By Erika Hanes
Since high school, I’ve been obsessed with Mongolian history, so my recent two-week trip to the country was a long time in the making. While not the world’s most popular travel destination, Mongolia is rich in history and surprisingly tourist-friendly. Because of my nerdy obsession, I expected to come away from my trip dazzled by tales of military victories, ancient sieges and diplomatic intrigue. I didn’t expect the trip to make such an impact on my journey as a new Libertarian.
While most people know the classical figure Genghis Khan (the man responsible for creating the Mongol Empire), people don’t know much about modern Mongolia. I certainly didn’t. I was there to see the country’s distant past; I ended up discovering a present rooted in resilience and an inspiring vision for a liberated future.
Mongolia has only been an independent democracy since 1991. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Mongolians suffered under foreign rule, first from Imperial China and then Soviet Russia. Under the Chinese, Mongolia saw many of its monasteries destroyed, as religion competed with Chinese supremacy. Under the Russians, the government owned and operated all of the press and virtually eradicated independent media. It wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union that Mongolia was able to officially establish itself as an independent nation, no longer the satellite or subject of another power.
Again, I wasn’t expecting to have a “Libertarian moment” on my trip. But learning about Mongolia’s path to freedom had a profound effect on me, for two reasons. First, Mongolia couldn’t be a more obvious graveyard for imperialism and communism. It’s difficult to look at the abandoned factories and industrial wreckage scattered across the capital city of Ulaanbaatar and think “Yep, things were definitely better under communism.” To someone from the democratized First World, the city doesn’t exactly register as “metropolitan”. It lacks the architectural feats of Sydney or flourishing river walks of Dublin. That’s because Ulaanbaatar looks exactly like what it is: the capital city of a young democracy, shedding layers of oppression, emerging as an independent, free and capitalist nation. You can trace the journey from occupation to freedom through its infrastructure. Under capitalism and democracy, Ulaanbaatar is bustling with hundreds of new construction projects. It has a microbrewery and multiple four-star hotels. It has a large stadium with pyrotechnics. Morale is high and the youth are hopeful.
Second, Mongolia’s path to freedom led me to reflect on our own democracy. A few weeks ago, our nation celebrated over two hundred years of democracy, yet millions didn’t bother to vote in our last general election. During my trip, there was a special election to determine the next Mongolian president. Voter turnout was 68.27 percent, according to US News. It was fulfilling to see people take advantage of a right so few get to have, and so few who have it truly appreciate. (It should be noted that all of the candidates in this election were shrouded in scandal. See, kids? Mongolian politicians are just like ours.)
This experience fulfilled a teenage dream to nerd out over bloodlust and bludgeons, but it also confirmed ideas and principles I hold closer to my heart as I grow older. Mongolia is a beautiful country inhabited by a kind and charming people, and I continue to be inspired by her story.