Yvonne & I were invited to a dinner tonight, hosted by the AMONG Foundation. The guest speaker was Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj, who served two terms as prime minister in Mongolia, and was instrumental in bringing his country out of Communism and into a free democracy and market economy. He’s a very interesting man (known as the Thomas Jefferson of Mongolia) and told a lot of great stories about how democracy was brought about through a bloodless revolution.
He and Craig Lawrence told the story about how Elbegdorj was rescued from jail time, and perhaps death, by Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD) and an invitation to visit South Dakota. Following his first term as Prime Minister, he was charged with treason by the opposing party (the Communists) and was being interrogated by the Mongolian version of the CIA. People in South Dakota heard about the situation, contacted Pressler’s office and arranged to have an official invitation sent (hand delivered) to Elbegdorj’s office in Mongolia. His opponents were somewhat awestruck at the invitation and turned him loose on the condition that he return to Mongolia in a week. News of Elbegdorj’s visit here was printed in newspapers in Mongolia, with much embellishment — “All of America is praising Elbegdorj with standing ovations!” Of course there is a grain of truth to that, as he did receive a standing ovation from a meeting he visited in South Dakota, but all of America?
When he returned to Mongolia, his visit to the US gave him much credibility with the people, and silenced many of his critics. His trip here this week was in part to thank the people of South Dakota who played a part in arranging his earlier visit; he said that things would have been much different for him and for Mongolia if not for that invitation.
He mentioned that on his first visit, he spoke no English at all. But in the 15 years since then he has studied in Boulder, CO, and at Harvard University, and his command of the language is excellent. He still has a heavy accent, but speaks very well and has a good grasp of many of the twists and word plays that make for an interesting speaker.
One of the things Elbegdorj said tonight that I thought particularly interesting was a paraphrase of something Genghis Khan said:
Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.
How true. Leading men in battle — where the enemy is clearly known and the objective is clear to all — while not necessarily easy, is much easier than managing the conquered lands and people afterward.
Just a small update: I stumbled across this post today and did a Google search on Elbegdorj’s name. Since I originally posted this (on June 27, 2006) he was elected as President of Mongolia. That’s pretty cool.