By Sarath de Alwis –
“The most interesting kind of portraiture is that which arises spontaneously in people’s minds.” ~ Walter Lippmann
This pandemic is testing the moral fiber of our politicians. It is testing the mettle of our institutions dealing with public health and public order. The spontaneous portrait of Joseph Stalin – the Teachers Union Leader in people’s minds is that of a hero who stood up to the tyranny of power. After eight days in the health gulag in Mullaitivu, Joseph Stalin is finally free. Thanks to social media we know more about the man named after the Soviet Leader who led Russia after Lenin.
Our Joseph Stalin unlike the mustached Georgian who terrorized the Kremlin is a mild-mannered trade unionist. An idealistic recluse who preferred to serve in remote schools throughout his career, he leads a frugal life. He is devoted to his trade union work.
His father Anton Fernando was an activist in the China wing of the Ceylon Communist Party then led by Comrade Shanmuganathan. He had named his only son after the Soviet Leader. His close kin call him ‘Suresh”.
The General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers Union and other protestors confined to quarantine camps have been released six days short of the mandatory 14 days of isolation.
The early release is ample proof that the forced confinement of Joseph Stalin and others was a political manoeuvre. It had nothing to do with the science of public health.
The episode has exposed an abusive officialdom. They have used public health regulations to curtail the freedom of citizens who dared to protest on streets against some proposed legislation.
Professor of Public Health Law, Lawrence Gostin of the George Town University has foreseen this eventuality. In a paper published in the early days of this pandemic, he said:
“Public health gains credibility from its adherence to science, and if it strays too far into political advocacy, it may lose the appearance of objectivity. If public health conceives of itself too expansively, it will be accused of overreaching and invading a sphere reserved for politics, not science.”
The early release is evidence that collective resistance is the only way forward in dismantling this pseudo democracy. It underlines the need for a coordinated opposition focused on restoring at least the semblance of a functional democracy.
A day earlier, the Minister of Health declared that quarantine regulations would apply not only to Joseph Stalin but even to Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx. A nauseating remark that betrayed her prejudice against the person referred to as Joseph Stalin.
Around the same time, the Minister of Public Security with a contrived display of great gravity, explained that the police were only enforcing a directive made by the competent authority on public health.
The Media and Information Minister too got into the act. He described the teachers who protested as ‘Kalakanniyas’ a Sinhala epithet that identified the forsaken and the miserable.
The invocation of Marx and Lenin by the Minister of Health, the Public Security Minster seeking refuge in Public Health law and Media Ministers cruel choice of an adjective that makes nonbeings out of living people exposes the rotten core of this regime.
Dictatorships and autocracies are not the result of a single persons narcissistic game plan. The voluntary servitude of an oligarchic political class is what sustains either a dictatorship or an autocracy.
The three Ministers referred to in this missive were competing to demonstrate their devotion, allegiance, and fealty to the masters they serve. To them Joseph Stalin was not a person but an inconvenient irritant.
The retired rear Admiral wished to demonstrate that he was in command. That he ran a tight ship. He is an incorrigible narcissist.
Detention in a quarantine camp after the magistrate granted bail was an unmistakable deterrent that would discourage public protests.
A dim-witted Minster of Health found the moniker ‘Joseph Stalin’ irresistible to make a mocking reference to Karl Marx and Lenin. She did us a favor. She demonstrated her half of whatever ‘wit’ she possessed.
The Media and Information Minister’s reference to the protesting teachers as ‘Kalakanniyas’ – ‘miserable dirtbags’ is much more frightening.
It conveys the elite entitlement mind of the man. To him there is no opposite view. Only scum would dare to hold a different point of view from that of his own. That is classic Goebbels who is remembered for his simple logic about making a square look like a circle.
“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”
Either our media minister has studied Joseph Goebbels or is blessed with the knack and instincts of the Nazi propaganda chief.
“You can’t change the masses. They will always be the same: dumb, gluttonous and forgetful.”
What Goebbels said in so many words, our man condensed in to one word- ‘Kalakanni’.
Autocratic rule is not a one man show. It takes shape with the active help of a clique ready and willing to offer voluntary servitude to the wielder of power, the source of ultimate authority.
Voluntary servitude of self-seeking political humbugs has made our republic a despotic democracy. It began with the end of the civil war in 2009.
A nearsighted opposition fielded the general who led the war against the president who directed the war. The reelected president was anointed the supreme guardian of the national interest and patriarchal father of the nation – The “Appachchi” of all.
Those interested in learning how the post-civil war patriotic state took shape should read Professor Nira Wickremesinghe’s brilliant analysis “Producing the Present: History as Heritage in Postwar Patriotic Sri Lanka”
The New York Times is wrong. Sri Lanka does not look like a family firm. A family fiefdom is more apt. If indeed it does, it has more to do with voluntary servitude and public complicity.
Democracy offers freedom of thought and speech.
Voluntary servitude of the three minsters as demonstrated during the incarceration of Joseph Stalin offers adequate and eloquent evidence to the limits of our freedom to think and speak.
The 20th Amendment did not produce a dictatorship. It has reintroduced the illiberal democracy of JRJ with some ingredients added to make it bit more peppery.
This is a new kind of democracy tilted perhaps towards an illiberal authoritarianism.
This government has a substantial foundational support. There is a new oligarchy that is bent on centralizing power, concentrating wealth, and manipulating public opinion.
Plurality of opinion is inconvenient. Debate is a mere formality. Shutting off debate is both pragmatic and efficient.
Politics is about retaining one’s own power. The art of politics is to make people believe that what the government proposes doing is really their choice.
The idea of a ‘strong man’ and ‘strong leadership’ needs voluntary servitude at the base of the pyramid.
The modern world is too complex a place for a lonely leader at the top.
Voluntary servitude of the ruling elite of the Chinese Communist Party underpins the authority of Xi Jinping. Putin has his own servile power apparatus.
The strong man has a simple mission – to rescue the nation. To ask why it is necessary to rescue it or from what it needs to be rescued from is both heretical and unpatriotic.
The few perfunctory checks-and-balances of the 19th Amendment served only to “stop getting things done”.
Those who offer voluntary servitude to the strong leadership know how to get things done.
Getting things done as the three Ministers cited in this essay have demonstrated is not that difficult. Silencing and intimidating dissent, persecution of protester is the endgame.
Jon Keane Professor of Political Science at the University of Sydney has produced a new tome on the phenomenon of democratic despots produced by voluntary servitude.
“Clever despots strive to be both agile and attractive to those they seek to master. Their task is to magnetise flesh-and-blood people, to encourage them to pay attention to their leaders and to be charmed by their tunes. Real people must be persuaded of their rulers’ rightness, convinced that their leaders’ authority and the system are good for them and their country, and that they have no serious alternative.”
China offers us a classic example. Harvard Educated Chinese Billionaire and high-ranking international relations analyst Victor Gao is an unabashed admirer of his boss Xi Jinping.
He justifies China’s detention of around 1 million Muslim Uighurs in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. “You may call it repression, or you may call it educational or training schools’ teaching methods.”
Let us turn to the current wave of protests over the matter of fertilizer. There is nothing objectionable to the use of organic fertilizer.
It is the right way to go. Using only organic fertilizer is a fantastic idea. It is like our simple Buddhist hope of attaining ‘Nirvana’.
Yes, there is indeed a ‘Nirvana’. You read about it. You are conditioned to aspire for it.
That said, reaching that nirvana in the short span of one year involves putting reason to sleep.
But then, voluntary servitude tells you that it can be done.
With voluntary servitude you put reason to sleep. When you make a strong leader the custodian and protector of the national interest, you are well on your way to voluntary servitude.