By Sarath de Alwis –
In his fascinating book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind Israeli Historian Yuval Noah Harari remarks “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”
Obviously the celebrated historian is not well informed of the island republic of Sri Lanka.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is probably the least highbrow or cerebral leader to have led independent Sri Lanka. He was also the beneficiary of a cruel twist of fate. Under his watch, the armed forces of the nation, militarily defeated and physically eliminated a ferociously fascist monster- Velupillai Prabhakaran. So, very probably, he would not have known that he himself was a fascist. Eliminating a fascist is no license to be a fascist. Let us be practical.
What constitutes a Fascist state? A Fascist state has some distinctly obvious features. A Fascist regime constantly and consistently relies on nationalism and patriotism interchangeably with slogans and symbols.
It has a pronounced disdain for human rights. It is constantly engaged in persuading the citizenry that human rights can be ignored in order to ensure national security. It considers torture, abduction and disappearances as legitimate tools of governance.
It usually perfects the art of creating patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat that usually comes from ethnic or religious minorities and liberal intellectuals.
It accords an ill-disguised supremacy to the military. The Miltarry is given a disproportionate amount of state funding. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
The mass media are intimidated by the state in to a state of Pavlovian submission. It is obsessed with national security and fear is the oft used tool to tame the masses. The ‘Apey Hamuduruwane’ appeal to a corrupt clergy helps it to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric is a convenient instrument even to justify actions that are clearly in contradiction to religious teachings.
The state creates its own aristocracy in commerce, industry and finance. Organized labour is suppressed. The people are conditioned to ignore police abuses and to forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism.
There is rampant Cronyism and Corruption. The Fascist regime has groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions. They use state power and authority to protect their friends from accountability.
National resources are plundered unabashedly. Public finances are stolen by government leaders. The Fascist regime claims legitimacy by holding periodic sham elections. It uses the Judiciary to manipulate and control the process of governance.
Now don’t we develop a sneaky feeling of déjà vu?
Since we all do, let us all agree that our democracy after 19th May 2009 was stripped of its moral imperatives, reducing it to a sham democracy, marked by hollowness and hypocrisy. The Rajapaksa regime was blatantly fascist in scope, content and composition.
Its hypocrisy was universally apparent. Yet, at home it was shrouded by rhetoric that used patriotism and nationalism interchangeably. Its hollowness was hidden under impressive physical infrastructural development that relied on reckless borrowing from abroad.
The subject of this missive is the recent inaugural event held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on 29th September by an organization that calls itself Sri Lanka Inc., and the theme was ‘Geneva and you’. The blurb describes Sri Lanka Inc., as a ‘non-partisan civic network of young professionals.’ The masterful digital introduction on a giant screen vouched for their professional competencies. Its content was certainly focused on capturing the imagination of the young. That they succeeded in the attempt with participants is demonstrated by the following extract from an admirer in its Facebook page.
‘SMART PATRIOTISM’ සදහා බුද්ධිමත් සිවිල් සමාජය තුල ලොකු ඉඩක් තිබෙන බව. ‘ජිනීවා සහ ඔබ’ සංවිධානය කර තිබුනේත්, ඒ ගැන අන් අයව දැනුවත් කලේත්, කිසිදු දේශපාලන පක්ෂයකට අයිති නැති, බොහෝවිට පෞද්ගලික අංශයේ රැකියා කරන, උසස් අධ්යාපනය හදාරන හෝ හදාරමින් සිටින පිරිසක්. මේ කණ්ඩායම මැතිවරණ කාලයට කල එලි බහින සිවිල් සමාජයෙන් වෙනස් වන්නේ ‘වියන්ගොඩ – විජේසුරිය’ වර්ගයේ ‘පුතා විතරක් නෙමෙයි අම්මාවත් අත් අඩංගුවට ගනු’ වැනි කුහක/ද්වේශසහගත සංවාදයකින් එහාට යාමෙනුයි. ‘ජිනීවා සහ ඔබ’ තුල සිදු නොවූ වැදගත්ම දේ තමා නිකරුණේ මිනිස්සුන්ට බැන වැදීම. අනෙක් පැත්තෙන් මෙම කණ්ඩායම ‘JVP – පෙරටුගාමී’ වගේ පාරවල් බ්ලොක් කරල, office වල වැඩ නවත්තල, රජයේ දේපල හානිකරල, සංවාදයක් ගොඩනගන්න ගියෙත් නැහැ. හැමෝම තමුන්ගේ එදිනෙදා රාජකාරී කටයුතු අවසන් කරල තමයි ඇවිත් තිබුනේ. නමුත් මේ අය පොත පත කියවන රටේ ලෝකේ සිද්ධවෙන දේවල් පිලිබදව අවබෝදයක් තිබෙන අය. දේශපාලකයන්ගේ දේශපාලන සම්මන්ත්රණ වලින් එහාට ගිය බුද්ධිමය සංවාදයකට රට තුල ඉඩ තිබෙන බවත්, NGO Sponsorship වලට වඩා ‘දැනුම’ ප්රබල බවත් ‘ජිනීවා සහ ඔබ’තුලින් ඔප්පු වුනා.
The reference to Professor Sarath Wijesuriya who is now striving hard to fill the vacuum created by the demise of Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero should alert us to the clear and present danger of the Rajapakse restoration project.
In February 2015, this writer wrote in the columns of the Colombo Telegaraph about the first comeback event of MR which ideologue Dayan Jayatilleka described as ‘The Rising’. I said then “Forty days after the dismantling of the family politburo, Mahinda Rajapaksa has demonstrated that his orgburo is well-oiled and running. With absolute fascination this writer watched a microcosm of Sinhala society hailing the event as a turning point.”
This writer also warned that the oligarchy that was spawned by the Rajapaksa regime was entrenched and its stranglehold was and is systemic.
‘Geneva and you’ colloquy demonstrated beyond doubt that the plutocrats who have amassed wealth and power under the Rajapaksa siblings have clearly embarked on a serious oligarchic mission. They have decided, quite correctly, that the new democratic norms of governance can be stretched to its maximum permissible limits.
The parley on ‘Geneva and you’ featured several who served as diplomats under the ‘ancien régime.’ I could not concentrate on the introductory remarks of Chamithri Rambukwella– a Rajapaksa appointee to the overseas service. Her presence in the confab directed my tasteless mind to her dear Dad’s broken leg, mended at tax payer’s expense. Sorry.
Natasha Gooneratne Maurice while introducing the subject reached up to lofty heights of academic neutrality which may have mesmerized the admirer I have quoted earlier.
“Any form of discussion on this resolution becomes so highly politicized, that it is now presumed that you are either anti-government or pro-former government, or that you are pro or anti US or pro or anti UN, if you have any sort of opinion on it. But the background and content of this resolution is not so simply polarized, it’s far more complex. And if we are not careful, we can get so caught up in the politicisation that we can miss the legitimate issues that surround it.”
As the evening unfolded the politicization was made abundantly clear. The last speaker the enormously talented Dayan Jayatilleka demonstrated his capacity to play erudite Robespierre.
It was amusing to listen to a cassocked catholic priest – Father Wimal Thirimanne reminding of our civilizational superiority that goes back to two thousand five hundred years in the year 2016 of the Gregorian calendar.
It was with sheer awe that I watched and listened to Dr.Dayan Jayailleka. In spell binding oratory he laid out the challenge presented by the Rajapaksa restoration project to derail the process of national reconciliation and constitutional reforms. Here one must digress. It was Musolini the nationalist who defined the Fascist philosophy.
Fascism is not only a law-giver and a founder of institutions, but an educator and a promoter of spiritual life.(Venerable Monks of Abhayarama take note.) “It aims at refashioning not only the forms of life but their content – man, his character, and his faith. To achieve this propose it enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway.”
Listening to Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka this writer was reminded of these words of Benito Musolini. It was eerie to watch the metamorphosis of a man who three years ago wrote in the post script of his book ‘Long War, Cold Peace’ ‘The crisis of the state is partly a crisis of reconciliation. It is my view that there are only three possible pathways to reconciliation: equal citizenship, eliminating all forms of discrimination against or for any segment of the populace on the basis of ethno –lingual or religious markers (I call it ‘Soulbury Plus’); a reasonable sufficiency of devolution of power to the provinces; or a hybrid of elements of both approaches, with improvements on one realm offsetting inadequacies in the other. For the moment though, I count far less on the state for the purpose of reconciliation, and far more on interactions and initiatives in the social and artistic domain, especially by the educated young people.”
In 2013 Dr.Dayan J had a definitely different reading of the then regime. “It was alarming” he lamented ‘that there was a tendency to denounce as separatist conspiracies, any attempt by lawyers, academics, students and youth activists, to build bridges between North and South or even to mobilize on a multiethnic or non-ethnic basis. “
See how the Rajapaksa magic works. There was the former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapapaksa who combined the roles of Goebbels and Goring under the MR Presidency in the front row.
On the side screen he was nodding sagely in agreement with Dr. Dayan J who made a deliberate attempt to politicize the armed forces that have remained subject to civilian authority.(if one glosses over the years when army intelligence and removal of political irritants overlapped)
Says Dr. DJ “There is an attempt to change the deep structure of the Sri Lankan state. That is the attempt to federalize, as well as the attempt to effect what is known as “security sector reforms”. One of the targets is the Sri Lankan Army. And it is not by mistake I say it is the Sri Lankan Army. Because there is a sense in the West that the other arms of the Sri Lankan military can be co-opted and may be useful. But the Army is seen as the most patriotic of the services.
One could not miss the grin on the face of Daya Rathnayake also in the front row. He as commander of the army outsourced inculcating patriotism among ranks of the army to Venerable Uduwe Dhammaloka thero during the last presidential elections.
All in all it was not about ‘Geneva and You.’ It was about ‘we the people’ and they who plan the return of the ousted leader.
There is no doubt that Mahinda Rajapaksa is in control of the public conversation. It is, however, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has the financial and organizational resources to make a serious effort to translate intentions to reality. More than MR, GR has the political cunning to create a new reality for the family purpose.
Dr. DJ purposefully contrived to refer to the gallantry of Colonel Rajapaksa in his extempore delivery. That is understandable. His rhetoric had the effect of reducing Cicero to zero.
In mock anguish he wailed “We, having defeated after 30 years, a fascist enemy – not just a separatist or terrorist enemy– we have to try ourselves, our armed forces which liberated us, defeated fascism and reunified the country! We have to fall on our sword! And there are those in Government who have agreed to this!”
We have arrived at a point when spades need to be called spades. Dr. Dayan J’s perorations on patriotism of the Rajapaksa tribe unfailingly drives me to take refuge in Orwellian wisdom. George Orwell who added the terms, ‘big brother’,’ thought police’ and ‘double think’ to our political lexicon has also given us a clear reading of the phenomenon that is now advanced by the thought manipulators of Sri Lanka Inc.
“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.”
True. The armed forces under the command of President Mahinda Rajapaksa eliminated the vicious terrorism of the LTTE and eliminated Prabhakaran who to use a phrase of Mathew J Morgan in his ‘Origins of New Terrorism’ did not want a seat at the table but wanted to destroy the table and all who sat around it. We should therefore be grateful.
But then, should our acquiescence with expressions of gratitude reach the level of feudal servility to a victorious monarch? Should we greet the deep state that eliminated Lasantha Wickrematunge with Sinhala passion and Buddhist avidity to keep retired Lieutenant Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa amused and in good humour?