22 March 2017

Playing politics with diasporic communities: Southeast Asia's lessons for the EU

Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make Turkey great again!
Mr Recep Erdogan has been organising, in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria, an unprecedented series of campaign rallies for the upcoming Turkish national referendum to confer unprecedented powers in the presidency.

And even though the European Union has a thing for suicide pacts (yes to unlimited immigration, yes to no checks on refugees, yes to imposing debt bondage on the PIGS, yes to an illogical currency union!), European leaders are mostly not amused. Erdogan's rallies have been completely banned in Austria, cancelled in Germany, and created a victory for the right in the recent Dutch elections (which the media has spun as a loss for the far-right because Geert Wilders didn't win big).

Erdogan is not amused either. So much for EU-Turkey relations (Germany's secret deals notwithstanding), and so much for Turkey's EU membership ambitions? Not quite.

03 March 2017

Hard Talk with the Prime Minister: Singapore loses the plot

HARDTalk interviews are hardly a fireside chat

Did prime minister Lee Hsien Loong "do us proud" yesterday, or did he stutter, freeze, and turn all defensive? It is unlikely that PM Lee thought his BBC HARDTalk interview with Stephen Sackur would be a walk in the park, much less a fireside chat. His father had appeared on the same show several years ago and turned in a feisty performance.

It is far likely that Lee's media team is aware of the performative aspects of an international interview, given the pre-approved trailer showing Lee throw out a combative line: "I would not presume to tell you how your press council should operate, why would you presume to tell me my country should run?"

But if we are to judge if that's a winning line or a defensive cover, we cannot take that line out of context.

24 February 2017

We need to reconsider how Singapore remembers WW2

Yes, the Syonan Gallery has been renamed to the less offensive and traumatising "Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies". But have the professionals behind the formulating, marketing, chronicalising, and critiquing of Singapore history learnt from this episode? Should they seriously reconsider an approach and narrative that is not just stale, not just failed, but poisoning the Singapore identity?

Historical facts are always already mediated.
No historical narrative corresponds to the sum total of historical facts.

17 February 2017

The Syonan Gallery Clown Show


The Omnishambles so far...

On 10 February 2017, Singapore's National Library Board (NLB) unveiled the new name for the Old Ford Factory WW2 history museum. It would be called the Syonan Gallery, in memory of the name Singapore was administered as during the Japanese Occupation.

Tempers flared. According to the rising ire of detractors, the name Syonan (昭南 or "Light of the South") was an affront to survivors of the occupation. It glorified the imperialist project of the Japanese. The minister in charge of culture disagreed. Syonan is the most appropriate name to remind ourselves never again.

Of course there isn't a doubt that Syonan Gallery was a mistake. It's a mistake that hasn't been seen before in the field of cultural and historical production. To my knowledge, there isn't a Sudentenland Museum in the Czech Republic, or a Lebensraum Museum or a Heims in Reich Museum in Poland - because competent historians and curators elsewhere know better than to name a war museum using the frame of reference of the historical villains.

17 October 2016

Copyfight! What happens when copyright meets official secrets?

In his judgement, the honorable Tay Yong Kwan appears to have made a Solomonic decision: the Attorney-General gets his Official Secrets Act to apply to the interview and transcripts, and the Estate of the late Mr Lee gets its full copyright to the same interview and transcripts. That is to say, the Estate has "full copyright and literary rights", only to the extent of checking that the Government complies with the Interview Agreement.

Rafael's Judgment of Solomon


13 October 2016

Memories, Official Secrets, and the National Archives: A matter of governmental judgment or archival discretion?

In the case of Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang vs Attorney-General, the honorable Tay Yong Kwan has ruled that the transcripts of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's interviews with the National Archives are:
1. covered by the Official Secrets Act;
2. copyrighted by Mr Lee's estate, but only to the extent of "ensuring the Government's compliance with the Interview Agreement"; and
3. in custody of the Cabinet Secretary [our note: till 2020, when the Government may exercise the discretion to hand them over to the National Archives then, at a later date, or never, or indefinitely delay that decision].

Both the Estate and the Attorney-General appear to have disregarded the consideration and interests of the Archives itself when they argued their cases. Neither the National Archives of Singapore, any of its fellow SARBICA member associations, or even the International Council of Archives were called by either side to submit an affidavit for the case. It thus falls on us at Illusio to illustrate how an archival institution or a community of archival experts may possibly view the case. Or at least, weigh in on whether and when archival interviews should be official secrets, and who typically has copyright, and explain why.

23 September 2016

Balled Over by the Empire

In our "Rise of the anti-intellectual, illiberal left" category, the question is:
Which of the following did not happen this week?

A. Social Justice Warriors waging war on pie. Empire Pie. I miss fafblog and its pie jokes.
B. Social Justice Warriors waging war on a museum. It put on a fundraising dinner called the Empire Ball to kick of its curated exhibition of the Tate's edgy, critical, anti-colonial take on Empire and Artists (co-branding yay or nay?). They object to the word empire, of course.
C. Social Justice Warriors waging war on Fox's Empire. The word empire is imperialist (duh) and triggering.