Manuscripts don’t burn, PAP

PAP Behemoth

In the Russian classic novel The Master and Margarita, the Devil descends upon Moscow in human form, bringing with him his group of sidekicks. Amongst the unworldly entourage is the big, evil cat Behemoth who finds demonic pleasure in challenging people, use of firearms and violent punishments such as twisting off people’s heads. They go around terrorising the people of the city, especially those who dare question the Devil’s existence. The Master and Margarita is a book that satirises a Stalinist state of suffocating bureaucratic order and repression of artistic expression.

In Singapore, Behemoth morphs into the form of a civilised-looking lawyer, who serves up threats of libel suits on anyone who dares question the running of Satan’s evil empire. In many ways, both the Russian and Singaporean versions of this evil cat are similar: they articulate well, walk on two hind legs and have a penchant for arguments and childish retaliations. The difference, though, is that the true Russian version is cuter, rather funny, and much less terrifying.

So, the local Behemoth has struck again—demanding that blogger Alex Au remove his series of posts questioning the AIM transaction or face legal action. What a way to start off the year, a slap in the face of an ongoing national conversation where unwelcome questions are met by the wrath of the demon cat in place of honest engagement, accountability and transparency.

In truth, what Mr Au had written was no worse than what numerous other blogs and websites and their commenters have already written on this dodgy transaction. But the government can’t sue everyone, so this is their idea of sending a signal of zero tolerance, by targeting the most prominent one they can get hold of.

Very aptly, the most famous quote from The Master and Margarita is “manuscripts don’t burn”, as explain on this website:

This phrase became a popular saying in the Soviet Union. It was used especially in reference to writers whose works were considered dangerous by the government. Many of these writers never wrote down their stories or poems. They memorized their works so that the police would not find copies of the writings. This method helped preserve their stories for years. As a result, “manuscripts don’t burn” because no matter what happens to the written copy of the work, it will always exist in the mind of its author.

You can bury an online copy of a blog post, but you can’t bury what’s already in everyone’s head. Stopping one blogger is not going to stop dozens of others or eradicate the hundreds of questions the people are asking. If anything, it fuels the backlash and their will to push for answers further.