“Welcome to Mongolia – a country of eternal blue sky”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
“Czechia was the first foreign country I have ever visited, as a teenager, 40 years ago. Now, I am representing my country in the Czech Republic as an Ambassador, and I am grateful to my government for entrusting me with this appointment,” says H.E. Mr. Gansukh Damdin, Ambassador of Mongolia. Talking about the relations between the two countries, we could not help but mention the “Third Neighbour Policy” of Mongolia, “Years to visit Mongolia” program, and of course the “Przewalski’s horse” and “One Billion Trees” projects.
Introduce your country to our readers, please.
Mongolia is located in north-central Asia, and covers 1.5 million square kilometres, with a population of 3.5 million people. We are a nation with a great history and rich nomadic traditions, which have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. Mongolia is a democracy. As a country rich in mineral resources, the mining sector constitutes a majority of the economy. In 2022, our GDP grew by 4.8%, and for this year it is projected to reach 5.3%.
You became the Ambassador of Mongolia to Czechia two years ago. Could you share the journey that brought you to this position?
I was born and raised in a herdsman’s family in a remote village of Khashaat in Arkhangai province, Mongolia. I am the fourth child out of eight. I completed secondary school in my hometown, and went on to study at the National University of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar in the year 1986. After a year of studying there, I was given the opportunity to study at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. I studied in Moscow for five years, and this was the beginning of my diplomatic career. I have been working in the Foreign Service of Mongolia for over 30 years, since I first entered it in 1992. I have held various positions at the Foreign Ministry, including working in the Press and Information Division, the Department for Multilateral Cooperation, the Policy Planning Department, and working as a desk officer for ASEAN countries. During this time, I have been assigned to a few posts at our Diplomatic Missions abroad.
Before being appointed as Mongolia’s Ambassador to Czechia by President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, I was the Director General of the Department of the Americas, the Middle East, and Africa at the Mongolian MFA.
During my tenure as a Director General, I was able to take part in the process of establishing Strategic Partnership relations with the USA. The USA is an important third neighbour of Mongolia, who has encouraged our democracy and reforms from the beginning. It became Mongolia’s fifth strategic partner in 2019.
What inspired you to pursue the role of a diplomat?
The history of Mongolia, and the path it has been through, has had a significant influence on me becoming a diplomat. The Chinggis Khaan consolidated Mongol tribes, revived statehood, and further established the Great Mongol Empire in the 13th century. The world knows that Pax Mongolica, or “Mongol Peace”, was brought on by the Great Khaan to humanity during this time.
Today, Mongolia actively participates in maintaining peace and security across the globe, as well as harmony for humanity. Last year, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced that “Mongolia is a symbol of peace” during his visit to Mongolia.
The Chinggis Khaan once said, “Diplomatic relations are the golden tether of our Statehood”. Keeping this wisdom in mind, I am eager to fulfil the noble duty of Ambassadorship with distinction. I am also grateful to my government for entrusting me with the appointment as the Ambassador to the Czech Republic, a close partner of Mongolia.
We are curious about some of your impressions and highlights of your tenure in the Czech Republic so far. It may not be coincidental, but I have two interesting experiences related to Czechia. First of all, Czechia was the first foreign country I have ever visited. 40 years ago, as a teenager, I came to Czechoslovakia to spend my summer holidays at the international camp. I remember visiting Prague Zoo, and telling my friends and family about the animals that we had never seen before, as well as about the buildings, which were hundreds of years old. Now, I am representing my country in the Czech Republic as an Ambassador. During this time, I have noticed that tradition and innovation complement each other well here. Our countries are similar in that we both have a rich history and culture, and I think our country could learn from Czechia on how to better implement this pairing between tradition and innovation.
How many countries have you served in?
My appointment here in Czechia is my fourth posting abroad. The first one was at our Embassy of Mongolia in the Kingdom of Thailand. It was very interesting for me, as Mongolia had just newly established its resident Embassy in Bangkok. The second one was in Ottawa, as a Counsellor of the Embassy. Then, I served as the Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at our Embassy in Washington DC. During those years, I witnessed many important events related to Mongolia-U.S. relations, and took part in the activities and negotiations of adopting the U.S. Congress Resolutions supporting Mongolia and implementing the second Millenium Challenge Compact project in Mongolia. Currently, a 350 million USD project, designed to increase drinking water supply in Ulaanbaatar, is successfully being implemented within the MCC program. For the first time, Mongolia will have a wastewater recycling plant, and the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant of Ulaanbaatar city will also be renovated.
Being an ambassador and your lifestyle – is that a harmonious match?
Personally, I think the life of a diplomat is quite interesting. Working and living in a foreign country for a certain period, and thus engaging with a foreign country’s culture and customs, as well as with its people, is a good learning experience. In between postings, we also stay in our home country, which gives us a chance to better sense what has happened in the country, what is new, and what the changes or challenges there are.
A diplomat has a wide opportunity to meet and have a conversation with people from all walks of life: the heads of the state and government, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, everyday citizens etc. In that sense, we bring people together and we connect them, which I love to do.
I am most grateful to my family that they understand, and are fond of my work. With their unwavering support, I could have accomplished my career from Attaché to Ambassador.
You mentioned some very key facts about Mongolia’s economy at the beginning of our interview. Can you provide some additional details, please?
Like every other country around the world, Mongolia’s economy has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the aim to recover the economy and reduce setbacks to our development, the government is implementing a New Economic Recovery Policy.
This policy focuses on 6 areas, designed to address key economic constraints. These areas are: border ports, energy dependency, industrialization, urban and rural development, green development, and state policy efficiency.
The government is also actively working to improve the legal framework and institutional systems designed to protect investors’ interests. Mongolia has signed bilateral investment treaties with 43 countries, has established double taxation agreements with 26 countries, and it is party to many important multilateral treaties such as the Washington Convention on Settlement of Investment Disputes, the UN Commission on International Trade Law, the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, and the Energy Charter. Digitalizing government services is also a vital step in streamlining its policies, and it is being implemented quite successfully.
Furthermore, the government is focusing on attracting more investment in non-mining sectors, such as agriculture, information technology, tourism, and energy. Under the initiative of the President of Mongolia, we are implementing the “Food Safety and Supply” program across the country in order to ensure food security and strengthen farming and agriculture. The government has set an ambitious goal to receive one million tourists in 2023, and to attain 1.2 billion USD (during that time). For attracting tourists, we announced the years 2023-2025 as “years to visit Mongolia”, and exempted 34 European countries’ travellers from needing a visa to visit. In total, the citizens of 61 countries are on our visa-exempt travel list, and the citizens of another 99 countries are entitled to apply for a Mongolian e-visa for the purpose of tourism.
In my view, the EU is a key partner for Mongolia in developing non-mining sectors. Mongolia signed the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, and enjoys the EU GSP+ status, which allows 7,200 types of goods to be exported to EU countries.
Additionally, the Government of Mongolia has decided to build a new Kharkhorum city in the central part of Mongolia, a project in which foreign partners are more than encouraged to participate.
Speaking of attracting tourists – is Mongolia a holiday destination for Czech people?
As earlier noted, Mongolia declared 2023-2025 as the “Years to Visit Mongolia”. Citizens of EU member countries will enjoy visa-free travel to Mongolia for the purposes of tourism. In addition, those who participate in sports and cultural events, make movies, create contents, or transit in Mongolia will be visa-exempt.
I would say Mongolia is becoming one of the must- see travel destinations. We have a lot to offer, such as snowcapped high peaks, dazzling sand valleys, and vast steppes. You can find horse riding tours in every part of the country, while Gobi has camel riding tours with Bactrian camels (which are native to Mongolia). Therefore, we invite fellow Czechs to visit Mongolia, and to explore our beautiful country. Summer and autumn are the most pleasant seasons to visit Mongolia and explore – from UNESCO heritage sites to the beauty of landscapes. I can guarantee that dwelling in our national housing (ger) and staying with nomadic families will be one of the most exciting and interesting experiences of your travel. The sun will rise right before your eyes, and the night sky will immerse you in thousands of stars.
Eco-tourism is becoming more prominent in Mongolia. I would like to highlight that, with the support of the Czech Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, the Hiking Markers System of Czechia was introduced to Mongolia in June.
Mongolia is also home to over 4,000 rivers, and there has been a rise in popularity among Czech fishermen/women visiting due to the documentary made by famous Czech fisherman Jakub Vágner. Moreover, ice fishing trips to Mongolia are becoming popular, and fishing spots can be found as close as the capital city Ulaanbaatar.
We will always welcome fellow Czechs to Mongolia – a country of eternal blue sky.
Mongolia has special relations with Prague Zoo, which all Czech nature lovers are very proud of. How do you feel about it?
Prague Zoo has been implementing a very important project of re-introducing Takhi – or Przewalski’s horse – in Mongolia for over 20 years. This project allows the once almost extinct Takhi to wander the steppes of Mongolia once again. The third project is now in progress, in which the protected area Numrug in Dornod province, was chosen as the third translocation place. Within prior phases, the Przewalski’s horses were taken to the Gobi B area and Khomiin tal. The population of air-transported Takhi from the first project has now increased from just 34 to over 400. On behalf of the Government of Mongolia, I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to all those who were involved in the projects of returning Takhi to their homeland.
However, this is not the only long-term tie between our people…
Of course not. Let us mention the “One Billion Trees” green development program that the President of Mongolia initiated in 2021. Mongolia signed the Forest Partnership Memorandum with the EU in 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Czech researchers and scientists, led by Mendel University, have been actively contributing to forest research and forest management improvement in Mongolia. We encourage them to continue their work within the “One Billion Trees” national movement, as well as the “Forest Partnership” of the European Union.
Moreover, Czech Deputy Minister of Education, Youth, and Sports, Mr. Jaroslav Miller, visited Mongolia in April, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Promoting Cooperation in Implementing the scholarship program between the Ministry of Education and Science of Mongolia and the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports of the Czech Republic. We expect a dozen Mongolian students to come study in the Czech Republic’s top Universities, under the auspices of the Mongolian President’s Scholarship program, starting this academic year.
One area that is also worth mentioning is that Czechia plays host to over 12,000 skilled Mongolian workers. It is the largest community of Mongolians in the EU, which consequently promotes strong people-to-people ties.
After talking about all these ongoing projects between the two countries it is a pleasure to ask: what is the current status of Czechia – Mongolia relations?
The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1950, and Czechoslovakia became the 4th country to recognize Mongolia’s independence. We enjoy a long- lasting friendship, our people preserve a strong bond, and our countries share common values regarding democracy, freedom, and human rights. Political relations between our two countries have been reached to a high level, and the two sides recognize that we have great potential to expand our bilateral ties.
Within our„Third Neighbour”policy, we attach great importance to our partnership with the European Union, as well as with its member states – including Czechia.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia visited the Czech Republic in May, and had a fruitful discussion regarding the upgrade of cooperation in the areas of economy, education, and science.
Broadening trade and economic cooperation are both key to our cooperation. The Joint Inter-Governmental Commission is an important platform in promoting and expanding our cooperation in trade, economy, and investment. We are preparing to host the 8th meeting of the Commission in Ulaanbaatar, in the third quarter of this year. The Mongolia- Czechia annual business forum will also take place concurrently. I expect tangible results from those events.
This interview is done on the occasion of your National Day. What are you wishing for your country, and for the Czech Republic?
On 10-15th July we celebrate our National Day – Naadam Festival. The celebration of this Festival dates back to the establishment of the Khun Empire in the 1st to 2nd century BC. At that time, the Naadam Festival was a symbol of the unification of Mongols; and wrestling, horseracing, and archery are the main features of Naadam. UNESCO listed Naadam Festival on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2010.
On this important occasion, I wish progress and prosperity for my country, and happy Naadam to Mongols far and near, friends of Mongolia, and esteemed readers of the Leaders Magazine. I sincerely wish every success to Czechia in its noble endeavour for a prosperous nation. I also wish that the excellent relationship and lasting friendship between Mongolia and Czechia will strengthen in the years ahead.