Colombo Telegraph

“Unhappy Is The Land That Needs A Hero”

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

Unhappy is the land that needs a hero” is the heavy-hearted response of Galileo to his pupil Andrea when the latter furious with the Astronomers recantation tells him “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero”.

Bertolt Brecht wrote his epic play on the life of Galileo in the twilight years of the Weimar republic when its democratic chaos was nearing its end. Electoral, success of the Nazis had made Hitler the Chancellor of Germany.  

He introduced this specific exchange on heroism and reason in the English version done in 1944. That was after the Americans devastated two Japanese cities with nuclear bombs to win a “peace”.  

They were troubling times when reason was replaced with cold eyed, cold hearted manipulative power grabs. 

We may now be approaching such uncertain times. In addition to his play, Bertolt Brecht wrote a marvelous tract on how to locate and defend truth.    

He outlined five difficulties in combating lies and ignorance. The truth is opposed everywhere. The seeker of truth must have the courage to write the truth. He must have the keenness to recognize it because everywhere it is concealed. The truth seeker must have the skill to manipulate it as a weapon. He must have the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective, and the cunning to spread the truth.  

This essay is inspired by such a desire to locate, defend and spread the truth. We live at a time when the obvious truth is trampled by power and lust for naked power.     

With the passage of the 18th Amendment Mahinda Rajapaksa became the supreme overlord of the island that he rescued in the civil war. His Executive Presidency was not subject to term limits. He could pick and unpick officials in all branches of government. He allowed much mischief in governance.

Yet, he retained a semblance of accountability. He did not control the total state. The National Security Apparatus reported to someone else. That someone else owned the fear mechanism of the state. That was the fountain head of impunity. 

What is unravelling in the house of ‘Saud’ now has a lesson for us. When the national security apparatus becomes the exclusive preserve of a power behind or proximate to the legitimate seat of power, it becomes a “hyper political “tool to suppress dissent and a “spooky political” tool to intimidate those who dare to dissent.   

During the past week, Presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa earned a series of spunky, peppery headlines provoked by Bandula Gunewardane our own apparition of Adam Smith. 

The grand master of profoundly learned Economic gibberish, declared Gotabaya to be the most suitable brother for the job of President.

Irrepressibly plain-spoken stalwart of the joint opposition Kumara Welgama disagreed. The Presidential candidate must be someone with impeccable democratic credentials said he. His dissent unleashed a contentious cacophony among Gotabaya loyalists.  

At a joint opposition meeting in Kandy presided over by the former president, three central province parliamentarians were in hot competition, condemning Kumara Welgama for his non-endorsement of Gotabaya for President. 

Kumara Welgama made no reference to Gotabaya. All he said was that the candidate’s copybook should be free of any antidemocratic blots! It has a lesson.

Gotabaya does not promise democratic governance. He offers decisive governance. It is not the presidency that he wants. He wants the total state. He has nursed a constituency that expects him to protect and preserve a racialized sovereignty.   

That explains the vehement opposition of his support base to any kind of constitutional reforms that either removes or replaces the executive presidency. 

If the 20th Amendment gets past the hurdle of a two thirds majority, the outcome of the referendum is assured. That remains a huge if. In politics, if is as boundless as the stars. 

So, it is time for us to consider the real possibility of Gotabaya Rajapaksa running for president and winning it. 

We may disagree with his ‘weltanschauung’. The German term is often loosely translated as the vision of the world. It is much more. It is a comprehensive assessment of the world and the place of humanity within it.  Our perceptions are conditioned more by language and culture and less by acquired knowledge and experience. Weltanschauung is the way one looks at the state, politics, economic activity, morality and so on. 

To the great consternation of many of his peers, the great German thinker Martin Heidegger under Adolf Hitler embarked on a project to transform university education in Germany in to an ideological force imbued with a Germanic spirit. Mind you, this happened in Germany that produced Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx and Schopenhauer. 

After the war, Heidegger appeared before a denazification committee. The Committee, after lengthy deliberations allowed him to remain as an emeritus Professor but was banned from teaching at the University. 

Warped fascist minds do take shape in places of higher learning when intellects are corrupted with dreams of greatness and grandeur – the inevitable result of a knowledge deficit. 

Recently Professor of Pharmacology Channa Jayasumana of the Rajarata University addressed the UNHRC in Geneva and gave his version of the history of Tamils in Sri Lanka. He is an eminent academic and intellectual of the Gotabaya’s formula one team. 

Corrosive influence of imagined national revival permeating ac adamic institutions has happened before. Martin Heidegger, the rector of the Freiburg University under Hitler did it with a cruel honesty of conviction. 

In a lecture on technology the great philosopher shed all vestiges of humanity. “Agriculture is now a motorized food-industry – in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps …”  

Under Hitler, universities were made exclusive preserves of the German spirit. Martin Heidegger wrote to the Ministry of Education. We now face a real choice whether we should again provide for our German spiritual life (unserem deutschen Geistesleben) talents and educators rooted in our soil, or whether we should surrender it once and for all to an ever-growing ‘Jewishness’ (Verjudung) in both a broad and narrow sense”

History has instructed the people of Germany. Their federal constitution has deliberately dispensed with a directly elected president. 

These historical precedents instruct us to face challenges of intellectual zealotry presented by ‘Viyathmaga’ academics. 

As I said before, the political project of Gotabaya Rajapaksa is shaped by his peculiar ‘weltanschauung’. It offers an ecstatically persuasive proposition to the anti-elitist Sinhala speaking lower middle class. It has a cogent appeal to the Sihala speaking professionals and business class. It is propelled by a committed corporate oligarchy yearning for a decisive centralized authority of the total state.  It must also be remembered that the entrepreneurial class weary of the current buffoonery are not too displeased to see a change.  

Only muddled minds that dream of riding Volkswagens assembled in Kurunegala would seriously   contest this simple prognosis.

 The former Defense Secretary is a serious candidate. He is a credible candidate because he is perceived as a strong leader. In times of chaos and crisis, strong leaders are in demand by the poor, the rich and the elite. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s most recent speech at the ‘Eliya’ gathering at Godagama where Bandula Gunewardene made his unconditional endorsement is available on YouTube:

He explains that ‘Viyathmaga’ is the forum for academics and professionals to identify issues and formulates strategies for national development and economic progress. ‘Eliya’ was the broader movement constructing a mass national consciousness. 

We must listen to his speech. He explains that his ‘Eliya’ sheds light. The problem is that it is a blinding light of the surveillance state. It is nationalistic in spirit. It is economic in promise. It is militaristic in content. Naturally, the serious pursuit of identified goals along a planned path requires a higher dose of discipline and a lesser dose of democracy. Dissent would be unpatriotic. Contrary opinion would be a threat to national security. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a rare managerial genius. He has assiduously developed a tight hold on émigré Sinhala communities in their countries of residence through Sri Lankan temples. 

He commands loyalty. Leadership is the ability to gain the trust of followers. The ‘Viyathmaga’ is committed to advance his persona. That is the shared vision of the two outfits labeled ‘Viyathmaga’ and ‘Eliya.’ 

As the leader he has molded both outfits to serve the singular objective – to make him the next president. 

His brother Mahinda too has followers. Mahinda’s followers are the rent seekers and political parvenus who see him as a means of accessing power. To them MR offers a solid return on investment. 

Gotabaya is a different proposition. He has followers who believe that he deserves to be in power. Where Mahinda demands loyalty, Gotabaya demands allegiance.      

In his speech at Godagama, Gotabaya Rajapaksa does what demagogues do best. He painstakingly attacks the moral worth of those now in power. He comes out well because he sounds true. Challenging the moral worth of the present lot does not demand too much effort. He sounds correct because he is sincerely indignant. 

He explains that the Akuregoda defense complex was a great patriotic undertaking. He rattles out figures in billions that the listener can hardly keep track of. 

He makes militarism a mandatory, existential imperative. Gotabaya makes no attempt to disguise his firm resolve to make the military play a central role in our peace time society. He is either convinced or plainly assumes that the nation is facing an imminent and an enormous threat.  

He gives an eagle eye view of his transformation of Colombo’s cityscape that earned him the plaudits of middle-class matrons who can now jettison their excess fat on paved walk ways. He explains the logic of relocating shanty dwellers in high-rise apartments as a means of releasing prime commercial property for more profitable investments.  

He did not explain that the inner city is a torture chamber where hundreds of thousands compete for the most basic elements of life such as a room within reach of employment, affordable rent, access to schools, clean drinking water and perhaps a small corner of a street for a cobbler to practice his craft.

 Mr. Gamini Lokuge initiated in to working class trade union politics by the great, lamented Cyril Mathew the Sinhala Hero was in the audience. 

Remodelers of urban space intuitively believe that poverty in the slum can be upgraded to lower middle class in the high-rise. It does not work that way. Countless injustices occur when redevelopment uproots families from squalor by the canal to grime in the sky.

The working man’s champion Lokuge did not deem it necessary to ask the prophet such silly details. Undoubtedly Lokuge is an imposing intellectual and a resolutely   academic   standard bearer of both “Viyathmaga” and “Eliya”. The Sagacious Urbanization czar was spared the pain of explaining that side of urban development.  

Lokuge was  also coopted to confirm that it was President JRJ who had earmarked the Akuregoda land for the defense complex. 

It would have been patriotic blasphemy to query if JRJ would have approved spending on the defense complex nearly the same cost of the southern highway from Colombo to Galle!  

In Gotabaya’s ‘weltanschauung’ ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ are interchangeable. He makes a determined attempt to construct a perception of national superiority and an implied sense of national dominance. He does it with poise and polish.   

In fairness it must be said that Gotabaya recognizes the necessity of the nation state to be linked to the global economy. He defines the terms of dealing with the outside world according to his sense of self. He is totally at peace with his narcistic ‘weltanschauung’ that has its exclusive inventory of traditions and values.   

Gotabaya’s ‘nationalism’ is a cultural doctrine for and of the Sinhala Buddhists. The identity and the autonomy of the nation is intrinsically linked to that fundamental premise which he defines as patriotism.

His character as displayed in his speech is near Hegelian. To him becoming is more important than being. He seeks timeless perfection within a time frame. That may well turn out to be evil.  

Gotabaya Rajapaksa may well be our next executive president. If he makes it, he will not repeal the 19th Amendment. He will retain the independent commissions. He will appoint the commissioners. The RTI commission will decide what information should be withheld in the national interest. The Human Rights Commission will independently rule on any transgressions.  Those appointed will be classic Pavlovian as those trekking on  the ‘viyathmaga’ lit up by the ‘eliya’.

The Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov perfected the system of rewarding behavior that anticipated command. He said it for all time. “It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread – the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.” 

I am in my seventies. I leave some received wisdom of the past seven decades as penned by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in ‘Gulag Archipelago’. 

“….. line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
….. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil. Socrates taught us: ‘Know thyself!” 

Yet, some good people of our land demand the firm hand of a strong leader. Bertolt Brecht likened them to people who wish to enjoy veal without slaughtering the calf.  

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