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From Kissinger to Trump: A brief history of international relations

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By Uditha Devapriya

More than a mere difference of rhetoric sets the US National Defense Strategy of 2008 apart from the updated 2018 version. The Republicans were in control and power at the time of publication of both documents, though the second Bush administration would give way to the Obama presidency a few months after the release of the first. They came against the backdrop of shifting geopolitical concerns: the 2008 brief in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2018 brief in the aftermath of the ascendancy of China.

It’s not a little significant that the second document devotes less attention than the first to the threat of Islamic extremism. Significant, also, is the point that the 2008 brief lists down two countries as rogue-states (Iran and North Korea), while the 2018 brief adds two more (China and Russia). There you have the main difference: the first emphasises cooperation with allies and competitors, the second recognises the competitors among its enemies. In that sense it’s a more fundamentalist version of George W. Bush coalition of the willing and his bellicose “if you’re not with us you’re with them” jingoism.

The US has been grappling with how best it can advance its interests in the world, and throughout much of the 20th century, particularly during the Cold War, the issue boiled down to the debate between the realists and the idealists. Since the end of the Cold War this debate has been girded by another: between the neoconservatives and the neoliberals. Foreign policy wise, especially as far as countries like Sri Lanka are concerned, there’s very little difference between these groups: both believe in the furtherance of American interests abroad, even if their tactics diverge. The US foreign policy, in other words, differs at the level of theory at home but remains roughly the same in terms of achievement of objectives abroad.

Is there a point, then, in differentiating between these schools of thought, be they idealist, realist, neoconservative, or neoliberal? I think so, for one cardinal reason.

The cardinal reason is that theory may be grey (as Goethe saw it), but more often than not it is a guide to action (as Marx and Engels saw it). How can we begin to understand a particular administration without understanding the justifications it puts out for interventions in other parts of the world? Policy documents matter because they are adhered to, whether in the breach or the observance. Any student of US foreign policy will tell you that US presidents have resorted to doctrines and communiqués to validate their actions overseas. It is more than intellectual laziness, therefore, to shrug off US administrations as being one and the same. At a fundamental level, to be sure, no difference exists, but fighting one’s way through into the fog, one finds the little details that help distinguish policies from each other.

Take the 2008 and the 2018 National Defense Strategies. Both are premised on the need to preserve America’s interests. But where the 2008 brief lays down five short objectives, the 2018 brief lays down 11 long ones. The first emphasises states as the fundamental unit of the international order (“even though the role of non-state actors in world affairs has increased”), while the second document shifts the emphasis slightly to non-state players. Both view the prevalence of one over another as beneficial to their interests: indeed, the emergence of non-state actors over states is welcomed in the 2018 brief, since “multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, corporations, and strategic influencers provide opportunities for collaboration and partnership.” Even if the overarching objective – “Defend the Homeland” in the first brief and “Defend the homeland from attack” in the second – has not altered, US perception of shifting geopolitical realities can, and will, change.

Kissinger was arguably the first American political theorist to underline the need for foreign policy to respond to such changing geopolitical realities. The foremost exponent of realism in international relations of the 20th century, he believed that strategy should be planned and implemented “on the basis of the other side’s capabilities and not merely a calculation of its intentions.” Where the US was going wrong in the Cold War, he opined, was its inability to distinguish between a legitimate order – a rules-based one – and a revolutionary order – one in which countries refuse to accept “either the arrangements of the settlement or the domestic structure of other states.” It all boiled down to power: “relations cannot be conducted without an awareness of power relationships.” Overemphasis on theory, Kissinger added, “can lead to a loss of touch with reality”, and reality can change as much abroad as at home.

The shift from idealism to realism transpired in the interwar period. As Europe was to realise to its cost, the Treaty of Versailles, with its assumption that states would cooperate with each other to prop up order and preserve peace, squeezed the middle-classes of Germany and Italy to such an extent that the inevitable outcome had to be fascism on one hand and isolationism on the other. The predominance of idealism in international relations thus ended up producing a backlash against it, as events in the Sudetenland were to prove.

Who were the idealists in America? Woodrow Wilson, mainly. Historians remain divided on whether the Wilsonian League of Nations, which the US never joined, did more to provoke rather than prevent the resumption of war. His insistence on unanimity, even in the face of opposition from Congress, tends to paint him in an unflattering light today. Yet it can also be argued that Wilson’s uncompromising intransigence gave the impetus for his successors to take up the cause of an alliance-driven world order as and when the situation demanded it. In that sense his successor was Franklin Roosevelt, an irony given that the ultimate realist US President prior to World War I had been Roosevelt’s uncle, Theodore.

Where Wilson and the League of Nations, to which he put much laudable effort, failed was their patent inability to manage power relationships between nations. As E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau were to highlight in their writings, relations exist on the level of nations. Peace cannot be maintained on the basis of an assumption of unity. For such unity to prevail, power must be balanced.

Hence the rude awakening which was World War II propelled the US to embrace realism as the cornerstone of its foreign policy.

Realism in post-war America (and Western Europe) is typically identified with three political theorists: Kissinger, George Kennan, and Raymond Aron. Their conceptions of realpolitik differed somewhat from one another. Kissinger prided himself on being another Metternich, the 19th century Austrian diplomat who, via an amalgam of cynical power politics and deft negotiation, maintained peace in Europe against the Bonapartist threat by way of Concerts, Alliances, and intrigue. Kennan gained influence as the foremost exponent of containment, arguing that the Soviet threat could be countered through an anticommunist federation in Western Europe; this gradually put him on a collision course with the Truman administration. Aron saw politics as irreducible to morals, yet somehow comes off as more ethnical minded than Kissinger or Kennan; the thesis that the state holds a monopoly over the use of force, he says, does not extend to relations between nations. Thus or Aron, unlike for Kissinger and to a lesser extent for Kennan, the ideal must be liberal democracy. In that sense he is more of a classical realist vis-à-vis Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau.

At any rate, idealism could not win because the War defeated one party and put to power another: the fall of fascism in the Western half of Europe was followed by the resurgence of Communism in the Eastern half. This was a situation palpably different to the status quo in much of the interwar period until the late 1920s. Conflicts could be defused, no matter how clumsily or ineffectually, through temporary alliances forged between one set of nations over another. Post-war America, on the other hand, had to face not just Soviet aggression, but the reality of decolonisation giving way to either Third World alliances with power blocs or the strengthening of Third World neutralism vis-à-vis the Non-Aligned Movement.

Historians and political theorists have not given the emphasis it deserves to the role of the Non-Aligned Movement in defusing tensions between the US and the Soviet Union. Where they touched on nonalignment, US officials were almost always critical: John Foster Dulles called it immoral, to give one example. Kissinger was more dismissive than critical: he took it for granted that given the cultural gulf between the US and the Third World, alliances with the latter were simply not going to work. He identified, however, the basis of the Movement in the undercurrents of tension between the two power blocs: “Nehru’s neutrality is possible,” he crisply noted, “only as long as the United States remains strong.” Once US power went for a six, the Movement would sooner or later come tumbling down.

The point I’m trying to make here is that realpolitik as the cornerstone of US foreign policy could thrive because of the two divisions in the world order at the time: not just between free market capitalism and “godless” communism, but also between alignment and neutrality. The use of proxies from Third World states in the Cold War made it possible for the US (and the Soviets) to projects its dominance, while concurrently pre-empting escalation of war by way of provoking opposition from the nonaligned Third World.

Realism, in other words, could not have prevailed without Third World unity, which acted as a bulwark and a dedicated player in the cause of neutrality against interventions by the two superpowers. Kissinger’s claim that the “uncommitted nations” relied in their dealings with the new post-war world order on an “overestimation of the power of words”, and that this beheld them to Soviet antiwar propaganda, is thus reductionist and erroneous; in his assertion that they were incapable of grasping “the full impact of industrialism”, and with it the new order, he was betraying his Orientalist prejudices. No wonder Edward Said devoted space to Kissinger in the opening pages of his book on the subject.

It is not technically correct to say that realism ended with Kissinger, even if as the guiding principle of US foreign policy realpolitik faded away at the tail-end of the 1970s with the rise of neoliberalism and the 1990s with the rise of neoconservatism. But its end had to do with two historical eventualities: the shift from the Old to the New Right in the West, and the slow strangulation of Communism. As I have noted in my essays on the Non-Aligned Movement, with these transformations eroded neutralism’s relevance.

Noam Chomsky is largely right when he argues that the US privileges its interests no matter what the administration is (which is ironic given his cautious embracement of Biden-Harris over Trump-Pence at the US election). But this does not necessarily mean the realist-idealist disjuncture should be ignored altogether. Kissingerian pragmatism has eroded not because the US is the sole superpower, but because it is not: the world since 1995, according to Jessica Matthews (“What Foreign Policy for the US?”, New York Review of Books, September 24, 2015), has presented a conundrum for the formulation of US foreign policy because of five factors: the shift from diplomatic initiative to military power, globalisation, the 9/11 attacks, the growth of China, and Russia’s shift to the East.

It is with these points in mind that we ought to read policy documents from Washington. Taking them with a pinch of salt, with the understanding that there exists a difference only at the tactical and not the strategic level as far as foreign policy formulation between different administrations is concerned, we must nevertheless pay attention to the texts and contexts which colour the rhetoric of these documents.

It is curious that the egoistic ethos of the Trump administration and the analytical rigour of the Bush administration come through in the two strategy documents I outlined earlier: the 2008 policy document ends with a pledge that the Department of Defence “stands ready to fulfil its mission”, while the 2018 one reiterates that very same pledge through the personal assurance of its author, James Mattis. The one does not personalise, the other does nothing but personalise. Yet underlying both is a deeply Manichean view of the world. How the US projects this view through different windows and curtains is the challenge those involved in foreign policy, particularly in countries such as ours, must face and meet.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Sat Mag

Covid – 19 or Avian Flu

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Culling chickens Picture Courtesy: Village Square

By the time you read this, lakhs of chickens will have died of Avian Flu. Some will have died naturally. Others will have been beaten to death or strangled.

How many do you think will be buried or burnt? Very few. Most of them will land on your plate, sold at reduced prices by the poultries.

So, what, you say. The newspapers have repeatedly told you that bird flu makes no difference to the quality of chicken you eat and, as long as you cook it, you will come to no harm.

This is utter rubbish and it is being doled out by two interested parties: the poultry industry themselves, so that they do not go completely bankrupt and you continue to buy the diseased dead birds. The second is the government itself: the Animal Husbandry Ministries, who are solely invented to see that India has more poultries, more slaughterhouses. The more animals are eaten, the more successful the Ministry is. Their mandate is NOT sick people. Their mandate is to see that people keep buying chickens, diseased or not. The mandate for looking after sick people belongs to the Ministry of Health. And never the twain shall meet.

Every article will tell you that no humans have ever had Avian Flu. And that it can’t spread from bird to human. This is not true.

If Avian Flu was not zoonotic why are the birds being killed under the Infectious and Contagious Diseases Prevention Act 2009. The word zoonotic means a disease that can be transmitted to a human by an animal. Do you think any government cares when a bird suffers? The only time they wake up is when they know that the disease of the bird can be transmitted to a human. It was first detected in 18 humans in 1997 working in a live bird market in Hong Kong (again Chinese). The strain was identified as H5N1- the same strain that is in India now – with a high mortality rate. Six of the 18 humans died.

Bird Flu has spread across the country. Every single state has it and lakhs are being killed from Himachal Pradesh to Kerala.

You, who cower in fear of COVID – this is also a viral flu disease: Avian Influenza. The Influenza Type A virus has several strains. When it first came to India it was H1N1. Fourteen years later this massive outbreak is from the mutated virus now called H5N1 and H8N1.

Just as syphilis, in every language, means the disease of foreigners, every government believes that Avian Flu comes from migratory birds from a different country, who spread it as their faeces drop from the air and straight into the poultries. That country may never have had bird flu, but their birds have developed it as they fly towards India?

I find it far more likely that the poultries give it to the migratory birds, who have no resistance and so they die. According to the US Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six countries are considered the permanent centres for H5N1 virus in poultry. We top the list followed by China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and Egypt. In each of these countries you have to see the horrific conditions that chickens are normally kept in to understand why they fall prey so quickly to Avian Flu.

In India the poultries are like hells on earth. The chickens are kept in filthy small cages unable to move, with sliced off beaks and toes to prevent them from picking each other’s feathers. They are full of sores. Most of them have had rounds of other common diseases: Encephalomyelitis, Chicken Anaemia Virus Infection, Chlamydiosis, Infectious Bronchitis, Infectious Bursal Disease, Infectious Coryza, Infectious Laryngotracheitis, tick fever or Spirochaetosis, Avian Leucosis.

They have permanent diarrhoea, some have bloody diarrhoea from a parasite called coccidia. Most of them cannot walk without extreme difficulty and many have rickets. They have warts and a thick discharge from their eyes, they have pus filled abscesses on their necks and feet. Many of them have diabetes, and a large number have tuberculosis and they can hardly breathe in the damp poisonous air that pervades the poultry. They inhale their own dried faeces. They have a deficiency of Vitamin A and manganese, which makes them lame with swollen eyes. They cough and sneeze. They have round worms and tape worms, lice and fleas, ticks and mites. They live on a diet of antibiotics and dried food with sawdust in it.

They die often of heart attacks.

Every now and then they are wiped out by the contagious fowl pox, fowl cholera or Ranikhet disease.

How could you think that these diseased unhappy creatures would not get Avian flu?

How does it spread to humans? From those people who work in poultries – which is how COVID started. And those who eat poultry products.

The WHO started by saying that there is no evidence that the virus can spread through food – provided it is cooked at more than 60 degree Celsius. What they have neglected to say is that the chicken is handled by you long before it is cooked. You buy the raw chicken from an open street vendor, touch it with your hands, put it into your fridge, put it in various utensils, which are not washed at boiling temperatures but with ordinary tap water. You cut it and splice it and then cook it. By then the virus is in a hundred places and you could have become a carrier.

Even WHO has now diluted its own message and warns that these new mutant viruses could turn into another pandemic. H5N1 has already proven to be very dangerous to humans.

When the disease spreads to humans, it affects the respiratory tract illness, and its symptom include Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, similar to one caused by Covid-19. You will start with fever, cough and a sore throat. You can have abdominal pain and diarrhoea. All these symptoms are similar to Covid.

There have been no tests for it in India. The government labs are now rolling out a test to see whether you have COVID or Avian Flu. There is no vaccine or treatment.

Protect yourself. Don’t eat chicken or eggs. Close down the illegal street vendors. I have done that in my constituency.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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Sat Mag

Locating Anoja

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By Uditha Devapriya

 

The first generation of actors who made their way to the Sri Lankan film industry, hailed, for the most, from suburban, lower middle-class, and Anglicised backgrounds. They entered the industry, despite opposition from their parents, who saw acting as an unworthy, unbecoming profession. Not surprisingly their prospects were limited, and most of them had to learn on their own, often through a patron or a mentor; this was, after all, a medium quite unlike any other, groundbreaking, innovative, and accused then as now of being too Western. Perhaps the latter association unnerved a conservative middle-class who linked it to a Westernised middle-class residing in either Colombo or the immediate periphery.

These first generation actors did not make the transition from stage hall to movie hall their successors did in later years. Many had dabbled in the theatre at school, yet few returned to it. Indeed, despite the symbiotic link between the theatre and film in the early days of our cinema, actors, in general, and actresses in particular, gained no more than a rudimentary smattering of experience in either medium. The Prema Ganegodas and the Malini Fonsekas came later, much later; until then actors continued to defy parental strictures, taking part in beauty contests, being selected by the few (mostly Colombo-based) producers and directors in vogue at the time, and finding a home of sorts in one of the studios.

Indeed, though it lacked a proper financial base, Sri Lanka boasted of its own studio system, with rivalries between producers compelling aspiring actresses to stick to one company or another. Shanthi Lekha’s career is a case in point here: K. Gunaratnam’s most coveted if not most popular actress, she was offered her first role in Sujatha on condition that she not take part in films produced by other companies. Such contractual obligations survived the change of government in 1956 and even the 1965 National Film Commission: as late as 1966, Lester James Peries had to obtain permission from Robin Tampoe to take Swineetha Weerasinghe onboard Delovak Athara. This trend would continue until the 1970s.

If 1956 didn’t entirely change this landscape, it certainly changed the perspective. The rural middle-class, forced into the background until then, made their way to the performing arts industries. Whereas earlier they would have had to defy their elders to act directly in film, now they had a safer intermediary: the theatre. Not every actress took that path; from this period one hears of Malini Fonseka among the big names that did. Yet many kept coming to the cinema through the stage hall: Leonie Kotelawala, Anula Karunathilaka, even the great Denawaka Hamine. Bilingual at most, they were a far cry from the heavily Anglicised urban-suburban middle-class who were dominating the industry then.

Naturally this second generation looked up to the first, just as the third generation following them looked up to the second. That third generation emerged somewhere in the mid-1970s – a period different to the 1960s – and their entry to the cinema differed considerably, if not significantly, from the second and first. By then, largely thanks to the expansion of the film industry and the curtailment of film imports, a rural lower middle-class were growing up on the likes of Malini Fonseka and Swarna Mallawarachchi. If they did not want to be like them, they wanted to be with them. Yet bereft of opportunity and away and apart from the milieu that Fonseka and Mallawarachchi had grown up in, few of them could hope to, and few ever did, make it to the city. Among that few was Anoja Weerasinghe.

I have seen Anoja in a great many films – the good, the bad, the passable – and from them four stick indelibly in my memory: Keli Madala, Siri Medura, Janelaya, and Seilama. It’s not a coincidence that Keli Madala and Maldeniye Simion (which I have not seen) were directed by D. B. Nihalsinghe. Nihalsinghe had been at the forefront of the industry in the 1970s, less as a director than as an administrator, overseeing the biggest overhaul of the sector since its genesis in the 1940s. The National Film Corporation, of which he became the founding CEO, had identified the Indian blockbuster as a negative influence, curtailed imports from Madras and Delhi, brought in films from continental Europe, and attempted unsuccessfully to strike a deal with a major Hollywood studio. Thanks to his efforts, larger numbers of Sinhala films began invading theatres far, far away from Colombo and the Kelani Valley.

Growing up in Badulla and attending school there and later in Moneragala – the two poorest districts in Sri Lanka – Anoja remembers seeing one film in particular: Welikathara, no less than Nihalsinghe’s directorial debut. The first Sinhala film shot in Cinemascope, it required a wide screen the likes of which were not available in theatres outside Colombo at the time. Forced to adapt, theatre owners screened it through conventional projectors, distorting the image. Despite this, Welikathara’s interest transcended its technical limitations. For Anoja it seemed like a baptism of fire: “from then on,” she recalls, “I resolved to see as many Sinhala films as possible, and to enter the industry.”

If in the city she discovered the cinema, in the village back home she was discovering the theatre. She didn’t receive any formal training until much later, but as a child, she tells me, she kept an “intimate bond with the stage hall.” Artistically inclined, her parents encouraged her penchant for the theatre. In Badulla and in Moneragala, not surprisingly, “I took part in several concerts and plays.” The first of those plays, “staged when I had turned five or six”, had her play out the role of a Japanese princess. Her first real theatrical performance came much later, when she had turned 13. The latter had impressed a visiting MP so much that he had praised her. The MP, she recalls, “came from the city”, and his comments had struck her visibly. In response, “I could only stare and gape at him.”

Going to the movies had not been easy. In the Sinhala village of the 1970s, it was considered almost a ritual. “My friends and I would invariably pick on the 6.30 show and we’d invariably go for as many screenings as we could.” The challenge was to sample the latest movies, all of them if possible, and this Anoja attempted to balance with her studies. But for a Sinhala lower middle-class village girl with very few prospects outside her home, there was really no world beyond the actors, the actresses, and the directors she consumed. From seeing them to being with them would take some years, but in the end she managed to make it with a bit role in Yasapalitha Nanayakkara’s Tak Tik Tuk.

Yasapalitha Nanayakkara released Tak Tik Tuk a year after he wrapped up work on another film that featured Anoja in a more prominent role, Monarathanne, where she found herself acting opposite not just Vijaya Kumaratunga and Malini Fonseka, but also the grande dame of the Sinhala cinema herself, Rukmani Devi. Anoja had lasted for just 30 seconds in Tak Tik Tuk; here her performance spanned the entirety of the production. Filled as it was with the great Khemadasa’s music and an uncharacteristically restrained performance by Rukmani, Monarathanne proved to be Anoja’s second baptism of fire after her encounter years ago with Welikathara. Nanayakkara, however, came and went; following him, soon to become Anoja’s mentor, was Welikathara’s director, D. B. Nihalsinghe.

To list down all of Anoja’s credits here would be pointless, both for reasons of space and for the simple fact that not all of them reveal her potential well. I can think of four films – all of which I’ve listed above – and I can think of one other which really brought out her thespian prowess: Jackson Anthony’s Julietge Bhoomikawa. Anthony released his film somewhere in 1998, eight years after Lever Brothers sponsored a scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Drama (LAMDA). That milestone had come two years after she had won the Silver Peacock for Best Actress at the 11th International Film Festival in New Delhi. The winning performance had been in another film by Nihalsinghe, Maldeniye Simion.

At this point in the interview Anoja opts to reflect on Nihalsinghe. She is noticeably eager. “I was like a ball of clay under him, to be honest,” she recalls. “He moulded me. To this day, I can’t explain how he did it, and how I played for him, whether in Maldeniye Simion or in Keli Madala. Contrary to most accounts of him, he was quite gentle if not soft-spoken, careful with his players. When he instructed me, he lowered his voice so much that the actor beside me couldn’t hear what he was saying. In a very subtle manner he managed to draw out the character he wanted me to play. Working for him, acting for him, was always a pleasure. He got out what he wanted, and I gave out what I could.”

Nihalsinghe, in fact, retained his trust in her so much that he went against both producer and storywriter when he suggested her for Maldeniye Simion. “Arawwala Nandimitra, who wrote the original novel, and the producers, among whom was Vijaya Ramanayake, opposed his choice. They tried to back out. But Nihalsinghe held firm. He told them that if he couldn’t have me for the film, he would not make it. However begrudgingly, they relented, and in the end admitted they had been quite wrong about me.”

Just what makes Anoja’s acting tick? Part of her charm, I think, lies in how well she has been able, not to emulate, but to invert, Malini Fonseka. The contrast between the two comes off vividly in Parakrama Niriella’s Siri Medura. Critics have invariably compared Anoja to Swarna Mallawarachchi, but to me the analogy remains superficial at best and misleading at worst. Swarna’s forte in the 1980s (her best period) lay in how well she inverted the stereotype of the good village girl corrupted by the immoral city man. It is in how she fights back, and (as with Dadayama) dies or (as with Kadapathaka Chaya) becomes a female counterpart of the chauvinists she’s battling, that her élan comes out.

Anoja’s élan is of a different order, and I wrap up this tribute to her by recalling the endings of Seilama and Nihalsinghe’s Keli Madala, which have her as defeated protagonists; whereas Swarna emerges triumphant, even in death, Anoja can only despair and give up, though this does not make her defeat any less poignant. To me the finest performance she’s given will always be the final sequence in Siri Medura; there, with just one take, she gives completely into hysterics and runs off, shocked that she’s just killed not just the man she loved, but the woman who intervened to break up their relationship. It is a master-class in acting, and in its own way, a testament to how well that third generation I wrote of at the beginning sprang up, and carved a place for themselves, in the annals of our cinema.

 

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Sat Mag

Hela Havula marks 80th Anniversary

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By K. A. I. Kalyanaratne

Vice President, Hela Havula
Senior Manager, Publications
The Postgraduate Institute of
Management
University of Sri Jayewardenepura
The need to regulate and
standardize language

Language is the key instrument that binds a society, and provides the linkages to maintain the societal structure in its different fronts. Therefore, it is an utmost social responsibility of a community to regulate its language so that it would be able to meet these laudable objectives. The view that change being the order of the day everything is changing, and, therefore, it is futile to regulate a language is shallow and shortsighted. Change is inevitable, and it is a phenomenon of nature. However, a language should not be changed just for the sake of changing, unless the necessity arises for a change. Most of the changes that have taken place recently are not born out of necessity, but due to other factors including blind and naked ignorance and slothfulness to find the correct usage. Laws, rules, regulations, and procedures bring order and system to a society and its elements. In the same manner, grammar, idiom and syntax bring precision and clarity to any language whose objective is to convey a sender’s message to the recipients exactly in the same manner he/she wishes to transmit it. Politics is an honorable ‘game’. But it is now played mostly by ‘dirty fellows’. Likewise over-democratization of language has made this all-important human invention ‘a dumping ground for all sorts of garbage in the guise of language and literature’.

Establishment of Language Organizations

Among a host of cultural elements, it is the language that stands as a monolith ensuring the identity of a particular community. Each language has its own set of grammar, usage, idioms and its fundamentals on word formations. Further, it is this identity that needs to be preserved. This identity becomes more important in languages like Sinhala, Tamil and Hindi as their nouns are declinable and their verbs are conjugatable. They, in fact, preserve and sustain the identity and uniqueness of these languages. Realizing the predicament as to how these languages would behave, sans their identities, many communities have formed organizations to preserve the respective identities while doing their utmost to enlarge their vocabulary as well as diversify and develop their literature. Three such organizations formed in our sub-continental region are:

The Hela Havula

– Formed by the literary giant Cumaratunga Munidasa in 1941, and presently governed by an act of Parliament, referred to as the Hela Havula (Incorporation) Act No. 38 of 1992. An important legal provision in the Hela Havula Act being the prevalence of Sinhala in the case of any inconsistency in any legal interpretation of the law. The bedrock of the Hela Havula Act is, invariably,

The Central Hindi Directorate –

set up with the objective of fulfilling the constitutional obligations of Article 351 (of the Constitution of India) to develop and propagate the cause of Hindi language, all over the country and abroad.

Central Institute of Classical Tamil – an organization that is functioning in Chennai for the development of the Tamil language. This is an independent organization functioning under the Ministry of Human Resource Development Department.

Similar developments were taking place almost during the same period in the West as well, and some of the more conspicuous associations being:

The Académiefrançaise – the French Academy

, – considered as the pre-eminent French Council for matters pertaining to the French language. Its primary role is to regulate the French language by determining standards of acceptable grammar and vocabulary, as well as adapting to linguistic change by adding new words and updating the meanings of existing ones. As the spread of English has had much influence on other national languages, one of the main tasks of the French Academy is focused on lessening the influx of English terms into French by choosing or inventing French equivalents.

The Academy of the Hebrew Language

is the organization established for the furtherance and advancement of the Hebrew language. The Academy of the Hebrew Language was formed by Hemda Ben-Yehuda. His main industry revolved around the colossal enterprise of reviving the Hebrew language by gathering into one volume all Hebrew words.
Formation of the Hela Havula

The formation of the Hela Havula, on January 11, 1941, is a day to remember as this significant event impacted heavily on the preservation of the Sinhala language and its idiom in the last 80 years. Its founder the late Cumaratunga Munidasa was ably supported by many an erudite scholar including Jayantha Weerasekara -critique and journalist, Raphael Tennekoon – editor, grammarian, poet and elucidator, Amarasiri Gunawardana (Amarasiri Gunawadu) – grammarian, poet and elucidator. There were a host of others who joined the movement later and contributed substantially towards the furtherance of the Hela Havula objectives. They represented people from all walks of life.

The listing of all of them is an exhaustive exercise. However, to name a few in order to show the variety and richness of the association, it included the active participation of such personalities as Rev. Kodagoda Gnanaloka Thero – linguist, grammarian, editor and expositionist, Father Marcelline Jayakody – musician poet and lyricist, Father Moses Perera – hymn writer,

Ven. Thirikunamale Ananda Anunayaka Thera, editor and poet, (teacher, , poet and editor and lexicographer, Manahanama Dissanayake – editor, journalist and poet, W. M (Wema) Perera – teacher and editor, Sunil Santha – lyricist and musician, Sir Raazeek Zaruk – lawyer, Jayamaha Wellala – poet, Hubert Dissanayake – writer, poet and lyricist, Alau Isi Sebi Hela – teacher, writer, poet and expositionist, Prof. (doctor, lyricist), Mohotti Don David -journalist and editor, Prof. Vinnie Vitharana -university don, author and expositionist, Aelian de Silav – engineer, linguist, editor and critique, – writer and critique, – teacher, author and poet, D.V. Richard De Silva – teacher, and author, K B (Ku.Be) Jayasuriya – teacher and author, P. C. Rathnayake -teacher and writer, Gamini Thilakawardana – author, poet and journalis, Hubert Dissanayake – writer and lyricist, Anandapiya Kudathihi – editor, journalist and poet, Gunapala Senadeera – educationist, expositionist and poet, Jayasekara Abeyruwan – author, P.B. Balasuriya – teacher and writer, A. D. (A. Do) Chandrasekara – teacher and author, Hemasiri Kumaratunga – writer and critique, D. D, N (Da Du Na) Weerakoon – writer and editor, K. A. S. Kalyanaratne (Sumanadas Kalanaruwan) – critique and poet and Bandusena Gunasekara – university don, writer and editor, Hemasiri Cumaratunga – editor, writer and critique, Amarasiri Ponnamperuma – ayurvedic physician, poet and editor.

Hela Havula and its main objectives

It is in the light of the above one needs to look at the main objectives of the Hela Havula, which marks its 80th anniversary on January 11, 2021. It is expected to fulfil the following?

(a) to promote and develop the Sinhala language, literature and culture;

(b) to protect the rights and interests of the Sinhala people;

(c) to organize and hold seminars and conferences at the national and international

level;

(d) to promote research in languages and to give publicity to literary works;

(e) to foster unity and to promote the dissemination of the traditional spiritual values among the Sinhala people; and

(f) to do such other acts and things as are conducive or incidental to the attainment of all or any of the above objects.

 

Relevance of reviewing the 80-year march of the Hela Havula

Viewing in retrospect the 80-year march of an organization that was committed to doing its utmost for the sustainability and progress of a language and its literature is, indeed, a healthy way of ascertaining how far it had tread, and whether its objectives have been met as expected. It is, in fact, an exercise in self-criticism, which helps pointing out the weaknesses one needs to overcome, and the strengths one needs to sharpen. Such a review would also provide an opportunity for those who intend joining the movement to assess if it has served and whether it would serve a useful purpose in the years to come.

Planning and reforming the Sinhala language


The Hela Havula, therefore, as the organization responsible for the sustenance and propagation of the Sinhala language (as no other institute or organization has assumed this role) has taken over the responsibility for the planning as well as establishing the norms of the language.

Planning calls for the initial task of researching and discovering the norms and rules that were used and adopted by the writers of the past. This, in fact, is researching or probing into the rules and norms that referred to by Einar Ingval Haugen, (American linguist, author and professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and Harvard University), as language planning and corpus planning. Haugen, later labeled the former category Codification or Standardization procedure, and the latter Elaboration or the functional development of the language.

Preparing the platform to launch the Hela Havula

The normal approach followed in forming an association is to consider its ingredients/components only after it is launched. But the more prudent method would be to prepare the platform before launching of the movement, as a movement cannot exist, sustain and survive unless the necessary conditions prevail for its establishment and continuance. Kumaratunga didn’t want to take chances in the launching of the Hela Havula. He being a visionary par excellence, foresaw the components and the background for such a movement to thrive sans any hiccups. It is due to this visionary thinking that the Hela Havula, has survived for a period of eighty (80) long years, amidst grave challenges. Among the many ingredients that were needed for the Hela Havula to thrive, the following were considered as more important and essential.:

(a)

Unearthing the correct Sinhala idiom and usage: As the Hela Havula was established mainly for the continuity and furtherance of the correct Sinhala idiom and usage, Kumaratunga studied in entirety the classics (both prose and verse) of yesteryear, and fished out the correct usage the current Sinhala language should follow. Herein Gurulugomi’s Amavatura and Dharmapradeepikawa were held in high esteem as they projected the personality the Sinhala language should possess.

(b)

Establishing the methodology to be followed in the exposition of classical Sinhala literary works. It was only after Kumaratunga’s exposition of Sinhala classics such as Sasadava (Sasada Vivaranaya) and Mayura Sandesaya (Mayura Sandesa Vivaranaya) that the later scholars adopted the methodology for undertaking similar expositions in the future.

(c)

Bringing order to the Sinhala grammar through the two seminal works Vyakarana Vivaranaya and Kriya Vivaranaya. In the introduction to the Vyakarana Vivaranaya Kumaratunga says “Grammar is the laws that regulate a language. … Therefore, what the grammarian should do is to study the laws of grammar by studying the usage of the language, winnow the (chaff), ascertain the conspicuous peculiarities and reproduce them concisely. ” Introduction to Vyakarana Vivaranaya, 1937). Kriya Vivaranaya, an exposition of the Sinhala verb, is an unparalleled study, and a unique scholarly work which has not been matched or superseded by any other subsequent expositions on the Sinhala verb. Verbs represent the most knotty and complex grammatical category in any language. Precision in any language, for that matter, is determined by the preciseness of its verbal expressions. It is the verb that gives meaning to a sentence.

(d)

Introduction of creative works – both prose and verse – Kumaratunga showed how creative works could be produced in both prose and poetic (verse) forms. His Piya Samara (Remembering Father) is considered by the current day literati as a unique piece of writing composed in gee style. His poetic compositions done in different meters, exemplify clearly his in-depth knowledge of our poetic compositions. His ‘Kavi Shikshava’ and ‘Virith Vekiya’ are two seminal works that provide the Sinhala poets with a comprehensive knowledge on both poetic compositions as well as the closeness that needs to exist between the poetic subject and the meter selected to convey the meaning. He explicitly states that the meter or viritha is not secondary but a complimentary component of a poem.

(e)

Exposing the methodology for rendering foreign words into Sinhala. Other than the ‘indeclinable words’ (Nipatha pada) the rest of the words, nouns and verbs are declinable and conjugatable respectively. Kumaratunga exposed the three-way approach applicable for rendering of foreign words into Sinhala:

(i)

Sinhalising the foreign word by converting it to a declinable form, examples being basaya for bus, kulagiya for college

(ii) Rendering into Sinhala the foreign word by adopting Sinhala words that almost sound similar, examples being, talabamanaya for turbine, taliksuva for telescope, miyasiya for music, and Kamituwa for committee.

(iii)

Rendering of foreign words into Sinhala, based on Sinhala noun/verbal roots, examples being, sarasaviya for university, purapati for mayor, hediya for nurse, sirasthalaya for headline, lipigonuwa for file.

Responsibilities cast on the Hela Havula

As the main cultural component of a community is its language, over the years the Hela Hawula has strived hard to continue to maintain the correct Sinhala idiom by publishing a considerable number of works on grammar, based on the presumption that

“Grammar is the basis of a language, the framework on which ideas are hung, and the loftiest imagery of thought can fall flat if ungrammatically expressed. (The Right Way to Improve Your English by J.E. Metcalfe, Eliot Books UK, 1958). It is on record that celebrated writer G. K. Chesterton once said that ‘easy reading meant hard writing’. One could imagine then the task the late scholar Cumaratunga Munidasa and those of the Hela Havula undertook to discover/ unearth the Sinhala literary tradition, and create the desired standards in the language for present and future writers to produce their literary work including technological literature without causing confusion among the readership

This is what Cumaratunga Munidasa did through his Vyakarana Vivaranaya and the Kriya Vivaranaya. Elaborating and further explaining his expositions a gamut of linguistic works were produced by scholars of the Hela Havula. Among, these the following stand out as more prominent:

Honda Sinhala by Raphael Tennekoon
Sinhalaye Pada Bedeema by Arisen Ahubudu and Liyanage Jinadas
Jyeshta Sinhalaya by JayasekaraAbeyruwan
Vyakarana Visithura by Vini Vitharana
Akshara Shikshava by Srinath Ganewatte, and
Na-na-la-la Vahara by Anandapiya Kudathihi

Hela Vahara

by A. P. Gunaratne

 

It thus seems that on grammar and overall issues on the Sinhala language and literature it is the Hela Havula that is calling the shots.

However, a word of caution as the Hela Havula being the only organized body having the backing of a legally accepted framework, it needs to be more vigorous in its strategy and approach. It is admitted that in the prevailing circumstances it is extremely difficult to marshal the resources to sustain the movement in the desired vigour and rigour. However, the Hela Havula needs to be ever vigilant of its responsibilities and commitments. Realising the context in which it has to deliver the goods, those of the Hela Havula should be thorough and competent as it is destined to face daunting challenges. The following are a few vulgarisations that have recently crept into the language:

 

IncorrectCorrect

Divi magaDivi mangaDivi negumaDivi nengumaJaya gamuJaya ganimuViyath MagaViyath MangaSamagi Jana BalavegayaSamangi Jana BalavegayaNeganiya Nenganiya

Uniqueness of the Sinhala language and its alphabet

Professor Emeritus J. B. Dissanayaka has correctly realized the uniqueness and creativity of the Sinhala language and its alphabet. In his Encyclopaedia of the Sinhala Language he says “The numerous linguistic features that made Sinhala a unique Indo-Aryan language are remarkable. Suffice to say that they even modified the Brahmi script that they inherited from India by the addition of two sets of letters: the two vowels to denote the sounds [a] in English ‘and’ and ‘ant’, and a set of four nasalized consonants, which are unique in Sinhala. Hence, to eliminate the nasalized consonant ‘nga’ and use vulgarized words as ‘VIYATH MAGA’, SAMAGI JANA BALA VEGAYA’,’DIVI NEGUMA’, ‘DIVI MAGA’ and ‘NEGANIYA’ are, in short, heinous crimes.

 

 

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