.

Yes, I’m Guilty of Optimism

So, yes, I am guilty of optimism and will continue to focus on good news about Mongolia, to raise Mongolia’s profile in the world for positive reasons, and to believe that Mongolia’s future is bright.

Those of you who read our analyses regularly know about that biases and can make up your own mind whether even unsubstantiated criticism and talk of corruption allegations and conspiracies are more powerful explanations of current developments. I hope that you will continue to call me out, perhaps even more often, when my goggles are too rose-tinted.

For very occasional readers, be aware of my fundamental optimism, but do not reject it simply because there are a plethora of negative voices around.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots
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