Our Dissident voices are learning from the Russian dissidents?

In Political governance on 05/02/2017 at 4:51 am

Yesterday The Agora hosted  FOSG (Future Of Singapore).

SOSG had a second conversation on Singapore economy past, present and future led by Yeoh Lam Kwong, former chief economist of GIC held at the Agora. A 3-hour long discussion with a full house audience. More young people than the previous one!

Lam Keong summarised the early period under the rubric of a “socialism that works” this was followed by a “capitalism the didn’t quite work” the future from 2011 is towards a social democracy that hopefully works. This is the challenge given the resources of the “estate of the state”. That in comparison to OECD standards Singapore has a lot of scope to improve. A lively discussion ended with a video presentation on the highlights of “Singapore 2.0 – Aging in Place” ( There was a sense of energy throughout the discussion. Please look out for announcements on future sessions on FOSG.

Three cheers for The Agora, SOSG and Lam Keong.


“Educate, agitate, organise.”This was George Bernard Shaw’s famous call to action for the British left-wing. He’s best remembered today for the musical “My fair Lady” which is based on a play of his . He hated the musical. I like the ending of the musical better.

In his heyday he was both a leading intellectual (he was one of the founders of the Fabian Society, still influential in moderate left-wing circles in the UK), and a commercially succesful playwright.


The Agora, SOSG and Lam Keong are educating S’poreans and perhaps this is better than the posturings of Mad Dogs like Amos, Dr Chee and M Ravi, and the BS of cybernuts like Philip Ang, Tan Jee Say, Roy Ngerng etc.

What follows is a long extract from the Economist on how the Russian intellectuals are using public lectures, intellectual discussions and cultural events to push back against an authoritarian, repressive state that brooks no dissent (Sounds familiar?).

Although the state today suppresses independent civil and political activity, it allows a lot more personal freedom than it did in 1979 … Since the mainstream media are mostly pumping out government propaganda, Russia’s modern intellectuals have got involved in cultural projects. Public lectures by notable scholars, both Russian and foreign, on subjects from urbanism to artificial intelligence gather mass audiences. Tickets to such talks sell out within hours. Every night dozens of events take place in Moscow and other cities. Book fairs attract queues to rival those for pop concerts. A new shopping centre in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, has organised a book round-table as one of its opening events.

Public lectures, intellectual discussions and excursions have evolved into a business. “Ten years ago, to raise money from investors, you needed to say only one word: ‘media’. Today all you have to say is ‘education’,” says Yuri Saprykin, a former editor of Afisha, a listings magazine that helped shape the tastes of the urban middle class. The trend started a few years ago when a site called “Theory and practice” began to provide a wide variety of courses and lectures. The young are wild about classical music and art museums. “If you are not learning something outside your work, you are a loser,” says Ms Kosinskaya.

Mr Dziadko, the grandson of Soviet dissidents and human-rights activists, and a group of friends have launched a popular multimedia education and entertainment project called Arzamas, a name borrowed from a 19th-century literary society of which Pushkin was a member. The subjects range from Elizabethan theatre and medieval French history to the anthropology of communism and the mythology of South Africa. A few months ago Arzamas organised an evening lecture about Joan of Arc, including a recital of medieval music, at Moscow’s main library. “We thought it would be attended by a few intellectuals. But when we turned up 15 minutes before the lecture, we saw a long queue of young people and hipsters trying to get in,” says Mr Dziadko.

The boom in “enlightenment” projects is not so much a reversal of the rise of consumerism in the previous decade but a complement to it. Just as Russian people were suddenly presented with a vast choice of consumer goods, they now have a large array of intellectual pursuits to choose from. And whereas Russia’s government can impose a ban on imports of Western food, barring the spread of knowledge is much harder.

The main producers and consumers of these enlightenment projects are young Westernised Russians who are part of a global culture. Their pursuit of a wide range of knowledge is a way of fighting the isolationism and aggressive obscurantism imposed by both state and church. This takes many forms, from banning modern-art shows to organising anti-gay campaigns, promoting anti-Darwinism and attempting to stop abortions.

Popular books about biology and physics currently sell better than detective stories. Yulia Shakhnovskaya, the director of the Moscow Polytechnic Museum, where Evgeny Yevtushenko read his poetry in the 1960s, says that education and science have become a form of resistance to politics. “We can’t win but that does not mean we should stop resisting, so we try to grow a garden in the middle of hell.” She says her main target audience is teenage schoolchildren, who are desperate for knowledge: “Good marks are no longer the main prerequisite for getting a good job in Russia…but the demand for knowledge is still there, so we try to satisfy it by other means.”

Ms Shakhnovskaya’s patrons include Igor Shuvalov, the first deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, and Anatoly Chubais, the father of Russia’s privatisation programme. They are helping to promote an educated and emancipated elite that could gradually begin to change the system, which is what happened in the 1980s.

For now at least, the educated urban class does not pose a serious political threat to Mr Putin. But it represents a different and more fundamental challenge that has to do with values and ideas. Some of the most striking independent public-lecture projects recently launched had titles such as “The return of ethics” and “Public lies”, involving both Western and Russian philosophers, economists, sociologists and writers.

This new generation of educated young urbanites has criticised Russian politicians and opinion-formers of the 1990s and 2000s for viewing human-rights abuses and the lack of independent courts as unfortunate impediments to business and foreign investment, rather than bad things in themselves. Yet “despite the total amorality of politicians and bureaucrats, or maybe because of it, the demand for ethics in the public sphere is growing, not falling,” says Andrei Babitsky, a former editor of the Inliberty website that organised the lectures on ethics and lies. The power of ideas should never be underestimated, especially in Russia.

  1. Ruskies are pragmatic AND smart. But won’t work in Sinkie-land coz Sinkies are pragmatic BUT stupid.

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