South China Morning Post

Lee Kuan Yew gave Singapore a republic, and the poetry came later
South China Morning Post

To capture the essence of Singapore’s former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, you could point to the fact that Richard Nixon once described him as a man who « might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone » were he born in another country. Or the fact that Lee has served as a mentor to the likes of Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping . Or, more recently, Obama’s assessment that Lee is a « legendary figure of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries ».

I had none of this perspective while growing up in 1980s Singapore. Gently chided by courtesy campaigns, reminded to save for a rainy day, nurtured and buttressed by Lee’s unique blend of Confucian ethics and Western-style capitalist ideals, all I knew was my Singapore – a dizzying blend of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians, all jostling for recognition on that tiny island. And it was up to us to sprint to the finish line once the baton was handed over. Except some of us viewed the race itself with scepticism.

« Don’t go wild with your imagination, » my English teacher wrote in the margins. « Very self-indulgent! » was scrawled on the next page, in angry red ink. This was the flip side of Lee’s Singapore. An emerging city state with no natural resources, no agriculture, and a tepid-at-best relationship with its closest neighbours, Singapore needed doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers. There was no room for whimsy or creativity, a perspective neatly summed up by Lee’s maxim that « poetry is a luxury we cannot afford. What is important for pupils is not literature, but a philosophy of life ».

Je m’en serais voulu de ne pas souligner le décès de Lee Kuan Yew, le père fondateur de Singapour. En l’espace de 30 ans, Lee Kuan Yew a fait de cette petite île, sans ressources naturelles et dépendante des sweatshops, l’économie la plus libre et la plus riche du monde industrialisé.

Ce qui est intéressant dans l’histoire de Lee Kuan Yew, ce sont les moyens qu’il a pris pour faire prospérer cette ancienne colonie britannique. Lee Kuan Yew a misé sur le capitalisme, une société qui était le fruit d’un extraordinaire métissage culturel, sur l’apprentissage de l’anglais et sur une éducation qui a donné la priorité aux sciences dures plutôt qu’aux sciences molles.

Bref, Lee Kuan Yew était aux antipodes des péquistes… Singapour est devenue un îlot de richesse, le Québec est resté un îlot de pauvreté… On a peu parlé du décès de Lee Kuan Yew au Québec…

P.-S. Dans les écoles primaires de Singapour, on apprend la comptine suivante aux élèves: Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Till your good is better and your better, best.

Quelques billets que j’ai écrit sur Singapour au fils des années: