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Z.Enkhbold: The country is transitioning and diversifying so rapidly.

Prime Interview – A Mongolian Perspective

 By Allyson Seaborn

 Apart from his brief, one page biography, the only thing most people know about Chairman Enkhbold is what others have told me – that he’s a brave, popular and honest politician.

 The halls of the Great State Khural are grand and lined with well-trodden red carpet. After numerous security check points, I’m seated with a group of journalists and cameramen. They’re all waiting outside to speak to Mr Enkhbold about his next meeting with the President of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Parliament Assembly.

I’m ushered in for a formal photograph and shake hands with the Chairman and am grateful for his time. Standing next to him, I am momentarily overwhelmed by a great sense of awe.

We sit and I begin right away as I am told I have twenty-five minutes. Somehow I wish we had longer, but things move at an incredibly fast pace for this respected politician, so I begin by asking him about where he grew up.

“Well, it’s a very long story,” he says quickly, glancing at his watch and I immediately feel we’re off to a bad start.

In a nutshell, Mr Enkhbold prefers not to discuss his personal life. He’s very conservative and private, but gradually, he opens up and tells me about his parents who were from the northern and southern regions of the Khangai Mountains in Central Mongolia.  This area has been described as the “heart of Mongolia” where breathtaking peaks reach 3500 metres above sea level. It’s also a lush, green region with forests to the north and wildflowers and blue rivers to the south – all surrounded by the endless steppe of course.

“My mother was from Arkhangai on the north side of the range and my father was from Ovorkhangai on the southern side.”

I naively ask if they perhaps met on the mountain, but he smiles warmly and says, “No they met here in UB in 1964 while studying at the Agricultural College.”

Chairman Enkhbold was born in 1966 at the Second Maternity Hospital and when he was two years old the government asked for volunteers to go live in farming communities to develop the land in rural areas.

“It was a big initiative to develop virgin land (called Атар газар эзэмших) and many young people went to Selenge Province. So when I was two years old my parents brought me to the Zelter collective farm which was located close to the Mongolian/Russian boarder.

“And that’s where you learned to speak Russian?”

“No, I later studied Russian,” he’s quick to correct me

I want to talk about his legal background, but again – he’s blunt, “First I am an engineer. Studying law and getting an MBA came later in my life.”

From 1984 to1989 Chairman Enkhbold studied engineering at Ural Polytechnic Institute  – one of Russia’s most prestigious institutions. “Law came later at the Mongolian State University.” Even further along the down track of his illustrious political career came his MBA from the University of Denver, Colorado.

“I really enjoyed my engineering degree,” the proud Chairman exclaims. “Actually, my engineering degree was my favourite degree and first foreign country exposure,” he says, easing back into his chair.

“Ural is famous you know?” He looks at me and points out that Boris Yeltsin also graduated from this institution.

“When I was a student at Ural, Yeltsin was Chairman of Communist Party of the Region – this was of course, before Perestroika. I lived in interesting times. I was fortunate enough to experience life in two political systems – under Communism and during the transition to Democracy.”

He speaks freely, “When I was eight years old, my family moved to Sukhbaatar. We spent ten years there until my high school graduation. After that I went to Russia for another five years to Ural Polytechnic Institute or UPI (known today as Ural State Technical University) and THAT is where I learned to speak Russian Allyson,” he finally clarifies. I like his frankness. This man is not one to beat around the bush.

“And about your childhood?” I pry.

“Life was very simple. There was no TV when I was growing up until I graduated from high school. We lived in Sukhbaatar in an area called Korpus. Everyone there worked for a huge wood processing plant where windows, door and flooring were made for construction. This company employed more than 1,000 workers and they owned the housing, hospitals, schools, library – everything. This was part of Sukhbaatar City, so it was a very close community where everyone worked together.”

He continues, “I have very fond memories, particularly of where the Orkhon and and Selenge Rivers meet. This is a large area of water and in the summer we almost lived there. We did so many enjoyable things like swim and cross the flowing water.”

Mr Enkhbold recalls with vivid imagery the taste of the wild, ripe fruit that grew in great abundance along the riverbanks. His eyes gleam as he describes to me another thing he cherished about his youth.

“In the winter time we had a standard sized hockey rink which was built by the company. It was fantastic!” he exclaims. “Of course, this was not on the river, but near our three story apartment block where many families lived. In fact, it was right near the school.”

He reminisces, “And we also skied in the mountains, but of course there were no ski lifts. It was an unusual combination of cross country skiing and down hill skiing.”

He looks at me and asks, “And do you know something? In the shops around town you could buy hockey sticks and skates and skis. There was always a plentiful supply. It was sort of standard thing to be able to find at the store. They were always very easy to purchase, unlike today.”

Our conversation changes. What does he think of Mongolia today? The unforgiving clock continues to tick.

“Mongolia has become a very dynamic country, especially after the 1990s and it has changed very rapidly and has changed for the better I think. Of course many people expect this change to be speedier, but the pace at which we are going now is very fast.”

He takes a deep breath and recounts how the week prior he visited three Eastern Aimags. “Yes, I was in Sukhbaatar, Dornod and Khenti. The transformations that have taken place in these areas since 2009 is amazing. It was hard to recognize these provinces.”

He then describes the reason for his trip to the Eastern Aimags. “We have an abundance of crude oil in our country. Mongolia will become a major oil exportation country. This year we will export 480,000 tons of crude oil and next year we will export 770,000 tons. In 2015 we’ll be able to export more than one million tons of crude oil.”

“Remarkable. So its not just about coal and copper?” I respond.

“No, we are exporting oil now,” he says matter-of-factly. “We’ll use this oil export to increase our supply. In 1992 the Mongolian Government signed the PSA (Production Sharing Agreement) with Texas Company. Later they sold the PSA to Petro China. All the risk in finding oil will be with private companies. When they find oil, the Government of Mongolia will get its own share. We hope to decrease the very high price of oil from Russia. Now Mongolia has signed an agreement with a Chinese oil processing plant that will process our oil and send it back to Mongolia. It’s a big leverage. Did you know we pay more than Americans at the gas station? There are a lot of opportunities in this frontier area of Mongolia.”

“And do you miss anything about the old way of life in Mongolia?” Our time is nearly up.

He’s pensive in his response. “The country is transitioning and diversifying so rapidly. In the past we have been accustomed to a very slow, peaceful and conservative way of living. You can still experience this in the countryside of course. You don’t rush. You don’t have a schedule. You live in phases of morning and afternoon – just two times. Now in the city our lives are measured by minutes. It’s very fast and a bit of a crazy life.”  It’s hard not to agree with the Chairman.

I want to know where his favourite place in Mongolia is, but he starts off diplomatically by expressing, “Everywhere.”  After this comes a long pause followed by a reminiscent look in his eyes.

Ovorkhangai,” he beams. This is of course the aimag where Enkhbold was twice elected.

“This is my third time being elected, but did you know that Kharakorum was in my old district?”

Yes I did know this fact, but feel shameful that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit what is perhaps the most important cultural and religious city in all of Mongolia. In 1220 Kharakorum was of course, chosen as the capital of the Mongol Empire by Chinggis Khan.

“It is no longer my district,” he says with a hint of regret and tells that the Orkhon River originated in Ovorkhangai. “If you visit this region, you will see the most beautiful waterfalls and eight glorious mountain lakes and even the Khurjit Hot Springs.”

 The President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and a barrage of press await the remarkable Mr Enkhbold. I realise I’ve only just scratched the surface in my brief time with the understated, yet passionate Chairman of the Great State Khural. It was a pleasure.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=3357

Posted by on Mar 18 2013. Filed under Community, Онцлох мэдээлэл. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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