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Genghis Khan rides again

Sometimes weeks will go by and I won't think at all about Mongolia. Other times I can't manage to get the Asiatic highlands out of my mind. At times I even long for the Mongolian lifestyle, the endless frolicking of nomadic goat herders, living in tents and slurping yogurt.

It's great. Despite 70 years of Soviet interference, the Mongols of the Mongolian People's Republic are still the same lovable folks we always knew -- so weird, so wacky, so different. . . so damn smart.

Like every other former communist satellite state, Mongolia is moving from its socialist past into a new capitalist economy, and for a lot of reasons, Mongolia is going to make that switch faster than any other nation on the planet.

Situated in the armpit of Soviet Central Asia, Mongolia was once the capital of an empire that spanned most of the continent. Not quite Russian, not quite Chinese, Mongolia has always been a source of contention between China and the Soviet Union. Officially an autonomous region of China for much of this century, Mongolia has been under the influence of the Soviet Union since the 1920s. The Mongolian Communist Party formed early ties with the Russians, and Mongolia has been bordering on Soviet-satellite status ever since. Home of four Red Army divisions, Mongolia was also the battleground for Sino-Soviet border skirmishes in the 1960s.

Mongols are traditionally outdoorsy nomads who herd privately-owned sheep and goats. When Karl Marx rode into Outer Mongolia in the 1920s, Red Mongols tried to establish livestock collectivization and other communal ventures. The Mongolian government and economy ever since has been a mirror the Soviet totalitarian model. Though Mongolia is now partially urbanized, one million Mongols, half the population, still live like characters in Easy Rider.

But Marx and Engel never really translated well into local dialects. Mongolia doesn't have a proletariat or an oppressive bourgeoise -- just sheep, goats and Mongols. Instead of thrusting Mongolia to new utopian heights, collectivization only wrecked the ancient economy and robbed the populace of their individual herds.

who

Matthew H. Hersch, a sophomore in the Department of Physics, is an opinion editor of The Tech.

With communism cracking everywhere, Mongolia has followed suit. Pushing aggressively towards a rapid privatization of most state-owned enterprises, Mongolia is bravely moving forward into the radical transformations that no other former communist state is willing to risk. Sure, some of the local yahoos are clammering that Mongolia needs a little communism, but no one really listens to them. Most of the nation is riding on a tide of political liberalism that peaked last summer when the leader of the main opposition party urinated out the window of the Mongolian parliament building. Stalinist thinking and conservative bodily hygiene just doesn't stand a chance anymore. Mongolia had an economy long before Lenin, and now it wants it back.

Most communist states are strapped by the problem of a lousy currency system. This problem is compounded in Mongolia by the fact that most Mongols don't have any currency, just sheep and goats. Mongolia solved this problem by distributing to the population coupons for shares of ownership in state-owned business, factories and communal assets like livestock. Some people are selling their vouchers, others are pooling theirs to own a larger share of certain enterprises. A secondary market in vouchers also recently emerged, with a few enterprising Mongols scalping shares to forward thinking capitalists. It's starting, you see. The Mongols are putting together. . .

A stock market. Before you know it, the Genghis Khan Exchange will stand with New York and Tokyo as global financial capitals.

And the Mongols will do it, too. Unlike the endlessly wishy-washy Soviets, the Mongols are diving into reform head-first, dumping everything and starting fresh. Not preoccupied with short-term chaos, the Mongols are confident and hopeful, looking forward to the instabilities of market economies and the freedom and prosperity they will provide. Mongolian reforms will succeed because the the people want them to and think they will, and because short of famine, economic life can't get much worse than it is now.

I salute the Mongols, and while I do not wish for them to conquer Asia again, I support them in their efforts towards progress. Eastern Europe could learn a whole lot from yogurt-eaters.