Mind your language
by Dayan Jayatilleka
Courtesy The Official Govenment News Portal of
Unfair criticism must be met with fair counter-criticism. If the criticism
is private, so too should be the counter-criticism. Insofar as the criticism
is public, so too should be the defence, and the counter-criticism.
No self respecting state can respond in private, to criticism of it
The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was gracious enough to
issue a statement on Sri Lanka's 60th anniversary of Independence. He
'The 60th anniversary of Sri Lankan independence is a time to reflect
on the health and welfare of the nation and its people as it moves forward
in the 21st century. The cycle of violence in Sri Lanka has worsened
in recent weeks. Civilian lives have been lost from all communities
and regions of Sri Lanka. The end of the formal 2002 cease-fire agreement
does not remove the obligation of all parties to the conflict to protect
'I wholeheartedly condemn these attacks upon civilians and those responsible.
My thoughts and condolences are with the victims of the attacks, and
their families. I call for an immediate end to practices which target
civilians or put them in peril. I urge all in Sri Lanka to take steps
to safeguard the civilian population and find ways to reduce the violence.
'Violence can never provide an answer to Sri Lanka's problems. People
in Sri Lanka need to find space to realize their many similarities,
rather than becoming further polarized by their differences. A sustainable
solution to Sri Lanka's conflict can only emerge through a just political
process involving all communities.'
The statement does not congratulate or wish Sri Lanka well on its important
Independence Anniversary. It moves straight into a little homily commending
reflection, a reminder from the former colonial master on the need for
such a practice. While it bewails and bemoans civilian deaths, the three
paragraph statement makes no reference to the LTTE, terrorism or separatism.
It contains not the slightest hint of solidarity in the struggle against
terrorism, from a fellow democracy. It concludes with the unctuous observation
that "Violence can never provide an answer to Sri Lanka's problems."
This leaves one wondering if violence can ever provide an answer to
Iraq's or Afghanistan's problems, because in both countries British
troops are present, engaging in the practice precisely of violence!
Neither country is part of Britain. In both countries British troops
are invaders. Neither country did any harm to Britain. In the case of
one, Britain led the pack in lying to the world and its own people about
WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) as a prelude to invading and occupying
Sri Lanka is fighting a war that is just by any criteria. It is a war
against separation of a small island. It is a war of a democracy against
an enemy that is both totalitarian and terrorist.
How well are the Sri Lankan armed forces doing against the LTTE? The
evidence is in a professional, four page, diagrammatically illustrated
special report in one of the most respected and arguably the best known
South Asian magazine, India Today. Check out the latest issue with its
frank interview with President Rajapakse and its report on the war and
the Sri Lankan armed forces, entitled 'Getting Prabhakaran'.
It is said that each generation has to re-fight the battles not of
their fathers but of their grandfathers. The matter is all rather simple.
Sri Lanka is fighting a war to prevent separation, to unite the country,
to maintain it as a single territory, to make the writ of the state
run from West to East, North to South of our little island. This is
a struggle undertaken by many societies at an earlier stage of their
history. It is part of what is known as the bourgeois democratic revolution,
i.e. those tasks undertaken or completed by the rising bourgeois class
of those nations. In the global South, this task of national unification
often comes up against the opposition of the Western powers (as it did
in China). This seems to be the case in present day Sri Lanka too. In
such historical situations, the tasks of national unification combine
with the struggle to win or defend national independence and sovereignty.
The task of national-territorial unification intertwine with the left
over or reactivated task of defending national independence against
Western intervention, hegemonism and diktat, or in a word - old fashioned
but accurate - imperialism. It is a term that David Miliband's highly
(and deservedly) respected father, Marxist political theorist Ralph
Miliband, was not afraid to use. In these twin tasks, the national capitalist
leaderships of the East play a role, sometimes a leading role, unlike
those in the West. This is what led Lenin to speak paradoxically of
an "Advanced Asia and Backward Europe". Even more striking
was the development of this idea by Stalin, who concluded in the 1920s,
that inasmuch as he stands up against Western imperialism for his nation,
despite his ideological backwardness, "the Emir of Afghanistan
is more progressive than the British Labour Party". This is certainly
true of many a Third World and Eurasian leader including those of Sri
Lanka, in relation to the British (New) Labour Party!
Sometimes the task of national unification takes a particularly enlightened
multilingual, multi-religious character, but in many, even most cases,
the struggle requires the mobilization of the peasantry and the nationalist
intelligentsia and therefore takes a majoritarian nationalist, even
religio-nationalist, character. The Year 1848 which witnessed radical
democratic revolutions throughout Europe was called the Springtime of
Nations and that season spilled over into a conflict of nationalisms.
Uneven development dictated different ratios of Reason and Romanticism,
of secularism and religiosity, of forward looking and backward looking
elements in each democratic upheaval or nationalist movement.
While the American Revolution of 1776 was exemplarily enlightened, an
earlier experience of enormous progressive import in English - and Western
- history, the Cromwellian Revolution, had a religious charge and a
dark downside in Ireland.
British Foreign Secretary Miliband's advice to Sri Lanka, which reeks
of retro-chic in that it seems to forget that it is sixty years since
Britain ruled us, must be matched against some excellent advice he received
recently from the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, probably
the most impressive Foreign Minister in service today (whose twin lectures
at the UN in Geneva I greatly look forward to attending this week).
Incidentally his early years as a diplomat were spent in Sri Lanka,
beginning in 1972. When the British Ambassador to Moscow dug in his
heels over the presence of the British Council in St Petersburg and
said something to the world's media to the effect that (as the old protest
song went) "we shall not be moved", the British found that
in fact they were, the very next day. Commenting on the episode, Russia's
Foreign Minister said that Britain had not obtained Russia's permission
to set up these British Council offices. More importantly he made an
observation of the statements emanating from the British Foreign Secretary
and the UK govt, remarking that "this is not the language with
which to speak to Russia
.some people have not got over their colonial
frame of mind and are still nostalgic for their colonial past."
If any country takes a stand that is tilted against us or is ambivalent
in this most fundamental of struggles, then we must recognize that there
exists an incompatibility of interests between those countries and ours.
Such states are not firm friends or staunch allies. It should be made
clear to them that their stand today directly influences the role they
will or will not have in influencing the post-war, post-conflict order
in Sri Lanka. Those who stand against us, who threaten or attempt to
intimidate us; those who vacillate and temporize during this war, have
forfeited the chance to play a role in the peace. They must be limited
to a strictly diplomatic presence. There are on the other hand, states
that have uncritically supported us during this war, or have voiced
their misgivings and advice in private. They are the ones with whom
we have a basic identity of interests. These are our friends, allies
and partners. They are the extended family to which we truly belong.
Some choices are easy. The Sri Lankan people are politically among
the most sophisticated in the Third World and even the newly emergent
democracies of the Second World, given not only our levels of literacy
but also the exercise of universal franchise from 1931. A recent Nielsen
poll conducted in cooperation with the Sunday Times contained some important
judgments by a representative sample of the Sri Lankan people. They
rated the greatest leaders of Independent Sri Lanka in the following
order: (Founding Father) DS Senanayake, President Ranasinghe Premadasa
and incumbent President Mahinda Rajapakse. (I am proud to have supported
and worked with two of the three).The people unerringly discern synchronicity
where the pseudo-intelligentsia does not. The poll also placed President
Rajapakse way ahead of his current competitors, with former Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe (economic neoliberal, peacenik and darling of the
West) and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga (darling of the Tamil
liberals) scoring a truly pathetic 1% each! Set these figures along
the results of recent polls which show figures of a massive majority
( 85%) identifying separatist terrorism as the most important issue
and supporting the military efforts of the incumbent, and you get the
overall picture of where the Sri Lankan people stand, and just how isolated
the Colombo "comprador" critics are.
What we must do is to renew our commitment to and reactivate "really
existing devolution", that is provincial level devolution as contained
in the 13th amendment. The issue is not whether such devolution is intrinsically
desirable. The issue is that we cannot afford not to do so. If we do
not want a replay in some form or the other of the bitter experience
of 1987, when the advancing Sri Lankan Army under General Gerry de Silva
and more famously Brigadiers Kobbekaduwa and Wimalaratne, were stopped
in their tracks by external intervention, we must devolve. Tamil Nadu,
the DMK factor, the coalitional character of governments in Delhi, and
elections in India this year or next, are facts that we cannot ignore.
We cannot afford South India becoming once again a safe haven or rear
base for the LTTE. We can still less afford anti-aircraft rocketry being
smuggled in through South India to the LTTE. We need India to play a
more active role in cooperating with us to put down Prabhakaran who
has cost both our countries so much. The lowest price we have to pay
is the full and immediate implementation of the 13th amendment
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