By Kumar David –
History teaches much and the people of Lanka should learn them well or the threats of dictatorship may overtake us. I will abstain from drawing too many parallels, leaving readers to their judgements. However, I need to say at the outset that it seems the JVP-NPP-Left (excluding the Dead-Left) is gaining ground and there is some interest in AKD’s interventions in Parliament. These entities may be more active than civil society, religious dignitaries, Sajith-SJB or Tamil and Muslim bodies hence I hope they will reflect on these lessons. It is important that international actors too don’t screw up Lanka and Burma, two recently endangered creatures. A list of blunders between the end of the First and the early stages of the Second World War follows. It is frightening that such things happened.
1. WW2 could have been averted but for the misery and humiliation inflicted on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles – huge reparations ($500 billion in today’s money) and confiscation of lands. Blame for WW1, an inter-imperialist conflict among great powers for territory and resources, was entirely laid on Germany.
2. Following from this it is clear that the rise of Hitler and the Nazi’s was a consequence of misery, social and economic collapse, hyperinflation and unemployment created by penalties imposed at Versailles.
3. There is no overt relationship between (a) and (b) and this country, but broadly the outside world has an interest, for its own sake, apart from do-gooder feelings, in not allowing dictatorship, economic collapse or sharp racial conflict even in a small country to get out of hand.
4. The German Communists, Socialists and Liberals wholly misread the horrifying danger of Nazism (fascism was a model Hitler borrowed from Mussolini) and they failed to unite. In 1934 Mussolini invaded helpless Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to cheers on the streets of Rome and the Pope’s blessings. In Spain a Popular Front (PF) of the combined Left narrowly won the 1936 elections keeping the fascist out for a moment, but bickering, and internal conflicts between PF parties broke it up. Britain and France did not stop Hitler and Mussolini from pouring arms and aircraft to Franco; Stalin offered the Republic half-hearted support. The fascists saw that no one would stop them if they resorted to blue murder (Abyssinia, Norway, Czechoslovakia etc.)
5. Lesson 1: Those who see the dangers of dictatorship in Lanka must get together, and retain unity on a save-democracy minimum programme till the danger is past. Otherwise disaster is certain.
6. Lesson 2: The outside world needs to relearn the price of appeasement. UNHRC Resolutions and gentle raps on the knuckles serve no purpose. Appeasement of the enemies of democracy in Burma and Lanka in the guise of “not meddling in internal affairs” amounts to a licence to continue.
7. Mussolini, Hitler, the Japanese when they invaded Manchuria and later China, and even Franco had a large mass following. In the 1931 elections the Nazis emerged as the largest party, millions rallied to Hitler’s cause – recall Mussolini’s March on Rome and the huge Nuremburg Rallies. Double-Paksa majorities of November 2019 and August 2020 are not unique. Large fascist, racist or right-populist mobilisations are not unusual, even the Trump base. These grotesque manifestations have to be fought to the ground.
8. Fascism rose in the interwar period (Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain) due to a confluence of two factors: Failure of domestic democratic opposition (left, liberal and minority) to unite and sustain unity until the threat has entirely subsided, notwithstanding internal differences. And second appeasement of would-be dictators by the big international actors of the day. Surely even China can see that cosseting Rajapaksas as buddies while turning the people of Sri Lanka into foes does not serve its own long-term interests.
Suggestions for a united democracy-protection programme follow. More will come but these are current.
* Repeal 20A and recommence the half-finished work of drafting a new constitution aborted in 2018.
* Rescinded as the first order of business of the next government the resolution tabled by the PM in April 2021 to whitewash criminals and scoundrels and penalise witnesses, prosecutors and judges.
* The Port City Bill (Act), or large portions of it, must be repealed; investors must to be forewarned.
* All prisoners held under PTA or successor legislations for over 6 months must be released forthwith.
* Right to Recall Legislation should be enacted to allow voters to rid themselves of crummy MPs.
This apart, the first order of business, obviously, is to summon a round-table parley of all anti Double-Paksa entities to draft a “Common Programme to Protect Democracy”. The Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa won’t do it, so we will have to wait a while longer till the regime gets more repressive; the initiative can then be taken by others. Furthermore a crisis should not be allowed to go to waste; apart from defensive measures Lanka must work towards regime change at the next elections, or by other constitutional methods before that if an opportunity presents itself.