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Developments in 1989

As this book was being completed, notable developments occurred in Mongolia. Like the countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Mongolia began to reform its social, political, and economic sectors and to be more open to the West. The changes set in motion by the replacement of Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal with the reformist leadership of Batmonh in 1984 were coming to fruition in 1990.

Throughout 1989, Tsedenbal was criticized for having had a "dogmatic interpretation of socialism" and having rushed to the conclusion that the period of socialism had begun. The 1989 leadership, blamed Tsedenbal not only for the problems of the past but for having contributed to their own inability to determine the level of economic construction because of his earlier flawed analyses. In an effort to push blame back still farther, Tsedenbal's reputation was linked with that of his predecessor, Horloyn Choybalsan, whom Batmonh had criticized at the Fifth Plenary Session of the Nineteenth Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party Congress in December 1988.

Amidst the criticism of recent Mongolian leaders, the previous negative analysis of the historical role of Chinggis Khan was revised. Chinggis was seen in an increasingly favorable light as the Mongol nation's founder and a national hero, a position not well received in Moscow. Calls for publication of historical texts and literature in Mongolian classical script rather than Cyrillic grew, and usage of Mongolian rather than Russian-language words increased. Fears were expressed in official circles mid-way in 1989 that some of the new nationalist pride might be taking a dangerous anti-Soviet line, and appropriate warnings were made to those whose thinking may have been swayed by "bourgeois propaganda."

Western material culture also took hold in reform-minded Mongolia. Semi-professional rock music groups emerged after a decade of low-key development and avant-grade art began to enjoy official sanction. The emphasis on cultural reform, however, appeared to concentrate on a renewed interest in traditional prerevolutionary achievements.

High-level exchanges with the Soviet Union continued to be the norm in relations between Ulaanbaatar and Moscow, including Batmonh's brief "working visit" with Gorbachev to reaffirm the two communist parties' "close comradeship" in July 1989. As a sign of more openness among communist countries, in July 1989 Mongolia and Albania restored formal diplomatic relations and the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party normalized relations with the Chinese Communist Party. Indicative of the improved relations with China was the visit a month later to Mongolia by Chinese foreign minister Qian Qichen. The capitalist world was not ignored, as the minister of foreign economic ties and supply was dispatched to Britain and the United States in July 1989 in search of investment and joint venture possibilities, and diplomatic relations were established with the European Economic Community in August 1989.

Domestic organizational activity also took place in the last half of 1989. That a new draft Constitution of the Mongolian People's Republic would be forthcoming in 1990 was announced in August 1989 as part of the process of changing "outdated laws and rules necessitated by the process of renewal . . . ." Top leadership changes, such as when Minister of Defense Jamsrangiyn Yondon retired in September 1989 and was replaced by Lieutenant General Lubsangombyn Molomjamts, also took place.

In late 1989, the government revealed the existence in Dornod Aymag of the Mardai uranium mine and the nearby town of Erdes, which were built and run as concessions by the Soviet Union. Established by a 1981 intergovernmental agreement, the mine began shipments of uranium ore to the Soviet Union in 1988. It was also disclosed that unemployment officially was 27,000, but unofficial estimates ran as high as three time that figure. Furthermore, Mongolia was more forthright about the economic drawbacks stemming from the country's political and ideological orientation.

In late 1989 the new openness about economic conditions brought forth a deputy minister of foreign economic relations and supply's admission that many official statistics had been falsified during the Tsedenbal years to bolster claims of economic progress. Mongolia watcher Alan Sanders, when reporting on the revelation, said "The deluge of phoney statistics has had some effect--not least on Mongolian economists, who have been using them for planning purposes." The statistics had found their way into United Nations publications and been used for years by foreign analysts projecting the state of the Mongolian economy. Users of the economic data in this book thus are warned to keep in mind the "official" nature of many of the figures used. After the admission, both the leadership and the media criticized the provision of inaccurate economic statistics to United Nations agencies as well as Mongolia's refusal to seek economic assistance from Western countries.

Dissatisfaction with Mongolia's previously self-imposed isolation and Soviet plans to reduce its economic presence in Mongolia led to great Mongolian efforts in late 1989 and early 1990 to expand foreign economic relations beyond the communist countries. Having joined the Group of 77--the coalition of more than 120 developing countries in the United Nations--in June 1989, Mongolia sought to join the Asian Development Bank, establish official relations with the European Economic Community, and become a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Mongolian officials actively promoted joint ventures with capitalist companies and welcomed visits by Western and Asian business representatives. Plans were underway to teach foreign languages for trade purposes and to foster expanded tourism. In December 1989, Batmonh announced that relations between Mongolia and China had been normalized and that conditions were favorable for cooperation. In a first-ever visit of a Mongolian People's Republic leader to a non-communist country, Prime Minister Dumaagiyn Sodnom made a six-day trip to Japan in March 1990. A most-favored-nation trading agreement was signed and Japan agreed to donate U$3 million worth of medical equipment and supplies and encouraged Japanese firms to assist in the construction of a steel mill in Mongolia.

The decade ended with a the Seventh Plenary Session of the party congress and a two-day session of the Great People's Hural. The party plenum retired three Political Bureau members and appointed two new, younger men to candidate membership. The plenary session closed with a resolution calling for more energetic implementation of the party's economic and social policy and a promise to hold the Twentieth Congress of the Mongolia People's Revolutionary Party in late November 1990. For the first time, Great People's Hural sessions were broadcast nationally over both radio and television as the deputies approved a draft socio-economic development plan and a draft state budget for 1990. Universal, equal, and direct suffrage through secret ballot for national and local assembly elections was provided in a draft law also approved by the Great People's Hural.

In December 1989 and early 1990, the Mongolian Democratic Union, a group of intellectuals and students labeled as an "unauthorized organization" by the government-controlled media, started holding rallies in Ulaanbaatar, first to voice support for the party and hural documents on socio-economic reconstruction but later to demand democracy, government reform, and a multi-party system. They also advocated bringing Tsedenbal, who had been living in Moscow since 1984, to trial for having allowed Mongolia to stagnate during his thirty-two-year regime. An early response from the Political Bureau was the announcement that it had rehabilitated people illegally repressed in the 1930s and 1940s. Amidst contradictory reports of whether or not the party and government had both granted official recognition to the union but banned public assemblies and demonstrations, the media criticized the union for making "ridiculous and contradictory statements" about the administration's reform efforts. Union members, believing they were acting in defiance of the public assembly ban, continued to hold mass rallies and issue calls for action by the government. Despite the ambiguous status of the Mongolian Democratic Union, the government and party were propelling the nation toward further reform and openness in the 1990s.

March 5, 1990
Robert L. Worden

Last Update: 2010-12-07