20 May, 2022


Smart Patriotism: Outlining A Doctrine For Sri Lanka In The World

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

As the Daily FT reported (Monday, March 6th 2017), the annual convention of the Voice of Professionals, better known by its Sinhala brand-name Viyath Maga, was an unprecedentedly successful event: “…a packed audience at the Annual Convention of the Viyath Maga… a network of academics, professionals and entrepreneurs, was held on Saturday with the participation of 2,000 members.”

These 2,000 delegates, almost all of whom were well-educated and credentialed professionals who explicitly identify themselves as patriots—and a far cry from the pro-western Yahapalana fellow travelers; the bought and paid for NGOistas and the handful of federalist civil society retirees revealed in WikiLeaks as “trusted sources of the US Embassy” (not to mention actual employees of the US embassy and its affiliates).

While congratulations must surely go to the father of the network, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and the affable, indefatigable young conference coordinator Indika Liyanahewage, it would not be inaccurate to do disclose that the venture has been inspired by Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The growing membership has a sense of appreciation for his declared respect for professional expert opinion. Their aspiration is for an Asian modernist developmental revolution in Sri Lanka guided by a strong patriotic state in synergy with creative private entrepreneurship and educated experts; one which would turn this country into a South Asian Malaysia.

Invited to address the convention after the rousing yet non-partisan introductory remarks by Dr. Godahewa, I dealt with several points relevant to the topic assigned to me: “Sri Lanka’s International Relations in a Changing World”.

Making the point that Minister Samaraweera’s declaration at the High Level segment of the UN Human Rights Council’s 34th session recently in Geneva that “69 years” of effort by Sri Lanka at “nation-building and…socioeconomic progress” had been “a failed experiment” and “an era which needed to be ended” was the most disgraceful thing any Sri Lankan Foreign Minister –and perhaps any Foreign Minister –had ever said about his country in any international forum, and in that sense that we are now at the nadir of Sri Lanka’s international self-respect, I reminded the audience about the three great phases of Sri Lanka’s role and standing in the world: 1956-1979 (from SWRD’s UNGA speech to President Jayewardene’s warmly friendly handover of the NAM chairmanship to Fidel Castro), the years of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s stewardship of foreign affairs, and the management of foreign policy and power balancing during the war years within the Mahinda Rajapaksa first term. I stated that the problem is, as the Buddha emphasized, to stop the cycle by exiting it. It is necessary to avoid the cycle of international success followed by ignominy and establish a stable posture of prestige and assertive success in the world.

I suggested that in order to do this, we have to face three questions squarely.

1. How should we understand the national and the international; more concretely, what should be the outlook of a relatively small island located south of the Indian subcontinent and on the West-East nautical crossroads?
2. What should our guiding concept be, around which we can build an ideology to safeguard our national interest?
3. Who, which social class or strata can act as the bearer of this strategic concept and agency of this world outlook and ideology?

I ventured to suggest the three following propositions as answers to these three questions.

I. For an island like Sri Lanka whose destinies have been shaped, even determined, not by purely internal dynamics but by the interaction of the internal and the external factors and influences, there cannot be an ideology, world outlook or policy paradigm that is purely “national”. If the dangers are international and the battlefield is global, logically, how can the response be national? For us there cannot be a Great Wall of China between the national and the international. The border between external and internal is a flimsy, porous, permeable partition. We cannot allow the international to be imposed upon the national nor can we impose the national upon the international. We have to grasp and manage the dynamics, the dialectical interrelationships, between the national and the international.

II. This perspective is what I call “Smart Patriotism”. It is an advanced patriotism, not a backward one. It is a project in which Sri Lanka’s national interests and views are translated successfully into a discourse of universalism which the global community can then absorb. It is an outlook in which Sri Lanka’s culture is made part of global culture. In the realm of Sri Lanka’s international relations, I identified the following (in chronological sequence, not necessarily that of merit) as exemplary Smart Patriots in the foreign affairs realm: SWRD Bandaranaike, Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe, Neville Kanakaratne and Lakshman Kadirgamar. Globally, I identified the paradigmatic articulation of Smart Patriotism as that of Fidel Castro who said he was not a nationalist but a patriot and emphasized that “Internationalism isn’t just a necessity…it’s a condition for survival.”

III. The third and final proposition I put forward was that the social agency for Smart patriotism was what Antonio Gramsci called the “organic intellectuals” and Jean-Paul Sartre termed “engaged” or “committed” intellectuals, writers and artists. I expanded this to include the educated professional strata and the patriotic entrepreneurs. These strata which had gathered around Viyath Maga, potentially constituted a New Patriotic Elite, the organic vanguard of the educated middle classes and the bearers of Smart Patriotism. I concluded by adding that the executive presidency, the unitary state and the national list constituted an ensemble which was ideal for the participation of this social group in the state and state policy. So far, with a few notable exceptions the national list had not been used for this purpose, but the professionals should secure a guaranteed percentage of the national list posts and through this channel should have a guaranteed share of Cabinet portfolios. I pointed to the educational composition of Cabinets in Singapore, Rwanda, Iran and Cuba.

Concluding, I urged that we fight against the dangerous effort to destroy (under cover of Constitutional change) the existing state system, most especially the Executive Presidency, which was ideal for professionals to participate and serve in.

*Summary of speech on “Sri Lanka’s International Relations in a Changing World” delivered at the 2nd annual convention of Voice of Professionals–Viyath Maga– at Golden Rose, Boralesgamuwa, March 4th 2017.

Watch the full speech here:

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Foreign minister always prefer back not front. That is the issue now. Last sixty nine years tamils and sinhalese fought big battle.tamils wanted to wear shoe made out of sinhalese. it was started with killing of entire sinhalese population lived in Jaffna peninsular. it as a historic ethnic cleansing taken place in this part of the world. tamils wanted to repeat it over and over again.around three hundred millions tamils lived in south India behind them.during thirty years odd war. tamils controlled some part of the north and east.as such it was their responsibility to see safety of their general public.but so called freedom fighters made general public easy target of advancing forces.no foods provided to them. government had to looked after welfare of general public but so called freedom fighters forcibly recruited their children for their arm struggle. tamils youth were made to believed that north and east is historical traditional homeland of theirs by all tamil politicians.sinhalese youth made to believed otherwise.with that holocaust experience in 1557 sinhalese knew if any chance given to tamils it is the end of entire sinhalese race.still tamils work with that agenda. back stabbing always there. as our present foreign minister prefer back instead of front.he always conspire against sinhalese.our forces had no responsibility on safety of tamils civilians it was LTTE;s responsibility to keep them out in battle zones. instead they did otherwise. LTTE the one who controlled civilians movement in the north during war period.they were controlling day to day affairs.our forces were fighting to recover land held by terrorists organization. civilians were sympathizers of them.as such our forces did nothing against international law.as such there is no possibility leveling ar crime charges against them.our goon foreign minister back kisser can not understand that.he is an abnormal character. always beyond ground realities..

  • 4

    Dear Dr Jayatilleka, great speech. ‘Engaged and organic intelligentsia’ , ‘smart patriotism’, ‘local solutions within a global context’……great concepts. Thank you.
    One simple question. I am sure you would agree that all societies have the right to be proud of their own culture. In this context, I am equally certain that you will agree that every community, particularly those communities living and co-existing in the shadows of a great civilisation have legitimate concerns of loosing their identity and over a period of time and getting assimilated within the larger whole……..isn’t this the simple basis on which sectarian politics is currently based? It may manifest as overt demands for a greater ‘Thamilaham’, separate state or more covert requests for some form of regional arrangements, based along the lines of ‘Fedaralism’ etc. etc. But don’t you think, people like yourselves who pride on your ‘Marxist’ roots have an obligation to address the basic and legitimate fears/concerns of a community with which you have co-existed for a long long period. The Thamil community in Sri Lanka is concerned about loosing their identity and in the process getting assimilated into the larger whole……….what is your answer/reassurance to these concerns? If one cannot answer these questions directly one does not qualify to consider himself/her self as part of the ‘Organic and engaged intelligentsia”
    In this context, let me ask you a very direct question. Would you stick to your basic arguments, which you so well articulated during your Geneva days in the immediate post-war period?……i.e full implementation of 13A……nothing more…..nothing less. Having central arrangements, such as the executive presidency, to prevent centrifugal forces at a Provincial level from breaking up the country is a given. No sensible person/party can object to it. Will you stand by these arguments, that you yourself made and for which you paid the ultimate price of loosing your job in Geneva, as we move into the post “Yahapalana Yugaya”.
    Thank you for the great speech
    Mahesh Nirmalan
    University of Manchester

    • 0

      ‘Thamilaham’, separate state or more covert requests for some form of regional arrangements, based along the lines of ‘Fedaralism’ etc. etc

      This is Tamils’ aspirations in Sinhale.

      It is not a Secret that Tamils lived in south Inda for their entire history.

      Why should Sinhala people give their small island to fulfill their Tamil aspirations when Tamils have their own homeland in Tamilnadu ?

      Even now, Tamils move down south of the Mythical homeland and occupy the deep south when some are talking about and establishing the monoethnic enclave in north and East. Why lay Tamil peoples’ aspirations are different from Tamil politicians and from Affluent Tamils live overseas in the west. It is the same with Vanni Tamils who don’t like a homeland because they have to submit to those high caste tobacco farmers.

  • 1

    “It is a project in which Sri Lanka’s national interests and views are translated successfully into a discourse of universalism which the global community can then absorb. “

    Great analysis. Now find a government that can do this.

    • 2


      “Great analysis.”

      Please justify.

  • 1

    Unfaking fakery: Patronising patriotism

    Sri Lankans like everywhere else, display an incestuous desire for spectacle. What one does is becoming less important than what one says. To the extent that words themselves are a spectacle, they add to the show. The great thing about words, – Jayatilleka is the highest snotty embodiment of this – is that they are disposable. 

    Lenin said of Stalin that ‘this cook will give us peppery dishes’… and for all his talk of nation-building, democracy, internationalism and smart patriotism, Jayatilleka’s entire ideological program has been one hell of a peppery dish.

    He feigns to convert the populace to an enlightened patriotism, but never has he genuinely, systematically sought to talk Sri Lankans out of nationalism in all its fascistic hues. 

  • 1

    Jim Softy

    Life has taught me when faced with a problem it’s better to address the root causes of it rather than focus unduly on its symptoms. Such an approach tantamounts to burying one’s head in the sand, if you know what I mean.

    If only Sri Lanka can successfully address the root causes of its problems, we will have a truly one nation. The big question is do we collectively have the capacity to think big for the good of us all and not just for some.

  • 0

    Debt is rising. Currencies are backing there currencies with Gold, USA,are going to run on a huge deficit. They have increased their miltary and infrastructure expenditure. American companies will neies from UAd cash for their relocation of factories. China and Japan are slowing down. They are withdrawing treasuries from USA. Less dollar is being used. This money will come back to USA. They may d3efault on their debt if the tyreasuries continue to be withdrawn. The control of multi national companies is unsure. T%hey depend heavily on Bank credit. They thrive on supp[liers from many countries and all ready pay low taxes. Switzelnd habndles funds in many countries and companies and companies may channel hot and black money to investments. Cartels rhrive on panic through controlled media and buy at low prices. Our country must engage in equity swops and depend on FDI s for develo-ment and not loans. When the World changes we should be ready for new oppertunities. r

  • 2

    “The struggle to find a job.” that should be the name of the book jayatilleke will write, a far cry from Trumps “art of the deal” but still, someone may buy it.

  • 2

    Dude! take a cue from this,

    I am Nobody, who are You?
    I hope you’re Nobody too.
    Good. That makes two of us
    Don’t tell – they’d advertise, you know
    How dreary to be Somebody
    How public, like a frog
    To tell your name the livelong day
    To an admiring bog.

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