The world's youngest democracy, the Kingdom of Bhutan, might have a thing or two to teach other nations. While most countries strive to increase their economic growth, Bhutan is interested in gross national happiness.
Pema Choden says more money does not make people happy
Pema Choden is a former diplomat and is currently managing director of Bhutan's Broadcasting Service (BBS), the national public broadcaster of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The BBS has played an important role in informing the Bhutanese people and preparing them for Bhutan's transition to parliamentary democracy in 2008. Peter Zimmermann met with Pema Choden when she visited Germany recently.
Deutsche Welle: Your country is probably the youngest democracy in the world. And you're on a very good path as far as the growth of your nation goes. What exactly is the difference to other countries?
Pema Choden: We have a development philosophy that's called "gross national happiness" - GNH. It's actually our fourth king who said that he believed the gross national happiness of the Bhutanese people is more important than mere gross domestic product GDP. And it's actually all about a balanced and sustainable development.
We have an extremely strong environment policy based on the philosophy of GNH which is based on four pillars: one is equitable socio-economic development; second we have conservation of the environment; we're also very strong on preservation and promotion of our own culture and traditions. As a very small nation, we have India to the South and China to the North - one billion plus in both directions – our identity is very important to us. And then, we also have good governance. So those are the four pillars.
Buddhism plays a major role for the Bhutanese king and his people
But we find that our own policies are not enough. Climate change is definitely in Bhutan and largely not caused by us!
At the moment we're in Germany - what do you see in our world that you criticise? Where do you think people are going wrong?
I think it's in believing that economic growth is everything. And that is what is driving the world in general, because of course it's the very strong Western economies that dominate how the world exists and functions and produces. And in believing that economic growth is a solution to all our ails I think is fundamentally wrong. In fact I think it's contributing to a lot of our ails to believe that if you produce more you're better off because you have more money at your disposal – to do what with I'm not exactly sure. But I think it's this: not realising that as human beings there are many other things that matter to us much more than having a lot of disposable income and spending it in a manner that is really not comprehensible.
What is really important for us then?
Well, it's being happy! In Bhutan the policy is that the Government should create and environment where people can pursue their own individual happiness. It's a place where your place in society matters a lot, your networks in society, your family, your cultural traditions, your religion of course. We're largely a Buddhist nation. All this matters to us. And I think if we had to give all that up just for the sake of economic growth, I really don't think we would be better off. And economic growth also - we know - has a direct impact on the environment. And then that's going to harm us ultimately. It comes back to you.
At the same time - even in Bhutan - more and more people want a car. I'm sure the more modern developments like the internet, computers etc. you have, the more young people are going to strive for that. There's a conflict there. How do you get around that?
As a developing nation – yes. Everybody aspires to have a lifestyle we see in richer developed countries. I think we need to balance it with better awareness amongst the Bhutanese people. And of course, for us in the media we do have a responsibility how best we can communicate the correct information to the people so that they make the right decisions.
Interview: Peter Zimmermann
Editor: Anke Rasper