Readers with a more general interest in selected aspects of Mongolia's transition process should perhaps read the second of the two ``Transition'' titles first. With eleven contributions by fourteen Mongolian and international authors the book covers a whole range of subjects:
The book is accompanied by an introduction, an afterword, a select bibliography, eleven figures and eighteen tables.
As is visible, the book offers an institutional approach to the phenomenon of transition in Mongolia. The individual articles are contributed by internationally reknowned writers and Mongolian specialists working in the field.
Ole Bruun and Ole Odgaard write that
Mongolia's double transition from command economy to market relations and from one-party control to democratic government has been far from smooth. (p. 22)This is an understatement. A few lines later, we get to know that
Mongolia suffered the most serious peacetime economic collapse any nation has faced during this centurywhich may come closer to truth. The complete economic collapse in combination with increasing poverty and unemployment is aggravated by the enormous number of youth without proper education and employment opportunities accompanied by an ever-increasing number of formerly employed women facing unemployment. On the other hand, the short-term visitor to Mongolia is impressed by a seemingly flourishing small-scale private sector active in food and consumer goods trade. Yet few of the urban citizens, let alone the rural population, can afford the goods offered in the streets of Ulaanbaatar. Salaries paid by the state (to officials, clerks, teachers, scientists) are not sufficient if one family member has to sustain a complete household, and pensions are even less adequate sources of subsistence. Given this background it is obvious that economic development is a key priority of all governments since 1990. There are substantial differences, however, in measuring and judging the actual level of income (or in other terms, the amount of poverty) during the first years of transition. Ole Odgaard presents GDP per capita estimates from 1991-94 by various sources showing discrepancies by one third and more (p. 106-7: ``In 1993-94 the government and most international organizations tended to agree that Mongolia's GDP ranged between USD 200 and USD 300 per capita
The differences in these figures go hand in hand with different approaches of how to overcome the economic crisis. It is one of the merits of this book to point out the recent gaps between different international agencies. The World Bank is mentioned as an advocate of rapid privatization yet the UNDP has recently blamed the rapidly enforced privatization programmes for contributing to the ecnomomic problems (p. 24). The position of the World Bank is also criticized in other parts of the book, notably with regard to industrial development. Yet I think that the World Bank cannot be considered as solely responsible. The concepts suggested by the World Bank are one facet; another facet is the implementation of these and other concepts through the Mongolian government. During donor conferences in recent years, Mongolia had been accused that reforms were not implemented rapidly enough; yet it is only understandable that conflicting economic concepts combined with the desire to soften the side effects of price reforms and privatization, again combined with the necessity to regain a minimal economic survival capacity as soon as possible, are highly conflicting goals for which no simple solution can be offered. Still, the
unexpected outcomes of macro-economic planning are a vivid example of the recent history for the problems of one-dimensional policy-implementation. (Prof. Dr. Hans-Dieter Evers, foreword to Susanne Schmidt's ``Mongolia in Transition'')
There are also factions within the Mongolian government and the parties tending to show preferences for one or the other school of thought. This can be explained with the number of young professionals who had studied abroad and joined the newly-formed democratic government after their return to Mongolia. The strong orientation towards and identification with Western consultants, goals and methods however, is seen as a replacement of a similarly uncritical adaptation of all Soviet influences of an earlier era. On page 26, Bruun and Odgaard state mildly that ``this new development has caused scepticism on the domestic political scene''. Indeed many of the young advocates of Western economics face constant pressure from their superiors and public opinion due to their foreign orientation, and the founding of a nationalist party which proclaims a return of Mongolia's economy to the roots of nomadic society shows that there is deep dissent and suspicion in the population against all things foreign.
In introducing this book I have limited myself to what I regard as one of the more prominent aspects of this book. While all chapters offer descriptions of and insight in aspects of Mongolian economy, culture, politics, education etc., the editors do not limit themselves to simply stating the phenomena. Instead they show and analyze the potential of conflict resulting from different schools of thought as adhered to by different institutions as well as Mongolia's difficulties of finding the most appropriate path through the present situation.
In addition, I recommend reading (in order to name just one or two additional authors; the other authors are kindly asked to forgive me that their articles are not introduced in depth --- this does not imply any judgment) Alan Sanders' article on Mongolia's foreign relations and foreign policy because it sheds light on the highly subtle and complicated security issues with which Mongolia has to deal due to its neighbourhood with Russia and China where the mere existence of Mongolia as an independent nation state is seen as a potential security threat to stability in Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. On the other hand, Mongolia is afraid of being swallowed by China, be it politically or economically. Well worth reading is the article by Barbara Skapa and Ann Fenger Benwell on Women and Poverty during the Transition. The authors demonstrate the plight of the primary victims of social change.
The articles show only slight differences in depth and accuracy as can be seen in the introduction. On p. 17 written Mongolian is said to have 24 letters. It can be argued that the number could as well be 28 or 30 due to the incomplete agreement in this matter. While the problems around Mongolian writing are explained correctly, the number suggests a degree of unity which is not there. It should be mentioned that the whole field of writing Mongolian and Cyrillic is undergoing thorough institutionalized review with the aim of creating international standards serving information interchange just as well as writing newspapers and schoolbooks. This is one of the few items of transition which was not given enough coverage in this book, yet its financial and social cost cannot be underestimated as the year 1994 showed by which transition to written Mongolian should have been achieved. Two years after that date, the mainstream of books, newsprint etc. is still in Mongolian written in Cyrillic letters.
The book suffers from a deficit directly linked to the last fact: there is no unified transliteration for all names and terms throughout all articles of the whole book. Transliteration systems exist but frequently the authors seem to stick to ad hoc `conventions'. Unfortunately, this is a general desideratum which can be observed in many books.
A final suggestion may be permitted. When reading the book I found many valuable references in footnotes of single articles which did not appear in the general bibliography. Collecting these individual references in one list would have greatly enhanced the understanding of individual aspects as I would not be forced to go through hundreds of individual footnotes just for finding one referenced report.