29 May, 2022


May Is For flag-Waving

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

May is a month of flags. May comes wrapped in red, the signature color of protest, of labor, trade unionism and left-wing politics. Later May moves from single color to multi color with the advent of the Vaishakya Mangalyaya, Vesak, commemorating the themagula (birth, enlightenment and parinibbana) of the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama.

There was a May that came three years ago when one flag obliterated the usual colours of Vesak. That was when the country was rid of the terrorist menace. It was the lion flag, of relief and celebration (mis-identified by some as ‘triumphalism’) that fluttered in the four corners of the island and across the length and breadth of the land. Time passed and May was May, red on the 1st and blue, yellow, red, white and orange on Vesak Day. This May was different. For ‘flag-reasons’.

The TNA leader R Sampanthan held in his hand and waved the national flag at the UNP-TNA May Day rally. Mavai Senathirajah, TNA General Secretary, addressing a Media Day event in Jaffna on May 3rd said ‘it (the flag) was surreptitiously handed over to Sampanthan by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’ and proceeded to apologize on behalf of the party to the party faithful. Sampanthan has now stated that he sees no reason for any apology and that even if he has reservations about the flag, it remains the national flag. He says that  since the TNA stands for a solution ‘within a united (he doesn’t say ‘unitary’) Sri Lanka’, there’s nothing wrong in waving the national flag.

When a party like the TNA, with a long history of supporting both terrorism and separatism, picks up the national flag, it is politically significant, especially since the flag-waver happens to be the party leader. The national flag, after all, embodies everything that goes with the nation, including structures of the state, in this case its officially ‘unitary’ character.

What’s ‘news’ is the fact that Senathirajah had to ‘apologize’, in affect claiming that his party is not interested in a Sri Lanka or a Sri Lankan solution to grievances, while all the while benefitting immensely on account of citizenship, representative power in the very same state and of course the policy choices of the very government the TNA chooses to vilify at every turn.

What is important is not flag but what flag represents. What is important is not chest-beating patriotism but on-the-ground patriotism. What is missed by flag-stories is the fact that flag-waving of the kind seen in Jaffna on May Day was made possible by a regime with a particular policy framework with regard to dealing with terrorism, a people ready to back those choices and a defence establishment equipped to put plan into action.
Tissa Attanayake, the UNP General Secretary, brags that the party got the TNA to wave the national flag. Senathirajah says Sampanthan was hoodwinked. Sampanthan says ‘nothing wrong’ and rejects the hoodwink claim. Braggadocio, complaint and explanation/disavowal, are all ‘possibles’ with respect to the national flag simply because there is democratic space in Jaffna today, something that did not exist when fascism reigned in that part of the island. 
More importantly, flag-waving misses the point about flag-meaning and moreover it’s a point-missing that all parties are guilty of, including the ruling party. For flag to have meaning, country must have meaning, citizenship must have meaning, all economic, political, cultural and social processes must have ‘national’ (and not multi-national, for example) character.

The question is, ‘are we there yet?’ Are we united enough to deserve a single flag? Are we conscious enough of history and heritage? Are we enlightened enough to recognize our common humanity and our common human frailties? Are we humble enough to recognize what the communal ancestors did or did not do to build this country, this civilization and this way of being, making something that is distinctive and amenable to be called ‘Sri Lankan’? In short, what is the meaning, the length, breadth and depth of our citizenship? What is the true meaning of the ‘democracy’ we enjoy? Are all the anomalies around us embedded or else do they find representation in our national flag?

May is a flag-month. This May there were additional flags. Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether flag-waving affirmed nation or if it waived away or else glossed over much of that which is important in ‘nation’.
Red flags don’t wave away exploitation, Buddhist flags don’t confer enlightenment and national flags don’t make nations. And that’s all there is to know about flags, this month of May. (courtesy the nation Editor’s blog)

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Latest comments

  • 0

    The Land of Lanka belongs equally to all the nations, nationalities and ethnic-religious communities who inhabit it and call it their home. It belongs to the workers who mold the iron and sweat in the factories, to those who break their backs to till the soil; to those who toil in endless, monotonous, robotic labor in garment factories, to those who brave the high seas; to those who slave in foreign lands, to those who pluck the leaves and tap the sap in rain and heat- and all others who provide us with daily sustenance and afford us our freedoms and privileges.

    It is pitiful that Hon Sambandan should wave the lion flag,( on a UNP platform!) when it has now been forbidden for the national anthem to be sung in Tamil. Sambandan has caved in and capitulated-not only to Ranil’s pitiful and bankrupt political gimmicry, but to the Mahinda Rajapakse Regime and the policy of Sinhala supremacy and the chauvinist-militarist-hegemonic agenda it is implementing-aided by the spin provided by hired lackeys such as Malinda Seneviratne.

    One day, when the masses of people become enlightened, when they would have driven out all corrupt and murdering Comprador Capitalist agents and forces-foreign and domestic- and they have set up their own people’s democratic State, then we can raise a national flag that truly embodies the unity of a Lankan nation, giving expression to the equality and dignity of all the nations, nationalities and communites that constitute the People of Lanka and march towards the glorious Dawn of Freedom rising on the horizon.Then, there would be no need or place for neanderthals such as Malinda Seneviratne to cloud and poison our minds.

    Surendra Ajit Rupasinghe
    Ceylon Communist Party (Maoist)

  • 0

    That’s rather harsh on Malinda.
    Give him credit, he writes well and entertaining whilst he his trying his damnest to extricate his head from his posterior.

    Keep on writing Malinda!

  • 0

    Once again you write to confirm the racism, chauvinism and extremism in your inner self. Or it is just to serve your political masters and satisfy their huge ego and false pride.
    Let me just take one paragraph you wrote”
    Tissa Attanayake, the UNP General Secretary, brags that the party got the TNA to wave the national flag. Senathirajah says Sampanthan was hoodwinked. Sampanthan says ‘nothing wrong’ and rejects the hoodwink claim. Braggadocio, complaint and explanation/disavowal, are all ‘possibles’ with respect to the national flag simply because there is democratic space in Jaffna today, something that did not exist when fascism reigned in that part of the island.

    You all have missed the whole point once again, the holding of the flag pole by the 79-80 year old Tamil political leader of the TNA, who was surprised when Ranil virtually put the flag pole in his hand. That was only for 30 seconds. This was not a well thought of, or pre planned exercise or stunt or gesture by Sampanthan. I cannot really speak for Ranil, but knowing him for so long he did not pre plan this gimmick bor even trick Sampathan into it.

    As I wrote previously in response to Mano Ganeshan, it was the “heat of the moment” incident. Sampanthan has never attended the Royal Thomian in his youthful days or other big matches, so he at his old age would not been the man getting excited over the May Day Rally, in front of 15,000 Singhalese from the UNP, and about 200 Tamils from Jaffna. Out of this 200, there was Mrs. Maheswaran’s friends, relatives and supporters from the UNP, Tamil spies from EPDP, MOD, and CID, and may be a handful of TNA supporters and those curious of this May Day Rally. There also could be the leftist Tamils who celebrate May Day rallies which is never held even in the sixties and seventies before the LTTE was formed in 1976.

    Therefore, there is no need to misconstrue or misrepresent this flagpole holding/waving incident as an act of reconciliation to the GOSL, MOD, Singhalese and the UNP. The TNA had already shown their hand of friendship to the former army commander when he was UNP’s Presidential candidate (as well as the joint opposition), 2 and a half years ago. There is no need for any Tamil politician to wave the Lion flag, for any reason, and it is not even the law. In case it is the law, I doubt any Tamil politician that is worth his salt will dare wave the lion flag.

    LTTE might be dead, but State Terrorism is alive and well, together with state fascism, and military oppression, suppression and repression. Those were the main reasons together with blatant discrimination and colonization of Tamil lands that LTTE was founded and a 30 year civil war took place.

    For Tamils to negotiate their political demands which are already internationally accepted, they do not need to wave any flag with or without the help of other Sinhala politicians. That is their right. If they really want, they would wave the Black Flag, in memory of the 100,000 Tamil civilians who were murdered by the war criminals. But they do not do so, either the Black, white, Red or yellow flag is because the Rajapakses have terrorized the TNA MP’s that they too would be murdered in public and in broad daylight, like the other 5 MP’s in Rajapakse’s first term.

    Donald Gnanakone
    Tamils For Justice.

  • 0

    As for the month of May being the month for flags, please note there are some new flags being designed in memory of the 100,000 Tamils massacred in Mullivaikal in May 2009.

    Yes the Month of May will become an important month for the Tamils for ever with a lot of flags being waved and hoisted.

    It is in memory of the Genocide, Massacres, rapes, torture and killing.
    In memory of young girl named Issaipriya as well who was raped, tortured and murdered. Thereafter her money was half stripped, photographed and desecrated. Damn shame and disgrace on these Singhala Buddhist racist soldiers.

    The same was done in Mavil Aru, and I have the photographs which was taken by the army. 19 photographs which I recently sent Colombo Telegraph, and this cannot be described as fake, as I received it from the MOD itself with their stamp of approval. That was 2006, and the army soldiers had graduated for their inhuman acts, by 2009 and had become expert killers, rapist and torturers.

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