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A journey to democracy

Mairead McGuinness543 views

The European Parliament often receives some very inspirational speakers and guests who address our plenary sessions from time to time. This week we welcomed the President of Mongolia, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, to Strasbourg. He spoke of his political journey and it was impressive.
President Elbegdorj is the youngest of eight sons from a family of nomadic herdsmen who worked in the ranges of the Altai Mountains for generations.

“My mother and father never dreamed that, one day, their youngest son would speak from this respected podium to the most caring hearts of democracy: the European Parliament,” he said yesterday (9th June).

The President told us of his country’s history and journey to democracy.

From the early 1920s Mongolia was under communist rule for seven decades. During the Stalinist purges, one out of every six adult men was killed and over 700 Buddhist temples were burnt to the ground.

It was not until 10 December 1989 that Mongolian citizens demanded their rights and democratic governance by a public rally. As President Elbegdorj said, it was the beginning of Mongolia’s journey to liberty, justice and openness.

“We organised many meetings, demonstrations and hunger strikes. We tried to eliminate every reason for violence. We always called for compromises, for peaceful solutions. Indeed, Mongolia’s democratic revolution was totally peaceful. Not a single shot was fired. Not a single window was shattered. Not a single drop of blood was shed,” he told MEPs.

On 29th July 2015, Mongolia will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its first full democratic, multi-party election. Speaking of the virtues of democracy, the President’s words are notable: “In order to sustain a healthy society, we must keep nurturing and challenging it every day. The beauty of freedom is that it is a learning process. It is the healing system of human society. We can make mistakes, but mistakes will not cost us our lives, as in a dictatorship. That is why we love freedom.”

I also commend Mongolia on its efforts to be inclusive in societal terms, by advancing and encouraging educational opportunities for both genders and for promoting the contribution and equality of women in public service at all levels, from local to global. Indeed, the last election saw the number of women in Mongolia’s Parliament triple. “With more women in power, I think we would have more harmony, more engagement, less suffering and less conflict,” President Elbegdorj added.

In summary, the President provided an apt description of democratic societies:

“I understand that all democracies should not look the same. We have to respect differences. Democracy is a representative form of government. In any nation it should reflect the cultures and traditions. But in every decent society you will see a common trend: democracies limit the power of the state; they tend to be responsive to their people’s grievances; they protect human rights, with impartial and consistent rule of law; they support healthy civic institutions, independent media and judiciary; they fight corruption, invest in human capital and recognise gender equality; and they allow people to choose their leaders in free and fair elections.”

It was an encouraging speech, full of hope – much needed in the Parliament right now when the atmosphere is highly charged and when progress on important political issues is painfully slow.