Sunday, May 13, 2012
杨荣文/ George Yeo
马可波罗的事迹至今还为人津津乐道。从莎士比亚的剧作《奥赛罗》（Othello）和《威尼斯商人》（The Merchant Of Venice），我们可以看到威尼斯在法律、政府、艺术及文化上所取得的骄人成就。在拿破仑于1797年到来前，从来没有人能够成功入侵威尼斯。威尼斯从来没有被占领或蹂躏。
就像我们来自中国和印度的先辈，早期的威尼斯人离开欧洲大陆，是因为那里的情况已经不可忍受。那是欧洲的黑暗时代，西罗马帝国正瓦解，浪潮般的野蛮人席卷欧洲大陆，所到之处奸淫掳掠及残杀破坏。这些离开陆地至少2-3英里（3.2-4.8公里）的岛屿提供了避难所，可以避开残暴的西歌特人阿拉力克（Alaric the Goth）或匈奴王阿提拉（Attila the Hun）。
Venice and Singapore: A Study in Parallels
“George Yeo, until recently Singapore's foreign minister, is a man given to thinking in profound historic terms. In a recent conversation, we asked him about the relevance of Venice's maritime republic to today's Singapore. To our surprise, he pulled out a speech from 1988, when he was Director of Joint Planning and Operation for the Singapore Armed Forces, in which he addressed that very topic. What follows is a condensed version of that speech.”
Singapore is geographically very small. The Swiss think they are small, but those who come to Singapore realize how big Switzerland really is by comparison. We have very little land, we don't have much air space, and even the seas are claimed by others. We are forced to plan and organize very carefully.
Life in Singapore is not easy. The truth is we have to work much harder than others to survive. But will hardship make us or break us? Are we strengthened or weakened in the process? Arnold J. Toynbee, in his massive Study of History, tells us that civilization is conceived not in ease, but in hardship. The greater the stimulus, the greater is the response.
Will we continue to succeed? We will fail if we are a house divided, if our leadership is weak, if we do not have a clear sense of what our essential interests are, and if we do not have the resolve to be the master of our own destiny?
Is there any example in history, then, of a small nation-state surviving any reasonable length of time? An example for us to take comfort in? A model to follow? There is such an example — and a brilliant one. It, too, had the lion as a symbol, the winged lion of the evangelist St. Mark. Venice — or the Most Serene Republic, as she called herself — lasted over a thousand years.
For much of this period, Venice flourished as the mistress of the Mediterranean. Her merchants were well-known throughout Europe and Asia for their business acumen, their industry and their sense of honor.
The exploits of Marco Polo are still familiar to us. In "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice," Shakespeare provides a picture of the heights Venice reached in the development of law, government, art and culture. Until Napoleon arrived in 1797, Venice was never successfully invaded. She was never occupied, never ravaged.
Refuge from the mainland
How did a collection of small islands — much smaller than present-day Singapore — in a shallow lagoon, with a population never exceeding a few hundred thousand, come to leave such a mark on history? Why did sane men from the European mainland decide in the first place to cross the water to settle on these swampy, inhospitable and unpromising islands?
Like our forefathers from China and India, the first Venetians left the mainland because conditions there were intolerable. Those were dark days in Europe, when the Western Roman Empire was disintegrating, when successive waves of barbarians swept across the mainland, raping and pillaging, wreaking death and destruction wherever they went. Better the safety of these islands separated from the mainland by at least two to three miles of water than face the wrath of Alaric the Goth or Attila the Hun.
Under the pressure of hardship, Venice built up her defenses, her economy and her institutions. The similarities to Singapore are remarkable — and we do well to draw lessons from her experience.
The defense of Venice was founded on naval power. She had a mighty complex of naval dockyards and workshops which gave the Arabic word "arsenal" to the English language. At its peak, that arsenal had a workforce of over 16,000 with the capacity to launch fully equipped warships at the rate of one every few hours.
That military power was used, first, in the defense of the republic and, second, in opening up sea lanes, trading routes and markets for her merchants. Venetian participation in the Crusades were never borne of romance, but always motivated by economic advantage.
Hers was a wise foreign policy. Its goal was never to be involved unnecessarily in the politics and strife of her neighbors on the mainland. Genoa, a keen competitor to Venice, lacked that wisdom. Genoa entangled herself in the wars of northern Italy and lost her independence as a result.
Venice instead turned her insularity to advantage. Always sensitive to the requirements of trade, which was her lifeblood, the city-state established a system of administration founded on constitutional principles, the rule of law and the collective interests of her merchants.
Slowly but steadily, with each invasion successfully repelled, with each crisis successfully overcome, she developed in her people that famous Venetian spirit that bonded Venetians everywhere together. A tradition of public service supplied the men of ability she needed for effective governance.
But Venice never felt invulnerable. She never took her success for granted. It was this sense of insecurity that spurred her on, that kept her guard up, her citizens united and her institutions vital.
The achievement of Venice is an inspiration to us in Singapore — how a tiny republic can overcome the limitations of its size and build up an economic empire based not on territorial aggrandizement, but on defense, diplomacy and free trade.
Though our country may be small, our minds must never be. Like the merchants of Venice, we have to be both nationalistic and cosmopolitan at the same time. Our spirit, too, must be that of the lion.
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The following article was originally found on the Business Times, 25 Oct 2011.
I'VE been coming to Singapore for the last 48 years, which makes me feel ancient. Mind you, the first visit in 1963 was merely a one-day stopover on a ship back to the UK.
We berthed at what is now the container terminal and I bought my first transistor radio at what is now Raffles Place, from a small shop which was near Change Alley. We could not afford Robinsons on the other side of the park.
Immediately, I can hear young Singaporeans saying, 'Huh?'
Singapore has changed dramatically. I came to live here in 1979 and stayed until 1997. Since then, I have worked here on and off every year and have had the opportunity to see the place change and grow.
The modern Singapore is a success story. From a swampy island, beset with mosquitoes, whose only claim to success was its geographical location and its huge harbour, it has become one of the world's leading cities.
You all know the statistics, because you are brought up on them. Shipping, oil refining, transport hub, banking centre, high-tech R&D, regional centre in every way. Singapore is a success.
Yet this is fragile. The world is truly global economically and Singapore exists only because of economics. The current outlook for the global economy is scary, to say the least, so Singapore must take stock.
You have had the same governing party since independence and if I have learnt one thing from them, it is that the nation requires stability. Without it, you are lost. I'll avoid the arguments about democracy because I'd like you to let me in next time I come to Changi.
But the message is very clear - do not throw away what your forefathers fought so hard to establish.
The modern Singapore shocks - in the nicest sense. Our first home was in Upper Thomson, with kampongs on three sides. The night-soil tanker visited every morning and woke me up, to get to work in a non-aircon bus. Being an ang moh and not used to the weather, I used to leave wet marks under my shoes by the time we got to Ocean Building. Now you have the most modern of buildings, an advanced transport system (okay, it gets crowded, but the aircon works) and fairly full employment.
You are also known as a place of enjoyment for the well-heeled, and some of them now live here. You have casinos, Formula One racing, the best zoo in the world, arguably the world's best food and an amazing number of foreigners.
Which is where this starts to get serious. Singapore started and sustained itself through the incredible efforts of its people. The government was tough and restrictive, but for a good reason - to establish and prosper as a nation.
Discipline was key to this and I know - I had my hair cut in 1979, but I didn't really mind. I had the privilege of working with several of the 'Old Guard' and admired their ethic. Singapore prospered and built so much of its current infrastructure because of it.
The HDB estates are the best public housing in the world. Don't believe it? Try another country. Jurong has just gone unbelievable for its size. The CBD has to be close to the best in the world for businesses.
But there is a problem. Years ago, if a taxi driver even mentioned political dissent, we would both look around to see who was listening.
Today, I hear dissent from many Singaporeans. The last general election is testament to a growing sense of unease among the population. The haves and the have-nots are getting further apart and the discipline is fading.
There is much dissent about the apparent unchecked immigration from Asian sources, despite the agreed need for it on macro-economic grounds.
What worries me as a sympathetic observer is not the development and the immigration - I can only applaud it. It is the lack of knowledge and sensitivity of the younger generation of Singaporeans.
Singapore was fought for and won as a globally important nation by the mid-1980s. Its younger management have been born since then and display two general problems. The first is that 'it has always been like this, so it will continue' - an awful sense of birthright and complacency. The second is a lack of understanding of how the country was born in the first place.
Asians have a tradition of respect for their elders. Singaporeans are in danger of losing it. If you do so, you put your nation at risk.
The writer was a partner with Price Waterhouse Singapore for 18 years. He now runs his own consultancy in business communications in the UK. He spends several months a year with clients in Singapore. Email: email@example.com
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