Singapore – On February 2, 2019 (Saturday), a tribute event for the Merdeka Generation was held at Gardens by the Bay with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being one of the guest speakers.
With an audience of about 500 people, PM Lee paid tribute to those born in the 1950s, him included, through a story as he went through the history of the Merdeka Generation and what they have done in making Singapore what it is today.
It was during the 2018 National Day Rally that PM Lee coined the name “Merdeka Generation” for those who are in their 60s of which around 500,000 Singaporean are a part of.
The Prime Minister said that although success was never certain, “The Merdeka Generation has lived the Singapore story.” They have built good careers, provided for their families, and “lived full lives.” He added, “We can look back with satisfaction at what we have achieved.”
He also said that their history was not a superhero movie. No one knew what the future had in store and each crisis brought about a struggle and fight that needed overcoming. “We had to prove each time to ourselves and to the world that we had the tenacity to pull together and rise to the challenge.”
He started with the story of Malaysia and how the Malay community became a minority overnight due to Singapore’s sudden separation in 1965. He mentioned how businessmen lost their Malaysian market and how relatives became divided by a political border.
Two years after the separation, another ground-breaking news came when Britain decided to withdraw its troops from Singapore which left the country “exposed and vulnerable in a volatile and unstable region.” Even though the country was not yet stable, PM Lee said that everyone “gritted their teeth, built the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) quickly and kept Singapore safe.”
Next came the Vietnam war which led to a humiliating defeat for the American in 1976 as well as Laos and Cambodia succumbing to Communism.
The next focal point in history mentioned by the Prime Minister in his speech was 9-11. September 11, 2001, marked a devastating point in history with the World Trade Centers in the U.S. being bombed by terrorists. Southeast Asia wasn’t spared either because of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, said to be linked to Al-Qaeda, who was planning similar suicide attacks within Singapore. “Even so, we held together as a nation, supported one another and addressed the problem at its roots,” said PM Lee.
After terrorism came SARS, a danger that came from an unexpected direction. The Prime Minister recalled that fear and anxiety gripped the nation and that it took courage and discipline to go about their daily lives and to help each other out. “Many of these unsung heroes belong to the Merdeka Generation,” reminisced PM Lee Hsien Loong.
From there, he mentioned the economic crises which included the high inflation in 1973, the recession in 1985, the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, all of which the Merdeka Generation had gone through. He said that no easy way out was taken and it took the country using its saved up financial reserves in order to survive and make the country’s reputation trustworthy once more to investors.
All of the incidents mentioned in PM Lee’s story were defining moments for the Merdeka Generation. He said, “we accepted the bitter medicine that made us strong again. Each time we pulled together and overcame the challenge. We understood what was at stake. We lived through the struggle, we saw what our parents went through and we were determined to pick up from them and continue to build up Singapore.”
Passing the baton
PM Lee believes that the job of the Merdeka Generation is not yet done and another “great service” would be to pass on their experiences and values to the next generation of Singapore.
He said that more challenges would come for sure but it has already been proven by the Merdeka Generation that Singapore can go through any challenge as long as everyone is united.
He also mentioned the Merdeka Generation Package during his speech which was first introduced during his National Day Rally in 2018. Although details aren’t fully disclosed at the moment, this initiative is geared towards helping those born in the 1950s, including those born in the Pioneer Generation but didn’t get to avail of their package, with their medical expenses.
He added that it was a “substantial” package that expresses the nation’s gratitude towards the Merdeka Generation.
Watch his full speech here: