Furore over Anunayake Thera’s ‘Hitler’ remarks: sound and fury signifying nothing  
Posted on June 27th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

A cogent piece of advice given by Ven. Wendaruwe Upali , the Anunayake Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa  in the course of a 30 minute long anushasanawa (sermon) at the conclusion of an alms giving ceremony held at his residence at Mirihana to invoke blessings on him  on June 20, 2018 has caused a storm of adverse comment.  It was a somewhat formal private occasion.  Gotabhaya marked his 69th birthday that day with an arms-giving to the monks. The monk’s exhortation to Gotabhaya was that he establish a strong  and stable government  that is ‘daehaemi’ (righteous). Speaking figuratively, he suggested the unlikely eventuality of Gotabhaya becoming a Hitler or acquiring military control over the country to save it from further decline. In the context in which these words were uttered, it was very clear that the monk was not exhorting Gotabhaya to assume those dictatorial roles. He was merely stressing his point. It was obvious that the monk was going on the assumption that a Gotabhaya presidency after the next presidential election was a certainty. No one in the audience  would have taken the phrases hitler kenek wela hari” (even by acting like a Hitler), military palanayak hari aragena” (even by assuming military control) literally. He was using a bit of exaggeration to emphasize  the importance of his message. To the native Sinhala speakers, the implicit negation of the literal sense of those two phrases  in the monk’s speech was something  easy to infer. An angry mother who shouts at her ten year old son I’ll break your legs”  is normally not taken literally. The monk used these two phrases as intensifiers to stress the point that the nation is in dire need of the kind of strong, honest, and dependable leadership that the people are convinced only Gotabhaya is capable of providing at this juncture in the absence of Mahinda (who is prevented from contesting for president a third time in terms of 19A).

As far as I can ascertain, something that was completely ignored in the media was the loud laughter from the Rajapaksa brothers that greeted the monk’s reference to Hitler! That is, they understood the gist of the monk’s message; the Hitler comparison was so incongruous with Gotabhaya’s character and their own policies that it was something laughable, especially from a Buddhist monk who epitomizes the universal compassion that is of the essence of the Buddhist philosophy; they knew it for what it was: the monk was only trying to impress on them the urgency of the need for Gotabhaya’s leadership as he (the monk) perceived it. Surely, they were all embarrassed by that Hitler comment. Even a slight faux pas like this could be grist to the anti-Gota/Rajapaksa propaganda mill of some who might be better claimants for the unflattering title.  Mahinda Rajapaksa was out of countenance as he emerged from the alms-giving to be confronted by the media.  That showed his sense of unexpected disappointment. No doubt, his brothers experienced the same feeling of something carefully built up turning into a sudden fiasco. Their discomfiture was natural, for they knew that the monk’s remarks were going to be taken out of context and their meaning distorted to the advantage of their opponents, and even among a few of their supporters who missed the point.

This is how the pro-yahapalana ECONOMYNEXT website (which I once mistakenly believed to be a balanced, reliable news source)  reported the controversial piece of news:

A senior Buddhist monk counselling former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to emulate Hitler and establish a military dictatorship may have seriously hurt his bid for the presidency, according to close associates.

A chief priest of the Asgiriya chapter, Vendaruwe Upali, blessed Rajapaksa on his 69th birthday Wednesday by urging him to follow the German dictator Hitler and take over the country even if it means establishing military rule.”

This is misreporting of the meanest kind. The monk never counseled” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to emulate Hitler and establish a military dictatorship”. The mentioning of Hitler and the reference to military rule suggested two extreme solutions that he was sure Gotabhaya with his personality, moral qualities, and past record would never resort to. He invoked the two instances to stress the urgency of his request. What the monk called upon Gotabhaya to do was to establish a stable government under his strong leadership that adheres to sound principles of democratic governance in accordance with the dhamma (i.e., righteousness). For a Buddhist, the moral way taught in  Buddhism is synonymous with  righteousness. The ECONOMYNEXT reporter says that, according to (Gotabhaya’s) ‘close associates’, this counseling has seriously hurt his bid for the presidency”. (This is something unlikely to have been said by anyone close to him, because he hasn’t declared his candidacy yet.)  These alleged close associates could have initially felt like that. But, by now they must have overcome their misgivings. It is ridiculous to claim that the monk blessed” Gotabhaya by urging him to follow the example of Hitler and take over the country even if it meant establishing military rule!

The alms-giving was held at Gotabhaya’s residence on June 20, 2018. Following is my response to a relevant news  video clip uploaded on the lankacnews  website on the following day (June 21). It showed two Nayake theras  speaking on the occasion. The video included only two short extracts from their sermons, one from each. It is useful to learn what both of them said, speaking on behalf of the Maha Sangha. The words that led to controversy were uttered by the monk (above named) who was the second to speak. The following is my verbatim translation of the words of the monk who spoke first, Ven.  Kotugoda Dhammawasa Nayake Thera (I have inserted my explanations in parentheses for the benefit of the non-Sinhala speaker):

Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa fulfilled a great responsibility. He saved the country. These people (the Rajapaksa siblings) who are here were behind him. There’s a feeling widely prevalent among the people of this country that if he does not come forward (i.e., if there is a legal impediment that prevents Mahinda from offering himself as a candidate for the presidency at the next election) you are the next person most suitable for a position (for such a position). We are very happy about that.  The endorsement that the Pohottuwa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) got around the country clearly shows what the attitude of the people is. It can be understood from this  that the country (further)needs your services and your family’s. Mr Basil (Rajapaksa) here, is experienced in serving (the country). We see various shortcomings in the current administration. (This is surely an understatement.) Therefore, the people are fed up (with the way things are going). We the Maha Sangha call upon you to commit yourself to a firm resolution to extend your fullest cooperation to the people for the purpose of safeguarding this (country and the Buddhasasana)”.

The second speaker, as recorded in the video, Ven.  Wendaruwe Upali, the Asgiriya Anunayake Thera, addressing Gotabhaya in his turn, reinforced, in his own way, what Ven. Dhammawasa said earlier:

You have been called a Hitler. So, what we finally remind you is that you might even become a Hitler (which is unlikely, given your character) and rebuild the country. (Loud laughter was heard from the listeners at this point). What the Maha Sanga finally reiterates is that you rebuild this country even by resorting to a military administration (as a last resort, which is also unlikely in your case)”.  (It was clear that he referred to these two options as unlikely necessities.)

Only a person with a good knowledge of spoken Sinhala and some empathy with the Sinhala Buddhist culture can do justice to the monks’ speeches here, that is, only such a person can understand what they really meant.  The monk didn’t literally mean that Gotabhaya become a veritable Hitler. He knows that he won’t. He only stressed what the previous monk said: As the Pohottuwa victory at the local government election demonstrated, the popular demand is for a Rajapaksa period again. But since Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot become president a third time (in terms of the 19A), the mantle falls on one of his brothers, probably on  Gotabhaya. The country is sliding down in the view of the monks. They are insisting that Gotabhaya become the president according to the popular will (i.e., when he is elected to that post by the popular vote, of which the monks are confident);  they are sure that the country will return to the desired political stability, communal harmony, and economic development in a peaceful Sri Lanka, whose territorial integrity and national security as a single sovereign nation are permanently guaranteed. That the sort of country country was fast emerging under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, particularly after the defeat of separatist terrorism in 2009 till the end of 2014.

The country’s voters (most of whom are familiar with Sinhala and the Buddhist culture) have no problem understanding the real meaning of the Anunayake thera’s admonition to Gotabhaya, and the irrelevance of his innocuous reference to Hitler and military rule. Sri Lankan voters also understand that the Maha Sangha is an integral, organic part of the majority Sinhala Buddhist society. Their moral influence on the rulers is indispensable for the freedom and security of all communities to flourish. The opinions of anti-national media mercenaries, NGO peace-nicks, and other vested interests are irrelevant to Sri Lankans, if their franchise is not obstructed, and remains intact despite unpatriotic politicians’ current machinations.

5 Responses to “Furore over Anunayake Thera’s ‘Hitler’ remarks: sound and fury signifying nothing  ”

  1. dhane Says:

    If you see the Germany economic & political situation prevailed before Hitler 1930 was very much similar to present Sri Lanka. Unemployment, Most business were taken over by Jews and controlling the politicians & economy. See what is difference in Sri Lanka today. So we need strong leader like Hitler to develop the country same as Hitler did as soon he came into power. Autobahns [German High way], VW & many international famous companies started rapid progress after Hitlar. Not to killed opponents. We know very well most of the Politicians are “Modas: who cannot understand the real meaning “An angry mother who shouts at her ten year old son I’ll break your legs” is normally not taken literally. The monk used these two phrases as intensifiers to stress the point that the nation is in dire need of the kind of strong, honest, and dependable leadership that the people are convinced only Gotabaya is capable of providing at this juncture in the absence of Mahinda (who is prevented from contesting for president a third time in terms of 19A).” This was the correct message these ignorant & jealous politicians cannot understand. Any O Level passed child in S/C will understand the meaning but these politicians cannot understand as most of them are not even O Level. Lets have Presidential Election as see the results.

  2. Hiranthe Says:

    @dhane,

    Short and sweet; “Lets have Presidential Election and see the results”

    Well said!!!.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Going for another presidential election is a huge risk. It all hinges on Gotabaya. Sirisena/UNP regime only has to disrupt Gotabaya and the nation will be in grave danger. Another Rajapaksa will struggle to win a presidential election and will not be as patriotic as Gotabaya even if he wins. Mahinda is not likely to support another clan to represent him.

    The Special Court to prosecute large scale corruption, etc. sits from July 15 and it will speed up court cases against former regime people. This is timed to target the 2019 presidential election.

    If EP is abolished, Mahinda will certainly be the next head of state. That is a far safer option. There are no cases pending against Mahinda.

  4. samurai Says:

    While I do not dispute what Rohana Wasala says, my view is that the Asgiriya Deputy Chief Prelate should have cited a better example to express his desire for a strongman or authoritarian rule and avoided the flak he has drawn. It is an example which can be easily misinterpreted as has happened.

    The monk could have instead cited a leader like Lew Kuan Yew or Putin, even if every policy of theirs cannot be applied to Sri Lanka.

    Hitler is just one among the world’s ruthless dictators but his name stands out primarily because of his anti-Jewish holocaust and his role which led to World War II that ended in Germany’s total defeat and its division which lasted until 1990. It overshadowed whatever he may have achieved for the good of Germany during the first few years of his rule.

    Stalin too was a mass murderer and Pol Pot was far worse but their names are below Hitler in the list of the world’s tyrants, because their armies did not/could not overrun so many countries unlike the Nazi German forces did, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

    In my view, what makes Pol Pot different from Hitler and Stalin is that he committed auto-genocide – slaughtered his own people (irrespective of their politics) and devastated the land of his birth in the name of building a communist paradise and did absolutely nothing to develop the country.

    Yet his representative was an honored guest at the Non-Aligned Nations summit in Colombo in 1976!

  5. Randeniyage Says:

    Dilrook says “If EP is abolished, Mahinda will certainly be the next head of state. That is a far safer option. There are no cases pending against Mahinda.”

    I read the 20A proposal too. I still prefer the new type of “lesser powered” president to be elected by people, it can be done together with a General Election without costing public. (One extra tick only)
    It is good if more people can join this debate with positive, unbiased, non-personal pros and cons but most people just join the existing banwagons instead.
    I too don’t see any disadvantage to Mahinda. Only reason I can think of is, it is difficult to change the constitution back again ( as it needs 2/3 majority) to have a more powerful pre2015 position of president. That MUST be the reason.

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