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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Forget the LTTE, forget even the Tamils. If you slaughter tens of thousands of people, if you treat the survivors like animals, if you do respect human dignity, then sooner or later you’ll pay that price. And I’m not talking of resurgence of terrorism. Sri Lankans already have the worst punishment: president Rajapaksa, a despot who rules the country like a private property. Sri Lankans decided to enslave themselves to the ultimate dinasty on the island.

The issue is not about the Tamils. It is about impunity and lack of accountability. Clearly the Rajapaksa administration received a green light by the international community. The UN, the West, India let the Rajapaksas walk away after the slaughter of a city like Vavunya (according to UN)(according to the Bishop of Mannar, in his testimony for the LLRC, it is more likely a city like Kandy). What do you expect after that? Any other murder, any other disappearance is petty crime in comparison. The Sri Lankan citizens, all of them, have forget precisely this simple fact: how can you call for justice, after that?

Any misconduct, from threatening journalists, to assaulting judges, is trivial. Moreover, do you think the right of law can be exercised if you have skipped so quickly any investigation about the end of the war?

The Sri Lankan citizens have been lured by their government, but also by a majoritarian ideology and a guilty sense of ownership over the island, that any dissent can be buried by any means. The LTTE started an armed struggle out of desperation. The leadership of Prabharakan soon spiralled in a vortex of violence for the sake of it; it was a response to the oppression and devastation of the Tamil culture and identity. Most important, the deranged trajectory of the LTTE didn’t represent and include all the Tamils. The elimination of 40 000 human beings is a crime of genocide. Forget Tamil Eelam: if you are a proud Sri Lankan, so proud that you’ll never consider the division of the country, then you must act immediately to seek the truth. To bring justice to human beings and to Sri Lanka, to the good name of Sri Lanka.

Poor Sri Lanka, if you think that killing innocents is a good way to honour your country, if you think that the blood of children, elderly and armless unfortunate, is a good way to worship this Buddhist soil.

Are you really convince that a Buddha will be pleased by this bloody sacrifice, that to hold a flag in his name, you had to rape, torture and massacre thousands? In what kind of hell have you fallen, my poor Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka is firmly on the way to become a totalitarian state. It is uncanny the resemblance with the European experience of Nazism and Fascism. You have an intolerant nationalistic ideology, thugs violence at the service of a political party and an increasing suppression of press freedom. But the most creeping is the Divineguma Bill.

The other phenomena are to some extent easier to understand and to classify, especially for the masses. The Sinhalese supremacy is a characteristic of all the Sri Lankan parties, that wanted to drag people attention against an enemy. Rajapaksa administration is just the last comer.

Violence connected to political party is a sad feature of Sri Lankan politics and it has been used generously by all the electoral contenders. The will to silence press freedom is a poisoning attempt to eliminate political conscience from the intellectual landscape of the island and it is mostly directed to starve the most educated of feed for thoughts.

But the Divineguma represents a profound and deep modification of the state, with a subtle tendency towards a totalitarian form of governance.

In the first place the superficial appearance and name wave a populist target. In the name of lifting from poverty the poorest and weakest, it operate an implicit division in the social classes. The most vulnerable persons are led to believed that those who contest the president are opposing any progress in economic equality.

Any educated reader will easily understand the difference between the nominal campaign and the real target of the Divineguma Bill. But if you are struggling to put the bread on the table, the simple opposition to some pennies for your meagre meal will equal to the greedy reluctance of the super riches. Anybody against the Bill will appear as a champion of the interest of the fat cats.

The second totalitarian element is secrecy. Even in matter of security, any restriction of information to the public is a limitation of citizenship. In some cases of national interest it can be applied and it should always with extreme care. In a department of economic development this clause sound deviant. This is precisely a derangement of civil servants to become members and partners. When a body of the state become a private party, which benefit from the state protection and resources but it serves a private master, it is clear the path towards a totalitarian regime.

The question now is simple: can you really oppose within the system a political movement that is by far out of control of institutional check and balances of power? The majority of Italians and Germans didn’t radically oppose the extremist movement because they thought they could win them out in accordance with the rules of the system. But when a ruthless dictator grows too big to be controlled, then the rules are teethless. Would you consider an act of terrorism an open rebellion against Hitler or Mussolini? Many will say that Rajapaksa is not such a serious threat to Sri Lankan democracy. But when you are entitled to act? When are you permitted to defend legitimately your rights?

Three quarters of the citizens in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and Buddhist. When the religion started to disappear in the sub-continent, on the island the devotees decided that they must protect this cultural heritage as the most venerated treasure.

Whilst it is definitely a mission of merit to safeguard cultural values, there is a threshold of common sense. And that is when you start to harm others only because of their diversity. This is the root of violence in Sri Lanka. In fact the Sinhalese majority, or better the elite of the aristocratic families, decided to portray the mere existence of diversity as a threat to their mission. So they developed this narrative of being encircled and surrounded by the other minorities, which is pure fiction.

Muslims, Hindus and Christians are too few to represent a demographic menace for the mainstream religion. And the same applies to languages. Nonetheless, even today it is quite popular the myth of preserving the cultural heritage by any means. That includes the extermination of the other cultural identities on the island.

Ruins of the ancient Atadage at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.

Essentially the Sinhalese majority,convinced by the leading feudal-families which control the country, developed a syndrome of being besieged. The necessity to protect the soil, to impose a dominance of its own language and religion, became the obsession of being threatened. Of course 30 years of civil war didn’t help. In particular the LTTE cultivated a sense of revenge, that escalated the atrocities committed by both sides. The Sri Lankan state permitted that deranged members of its security forces perpetrated horrendous crimes against the Tamil civilians. They weren’t isolated case of insanity. The long tradition of communal riots driven by personal interests of local chieftains and of the usual families, when the state was openly

A boy in the attire of a demon, goes on a collection drive in Tamil Nadu, India.
Courtesy of Hindustantimes/Perumal Venkatesan

confronted by an organized army, retuned itself with random attacks against Tamil villages. In response to that, the LTTE sent killing missions to slaughter Sinhalese people living within or too close to the Tamil areas. Finally the LTTE attacked the Temple of the Tooth, the most sacred Buddhist place in Sri Lanka. The delirious of being encircled found an uncanny impersonation.

Though the Tamil presence has never challenged the Sinhalese presence in the South, the paranoid conviction of nurturing enemies at home, became reality. The Sri Lankan ideology is obsessed by protection and defence against its own disappearance. And extremely coherent with its Buddhist philosophy, the biggest enemy of the Sri Lankan state, is itself.

Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, India

Recently1 the UK High Commissioner planned a visit to Gujarat. The aim is to strengthen economic ties for British companies. But the mission will be very limited in scope without meeting the Chief Minister of the State, Narendra Modi. The controversial leader is one of the most accredited candidate of the opposition to win the next national elections. The controversy has its origin in the 2002 communal riots, which took place in Gujarat. Thousands were killed, prevalently Muslims. Mr Modi is accused of slow reaction and of superficial investigation of the culprits. In fact his own party, the nationalistic BJP, is believed to be highly responsible and directly involved in the incidents. In the following years an implicit agreement amongst European diplomats effectively cut off any major relation with Mr Modi. Now, with Gujarat elections coming in less than a month, the move of the British High Commissioner is a clear message: the stop of the diplomatic embargo against Narendra Modi.

Gujarat communal riots, 2002.

The comment is: what can you do? Can you really boycott the democratic will of a state? Can you seriously interfere with the internal political life of a foreign country? Of course not. A massacre happened, thousands were killed. Can we exercise more pressure to obtain justice for them? No. So let’s make a move and lobby for your companies. Better now on the minor stage of regional election than later on under national (and international) spotlight.

The other, implicit message is: we firmly stand against perpetrators of crimes and atrocities. But only up to a certain point. When the cost of principles is higher than the economic return, principles can go back to be a fight of intellectuals.

Foreign Ministers from UK, Mr. Milliband, and from France, Mr Kouchner, meet Sri Lanka’s president Mr Rajapaksa.

The British government tried the “impossible” in 2009, sending even Mr Milliband. He and Mr Kouchner fought for a couple of days with words, then they gave up. Verbally, the international community condemned the massacres of 40 000 (according to UN) (though it is likely to be more than double that, with the most dramatic estimates putting the figure at 140 000), but no action seriously concerns the Rajapaksa administration. Why?

First, you can say geopolitical reasons. China, India, the String of Pearls. So Europe was really toothless in that occasion. And after 3 years you have to decide: can you do justice to the victims. The answer of the British government has been a sound no. It’s too early to trial the government, it’s too late to save the victims. So let’s move on. There are alliances and businesses to attend.

Sri Lanka’s president Rajapaksa and the Queen, Elizabeth II.

This year Rajapaksa was invited for the Queen’s Jubilee and later on for the inauguration of the Olympics. Sri Lanka will also host the Commonwealth summit in 2013.

What is wrong is that the events of 2009 don’t have culprits. But everybody in the international community has enough information that clearly points at the president and at his administration. Maybe it’s too early for an international trial and it is definitely too late to save the victims. Nonetheless you are still in time to stand for justice and truth. Brutality and crime against humanity are always on the wrong side. Is there really a need to say it? It appears so, because the urge to do business, to come first for deals, can obscure even the most basic principles.

It is not always good diplomacy to confront a country; the USA made a mission to isolate Iran. Maybe the UK doesn’t have the power and the will to be so vocal against Sri Lanka.

But if you start now to have normalized relationships, it is an implicit admission of acceptance for what happened.

The message is: stand for principles till you can, then shake hands and sign contracts.

This a reply to  Why a Large Defence Budget is Highly Beneficial to the Nation” by Dilrook Kannagara

Here’s the original post.

 

The article itself is quite petty minded, but it is an important evidence of a mindset. The principles which inspired it, are a fundamental element of debate. It is impressive that Mr Kannagara has the guts to say them explicitly. The courage of course to speak without any spark of intelligence. Yet, his vision is a  a profound insight into the most deranged thoughts of a majoritarian, warmongering mindset.

Is he serious? No of course he is not. But he participates in the ideological mainstream which at the end drives the tragic destiny of Sri Lanka. So even these pathetic words, are actually responsible for the general climate of intolerance, violence and brutality.

I couldn’t resist to respond. 

The Singapore point: similar treat? What on earth has in common a city-State like Singapore with a country like Sri Lanka? If this is the argument then why not saying that Colombo has the same duty and responsibility of North Korea, so Sri Lanka could spend an entire 25% of its GDP. And why not trying to reach the military expenditure of the Soviet Union during Second World War?

The employment point: military expenditure to pay salary? Wouldn’t it be better to give those salaries to doctors and teachers, to improve the services for the citizens?

Handsome return point: maybe you are right and if you are, it is precisely because it was spent on an ongoing conflict, it could make sense. At that time. The argument against military expenditure now it is because that very conflict is over. 

Unvalued return: here you are definitely right: Sri Lanka is a regime, where people don’t feel free and in possess of their right. It is a country run by thugs and their arbitrary will. They wanted to kidnap the Secretary of Judiciary Commission in plain daylight. When there is a clash between executive and judiciary power. 

People are scared and want to flee. Only if you are part of the regime, you are happy and secure. So yes, the only place where loyalty is not in discussion is the army: this is a clear admission that Sri Lanka is an authoritarian State. Well done!

Sri Lankanisation of the North: that’s the most beautiful. Thanks, really because you say in plain words what is the secret mission: to occupy a territory and to destroy cultural identity. That was the reason for the armed struggle, that is the reason why unrest will always torment Sri Lanka. The problem is the military solution. Not the other way round. 

The notion of the String of Pearls is an American hypothesis about China’s containment of India. All the facts indicate that China is building a network of harbour facilities from the Corn of Africa, the Persian Gulf up to the shores of Indo-China. These line of ports crosses the entire Indian Ocean so it wouldn’t be wise to deny the reality of these system of of harbours. And we can keep on calling it with the name of “String of Pearls”. But it is important to investigate the purpose of these facilities. In the American definition, it is an expansive military strategy to encircle India. It suggests that any move to consolidate the String or to add another Pearl, is an offensive step against India.

East-West Shipping Lane

It is well known that the primary goal of the String is to secure the energy supply of China. More than 80% of China’s imported fuel passes along that route. So it is an obvious strategy to establish a network of military facilities to safeguard such vital energy line. Especially if you consider the bottleneck of the Malacca Straits, where an American fleet is patrolling a very short sea passage. Very easily relatively few American naval forces could choke completely the import of energy. It is important to note also that in the future the percentage of energy import will grow significantly. The String system therefore is a defensive strategy against the USA.

Chinese harbour facilities in the Indian Ocean: the String of Pearls

The question now becomes: how India is affected by China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean? This of course is an important obstacle in the Indian aspirations of becoming a regional super-power, in the Indian Ocean in particular. The fact is that though India is surrounded by water, all its strategic interests are concentrated on the mainland. The crucial one is per definition the border with Pakistan. A secondary, but important issue is with China itself on the #Andra Pradesh. Minor reasons to exercise geopolitical power lie with Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh. All on land. The only strategically relevant issue on the sea is with Sri Lanka, but the proximity is so close, that you could consider it with the land group. A lot of attention has been grabbed by the Pearl in Hambatota, Sri Lanka. Although there is no doubt that this facility will serve the Chinese maritime presence when it will be needed, it is also foolish to think that China will count on that stronghold to obstacle India in case of a confrontation. Sri Lanka is a domestic issue for India and any military escalation will see New Delhi overwhelms Colombo and any other country on its side.

The fact is that the Indian presence in the Indian Ocean is so firm that it will never really be excluded. Of course the Chinese presence can shadow all the imperialistic aspirations of New Delhi in the region, and yet, besides prestige, it is difficult if not impossible to worry the Indian presence in its own waters.

The real reason is that the USA suffer even more distance that China from the Indian Ocean and the String of Pearls is seriously menacing the American presence. Washington is heavily worried by being cut off from the region. So we can consider the String of Pearls almost entirely an anti-American defensive strategy.

We can conclude with a last reflection: if it is a China-American issue, what is the involvement of India? In the first place, the USA are uncomfortable in admitting their worries about their own containment; second they want to co-opt India on their side and convice New Delhi that they share values, goals and most of all, enemies. What is more surprising is that Beijing didn’t do much to change this perception. I suggest that China prefers to pretend of having a fictional confrontation with India, than to admit the real friction with the USA. The battle with supremacy with the USA is global and it has the potential to be nasty and dangerous, especially for the economic well-being of the Chinese people, given the mutual business relations. A confrontation with India can always be reconsider under the historical issues. And even a open, circumstanced war-fare will have very limited consequences. So for the Chinese interests is better to talk fictionally of the India’s containment, rather that facing the real rivalry with the USA.

It is possible that in the future the positions will change, that India’s strategic relevance will grow up to become a real competitors for Chinese supremacy. I suspect that even in this case it will be more a land-based confrontation rather than a naval one.

As a final remark I have to admit the appealing of the theory of the String of Pearls: a concept concisely expressed in an image, whose representation power seems to be self-explaining. It is a fortunate, well-thought artefact of geopolitical propaganda. My impression that is even too good to be real. But sometimes art not only precedes life, it can also lead it.

Libya Uprising

When the regime of Qaddafi started to crumble, he reacted quickly and brutally, attacking his own citizens. Not much differently Assad is trying now to crash down the insurgency. Years before Saddam Hussein did the same. The rationale is the following: the power of the state is always borrowed from the people and when a leader suppresses in blood the request of change, he is committing an heinous, criminal act.

So far, so good. But when you wave the flag of humanitarian principle only when it’s convenient, it becomes only another trick, a move amongst the other. The West brands itself as the champion of the human rights and everybody recognizes that Qaddafi and Hussein were bloody tyrants. Assad was governing with the iron fist and the brutality of the repression, though unexpected in the West, has been rapidly condemned. But for example in Bahrain, the silence of the governments has been almost deafening. And I will remind also of the case of Sri Lanka. It is slightly different, the enemy wasn’t a spontaneous movement of a season.

Bahrain uprising

The LTTE was a very organized army and engaged the Sri Lankan government for almost 30 years. The elimination of that army is not really the problem. The issue involves the civilians killed in the final stage of the conflict, with the military victory already defined. The UN has already estimated the toll of the victims: 40 000. But other sources refer to more than 100 000. What was the condemnation from the West? None.

In private of course, the diplomats are expressing quite clearly their opinions. It has just recently published a Wikileaks, dating September 2009, where the US ambassador stating that the Sri Lankan administration lost any credibility.

500 000 Tamil civilians were chased out,through shelling and starvation.

The government chased more than 500 000 people with heavy artillery, with the shelling hitting hospitals and other emergency shelters. What happened to the humanitarian principles? Disappeared on the shores of Mullivaikal.

The problem with such changeable ethics is that you start to doubt even when it is righteous. I have little doubts that the Libyan and Syrian regime are committing atrocities. But the point is: the support against them occurs for this reason? To bring more justice? This is not just an intellectual debate. The West amassed credibility amongst its own citizens because of the right cause it is supposed to fight. The big question marks on China is precisely with regards of the lack of transparency about principles. Leaders in the West are not rulers and when they lost the battle for principles, they lose the right to lead. But if the West systematically supports regime-change for its tactical advantage, it loses any credibility of its stance. So if the principle stands, that government must not attack their own citizens, why Syria and Lybia on one side and Sri Lanka and Bahrain on the other?