Reminder: Don’t forget the event today, 9 Aug, from 5-7pm at Hong Lim Park by young Singaporean activists. See here for details.
Sense of belonging lacking among the young
Insight Down South
Seah Chiang Nee
8 Aug 2009
FOR a few hours tomorrow, central Singapore will be turned into a fairyland of flashing lights and fireworks, and ringing to patriotic songs. It’s the nation’s 44th National Day.
The centrepiece parade will comprise thousands of costumed dancers from all walks of life and jet-fighters screaming overhead – a stirring effort to instil in citizens a sense of nationalism.
Year after year, these dazzling performances have served to quicken the pace of nation-building.
This year, Singaporeans have briefly put aside their economic worries to enjoy the occasion.
But for a large segment that has been badly affected or who is unhappy with unpopular government policies, the enthusiasm has been rather muted. They associate the festivities with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), and even refuse to put up flags.
One of them, Amy, wrote: “I have never put up the flag before. I have also not watched the parade on TV for many years. This is done intentionally as a silent protest.”
It contrasted with an exuberant well-wisher, Chan Han Yang, who wrote about prevalent “signs of patriotism”, with Housing Board blocks of flats decked out in red and white.
“As I waited for the bus, patriotism was in the air and sentiments ran high. A boy in a prominent pink kindergarten uniform was waving a Singapore flag and singing the National Anthem enthusiastically.”
It was greeted with cynicism from people who said he was wearing rose-tinted spectacles. “Chan’s obser-vations are quite amusing, if unbelievable. Is he living on a different planet?” asked a news blog, Temasek Review.
“One quick look at your own neighbourhood will suffice to distinguish the truth from the myths.”
For weeks, online reports have talked about a dearth of flags in Singaporean homes other than those placed there by community leaders.
It is almost unanimously agreed that it is not because Singaporeans love their country less.
Rather, the nonchalance is partly due to an apathetic new generation, partly because of rising dissatisfaction towards the government in looking after their interests in these times of need.
They are particularly sore at the massive influx of job-hungry foreigners from China and India who are taking away their jobs and reducing their income.
Apparently aware of this, political leaders have – in recent weeks – been appealing to Singaporeans to stay united to face the crisis and to welcome the foreign workers.
As in the past, flags and banners are prominently displayed in housing estates and strategic points, government buildings as well as factories, clubs and restaurants.
An online report said of the heartland: “Every road, walkway and overhead bridge is decked with the national flag. Banners with the words ‘Celebrating our success’ are seen almost everywhere.”
But most of them had been put up by the government or organisations using foreign workers, rather than spontaneously by citizens.
One writer believes that the strong government hand behind the National Day Parade, with its own choice of participants and rules, is diluting the national characteristics.
Many young Singaporeans seem to feel it is a PAP celebration, rather than a national event.
In many constituencies, huge portraits of PAP Members of Parliament stare down at motorists as they drive past – but there are none of opposition MPs.
A large contingent of PAP representatives, all carrying fluttering party flags, is allowed to take part in the march-past – but no opposition party contingent or flag is permitted.
But the biggest concern is the sheer numbers of new arrivals from China and India, most of them here temporarily.
Now making up one-third of the population, this wave of foreigners has raised public questions about the future of the country – and of true-blue citizens.
It has changed the population profile in Singapore, with people becoming less united, more quarrelsome and losing some of their sense of belonging. There is a looser relationship between people and people, and between people and government.
“It has eroded some of the cohesiveness and harmony that had been built up over the past 44 years,” observed one commentator.
Even the parade itself seems to be enjoying less enthusiasm – if a recent poll by MSN Singapore is any indication.
It said that only 18% indicated their keenness to attend, a far cry from the past when a free ticket into the parade could fetch up to S$200 (RM488) on the black market.
“Some 28% of Singaporeans polled preferred to stay at home, while 26% would leave the country for a quick holiday – most likely in nearby Malaysia,” it said.
Commenting on these figures, a blogger said: “Most Singaporeans are politically apathetic and ignorant after 40 years of continuous one-party rule. Many do not even know the identities of their MPs.
“National Day will soon become a farce with less than one-fifth of the population celebrating it – and more than a quarter choosing to spend the day elsewhere.”
This is unlikely to come to pass, however – because the Parade remains Singapore’s premier show of the year. Most Singaporeans feel there should be a clear distinction between love for country and whatever ill-feelings about the ruling party.
Chan Joon Yee wrote: “I think it’s a shame that we don’t celebrate National Day (as before). The problem lies with all this orchestrating and leadership cheerleading by the ruling party.
“Rightly or wrongly, people have come to associate these celebrations with government propaganda.”
Anthony Fok concurred: “I agree. Singapore is Singapore, PAP is PAP. Let’s not mix the two together. I am proud of this country and its successes.”