By Emil van der Poorten –
My wait for yet another filthy, abusive SMS, from a member of the ersatz Rajapaksa diplomatic corps from “down under,” having proved futile, I am compelled to address what is our “rural reality” once more! Not as exciting, I have to admit, but one that certainly needs some attention!
The shouting of commands at the Independence Day celebrations in Kegalle, was a precursor to the incongruity of a President greeting a now-disgraced Prime Minister, both pretending that container loads of hard drugs only exist in the minds of “the enemies of the state.” then oodles of top-end luxury limos disgorging their contents were followed by outriders in pith hats reminiscent of the times of the British Raj.
The “keynote address” at the celebration, was the now-tiresome one reminding everyone watching or listening-in that there were only two kinds of Sri Lankans – those supporting the government and those opposing its behavior. With each passing year and each mouthing of this shibboleth, it attains an even more chilling tone, particularly given the recent fate of Mel Gunasekera, a business journalist, representing a foreign news agency whose bread and butter would, inevitably, have been journalism commonly described as “investigative.” It is interesting that Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema was also working on a business-related story at the time her home was invaded, Frederica Jansz had provoked the ire of our current rulers by headlining a tale of significant financial loss, resulting in her having to bolt to the US and her predecessor, Lasantha Wickremetunga, was best known for his exposes of financial malfeasance which could have contributed to his (still-unsolved) killing with weapons normally reserved for the abattoir.
The weight that pronouncement – “those who are not for us are against the nation” – carries increases with the use of violence to suppress dissent. This began with the killing at the Free Trade Zone demonstration against the attempt to hijack employees’ EPF contributions, through the killing of a fisherman protesting at the steep increase in the price of the fuel he needed to capture his quarry and the Weliweriya killing of unarmed (Sinhala) villagers asking for clean water and getting, instead, “hot lead.” Most recently in that procession of iniquity, there were the “Six-gun Sam” shootings at Matara by a Sri Lankan Wyatt Earp, closely connected to the highest echelons of the government.
On every one of these occasions, the result has been the confirmation that the current government will do anything and everything it has to show that nobody and nothing is going to stand in the way of it or its friends.
Chilling? Yes, but one needs to face facts.
Employed in the imposition of the endless barrage of propaganda about the entire (white) world conspiring against a pristine Sri Lanka, the last bastion of Buddhism in the world is one of the largest armed forces in the world. Many who disagree with the Government of Sri Lanka and the path down which it is (successfully) taking a whole nation do not seem to acknowledge what a very successful campaign this is proving to be. It caters unashamedly to its vote bank among the dominant Sinhala Buddhist community comprised, primarily, of relatively unsophisticated rural folk. How else could one explain the issue of a blue thousand rupee note with the visage of an euphoric Mahinda Rajapaksa on one side and an unbelievably derivative depiction on the other? I speak here of the plagiarisation of the iconic picture of US Marines raising the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima during World War II – probably the most famous battle picture of all time. In this case, barely “photoshopped,” the place depicted is Toppigala, in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, with Sri Lankan troops raising the Lion Flag. In most jurisdictions, this effort would have been greeted with gales of derision. Not, however, in Sri Lanka where 90% of the population knew not where Toppigala was for starters and certainly wouldn’t have recognized Iwo Jima even if it happened to be the stray canine that bit them in the behind!
Unethical and crass propaganda in poor taste? Perhaps, but there is no denying its effectiveness.
That is but a small piece of the larger picture of building up the myth of the Master Race (and its Masters).
Incidentally, the head of state prostrating himself to kiss the earth of his motherland on arrival from overseas also had a much better- and internationally-known precedent when the Pope of the day did precisely that several decades ago.
You might well ask why the relatively-urbane and sophisticated middle-class of this country is either completely supportive of this lot or simply “stands and stares” while both the national treasury and the vault of democracy are being looted. Simple my friends. They’ve either never heard what Pastor Niemoller had to say about living under the Third Reich, or, more likely, choose to turn a Nelsonian eye on that reality while indulging their need to improve their own bank balances, justifying it with the old chestnut that “in the long run, we’ll all be dead, so we’d better make hay while the sun shines!”
The never-ending rants against the “international community,” aka the practicing democracies, has two successful outcomes – creating a national paranoia about a pending invasion akin to that of the Portuguese in the 16th Century and the Dutch and British thereafter and reinforcing the line that the Sinhala Buddhists are the master race and hence are generating this reaction from lesser humans.
There are also more gentle, though hardly less subtle, attempts to generate euphoria and even love.
The periodic Dansalas held wherever the President happens to be in residence are a source of amusement to those who figured they are too sophisticated to be bribed with food. However, every time there is proof that there is, in fact, a “free lunch,” literally and metaphorically, the rural (and urban) multitudes flock to the caterers of the ruling clan. Recently, one of our longest-serving employees could hardly constrain herself before bursting out with the news that the President had actually touched her son!
It seems that that young man’s brother-in-law was one of a group of medical support personnel at an army hospital who had been invited to Temple Trees. This man had smuggled in his brother-in-law, of impressionable age and, when the President “went walk-about” he engaged those around him in conversation and “laid hands” on our young friend. I use the term “laid hands” in all seriousness because this seemed to be what the young man had experienced complete with the “shivers” associated with such an act. That the whole family was “over the moon” about this occurrence was evident enough as was the distinct impression that rural Sri Lanka is not merely ready for the middle ages, it is already there!
Now that same family is bound for Jaffna where they will be given a conducted tour of what were, less than five years ago, the sites of the final battles against “the invaders.” You want to bet that our “Normandy” will be shown as well as all the new Buddhist temples complete with pristine white dagobas which will be described as replacements for the religious buildings that were there before “the Tamils were brought to Jaffna to hoe the tobacco fields of the Dutch?”
That unsophisticated rural folk are given to sometimes irrational hero-worship is more than understandable. However, the hosannas that our urban intelligentsia keep shouting ad nauseam at every mention of walking paths on which they don’t risk turning an ankle are a little less easy to fathom, particularly when the inter-locking stones come at the expense of essential health care and education systems.
Oh, well, the “total package” promises to establish violent and corrupt people in the seats of power for a very long time to come, unless, like the proverbial frog, their puffery leads to their exploding!