On the 28th February 2012, the RAVAYA newspaper celebrated its 25th Anniversary with great pomp and pageantry- and expense. The chief guest was none other than H.E. President Rajapakse. It was celebrated under the theme loosely translated as “Swimming Against the Tide: A Great Journey”. This great journey was projected on the screen with dramatic effect, highlighting some of the most notable achievements of RAVAYA throughout the years. Here, I shall try to summarize the main contents.
An introductory speech was truly inspiring. It declaimed all successive governments, including the present Regime, for violating human and democratic rights, including assaults on media of freedom. Based on this key note presentation, the audience expected that this would be followed up by an equally independent and critical review by its chief editor, Victor Ivan. However, Victor Ivan did the opposite by heaping sycophantic adulation on the President. Perhaps, this contradiction represented an internal conflict between some members of the RAVAYA staff who did not share Victor Ivan’s betrayal that was to follow. In spite of his illustrious and notable career in the past, this betrayal and capitulation by Victor Ivan is nothing new.
Victor Ivan’s speech completely reversed the ‘swimming against the tide’ refrain, into a complete turn about, characterized by ‘swimming with the tide- in Olympic style’. The main points in his speech may be summarized as follows: The two insurrections in the South led by the JVP and the insurgency in the North led by the LTTE were disastrous events that had being extremely destructive to freedom and democracy in the country. Whatever justification there may have been for these uprisings, their armed suppression by the State was a positive development for the country as a whole. He congratulated H.E. President Mahinda Rajapakse for having militarily decimated the politics of ‘ terrorism’ of the LTTE, a historic victory that he valued above all else. He said that whatever issues, problems and difficulties that the Tamil people may have, they could be sorted out. (Thanks indeed, for this superlative formulation!) He then stated that the need of the hour is for all political forces to unite with the Rajapakse Regime behind the task of building a Sri Lankan Nation and strengthening democratic governance.( Calling for building a Sri Lankan nation without addressing the fundamental national- democratic rights of the Tamil nation and the Moslem and Hill Country nationalities, is a reactionary slogan that enshrines, – in effect- the hegemonic supremacy of the Sinhala Buddhist nation and the agenda of military conquest and political subjugation. Calling for democratic governance from a regime that does not even intend to implement the recommendations its own LLRC is an act of unpardonable deception) Finally, he denounced foreign efforts at intervention and claimed that we must all put aside political, ethnic and religious differences and unite to find solutions by ourselves. ( Denouncing foreign powers for hypocrisy over human rights, as they should be, is not a justification for avoiding accountability for one’s own crimes). Victor’s call sounded like an impassioned call for a ‘National Unity Government”, which even the President dared not echo. What it amounted to was a desperate call to bail out the besieged Rajapakse Regime.
This was followed by a speech by an Hon. representative of the Sri Lanka Moslem Congress which pledged unstinted support to President Mahinda Rajapakse in meeting the challenge posed by international powers. (I wonder how it would stand on a resolution calling for accountability from the State of Israel for genocide in Palestine?)
Hon. Sambandan, representing the Tamil National Alliance, delivered a most balanced, articulate and dignified speech, where he said that due recognition must be given to the Sinhala people given that it constitutes the majority, but that recognition must be given to all others as equals in sharing the country as their home and that a political solution should be implemented on this basis.
Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe, representing the UNP, did not take Victor’s bait that all political forces must range behind the Regime as the only option available. He joked that the prevailing political conjuncture was more about who shall occupy the electric chair than about sharing power. He argued that what we are facing is not only a political crisis but an economic and social crisis as well, implying that it was only the UNP that could solve these multiple crises.
H.E. President Mahinda Rajapakse claimed that the very fact that RAVAYA could celebrate twenty five years of existence is a certification of the media freedom available in the country under his regime. (WOW!) He claimed that the war was waged without mobilizing Sinhala chauvinism. (The war was waged explicitly under the banner of patriotic Sinhala Buddhist supremacy and hegemony with the aim of deleting the political status of the Tamil nation!) He referred to the conspiracy by foreign powers to bring about ‘regime change’ and stated that no force should engage in any form of protest to advance this agenda. ( As it is, every form of democratic protest is linked to this ‘foreign conspiracy’ agenda by the Regime and violently suppressed-whether by workers, fishermen, university lecturers, students and the Opposition). He did not make any reference to the Report of the LLRC, even though the purpose of the event was to focus on the future trajectory of Sri Lanka.
In fact, none of the speakers addressed the need for implementing the Recommendations and Proposals of the LLRC. It was diplomatically shelved, as it would be by the Regime.
In sum, the event of celebrating 25 years was turned into a rote confirmation of solidarity with the Mahinda Rajapakse regime by the SLMC, an inspired affirmation of the pluralist diversity of the Sri Lankan people by Hon. Sambandan as the basis of building a new Sri Lanka, a poke at the cutthroat politics of the regime by Ranil Wickremasinghe and a reassertion of capitulation to the Regime by Victor Ivan, heaping shame upon the proud history of struggle of RAVAYA. The event turned out to be a lavish and extravagant non-event.