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Singapore's 'unapologetic autocrat' was far-sighted statesman to Modi

By Our Representative
In a scathing commentary, Ben Judah, author of best-seller "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin", has qualified Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew -- who died at the age of 91 on March 23 -- as someone whose legacy brought about "an unmitigated disaster" to several countries in the world, especially Eastern Europe.
"The cult of Lee has poisoned Eastern Europe, but we should remember that it is also a global phenomenon. Brilliant Western intellectuals, CEOs and leaders created this cult over many years at Davos and other conferences and summits of the global power elite, thus fueling the authoritarian temptation in Eastern Europe", Judah has said.
The commentary is significant as it comes close on the heels of praise showered on Lee by President Barrack Obama, who called him a “a true giant of history,” and Britain’s David Cameron acclaimed him for “one of the great success stories” of modern times.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called him a "far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders" whose life "teaches valuable lessons to everyone". India's corporate media praising him for "single-handedly" transforming "a poor, malarial port into the richest nation in the Indo-Pacific".
An article in a top daily said, "Lee's formula sounds familiar to anyone who has been listening to Modi's speeches on the economy. If Modi implements the Singapore-inspired reforms that his predecessors could not, Lee will be able to claim to have been pivotal to the transformation of the world's two largest countries by providing a tangible, viable model for both."
Calling him "Singapore’s unapologetic autocrat" who helped to "rehabilitate and legitimize authoritarianism", Judah says, Lee became "a global idea" of an "intellectual cult" that "not all autocrats are bad."
In his hard-hitting article in Politico Magazine, "The Curse of Lee Kuan Yew: The leader eulogized by Obama as a ‘giant of history’ is being used to re-legitimize tyranny", Judah regrets Lee is being regarded as a a symbol of "enlightened philosopher-kings" who could lead their countries "to prosperity and power without the hassle of liberal democracy."
Pointing out that today the cult of Lee is "so widespread that even the Russian minister directing Crimea points to Lee as a mentor", Judah underlines, "The problem is that in Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, strongmen inspired by Lee have only led their countries into war, chaos and economic dead ends, all the while professing to follow his example."
He adds, "The cult of Lee has allowed these elites in Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi to make the case that they could find an alternative path to success without liberal democracy. And this is the cult that the sycophantic eulogies of Western leaders are now elevating only further."
Judah believes, the Lee cult took off because "the appeal of the European Union waned", and "the myth of Singapore offered to Eastern European leaders the illusion of a high-growth, hard-man alternative".
According to Judah, "No country in Eastern Europe fell in love with Lee Kuan Yew quite as much as Russia, as I discovered while I was researching my book Fragile Empire in 2011-2012. I was frequently told by both Kremlin insiders in Moscow and regional governors that Lee Kuan Yew was the inspiration of Russia’s deepening authoritarianism."
Judah further says, "Thanks to the myth of Singapore, Kremlin elites came to believe—for the first time since the 1980s–that there could be a third way between Western liberal democracy, especially following the path of the European Union, and despotic authoritarian rule. This has turned out to be a bitter illusion during Putin’s third term as president."
In fact, says Judah, "The cult of Lee helped to keep the liberals in thrall to Putin when they had the power to halt his slide into expansionist nationalism. Many of those very those same advisers and politicians who once lauded the Singapore option can now be heard darkly muttering about Putin’s creeping dictatorship at think-tank conferences across Europe."

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