Many Unitary States do have Autonomous Units – A Reply to Professor Peter Schalk’s Anti-Sri Lankan Bigotry
Posted on November 18th, 2012

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

 My last conversation with Prof Peter Schalk was in the faculty dining room at Georgetown University in the fall of 2005, when I was a visiting professor at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. We were speaking at seminar on conflict in the Asian region hosted by the East””…”West Centre of the University of Hawaii. At brunch I believe it was, I reiterated with emphasis, to Prof Schalk what I had said at the seminar, namely that the Tigers strategic military achievement was unimpressive to me from a comparative historical point of view; that they were clearly inferior as an irregular fighting force to the Hezbollah for one, and that the next war, which was imminent, could and would result in the military defeat of the LTTE.

 This, I might add, was before the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President of Sri Lanka. I made the same points as a panellist at a seminar hosted by the Georgetown Centre for Strategic and International Studies, roughly around the same time.

 Now Prof Peter Schalk makes a critique of my presentation at the CNRS in Paris. He goes further, and criticises that prestigious institution, the chair, the other distinguished panellists, an eminent scholar who spoke from the audience, and the audience itself.

 The problem then arises: why on earth didn’t he make these points at the seminar itself? Why didn’t he debate me and thus try to convince the audience? Why, in fact, did he remain utterly and absolutely silent? Indeed I didn’t notice that he was in the room, and know that he had been present only when reading his diatribe on Tamilnet.

Prof Schalk’s main objection seems to be that I advocated autonomy within a unitary state. His main contention seems to be that this is, by definition, a structural impossibility. He also claims that therefore, no social scientist would have advocated the solution that I did.

 Since Prof Schalk is not himself a social scientist, I suppose we might excuse him for not knowing that a great many states which choose to define themselves as unitary, do in fact have autonomous units. These range from the UK to the Philippines.

 What is most ironic about Prof Schalk’s position is that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) main, democratic political party of the Tamils of Sri Lanka’s North and East, many of whose leaders have been murdered by Prof Schalk’s pin-ups, the Tigers, have received and accepted an invitation to visit China, a unitary state if ever there was one, precisely to study arrangements for regional autonomy.\

 The Chinese constitution which defines the state as unitary, also enshrines the concept of ethnic regional autonomy””…”so perhaps Prof Schalk should direct his absurd, politically fundamentalist objections to the leadership of the TNA and the Chinese Communist party, rather than to me.

8 Responses to “Many Unitary States do have Autonomous Units – A Reply to Professor Peter Schalk’s Anti-Sri Lankan Bigotry”

  1. Peter Schalk Says:

    The comment by the ambassador of Sri Lanka confirms what we all have foreboded, namely that he has the unitary state of China as a model for Sri Lanka. The case of China shows clearly what “regional autonomy” may mean in the case of Tibet – nothing. The ambassador has passed many junctions where he had to chose to continue his career as demagogue or as social scientist. His present comment contains only three invectives. How come?
    Peter Schalk

  2. nuanho Says:

    I’m sorry to say this but it is you Peter Schalk who’s writings are filled with invective. Your attack on Dayan Jayatilleka through Tamilnet (known to be an extremist Tamil website) is one such example. It certainly is not a piece of writing that one would expect from a professor at the University of Uppsala. Dayan’s reply to your diatribe, in contrast, is quite gentlemanly. To be honest, most of your writings display an extremely pro-Tamil bias, even glorifying the violence of the Tamil Tigers who destroyed the Sri Lankan Tamil community from within. Your hatred towards Sri Lanka is quite palpable. One can only hope you would act more like a professional in line with the standards of the University of Uppsala.

  3. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    As a matter of history, Tamil majority regions in SriLanka do not even remotely qualify for autonomy, unlike nations like Tibet, Mongolia etc, which have been ancient independent states. SriLanka has a history as a unitary state for over 3000 years and the Tamil majority regions in Sri Lanka were created only in the last century by Western colonial powers who not only brought them from India to work on plantations, but were given favourable treatment over and above the Sinhala natives in those regions if not the entire country itself. There is absolutely no justification for ethnicity or religious based autonomous regions in SriLanka. However, devolution of power to regions, whetehr Province, District or Village could be a practical solution, as long as they are not on ethnic or religious grounds. Those misguided or power hungry Tamil and Muslim groups within theor respective communities must learn to live as equals in any part of Sri Lanka and accept the ground reality that all nations in the world have minority communities and the solution is not to create separate nations for each minority.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    Peter Schalk:

    There are 2 issues here.

    1. Regional autonomy – only a few unitary nations have meaningful regional autonomy.
    2. Ethnicity based regions – very few countries have this model.

    Countries that have both are extremely few.

    If you take a look at a map of Sri Lanka, you will realize it is an island the size of Tasmania. Regionalising it borders absurdity. Just north of the island is the Indian state of Tamil Nadu which means the homeland of Tamils. It is a large landmass. All Tamil cultural and linguistic productions are made in Tamil Nadu. It is worthwhile to seek a Tamil autonomous region there.

  5. nuanho Says:

    An autonomous region is a first-level administrative subdivision of People’s Republic of China. Like Chinese provinces, an autonomous region has its own local government, but an autonomous region theoretically has more legislative rights. An Autonomous Region is a minority entity which has a higher population of a particular minority ethnic group. There are five autonomous regions in China: the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Mongols in Inner Mongolia, the Tibetans in Tibet, the Hui in Ningxia and the Zhuang in Guangxi.

    Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China (2005)

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    Since the Tamil Nadu Caste Structure is at the heart of the Tamil Problem, let us look into that.

    A zone, free of the Caste Structure, should be created within Tamil Nadu itself. Since it is the Caste Structure and its attendant “Institutionalized Discrimination” and resultant Poverty that makes Tamils flee Tamil Nadu to other countries, mainly Sri Lanka, and reasons to seize parts of Lanka even through terrorism, to solve this problem it makes sense to create a Caste Free Zone within Tamil Nadu itself since that where the Tamil Caste Structure begins. Solve the problem at the source itself, without having it spread into Lanka and other countries. Also, the UN should participate to bring in a modern sanitary system into Tamil Nadu, releasing some 95,000 TN state employed caste related ‘night soil carriers’.

    Instead of seizing parts of Sri Lanka for Tamil Eelam, an act which will exacerbate the problem, intellectuals abroad ought to concentrate on helping to solve the Caste problem where it beings, i.e. Tamil Nadu.

    Focus should be on needs/upliftment of low caste Tamils of Tamil Nadu, and not on Sri Lanka as Lanka Tamils enjoy facilities (Free Education, Free Health Care), not found in Tamil Nadu if they were there.

    There are a few Tamil only pockets within Sri Lanka which are still Caste conscious. They are Jaffna and Upcountry, the latter having a ‘self imposed Caste mind set’. Caste, after all, is an ancient man made instrument to govern society, now defunct, and can be discarded gently without harm to anyone.

    We wonder whether Prof. Schalk if even aware of the main facts of the case, or are his views clouded by something else ?

  7. nuanho Says:

    Whatever the case, it’s rather ludicrous for less than 10% of Sri Lanka’s population to claim 30% of the land area and 60% of the coastline as some exclusive Tamil preserve. I’m sure Professor Schalk, whatever his academic shortcomings, will be able to appreciate that. Any devolution package will require the authorization of the Sri Lankan people at a referendum and if this package means institutionalizing ethnic bantustans in Sri Lanka, then I will vote against it.

  8. Fran Diaz Says:

    Re Security issues, DECENTRALIZATION rather than Devolution will protect the country far better. The SLAS qualified Govt. Agents did a fantastic job of decentralized governance. India holds together because of its time tested Civiil Service system through well qualified personnel, a similar system of Decentralization.

    Its time to go ‘back to the future’ for Sri Lanka’s mode of governance.

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