By S. Sivathasan –
Hype and hyperbole
“At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense I tell you that the National Socialist movement will go on for 1,000 years!… Don’t forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!” – Adolf Hitler in Berlin, June 1934
Divested of the hyperbole the picture is little different in Sri Lanka. Where does the country stand today? Pursued by a menacing evil with likely rescuers yet to unite. To redeem the people and to change course, there is strength enough. But to subordinate self-interest, patriotic fervor needs to supervene. In no time if the dross gets burnt out in the fever heat of unity, evil is sure to be overrun. What gives credence to optimism? Voters in the mass are on the verge of showing the power of the ballot when a unified leadership comes forward with regime change as the watchword and a robustly new political order as both message and programme.
History Fails to Teach.
History is replete with many a tragedy. Two among them were seen most explicitly in Germany. An inexplicable first was the ease with which Hitler proceeded as if to a predestined goal. In the twenties the ground work was laid for one party rule dominated by a single forceful ruler. Historical circumstances obtaining in Europe after the world war facilitated the emergence of a strong leader. The Treaty of Versailles humiliating to the German psyche needed decisive rejection. Europe shuddering at Russian Bolshevism desired the advance checked and repulsed. In Hitler’s Germany it saw a developing bulwark that was uncompromising. There was thus a growing spirit of accommodation to Hitler’s ascent to power. A situation that was turning in his favor, he capitalized on to the full.
Hype and high expectations apart, were Europe’s hopes of comfort. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin’s words “Peace for our time” made in 1938, well past 9 years of Hitler in the limelight, were a misreading of Hitler and his times. In Sri Lanka the polity can make no mistake after seeing the President’s exploits for 9 years. Nor can the comity of nations err in its judgment and remain complacent.
Mein kamph mischievously called Hitler ‘Chinthana’ by the writer was published in Germany in 1925. The local Chinthana nearer home was published in 2005. The former required much cerebration from a powerful mind. For the latter little intellection from a humdrum brain sufficed. When the two are placed together there is no comparison but a chasm in contrast. Yet the Nazi leader’s 9 years to 1934 and the SLFP’s 9 years to 2014, bear close resemblance. In the same space both snuffed out democracy.
First a comparison of the 2 years 1934 and 2014 though separated by a gap of 80. The year 1934 was a tragic landmark in the descent of Germany into full scale dictatorship. The ENABLING ACT enacted on 23rd March 1933, paved the way for the precipitous fall of Germany. It gathered momentum in 1934. As of now Sri Lanka is on the brink of plunging into the inferno, law or no law. On this article I put my pen to paper on Thursday and in a few hours it was reported that ATHTHA (Truth) office of the Communist Party is sealed. No surprise, coming events cast their shadow. The Presidential election is life and death, a do or die one for the regime and its principal custodians.
Enabling Act of 1933 in Germany
With popular support and seat strength to match, Hitler’s plans scripted in advance began to unfold. On February 27th 1933, Reichstag was set on fire. On 28th Reichstag Fire Decree was passed. It suspended basic rights and allowed detention without trial. The Decree under Article 48 of Weimer Constitution gave powers to the President to take emergency measures for public safety. Coaxed by Hitler he took them. Activities of the German Communist Party were suppressed. CP members numbering 4,000 were arrested. Nazi Party became the largest one but without an absolute majority. Nazi violence spread across the country. Intimidation brought in some accommodative spirit among opponents.
On 21st March the new Reich was constituted. To exercise full political control Hitler required the Enabling Act. To pass the Bill 2/3 was needed in the Reich, ie an additional 144 seats (2/3 of 647 = 432 – 288 = 144). He set on his task. The Communist Party (KPD) with 81 seats was already banned. Social Democrats (SPD) having 120 seats were kept out with the aid of the Reichstag Fire Decree. The Centre Party was decisive. Reservations the leader had were assuaged with Hitler’s promise that President Hindenburg would retain his veto power. The DNVP agreed to vote in favour. The Bill was passed 441 to 81.
The Act gave the cabinet full legislative powers for four years. With some exceptions it even permitted some deviations from the constitution and gave power to Hitler to enact laws bypassing the Reichstag. With the Enabling Act Hitler government became a de facto dictatorship.
Sri Lankan Situation
In the trajectory of a dictatorship, the incumbent regime with the serving President has traversed more than half way. Hitler’s goal was well defined and his journey single minded. Conquest of Europe if not the world to make Germany great. All effort in Sri Lanka is directed by the President to make a single family wealthy and mighty. Destruction of the country is of no consequence to the regime and the people are existing in disgust. Regime change to interdict the journey and to change course is the current will of the people. If this be true how will the President take it?
All this while if the path of choice was Hitlerite, at what spot does he stand today? At the ENABLING ACT stage with advantages that Hitler did not have in 1933. Unlike Hitler who had 44% of the seats in the legislature, Sri Lankan President has 75%. Hitler had a President above him in 1933 to give assent to a Bill, the President has none. He can get a Constitutional Amendment through in half a day when Hitler took one. The German Miracle can be superseded by the Miracle of Asia.
The Enabling Act was passed by both chambers of Parliament on 23 March 1933 and signed by President Paul von Hindenburg the same day. Sri Lanka has not failed to display the same haste in very many issues of import. Speed and levity thrown at the face of former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake were deplorable. These actions have angered the whole country. Disdain for what many a country treats with sanctity is the measure of disregard for the law and the rule of it. Till secure ascension, Hitler went through the motions of democratic behavior: 6 elections in a short span as if to denote consultation with the people. Mahinda too had 2 Presidential elections, 1 Parliamentary, 17 Provincial and several for local bodies. Frequency to beguile, violence to win and roughnecks as operatives were strategies employed in both countries.
As in previous decades, many a Ceylonese (pre 1972) and many a Sri Lankan, foresee danger. Complacency however has always been a national affliction. Thiruvalluvar’s words of prudence are good to note. “The wise have premonitions of things to come. The not so wise have not been inducted to it”. He further advices, “The life of one who takes no warning, will be destroyed as surely as a haystack on fire”.
Hitler a Lesson to Humanity
Hitler riveted upon Germany a dictatorship that was most rigorous. The steps taken piled one on the other in a manner that was unobtrusive to his contemporary observers and even actors. The path taken was seemingly democratic.
Comparisons may look odious for some. It may be qualified that a parallel doesn’t stand on all fours. Yet a historical analogy needs to be invoked to better explain current happenings in Sri Lanka. Distance in time need not make a parallel seem unrealistic.
Hitler was as clear about his mode of operation for world conquest, as Bismarck was about the policy of “blood and iron” to unify Germany. Mahinda was no less clear about his own home grown mode to install his dynasty. Similarity in methods is seen from this perception.
From early twenties Hitler’s weapon of choice was brute force. The executers bearing three different names acted in unison. Who were they?
1, SS ’Defence corps’ first under Hitler and later under Himmler
2, SA ”Brown shirts was a para military organization.
3, SH Stalhelm or “steel helmet” was another paramilitary nationalist organization.
All three formations played a pivotal role in Hitler’s ascent to power. They unleashed violence and terror against political opponents, the press, attacked trade unions, party offices and homes. Storm troopers broke up party meetings of others. A recounting of details is not necessary, they are all in the public domain.
It needs to be stated that in Sri Lanka too para militaries and roughnecks were and are used in the same fascist fashion. Without them the incumbent President got a majority of 0.181 million in the Presidential election of November 2005. With them the majority rose to 1.842 million in January 2010. Citizens all too observant know the truth.
It is a fact of history that in Germany their campaign of terror was instrumental in raising Hitler’s vote strength from 0.9 million in December 1924 to 17.3 million in March 1933. On the two occasions the number of seats increased from 14 to 288. More strikingly, 288 was an increase of 92 from the previous election held 3 months prior.
One fact can illustrate how. A total of 50,000 members of SS, SA and SH monitored the votes as deputy sheriffs. Herman Goring a Nazi functionary issued the order as Acting Interior Minister. Among informed Sri Lankans this will ring a parallel bell about the top twosome in Defence and governance. With the tools of trade ready at hand sparing none and using them fascist fashion, bountiful harvests were obtained, election after election. Sri Lankan roughnecks were a match to German Brown shirts. Hitler gave the template and the incumbent regime in Sri Lanka is using it still.
Antidote to Dictatorship
There is but one restraint to destroy thoughts of a crushing dictatorship. All the fragmented political leaderships to coalesce into a solid monolith. To nominate a single consensual Presidential candidate and to announce the name in one voice. With the fullest moral rectitude to maintain unity till victory is scored. Unity of the people will follow on the unity of leadership. If visible seething wrath of the people in the mass doesn’t restrain the march of tyranny, nothing else can.