the most independent nation

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture/Q&A with one of Mongolia’s most famous figures.  Baabar, as he is known, is a biochemist, MP, minister, and now writer.   We’ve crossed paths in the past – I interned with an American NGO working on the Democratic Coalition’s platform in the 1996 elections, during which he was elected MP.

Listening to Baabar speak reminded me about how much we don’t know, growing up in a free society.  While we might lament special interests and closed door meetings, I think it’s important to remember that at least we can lament those.   And for that matter, that we even know it’s happening.

Open Society Institute’s mission is to promote transparency and open governance.   In Mongolia, these are not alien concepts.  But as development explodes, and foreign investment pours in, corruption is easy.  OSI Mongolia (aka, OSF) is dedicated to establishing accountability, and with the enthusiasm and intelligence here, I don’t doubt that a truly democratic system of governance will be possible.

Baabar had a few things to say on corruption and freedom, and what most stood out to me was the line: “Mongolia is the most independent nation, because no one depends on Mongolia”.   And he’s right.  A nation of 3 million (though with plentiful natural resources), no one thinks about Mongolia.  And as this nation struggles to transition out of Communist repression towards capitalist democracy, it risks losing that independence.  Already, the large multinational companies have come in and bought up the land rights to some of the most mineral-rich areas of the country.

This isn’t to say foreign investment is a bad thing.  On the contrary, it is essential for development and particularly, the formation of capital markets.  But there is a risk of allowing too much foreign investment, and then Mongolia will watch the profits flow out of the country and into foreign pockets, making corruption even harder to address.

As for freedom – well, maybe temporary corruption is a small price to pay.

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