In the Mongolian language, the book explores how Mongolia’s vibrant rock and pop music scene led on business innovation and entrepreneurship in the country during the transition years (post-1989). Written by an ethnomusicologist, it details the key moments and events in this story, while splicing the narrative with first-person interviews with the major players.
I was head of communications for the United Nations mission in Mongolia from 1997 to 1999. The mission had to primarily tackle three major crises: the country’s turbulent transition from Communism to free markets and democracy, the social and economic crash this caused, and the Asian Financial Crisis (Pomfret 2000) (Quah 2003)*.
Richard Pomfret said in 1994 “In 1991 Mongolia suffered one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).”
From Curbing Corruption in Asia: A Comparative Study of Six Countries by Jon S. T. Quah: “The combined effect of these three shocks was devastating as ‘Mongolia suffered the most serious peacetime economic collapse any nation has faced during this century’. Indeed, Mongolia’s economic collapse ‘was possibly the greatest of all the (peaceful) formerly'” Communist countries.
Writing in 2018, author John West found, in a chapter titled Mongolia’s Corruption Curse (Transparency International and the World Bank had found corruption worsened in Mongolia after 2001), “In many ways, Mongolia has everything going for it. After being a satellite state of the former Soviet Union for much of the twentieth century, Mongolia regained its independence with the end of the Cold War. A relatively peaceful political revolution in the early 1990s ushered in a multi-party democracy and open society which have remained in place. … And it is blessed with vast reserves of copper, gold, coal, molybdenum, fluorspar, uranium, tin and tungsten deposits. True, Mongolia experienced great upheavals as the breakup of the Soviet Union saw its trade decline by 80%. But Mongolia was also perfectly placed to benefit from the commodity super cycle driven by China, which is now the destination for the vast majority of its exports.
“However, despite much hype about the Mongolian “wolf economy”, this country of so much promise is being dragged down by massive corruption. …
In this role, I pioneered innovative use of the Internet and digital resources to communicate the UN’s work and Mongolia’s unfolding crises. The UN called this work a “role model” for the wider UN and country offices. A survey of United Nations country office websites in 2000 ranked the UN Mongolia website I launched in 1997 and oversaw for two years (1997-1999), third best in the world, saying: “A UN System site. A very nice, complete, professional site. Lots of information, easily accessible and well laid out. The information is comprehensive and up-to-date. This is a model of what a UNDP CO web site should be.” (https://www.scribd.com/document/35249986/United-Nations-2000-Survey-of-Country-Office-Websites)
As part of a strategic plan to raise awareness of Mongolia’s development challenges and to spur action on meeting them, a Communications Office was established for the UN mission in 1997. Acting as a strategic hub, the Communications Office and its dynamic and talented team, were able to leverage the existing budget to spur action on many fronts, including:
Working with journalists and media both within Mongolia and outside, the Communications Office was able to significantly raise awareness of Mongolia and its development challenges. This was reflected in a substantial increase in media coverage of the country and in the numerous books and other publications that emerged post-1997. The book In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) archived the stories by theme.
Ger Magazine (the Mongolian word for home and traditional tent dwelling) was published as the country’s first e-magazine in 1998. There were four issues in total from 1998 to 2000. The launch issue was on the theme of youth in the transition. Mongolia was transitioning from Communism to free markets and democracy and this had been both an exhilarating time and a wrenching time for young people. The magazine drew on talented journalists from Mongolia and the handful of international journalists based there to create a mix of content, from stories about life adapting to free markets to stories on various aspects of Mongolian culture and life.
The second issue of the magazine proved particularly effective, with its modern life theme and cover story on a thriving Mongolian fashion scene.
The Blue Sky Bulletin newsletter was launched in 1997 initially as a simple, photocopied handout. It quickly founds its purpose and its audience, becoming a key way to communicate what was happening in the country and a crucial resource for the global development community, scholars, the media and anyone trying to figure out what was happening in a crazy and chaotic time. Blue Sky Bulletin was distributed via email and by post and proved to be a popular and oft-cited resource on the country. The quality of its production also paralleled Mongolia’s growing capacity to publish to international standards, as desktop publishing software became available and printers switched to modern print technologies. Blue Sky Bulletin evolved from a rough, newsprint black and white publication to becoming a glossy, full-colour, bilingual newsletter distributed around Mongolia and the world.
The Mongolian Human Development Report 1997 (MHDR), the country’s first, placed the story of the Mongolian people during the transition years (post-1989) at its heart, using photographs, stories and case studies to detail the bigger narrative at play.
This groundbreaking Mongolian Human Development Report went beyond just chronicling Mongolia’s state of development in statistics and graphs. Designed, laid out and published in Mongolia, the report broke with the practices of many other international organisations, who would publish outside of Mongolia – denying local companies much-needed work and the opportunity to develop their skills. The report’s costs helped to kick-start a publishing boom in the country and significantly raised standards in design and layout in the country. The foundations laid down by the project producing the report ushered in a new age in publishing for Mongolia.
The report’s launch was innovative, not only being distributed for free across the country, but also part of a multimedia campaign including television programming, public posters, town hall meetings and a ‘roadshow’ featuring the report’s researchers and writers.
The initial print run of 10,000 copies was doubled as demand for the report increased. To the surprise of many, once hearing about the free report, herders would travel to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to pick up their copy. The report proved people cared passionately about the development of their country and that development concepts are not to be the secret domain of ‘development practitioners’. The report also became an English language learning tool as readers compared the Mongolian and English-language versions.
Assembled by a team of health experts after the Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the Mongolian AIDS Bulletin was published in 1997 in the middle of an HIV/AIDS crisis. It provided timely information and health resources in the Mongolian language and was distributed across the country.
“Mongolia’s first AIDS Bulletin marked the beginning of the UNDP Response to HIV/AIDS/STDs Project back in the autumn of 1997. Over 5,000 copies of the magazine were distributed across the country, offering accurate information on the HIV/AIDS situation. The project has been pivotal in the formulation of a national information, education and communication (IEC) strategy, bringing together NGOs, donors, UN agencies and the government.”
Source: YouandAids: The HIV/AIDS Portal for Asia Pacific
In the Mongolian language, the Mongolian Green Book details effective ways to live in harmony with the environment while achieving development goals. Based on three years’ work in Mongolia – a Northeast Asian nation coping with desertification, mining, and climate change – the book presents tested strategies.
The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook was published in 1999 and features the case studies and lessons learned by UNDP’s Mongolian Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP). The handbook draws on the close to 100 small environmental projects the Programme oversaw during a two-year period. These projects stretched across Mongolia, and operated in a time of great upheaval and social, economic and environmental distress. The handbook is intended for training purposes and the practice of public participation in environmental protection.
In its 2007 Needs Assessment, the Government of Mongolia found the EPAP projects “had a wide impact on limiting many environmental problems. Successful projects such as the Dutch/UNDP funded Environmental Awareness Project (EPAP), which was actually a multitude of small pilot projects (most costing less than $5,000 each) which taught local populations easily and efficiently different ways of living and working that are low-impact on the environment.”
Mongolia Updates 1997, 1998, 1999
Mongolia Update 1998 detailed how the country was coping with its hyperinflation and the Asian economic crisis.
1998 proved a tumultuous year for Mongolia. The country’s existing economic crisis caused by the transition from Communism to free markets was made worse by the wider Asian Crisis. The government was destabilised, leading to an often-confusing revolving door of political figures. In order to help readers better understand the political changes in the country, a special edition of Mongolia Update was published that year.
UNDP Mongolia: The Guide
The Guide, first published in 1997, provided a rolling update on UNDP’s programmes and projects in Mongolia during a turbulent time (1997-1999). The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_financial_crisis) and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history.
Each edition came with short project and context summaries, key staff contacts, and facts and figures on how the country was changing. For the first time, any member of the public could grasp what the UN was up to in the country and be able to contact the project staff. An unusual level of transparency at the time for a UN mission.
Memoranda of Understanding
Three Memoranda of Understanding were negotiated with the Mongolian Government to help focus efforts and aid the attainment of internationally-agreed resolutions. This was affirmed by a series of youth conferences, One World, held in 1998 and 1999.
Strategy and Leadership in a Crisis
The scale and gravity of the crisis that struck Mongolia in the early 1990s was only slowly shaken off by the late 1990s. The economic and social crisis brought on by the collapse of Communism and the ending of subsidies and supports from the Soviet Union, led to a sharp rise in job losses, poverty, hunger, and family and community breakdowns.
The challenge was to find inspiring ways out of the crisis, while building confidence and hope. The sort of challenges confronted by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office included:
1) A food crisis: agricultural production was down sharply, and the traditional nomadic herding economy, while at peak herd, was failing to get the meat to markets and to a high enough standard to restore export levels to where they once were. As a result, a cross-border trading frenzy became the solution to falling domestic food production and availability.
2) HIV/AIDS/STDs crisis
3) A major banking crisis
4) Both the Asian Financial Crisis and the Russia Crisis.
5) An ongoing political crisis and an inability to form stable governments.
“Mongolia is not an easy country to live in and David [South] showed a keen ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. He was sensitive to the local habits and cultures and was highly respected by his Mongolian colleagues. … David’s journalism background served him well in his position as Director of the Communications Unit. … A major accomplishment … was the establishment of the UNDP web site. He had the artistic flare, solid writing talent and organizational skills that made this a success. … we greatly appreciated the talents and contributions of David South to the work of UNDP in Mongolia.” Douglas Gardner, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mongolia
The response by the Communications Office has been cited in numerous articles, stories, publications and books. It has also contributed to the development of the human development concept and understanding of human resilience in a crisis and innovation in a crisis. Book citations include:
In 2001, the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize for “their work for a better organized and more peaceful world” and its communications innovations, with work such as that in Mongolia being cited as a contributing factor to the awarding of the Prize.
In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched in a 15-year bid to use a focused approach to development centred around eight goals to accelerate improvements to human development. From 2000 to 2005, work was undertaken in various UN missions (Mongolia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Ukraine) to communicate the goals and to reshape communications activities around the goals.
*Curbing Corruption in Asia: A Comparative Study of Six Countries by Jon S. T. Quah, Eastern Universities Press, 2003
Background: Mongolia Update – Coverage of 1998 Political Changes was a one-off special edition of Mongolia Update to help explain a politically turbulent year where three governments and three prime ministers came and went. At the time, Mongolia was in the grips of a severe crisis, called one of “the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever”. By 2012, Mongolia was called the “fastest growing economy in the world”. It is proof the foundations for Mongolia’s recovery from crisis were laid in the late 1990s. The success of the peaceful transition stands in stark contrast to many other international interventions post-2001.
This is an unofficial publication of UNDP. Views presented in this document do not necessarily reflect those of UNDP. Mongolia Update is provided as a service to those who are interested in the rapid changes taking place in today’s Mongolia. A note about Mongolia Update: The Mongolia Update has proven to be one of the more popular documents produced by the UNDP Mongolia office. Since the autumn of 1997 UNDP has been able to offer two more frequently updated sources of information: the UNDP homepage and our monthly newsletter, the Blue Sky Bulletin (available from our office if you are not already receiving it). Please use the United Nations Homepage at http://www.un-mongolia.mn to keep abreast of the latest political, economic and social developments in Mongolia. Mongolia Update is an unofficial document of UNDP and is designed to periodically keep our partners outside of Ulaanbaatar apprised of issues in the country.
Divisions in the ruling Democratic Coalition Government in 1998 led to the fall and rise of three governments and three prime ministers. From the beginning of 1998 cracks within the Coalition intensified. A number of Democrats were dissatisfied with the system whereby the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were not parliamentarians, but “experts” appointed from outside and perceived to be aloof from Parliament. On January 15, 1998, after several weeks of wrangling Parliament ruled that under the Mongolian constitution MPs could serve as Cabinet ministers. It was to prove a fateful decision for the year-and-a-half old M. Enkhsaikhan Government.
A faction within the Coalition Government became more vociferous, with its complaints that the Democrat’s election promises would not be fulfilled without better coordination between the Government and the Parliament. Things came to a head when the General Council of the Mongolian National Democratic Party (MNDP) called for the resignation of its own Government. The move was led by the 35-year-old Speaker of the Parliament and MNDP caucus leader Ts. Elbegdorj – a natural Prime Minister in a Government of MPs. After a joint meeting of the ruling councils of the Mongolian Social Democratic Party (MSDP) and the MNDP, Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan handed in his resignation to Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) President Bagabandi. The new Prime Minister, Ts. Elbegdorj, was sworn into office on April 23, vowing to chart the same economic course as his predecessor. While trying to form his Cabinet, Elbegdorj quickly ran into trouble.
The opposition MPRP was emboldened, exploiting the fissures in the Democratic Coalition. They started to launch attacks against the new Government. Elbegdorj’s attempts at forming a Cabinet were delayed as one candidate after another was rejected.
The Cabinet was not composed until May 28, when 28-year-old CH. Saikhanbileg became Education Minister – the fifth nominee put forward for the post. The new Government faced an opposition boycott of Parliament by the beginning of June, in the wake of the merging of a state bank with a private bank amidst charges of conflict of interest. On July 25 Ts. Elbegdorj and his entire Cabinet resigned after losing a no-confidence vote in Parliament. The Elbegdorj cabinet continued to work as an acting Government. The murder of prominent democrat and minister of infrastructure S. Zorig shocked the nation October 2. Poised to become a candidate for Prime Minister, Zorig was axed to death in his apartment by two assailants. The crime remains unsolved and grabbed international headlines in what had been seen as the most peaceful country making the transition from communism to democracy. In November the Constitutional Court ruled MPs holding Cabinet posts as unconstitutional. This effectively reversed the aforementioned Parliament decision of January 15, 1998. Throughout the year opinion polls showed a growing weariness and disillusionment creeping into the body politic over the political indecision.
By December a compromise Prime Minister was found, in the form of the mayor of the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. On December 9 Prime Minister Narantsatsralt took office. As 1998 turned into 1999, Narantsatralt was still trying to have his Cabinet approved by both the Parliament and the President.
External economic turmoil started to have its affect on Mongolia in 1998. Many thought the country could ride out the Asian crisis unscathed, but Prime Minister Ts. Elbegdorj admitted in June it was unavoidable. Copper prices, Mongolia’s largest foreign currency earner continued to plummet to record lows. Prices for cashmere and gold, major exports for Mongolia, also declined. The picture for the domestic economy had some bright spots in 1998, with inflation under control and an expansion in the informal service sectors. The Government’s Green Revolution campaign was able to significantly boost the production of vegetables by encouraging home gardening. The economy was still supported by foreign aid, which totaled US $205 million in commitments for the year.
Instability in Russia has also had an impact on Mongolia. For example, in May Russian coal miners blocked the Trans-Siberian train that passes through the capital Ulaanbaatar on its way to China. In August a severe benzene shortage prompted the reintroduction of rationing. At its worst all gas supplies for the country were pulled back to the capital, leaving many stranded and unable to drive cars and run gas-powered electricity generators. The delays were due to job actions by Russian workers. Russia accounts for 30 per cent of Mongolia’s imports and 13.5 per cent of its exports. On the plus side, foodstuffs from Russia became cheaper with the decline of the rouble.
Who is who in the Cabinet
Prime Minister R.Amarjargal, 38 year old Moscow educated economist. He graduated from Economic Institute of Moscow as an economist and a teacher in 1982 and earned a master’s degree at Bradford University in 1994-1995.
1982-1983, he was an instructor in Mongolian Trade Union, 1983-1990, he worked as a teacher in Military Institute, 1991-1996 has served as Director of the Economics College. He was a popular Foreign Relations Minister before resigning with the entire cabinet on July 24, 1998. A member of MNDP, he speaks fluent Russian and English.
Finance Minister Yansangiin Ochirsukh. Born in Ulaanbaatar, economist Ochirsukh graduated from the Mongolian National University and did postgraduate work at Columbia University in the United States. He worked as a lecturer and researcher at the University before moving to the Mongol Bank, where since 1997 he has been in charge of foreign exchange and reserve policy. A member of the Mongolian Social Democratic Party, he speaks Russian, English and Chinese.
Minister of External Relations Nyamosoriin Tuya, 40, was born in 1958 in Ulaanbaatar. Studied in the Institute of External Relations in Moscow, Russia in international journalism. From 1984 to1985 she studied French culture and civilisation at the Sorbon University and did a Masters degree on the ” Theory of Democracy” at Leeds University, England. Ms.Tuya speaks English and French. Married with two sons and a girl, she worked as editor of the foreign programming service of Mongolian Radio. After 1996, she was working as Head of the Department for Common Policy at the Ministry of External Relations.
Minister of Environment Sonomtserengiin Mendsaikhan, 39, was born in Ulaanbaatar, and completed degrees at the Mongolian State University and the State University of Irkutsk, Russia in mathematics. S.Mendsaikhan speaks German and Russian. Married, he has a daughter. Started his career as a math teacher at an Ulaanbaatar school, he also worked as a lecturer at the Mongolian State University and later become general secretary of the Social-Democratic Party. From 1992 to1993 he worked as a manager in the Unuudur (Today) private newspaper. From1993 to 1997 he worked as a private company director, and in 1997 he was assigned as advisor to the Parliament’s Speaker.
Minister of Defence Sh.Tuvdendorj, 32, graduated from the Army Academy of Mongolia and the Otgontenger Language School. He worked as an army officer, technician and laboratory engineer at the State Telecommunications Utilisation Committee. He started a political career in 1994, working as secretary in charge of local affairs. In 1997, he was elected as general secretary of the Mongolian National Revolutionary party.
Minister of Agriculture Choinzongiin Sodnomtseren, 46, was born in Ulaanbaatar and is married with three children.After attending Mongolian State Agricultural University, he acquired a Ph.D. in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He also has a Ph.D. degree in veterinarian sciences.
While spending many years of his career on research studies, he worked as a lecturer at the State agricultural University. Sodnomtseren became later Principal and Rector of the State Agricultural University.
Minister of Health and Social Welfare Sodoviin Sonin. Born in Ulaanbaatar in 1956, S.Sonin graduated from the Medical University of Irkutsk and Mongolia’s State Administration and Management Development Institute. A doctor and professor of medicine, he has taught surgery at the Mongolian Medical University, worked at the Central Clinical Hospital and served as a department chair at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Since 1991 he has headed the Asian Development Bank-backed Health Sector Development project. Sonin, who speaks Russian and English, does not belong to any political party.
Minister of Infrastructure, Gavaagiin Bathuu, 39, born in Hujirt county of Uvurhangai province. Married with two sons and a daughter, he graduated from the Economics Institute of Harikof, Russia as an auto engineer and economist. He speaks Russian and English. He started his career as a repairman and dispatcher at the state auto-engineering company.From 1986 to 1992, he worked at the Ministry of Infrastructure as an officer and senior officer and from 1992 to 1996 he worked as Director of Shunklai Company. Since1996 he was working as a head of the Department for Road and Transportation at the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Minister of Justice, Logiin Tsog, 47, was born in Ulaanbaatar. He graduated from the State University in Irkutsk, and from the Social Science Academy in Russia. A lawyer with high education in politics, he speaks Russian and English. He worked as the prosecutor for the department at the Ministry of Justice. From 1988 to 1989, he worked as inspector at the Mongolian Revolutionary Party’s Inspection Committee. From 1990 to 1991, he was assigned as the Head of the Standing Committee of the State Baga Hural (parliament of that time) on legal issues. From 1991 to 1996 he was general director of the “Golden Button” Co. Ltd and in 1996 he was elected as general secretary
Minister of Enlightenment A.Battur was born in 1965 in Hovd aimag. Battur is a career diplomat who graduated from Russia’s Institute for International Affairs and completed a postgraduate course at France’s Institute for International Affairs. He worked as an attaché in the Foreign Ministry between 1989 and 1992, and spent 1992 to 1996 as the cultural attaché at the Mongolian Embassy in France-where he also worked with UNESCO- before returning to senior administrative positions at the Ministry in 1996.
A member of the Mongolian National Democratic Party, he speaks English, French and Russian and is married with two children.
A government of technocrats
By January 15, 1999 Mongolia had its first complete Government in six months. All nine members of the Mongolian Cabinet have been approved and appointed. Like Prime Minister Narantsatsralt, they are not Members of Parliament. Since all nine Cabinet Ministers were chosen for their experience, many expect a more stable course to be charted for the remainder of the Democratic Coalition’s term in office (until 2000). However, the new Government might experience the same sort of complaints the Enkhsaikhan Government received, when Parliament accused those ministers of being aloof. It is also unclear if the MPRP will continue to offer a vigorous opposition. For the time being its seems the political forces have exhausted themselves and there is a genuine desire for stability in 1999. The new Government is expected to follow the same reform directions of the two previous Democratic Coalition Governments and details will emerge over the coming weeks.