If you repeat for 1000 times that the sky is green, would heaven turn emerald? Well it seems that the Sri Lankan government is precisely committed in this game; and successfully, given its international recognition. It started with the final stage of the IV Eelam War. The government was absolutely determined to defeat the LTTE once for all. The goal of the operation was to annihilate the Tigers leadership. Fair enough. It was an armed conflict and Colombo decided that it wanted to terminate it at any cost.
And the cost were measured mainly in terms of Tamil civilians lives: the Tigers were retreating dragging with them all the inhabitants of the areas previously under their control. So the situation is of Tiger militants surrounded by a huge number of civilians, men, women and children. The hard intervention required to wipe out the Tigers would have the predictable cost of high number of civilian casualties, very high. This was the stake of an hard offensive. And this should have been the topic of the debate. Instead the government was speaking of a ‘humanitarian rescue’. Heavy shelling on entire families barely fit with the concept of saving civilian lives. But the government propaganda launched a media campaign not less intense than its bombing in the Vanni. President Rajapaksa continued to support his policy of ‘Zero civilian casualties’. Colombo resisted in its version for years. Even against obvious evidences of the truth. Finally, after the extra mild report of the UN was confirming without any doubts the shocking magnitude of the massacres, with more than 40 000 killed, the government accepted that few civilians died. In the census made public in 2012 you can argue that the governmental figures are around 10 000. The real figure could be as high as 140 000, according to other sources. We won’t discuss it here.
What it is important is that the government maintained its version for a couple of years, enough to escape the immediate reprimand. You would say that it was mainly for internal reasons, that the government wanted to convince its domestic audience of the good will in its actions. For sure large portion of the Sinhalese society are not aware of the enormity of what happened. But my point is another.
The real scope of the media operation was to buying time with other audience. It wasn’t the high diplomatic sphere of the international community: everybody knew since the beginning of the operation, what was going to happen.
Mr Rajapaksa diluted the massacre with time. The Zero Civilian Casualty policy is a case of printing noise around the initial news. It is basic propaganda and contrary to what you think, it is very effective. It doesn’t need to turn really the sky pink, just inflates the meaning. Propaganda is quantitative easing of truth, so distortion can be effective not on facts, but on reaction to those facts. And propaganda is not effective on your peers, who know the facts, but on audience. If I keep telling that the sky is verdant, you’ll be annoyed and upset, but to communicate with me, you’ll have to argue that green is not the same of blue. And the audience will be caught in the debate.
Debate is inflating truth and if you don’t adjust the interests, a big debt in the past, will be a risible repayment in the future.
You see in 10 years, the government could be able to accept the UN figures. In 20 or 30 even the highest one.
The Sri Lankan government knows the real figures. And so does the international community. But had it admitted in the aftermath of the war, it would have been much harder to defend it. And make no mistake, it is not a matter of China. Beijing has a clear policy: no foreign intervention. Moreover Colombo is a protégè, so it would have made no difference. It was no big deal for the international community of diplomacy: on Wikileaks it is clear that everybody knew the dimension of the tragedy.
The real target of the quantitative easing on this truth, is India’s public, and more precisely Tamil Nadu. Nationalistic propaganda is quite loud in the Chennai state, but politicians both in South and in New Delhi have been clever in missing the point. In 2009 it happened a catastrophe, a Tamil catastrophe. But juggling with figures, messing with geopolitics, in conclusion not targeting the issue, at the end, was effective. The goal was to avoid immediate repercussion in India, not in Sri Lanka. The creditors of the crimes against their brothers, are the Tamils in India. But time is shrinking the remission and soon Zero Civilian Casualty will be replaced with 100 000 Civilian Casualty with no more consequence than a mistype in history books. Propaganda seems stupid because it works on the future, not on the present.