By 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: