26 May, 2019

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‘The Frozen Fire’ – Art And Political Reality

By Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

There are diverse views about the politics of the JVP and the inherent limitations contained in their political discourse. In particular, many of the views that exist regarding the politics of comrade Rohana Wijeweera and his assassination have contrasting narratives. In such an environment, even coming forward to produce a cinema work like ‘The Frozen Fire’ is a matter that needs commendation and appreciation.

The film ‘The Frozen Fire’ had also been nominated as ‘the best movie’ at 2018 Oscar Academy Awards. This film will be screened in Australia sometime in the future. Hence, this article is based on the information found in the sources I have so far been able to read about the film. The film has been introduced as “the story of the iron men tempered in the time of fire”. According to the information presented by comrade Ariyawansa Dhammage, who had composed the concept paper for the film and comrade Anuruddha Jayasinghe who has directed the film, the creation of this film is the result of the experiences of a few years and a study conducted about that turbulent period.

Most of the creative artists who appear for radical projects are not those engaged in revolutionary politics. Similarly, most of those engaged in alternative politics have a little understanding about radical art creations. Attempts at artistic creation based on research studies cannot be expected from most of those involved in politics.

The statement of the director who had been associated with the student movement of the JVP, that he had “an intention to present this creation very well” shows that he deviates from the tradition. The producers of the film claim that they met and discussed with the people and political colleagues comrade Rohana had been closely associated with during the period he spent underground, received their assistance, acted as per their guidance and “showed the instances that needed to be corrected”.

The decision whether an artistic creation demonstrates the reality or not depends on whether the producers have designated the imagery and frames aesthetically, accurately, clearly and realistically. On the other hand, it is not always possible to decide whether an artistic creation is acceptable or not merely based on political theories. The artistic nature of a creative work can be assessed on the basis of theories and laws that correspond to art itself. The aim of this article is not to review the artistic nature of this creative work.

The political correctness of a creation is determined by a scientific and logical analysis. In what form the creation becomes visible at a certain point in time and for what reasons can be clarified only politically. A creation cannot separate itself from the prevailing socioeconomic and political circumstances. A creation that is detached cannot survive and protect itself. The active nature of artistic works of our time is determined only to the extent that such creations are involved in the endeavours of transforming society.

It is important to emphasize here that the facts mentioned below are not presented to aim at the current JVP or its leadership.

The immediate context for this article was a review comrade Thimbiriyagama Bandara has published as ‘”The Frozen Fire” called politics and life’. The review mentions as follows:

1. “The right-wing government using as a pretext the racist clashes of 83 proscribes the JVP. When attempts were made to arrest its leaders, they were forced to pursue an underground political existence for their safety.”

2. Referring to various sources for studying Wijeweera’s character and even mentioning that in the bibliography is a positive characteristic of Anuruddha. Some of our filmmakers bear no such qualities. A human can lie in life. In Art it is not possible to lie.”

I need to make a certain clarification here.

The Black July Pogrom of 1983 was launched on July 24. 37 Tamil detenues held in Welikada Prison were massacred on July 25. On July 26, an island-wide curfew was imposed. On July 28, for the second time, 15 more prisoners were killed in Welikada Prison. The President addressed the people on July 28. On July 31 the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Nava Sama Samaja Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna were proscribed by an extra-ordinary gazette notification, based on the allegation of conspiring to capture state power by force through racial riots.

During this time, I was at the Party Head Office in Armour Street, Colombo and at home in Mawaramandiya, Kadawatha where we lived. As I stayed back in the Party Head Office, I could gather information from our members about the groups that led the Black July pogrom. The Criminal Investigation Department detained us only about two days later. While being held in detention, it was possible for me to challenge the baseless allegations the state had raised against the JVP utilising the information I had collected and a few months later, to get all those held in detention released without any charges as a result of comrade Chitra filing a habeas corpus application.

Prior to the proscription of the JVP on July 31, the final full plenary session of the Central Committee was held for three days from July 21 to 23 to discuss the party policy on the national question. This session was held at the party school at comrade Vijitha Ranaweera’s residence in Vitharandeniya, Tangalle. I did not agree with the stand taken at this session to change the party policy on the national question that existed until then. I came out of that session with the decision to resign from the party due to the stand taken and also due to additional differences of opinion I had at that time with the party leadership.

What I wish to point out here is the fact that comrade Rohana went to comrade Vijitha Ranaweera’s house to go underground, not after the proscription of the party, but on the day the Black July pogrom started, the July 25th itself. The vehicle in which he left was driven by comrade Sepala Liyanage, who is still with the JVP. Comrade Rohana went underground without consulting or discussing the matter with the members of the Politburo.

Comrade Somawansa Amarasinghe met me at the Armour Street office and took part in a discussion I had with other parties about the party proscription, especially with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, on a day after the 31st of July. The view of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party was also that we should go underground, but I did not agree with it. Likewise, I did not agree at all with the decision to go underground that comrade Rohana had taken all by himself at that point in time.

The opinion I held in the past and hold currently is that because we of the JVP, including the leadership had nothing at all to do with any of the incidents in connection with July 1983 riots, let alone a conspiracy to topple the state, we should have responded to the political and criminal charges of the bourgeois regime levelled against us and defeated such allegations amongst the people while remaining in the open. When leaders like comrades Rohana and Gamanayake went into hiding, the politically erroneous view that the JVP would have in fact been involved with the July 1983 pogrom and a conspiracy to topple the state would have been consolidated in society. However, at that time the JVP repeatedly appealed on the national and international level to demand the state of Sri Lanka to lift the proscription of the party.

While I was held in detention at the fourth floor of the CID as well as after I was released in December 1983, all the efforts to bring comrade Rohana to the open failed. I still believe that is why the state was able to make its ideology prevail for some time. When I met President J R Jayewardene regarding the lifting of the party proscription, what he said was that ‘Rohan’ needs to come and make a statement. Every time when I proposed the JVP and comrade Rohana to come to the open, the only answer I received was that he would be killed if he did so. However, there were no such killings in the south by 1983-84.

According to the information I have, I was not alone in the attempts to bring the JVP and comrade Rohana to open politics. Comrade Prins Gunasekara, who passed away recently and the then Minister of Finance Ronnie de Mel with whom comrade Rohana had maintained contacts later on through comrade Ananda Wijeweera (comrade Rohana’s brother) and Mr Ariyadasa Sellahewa of Devinuwara (a close associate and a relative of theirs), had made the same request at a later stage. Even when comrade Prins as comrade Rohana’s attorney and Mr Ronnie de Mel as their security wished to come forward to protect comrade Rohana, the reason for the JVP and comrade Rohana to reject this proposition is beyond explanation.

On the other hand, one could raise a fair political question; that is, whether the JVP leaders would have decided not to come to the open because they were indirectly engaged in an exercise of gaining political advantage to win over the Sinhala majority in the south by making use of the state’s allegations levelled against the JVP regarding the July 1983 pogrom. It is impossible to forget that the then leadership of the JVP acted later on with dedication to build a strong platform for and work closely with Sinhala nationalists and racists in the south carrying Sinhala nationalism on its back against the then Tamil nationalist struggle in the north.

First the leaders of the Communist Party surrendered to the police. After an inquiry, all of them were released and the proscription of the party lifted. The Nava Sama Samaja Party leaders, who were initially in hiding, came to open politics later with the intervention of comrade Vijaya Kumaratunga, and eventually their party proscription was also lifted. At that time, only a group including comrade Uduvarage Henry Perera, who had been working with a Tamil militant group in the North, was charged with plotting to overthrow the government. He had been in custody in connection with the April 1971 Uprising and after his release had been engaged in politics for some time with the Revolutionary Marxist party led by comrade Bala Tampoe. There was not a single charge filed against the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Nava Sama Samaja Party or the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.

Sadly, comrade Rohana and almost all the leaders of the JVP who had engaged in underground politics and armed activities were assassinated by November 1989. It was highly unlikely that the JVP leadership’s self-inflicted political suicide would have occurred, if they contested the party proscription and proved their innocence to the people instead of continuously remaining underground. The destruction of about 60,000 lives could have been avoided.

The intention of the producers to designate the imagery and frames accurately, clearly and realistically was evident due to their initial efforts to establish contacts with me to get an idea about the characters of the film ‘The Frozen Fire’. However, those efforts were thwarted in no time. The questions that obviously arise are: by whom, for whose need and to protect whose interests.

From a political point of view, if this artistic creation ‘The Frozen Fire’ displayed to the people what the reality was about the differences that existed between the vision and the program of the JVP from about 1972 until July 1983 and the vision and the program of the JVP since the party was proscribed in July 1983, especially from 1986 to around 1990 during the time the armed struggle was launched, it could have brought an important experience and made a significant contribution towards social development in Sri Lanka.

The task of socialising the experiences of the restructuring of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna prior to the armed struggle in 1989 and the analysis of the social and political basis of the party’s oscillation from the extreme right to the extreme left still remains.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    Capitalist system only works when Democracy works.

    19th amendment was just the start of a new era.

    20th amendment takes a step towards the right direction.

    Pre 1972 we were still controlled by the British, politically.

    The system was designed to lead Sri Lanka towards disaster.

    When the elderly politicians were fighting for the leftover food on the table, the young and ambitious JVP founder and late leader saw the disaster in the happening .

    Because he was revealing the truth, the top saw him as dangerous.

    The Media and the politicians together found many ways to destroy his reputation before killing him.

    Hence we hate the Idea of JVP.

  • 7
    1

    the JVP may not have been involved in the 83 riots, but have definitely murdered innocent people in the late 90s and terrorized the majority of Sri Lankans during your attempt to overthrow the government of the time.

    We, the children of the 80s, remember the fear that our parents had about our well-being during the JVP’s reign of terror against the government. Caught in between murderers from both parties, we felt helpless – not very different from the ordinary Tamils in the North and East as they were being terrorized by the LTTE and the SLA/IPKF.

    Memories are long Comrade. Beg for people’s forgiveness. Admit to the JVPs role in abductions and killings. Cleanse your souls.

  • 1
    1

    the JVP may not have been involved in the 83 riots, but have definitely murdered innocent people in the late 80s and terrorized the majority of Sri Lankans during your attempt to overthrow the government of the time.

    We, the children of the 80s, remember the fear that our parents had about our well-being during the JVP’s reign of terror against the government. Caught in between murderers from both parties, we felt helpless – not very different from the ordinary Tamils in the North and East as they were being terrorized by the LTTE and the SLA/IPKF.

    Memories are long Comrade. Beg for people’s forgiveness. Admit to the JVPs role in abductions and killings. Cleanse your souls.

  • 5
    2

    Rohana wijeweera was a traitor, he is the same as prabhakaran, i wonder when sri lanka will make a movie about prabharan.

    • 4
      2

      Elakiri,

      Why don’t you promote a project for making a film on Mahinda Rajapakse’s “Helping Hambantota” and “19 billion dollar commissions from China” through white elephant projects or Gota Rajapakse’s “Killing Fields” in North and South of Sri Lanka.

      I am sure you can find a way to enlist them for a OSCAR in coming years.

  • 0
    2

    Terrorism in new form by JVP rise against People originated democracy!

  • 3
    1

    Lionel, a very incisive analysis about why Wijeweera opted to be underground to get the sympathy of the racist Sinhala – jayalath

  • 3
    0

    In retrospect , the whole of the period from 1971 to 1989 could very well be classified as an era of ill-conceived and misguided operations of a newly conceptualized political movement that could not hold a firm ground in a country like Sri Lanka. Perhaps, the leader of this movement, with a wide “Reading” of information, (both written, heard and seen) failed, I would say miserably failed to “GRASP” the social, cultural and political structures and associated environment of the Sri Lanka society. That “FAILED” study of the “Environment” in which he and his organization was to work and bring in the desired “CHANGE” led to a major “DISASTER” that brought ever lasting memories that which had become an uphill task for the present leaders of this organization to erase off and re-present in an “Environmentally Friendly” basis. However, since 1989, the present leadership and its organizational structure to date have done extremely well to “Reconstitute” and “Restructure” the organization to fit into a friendly political, economic and social environment. Yet, knowing the societal embedded value system that prevails in all segments, (ethnics religious etc), the present day leaders have to invest all their skills to make an “Impressive Mark” for its own survival. To their credit, they are doing it, but as the “results” show, it had not gone that far. Why? The simple answer: The “MISTAKES” of the past , though years gone by still “HAUNT” in the minds of the people and the “HUNTERS” who go for the “KILL” (Power) still use it with great success. What needs to be done? Simple. Come out with a “LOUD APOLOGY” for the “Mistakes” in the past and present the “NEW FACE” , (as seen today) embracing (meaning mixing with) all segments (cultural, ethnic, religious, economic etc.) in a FRIENDLY and a CO-OPERATIVE manner. Mistakes would happen, but be QUICK to address and CORRECT the course. Hard, but worth to do it.

  • 0
    0

    Interesting.

    Ordinary forks like us didn’t know about the change in JVP policy with regards to the ethnic issue until mid 84. Until then I was thinking that jvp position was the one that Lionel Bopage expressed during a talk given that the university in 1982.

    When Ranjithan Gunaratnam detailed me their new policy, told him that they should immediately go public as the normally racist masses would love it. He said that exactly what they are planning.

  • 3
    0

    LB, thank you for this analysis. It is news to me as a former JVPer in the rank and file that Wijeweera decided to go underground before the 1983 riots. At the time we were convinced by the party that he would be killed if he came out. He was a very power hungry selfish person who got many innocents killed for his own gain. I do condone the way he was murdered but glad that he is not here to destroy another crop of youth of SL.

    • 0
      0

      ABM
      Wijeweera did something similar before 1971 April I think.

  • 2
    0

    I fervently hope the film “Frozen Fire” would not distort the truth of JVP and its mission.

  • 3
    2

    This article is cryptic, deceptive, and tells only a quarter of the story.
    =
    As the daughter of a prominent JVPer, I can reveal Wijeweera feared that some among his ‘trusted’ deputies would betray him at the request of JRJ and Lalith Athulathmudali for their own survival. That is why he did not reveal his plans or whereabouts to people like Bopage. He heard about Bopage’s double crossing to the UNP and spying for them, and Wijeweera was trying to bump off Bopage before he could betray him.
    =
    It is due to Bopage’s crying before Athulathmudali to save his life, Lalith A. rang the Australian High Commissioner at the time (Mrs Tania Shand I think) and organised a quick dispatch for Bopage to Australia.
    =
    The rest is disgraceful history.

  • 1
    0

    ” It was highly unlikely that the JVP leadership’s self-inflicted political suicide would have occurred, if they contested the party proscription and proved their innocence to the people instead of continuously remaining underground. The destruction of about 60,000 lives could have been avoided.”
    *
    I have my doubts.
    The second uprising was based on opportunist politics based of parochial thinking.
    Whether the JVP was absolved of all sin or not, its communal attitude had consolidated by 1982.
    Bopage, to his credit, had distanced himself from this tendency well ahead of the tragedy.

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