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Gaadi: An exercise in near perfection

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By Uditha Devapriya

Prasanna Vithanage’s Gaadi takes place in the last year of the Kandyan Kingdom. It begins with an encounter between Ehelepola Adigar and John D’Oyly, and moves on to scenes of the two of them negotiating the transfer of power in Kandy and the deposal of the king, Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe. In the opening sequence, the Adigar informs the British emissary that, should he succeed Rajasinghe, he will allow the English to conduct trade in the highlands. He adds that this should not come at the cost of the social order in his realm: once they drive out the Vaduga king, they must do all they can to protect and preserve that order. He then exacts a promise from D’Oyly and makes the latter swear on the Bible.

Episodic as they may seem, these scenes lay the groundwork for the story at the heart of Vithanage’s film. One of Ehelepola’s allies is Bulathgama Dissave. The two of them despatch a missive to as many noblemen as they can. Several of them come to their support, and with their support Ehelepola and Bulathgama organise a coup. This, however, turns out to be abortive, and they and their troops flee from Kandy. That leaves their families at the mercy of the ruler and his loyalists. They suffer the fate typically reserved for the families of those accused of treason: either death, or the prospect of their caste being lowered. Most families choose death. Bulathgama’s wife Tikiri, however, does not.

From this deceptively simple set-up, Prasanna Vithanage charts the travails of a woman who chooses to live, but then has to put up with a society that would have preferred her to die. The director, the cast, and the crew all make us aware that this is not an easy decision: in the context of the social formations that dominated the Kandyan Kingdom, particularly in its last phase, case strictures were inflexible. Tikiri’s desire to live, and her willingness to lower her caste and marry into a shunned community, hence comes at an exorbitant cost: she is exiled from her old world, and finds it hard to enter her new. It is this conflict that forms the crux of Vithanage’s film, and makes it the fine, evocative film it is.

Gaadi operates at two levels: the historical and the personal. On both, it represents a break from the director’s previous work. Prasanna Vithanage’s films so far have been limited to a contemporary timeframe: the farthest he took us back to was in Pawuru Valalu (1999), and that was set somewhere in the 1960s. Gaadi takes us farther back to a period that has been the stuff of countless films, plays, and other objets d’art in the country. With the visual elan that one has come to associate with him, Vithanage conjures up a Kandyan society different from most popular reconstructions of it. In doing so, I think he charts a new path for a genre that has never been properly tapped into in Sri Lanka. What Gaadi achieves, in other words, is something of a miracle: it gives us a different kind of historical film.

Such an achievement cannot be overrated. The Sinhala historical film has always suffered from an excess of form over content. There is little to no human interest in the storyline: as I pointed out in this column not too long ago, the heroes of these films become instruments of the plot, driven by ideological predilections which tend to dominate the plot. This is true particularly of films set in the Kandyan Period. These latter typically dwell on three themes: the predominance of the Buddhist clergy, the cruelty (or the benignity) of the Kandyan King, and the oppressiveness of British rule. Utterly predictable, such works end up promoting an overwhelmingly ethno-religious view of history. On that count Gaadi achieves a significant, if unprecedented, break and departure from convention.

It’s not that other films have failed to achieve such a break. But even these have been unmitigated failures. Devinda Kongahage’s Girivassipura, for instance, attempts to depict a different Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe: not the cruel, oppressive, spendthrift playboy king that colonial propaganda and Sinhalese narratives promote, but the tragic figure of Gananath Obeyesekere’s reinterpretation. Kongahage’s film was essentially a visual transposition of Obeyesekere’s work – both Gananath and Ranjini Obeyesekere were present at its premiere in 2019 – but, in terms of its merits as a film and a work of art, it left much to be desired. That is what distinguishes Vithanage’s work from conventional historical epics like Ehelepola Kumarihamy and atypical exercises like Girivassipura: it does not dwell on the motifs which figure prominently in them. To get a sense of proportion here, consider that Gaadi features no Buddhist monk, depicts British colonial officials only elliptically, and excludes Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe from the plot, making us feel his presence by his absence.

Against that backdrop, the director’s attention to detail, and his historical research, must be lauded. Gaadi does not pretend to present every aspect of the Late Kandyan Period. But it goes to remarkable lengths to depicting life as it may have been lived in those hard, harsh, tumultuous years. Consider the way Tikiri, on the verge of suicide, decides to lose her caste status instead. The choice is starkly clear: either she marries into a low caste community, or she must drown herself. If we are to believe colonial and popular Sinhalese accounts of the incident, Ehelepola Kumarihamy was given a similar choice. Writing of the Kandyan practice of caste degradation, for instance, Emerson Tennent notes that “[t]he most dreaded of all punishments… was to hand over the lady of a high caste offender to the Rodiyas.” This is intriguing, but what distinguishes Vithanage’s film is that it records the exact specifics of the process: “the mode of her adoption,” Tennent writes, “was by the Rodiya taking betel from his own mouth and placing it in hers, after which till death her degradation was indelible.” The sequence by the Mahaweli River depicts this, down to the last detail.

Equally impressive is the film’s depiction of the social practices in the Kandyan Period. On more than one occasion the Rodiyas, walking on the road, pass by high caste noblemen. Johann Heydt notes that in the event of such encounters, the low caste group “must go a few steps out of the way, whether [it] is loaded or not, and show due respect.” The film also makes it clear that once degraded, a high caste offender cannot be redeemed: he or she remains tethered to his or her fate. If the strictures governing these social codes are broken, then the community does not hesitate to retaliate through violence or personal vendettas: “a woman of the Padua caste,” Heydt notes, after coming upon a mob at a bazaar, “had been nearly killed by some indignant Wellales and Chandoos for ‘having presumed so far to forget her degraded lot in life as to throw a kerchief over her neck and shoulders’.” Such incidents may seem alien to us, even if caste remains an open secret. But Gaadi shows that it was a fact of life then. You could not escape it: you resigned yourself to it.

None of this is to say that Gaadi’s merits can or should be judged only on the basis of its fidelity to history. Indeed, what salvages Vithanage’s work from becoming a mere historical construction is its skilful incorporation of factual and fictional elements. To the best of my knowledge, there was no Bulathgama Dissave, still less an incident involving his treason or the punishment of his family. Yet by including Tikiri’s entry into the Rodiya community, and Vijaya’s infatuation with her, the director gradually makes us realise the complexities that would have governed the breach of Kandyan social strictures and taboos. On that account, Dinara Punchihewa and Sajitha Anuththara Anthony, who play Tikiri and Vijaya, capture the emotional nuances that a couple caught up in their situation would have had to put up with at that point in time. In capturing them, I think Vithanage achieves that rare combination of historical fact and humanist fiction which one sees in the films of Kenji Mizoguchi (especially The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu Monogatari, and Sansho the Bailiff).

At least one critic has suggested that when compared with Prasanna Vithanage’s earlier work, Gaadi’s characters fail to rise above their stereotypes – or, in other words, that they become one-dimensional. This critique is no doubt grounded in the fact that the characters remain, till the very end, bound to their caste position. To this my response would be two-fold: firstly, that against the backdrop of the social codes which governed and dominated the Kandyan era, the real-life prototypes of these characters would have found it hard it not impossible to be anyone other than who they were decreed to be by the ruling class; and secondly, that the two protagonists in Vithanage’s film do make an attempt, futile as it is, to pass off as someone other than their restricted selves. In that sense, the best sequence in the film is its middle-section, when Tikiri and Vijaya make it into the good books of a farmer, played by Ananda Kumara Unnahe, and make a living in the forest by trapping cattle. This is where the director points us to his own critique of caste: by showing us how such codes and taboos constrict our innate, basic capacity for empathy.

My only criticism of the film, as far as plot is concerned, is that it deserved better subtitles. All too often in Sri Lanka, one comes across films which have much to commend them, but are ultimately undone by poor if shoddy subtitling. This is as true for contemporary films as it is of those that top the “greatest ever made” lists.

My critique should not of course belittle the objet d’art being critiqued. By all accounts, Vithanage’s latest effort should be watched, not just for how well it communicates a timely, and timeless, message about the resilience of the human spirit, but also because visually it is an astonishing feat of craftsmanship. One can certainly expect nothing less from Vithanage. But coming from a director who in his recent work forayed into Bergmanesque chamber music (in particular, Akasa Kusum and Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka), Gaadi represents a triumph of form and a visual feast, a film for all ages.

There is one somewhat jarring note towards the end, though: the film’s admission that the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom, and the British takeover, spelt out the end of the caste system. Such a message may be warranted by the triumph of humanism at the end, as epitomised by Tikiri’s acceptance of Vijaya. But regardless of the vindication of humanist ideals there, we must acknowledge that life after the deposal of the Kandyan king was not as positive as the film’s ending may have us believe: British rule did not eradicate caste, but revived it in a different form. One may welcome the triumph of colonial “modernity” over feudalism here. Yet, as so many sociologists and anthropologists have observed, the modernity we celebrate today, in this country, has in fact retained many of the elements of that same system which Vithanage critiques so well in his film. On that basis, the moral in Gaadi cannot be forgotten still less neglected. It remains as valid in its time as it does in ours.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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What’s in a Suit? That which is substantive can be delivered in a Bush Shirt!

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Anura Kumara Dissanayake meeting Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar in New Delhi. (File Photo)

by Rajan Philips

Never mind what Anura Kumara Dissanayake wore in Delhi. Never mind what Ranil Wickremesinghe wears daily. What the people want is not the word salads of sartorial politics by Sunday pundits, but the proffering of substantive politics by contenders for political office. As the pre-election dust takes its own time to settle, two figures are emerging as the primary contenders.

On the right, where he has always been, is Ranil Wickremesinghe. On the left, where he seems inspired to be, is Anura Kumara Dissanayake. If there was any chance of someone racing up the middle, that chance and the politics of that candidate are fast withering. The political house of Sajith Premadasa is a house divided according to insiders and outsiders. Mr. Premadasa will have to put his own house in order before he can be a serious contender for public office.

The impending contest between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake will be a very different one when compared to past presidential elections. First to be noted is the organizational disarray of the mainstream political parties and their electorally opportunistic alliances. The disarray is obvious and needs no elaboration.

It also explains why President Wickremesinghe, the nearly 50-year veteran of a 77 year old party, is still looking for a political launcher for his presidential candidacy. Officially, he will be a UNP candidate with the elephant symbol, but he is looking to be acclaimed as the candidate of a grand alliance. Media columnists are writing about such an alliance, but there are no signs yet of any alliance, let alone a grand one.

The support for President Wickremesinghe is mainly based on his successful stabilization of the economy from where his predecessor left and ran away. Those who are genuinely and perhaps exclusively concerned about the economy do think that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be elected as President to continue managing the economy. But this premise has at least two limitations.

A tentative candidate

One, while it is fair to give Mr. Wickremesinghe credit for what he has done, it would be a stretch to claim that what he has done is something miraculous and that he should contest and be elected President for a new term to continue performing economic miracles. The economy cannot be restored by magic or miracles, and no one should lose sight of the fact that the current stability is primarily due to the moratorium on debt payment. What happens when debt repayment is restarted?

The second limitation to the Wickremesinghe candidacy is that the support for Mr. Wickremesinghe is neither broad nor deep. Otherwise, he should be the one who is topping opinion polls and creating the buzz that Ranil is the man to beat. Mr. Wickremesinghe himself is quite coy about his candidacy. Either he is keeping everyone guessing, or he is guessing himself.

It may be that the President is looking for a broad appeal imploring him to contest the presidential election to keep saving the economy. Similar to the circumstance in which he acceded to the desperate request of Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a helping hand. But there is nothing like that happening now. No appeal by any credible alliance for Ranil to be a candidate. The whole tentativeness of the situation is a symptom of the disarray of the political establishment.

That brings me to the second unique aspect of the upcoming presidential election. That is the emergence of the JVP/NPP as real contender for winning power democratically, and whose unity of purpose and organizational discipline stand in stirring contrast to the opportunism and disarray of the mainstream parties. The JVP’s emergence as a viable contender is as much due to its own maturity as it is due to resonating objective conditions.

The aragalaya that drove Gota away may have turned the tide for the JVP. But it goes beyond that, and it shows the people’s real hunger for an alternative political leadership. And it shows that the people are not warming up to Ranil Wickremesinghe in spite of all the learned views about his capabilities as an economic manager.

AKD’s leadership

The consolidation of the JVP and the emergence of the NPP as its electoral front also owe a great deal to the seemingly collegial leadership of Anura Kumara Dissanayake. He is unique in Sri Lankan politics as the one political leader who has filtered up through the social layers among the Sinhalese without being part of a mainstream political party – the UNP, the SLFP, and later the SLPP. The devolution of political leadership in Sri Lanka – i.e., the transitioning of political leadership from the decadent upper strata of society to the emerging generations – could be a study in itself.

The fact of the matter is that such a transitioning has not been as common in Sri Lanka as it has been in India. There is a long trace of leadership transitioning in India – from the rise of K. Kamaraj as Chief Minister of Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) in 1954, to the ascent of Narendra Modi first as Chief Minister of Gujarat and now the soon to be ‘threepeat’ Prime Minister of India. There is nothing common about their politics, but they represent the shifting of leadership from the upper echelons to the lower strata of India’s hugely stratified society. The example of President Premadasa could be cited as an exception, but it was an exception that could not become a trend.

The JVP and the LTTE interventions could be seen as violent and misplaced efforts to force a transitioning of leadership. Both efforts ended in failure, but the reality now is that even the traditional leadership formations have now imploded. There was a much touted recent transitioning in Tamil political leadership, but that seems to have got mired in legal battles in district courts.

The saving grace here is in the recourse to court battles instead of gun battles. There have been shifts in leadership among the Muslims and estate Tamils, but even the new organizations representing the two communities have become mere appendages to mainstream alliances. They too are suffering from the organizational disarray of their mainstream principals.

In this scheme of unfolding disarray, it is fair to acknowledge the leadership and organizational achievements of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP and the NPP. This is not to say that they are going to win the upcoming elections and that they are going to provide a pathbreaking new government for Sri Lanka. Those proofs will come in whatever puddings they make.

For now, as a point of political observation, what AKD has done so far needs to be acknowledged. India seems to have done that, and it is irrelevant to the current argument why India may have chosen to do that. More to the point, there has been no Indian invitation yet, not even a hint of it, to the newly elected leader of the ITAK.

The gripe over AKD’s Indian visit is really a symptom of the uneasiness in political circles that are unable to come to grips with the disarray among the mainstream political parties and their alliances. Not to mention that for a host of good and bad reasons, the arrival of the JVP/NPP as a palpable parliamentary force is not palatable to many in the commentating business. It is again a symptom of the mainstream disarray that criticisms of JVP/NPP are emanating almost exclusively outside of parliament and from outside formal political organizations. Conversely, it is this vacuum that the JVP/NPP is filling up much to the irritation of its socio-genital opponents.

Their politics and ours

The task for Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the JVP/NPP is to respond to the sartorial politics of their critics with substantive politics of their own. “Their Politics and Ours,” the title of an old pamphlet that Dr. Colvin R de Silva wrote in the early 1950s, takes a different meaning in the new context in which the JVP/NPP is emerging as a real parliamentary contender.

Dr Colvin was intervening in the perennial debates within the left movement in the heady days of the Old Left. That was then. Now, Anura Kumara Dissanayake does not have to get into polemic battles with anyone on the Left. He is in fact the only one on the Left, electorally speaking. He has to differentiate his politics from that of his media critics.

There is another difference between the heady days of the Old Left and Sri Lanka’s desperate times after the Rajapaksa yugaya. The challenge today is not to advance the cause of socialism but to salvage the economy from the pits that it has fallen into. Sri Lanka’s economic irony cannot be any stalker, in that Sri Lanka and Pakistan are two economic laggards in South Asia that is now seen as the principal growth region for an unevenly sputtering world economy.

India is virtually the sole economic engine of the South Asian region, and the challenge facing Sri Lanka is to get in stride with ongoing regional growth instead of lagging behind it.

The challenge facing JVP/NPP is to generate confidence about its abilities for managing the economy the same way it is demonstrating its abilities for political mobilization. As a political organization it does not have to rely on its leaders to read economic textbooks the way Che Guvera read them after the Cuban revolution.

There are enough economists and economic thinktanks in Sri Lanka and the JVP/NPP should not feel shy about tapping them for ideas and as resources. There should be reaching out to professional resources in a very public way to enhance public confidence at the national level, the same way retired military and police officers are reportedly being enlisted at the electoral district levels.

Besides the economy, the JVP/NPP leadership will have to deal with the question of constitutional reform and clarify its position on what could still be called the island’s national question. On the question of abolishing the executive presidency, Mr. Dissanayake has provided a convincing response: there is no time to do it before the presidential election.

President Wickremesinghe has said the same thing, but the difference between the two is that while Mr. Dissanayake is committed to abolishing the presidency, Mr. Wickremesinghe is not. That is a big difference, and one on which Mr. Dissanayake could and should publicly challenge the interim President.

 

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Leading Restoration: WNPS at the Forefront of Conserving Mangrove Ecosystems

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Awareness creating among school children at a mangrove restoration site

One of Sri Lanka’s six RAMSAR wetlands, the Anawilundawa sanctuary is surrounded by a colorful coastline, enhanced by the lush mangroves that shield it, and supported by freshwater sources that are essential to life. Numerous plant and animal species can be found within the confines of this sanctuary, in addition to neighbouring communities whose survival depends on the health of this ecosystem for their survival.

The intricate root systems of mangrove forests bridge both land and sea, serving as a powerful ecosystem that supports life and growth. Mangroves are vital towards building the resilience of a nation, by safeguarding our coasts from natural disasters, while enabling livelihoods and empowering communities. Their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide in greater quantities than other non-coastal ecosystems position them as an important source of blue carbon that is crucial to the fight against climate change.

Unfortunately, unsustainable shrimp farming and other human activities had taken a toll on the environment. This now-abandoned landscape was altered by the use of dangerous chemicals, and until 2019, about 45 hectares of what was once a lush forest were dead and bare. Restoration was the need of the hour, yet many challenges lay in store.

Firstly, no formal mechanism for mangrove restoration had been established. Accordingly, the Department of Wildlife, the Forest Department, and the Ministry of Environment partnered with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka as its principal science partner. With more than 129 years of experience advancing conservation and research throughout the island, the WNPS was ideally positioned capitalize on the strength of teamwork, the rigor of science, and the tireless dedication of its people and partners to develop a sustainable solution.

“The WNPS has long established science as the core foundation of all of its work. The Society also served as the catalyst to bring together diverse stakeholders under the mantle of restoration by bringing in government entities, NGOs, academia, the private sector, surrounding communities and the youth to actively participate in these efforts. In doing so, they ensured that the right science is implemented in this restoration site, while demonstrating the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to achieve lasting, viable results,” said Professor Sevvandi Jayakody, Science Lead of the Project.

A veritable force of diverse people and organizations transformed a once deserted habitat into a hive of research and activity. Under the direction of the technical team, on-site nurseries were established, experiments were carried out, and natural processes were replicated. A topographical map of the area was created with the help of the Sri Lanka Navy to construct canals that would channel water effectively into arid land. Research labs were constructed on the premises and modern equipment was procured with the collective support of the public sector, business community, and non-governmental organizations. Community members and leaders were mobilized to strengthen these efforts further.

“An intriguing feature of this project is that research is not merely being applied to regenerate these mangrove forests. The science also flows into sustainably enhancing and uplifting the neighbouring community’s livelihoods, while nurturing future youth restoration leaders, with the goal of maintaining these vulnerable environments in the long run,” stated Graham Marshall, Chair of the WNPS Marine Subcommittee

Soil core sampling below ground biomass

The WNPS was further instrumental in shifting from traditional one-time interventions towards long-term partnerships, particularly with respect to obtaining essential private sector funding.

To date, a diverse and growing team of partners have joined hands with WNPS in the journey to restore this vital ecosystem, comprising the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), the Department of Forests, the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, the Hydrography Unit of the Sri Lanka Navy, Lanka Environment Fund, Hayleys Advantis, CEFAS (UK), CSIRO (Aus), Hemas Consumer Brands, Biodiversity Sri Lanka, Star Garments, US Forest Service, and CMA CGM Shipping. Thanks to this coalition for conservation, a previously desolate region has begun to demonstrate signs of life once more. Studies on specific species are yielding encouraging results, and habitats are being progressively restored.

The WNPS and its partners are heartened to note that its trailblazing approach towards the restoration of mangrove ecosystems have contributed towards Sri Lanka being awarded as a UN World Restoration Flagship in 2024, and look forward to advancing the future of sustainable ecosystem restoration in the years to come.

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THE BILLIONAIRE SHOE SALESMAN

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

February is Black History month, celebrated for over a century to focus attention on the history of the origins, the cruelty, the travails, the sacrifices, and achievements of the enslaved people brought from Africa to the Land of the Free White Supremacists in the early 17th century.

However, February has brought nothing but grief to The Donald. Trump was ranked, on February 20, by 154 scholars connected to the distinguished American Political Science Association, as the “45th and rock bottom” of US presidents in history. Even more humiliating was President Biden’s ranking at no. 14, with his most important achievement listed that he “rescued the presidency from Trump”!

The month of February also saw the courts shattering Trump’s dreams of presidential immunity, that he was above the law and therefore immune from the 91 felonies committed during his presidency.

Trump has already been hit with penalties from two civil trials in New York – $83 million for the rape and defamation of E. Jean Carroll and $355 million for inflating the value of his assets and defrauding the US government. Of course he will appeal these judgments. The problem is that any such appeals have to be accompanied by full or at least a substantial percentage of the damages awarded, in cash or bond. Unfortunately, no issuer of bonds will trust Trump with any such transaction.

Many may think that Trump had hit rock bottom when he was, at a campaign rally last week, making a fevered pitch to sell “beautiful” gold painted pairs of sneakers at a “bargain” price of $399 a pop, presumably to help raise the money due as damages on the above judgments.

The price of a high-end pair of Nike sneakers runs at around $100; but, according to Trump, his brand name increases the price of any commodity exponentially. Like the many properties he has illegally overvalued, which is the reason this former president and billionaire has been reduced in status to a Footlocker shoe salesman. A comparison which will likely be resented by those salesmen.

No doubt he’ll raise the necessary funds from his Russian and Saudi Arabian buddies who will be happy to pay millions of dollars for some of the top-secret documents he still has stashed away in one of his Mar a Lago toilets.

I will never forget a statement Trump made in one of his pre-2016 campaign rallies:

“I am really rich. I will be using my own money. I won’t need any contributions from anyone for my campaign or any other reason. I built a very small loan into a company that’s worth many billions of dollars, with some of the greatest assets in the world”.

Only Trump can squeeze in so many lies into a few sentences. The “very small loan” referred to was an inheritance of over $300 million from his father in the late 1990s. His election campaigns have been funded almost entirely by donations from his supporters. After his electoral defeat in 2020, he has been milking his supporters every time he was indicted on felonies, with lies that the crooked Biden administration was persecuting him, on a perennial witch hunt. With all the evidence of his criminal, even treasonous, behavior staring them in the face, members of his cult, even so-called moderate Republicans, continue to humor and fund him.

Trump has long been threatening, if he wins re-election, that the USA will resign from NATO, the most durable and powerful military alliance since World War II. He alleges that fellow NATO members were not paying the minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for their common defense. In fact, last week he said that he would encourage Russia to “to do whatever the hell they want”, even invade any NATO allies who were delinquent in the payment of their dues.

Trump’s love affairs with the despots of the world, right-wing dictators like Russia’s Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban have been an open secret, his admiration and envy of these murderers boundless.

When the tragic news of the death of Putin’s nemesis, Alexei Navalny, was announced last week by the authorities of an Arctic penal colony, the leaders of the United States and most nations of the world condemned Putin for the murder of the leader of the largest anti-Putin movement in Russia. President Biden called Putin a “crazy son of a bitch, a killer, a butcher and a war criminal”, and promised to impose stringent sanctions on Russia as a result of this murder.

In spite of demands from his family that his body be released for humane and private burial, Russian authorities refuse to do so, probably awaiting the disappearance of traces of the poison used to kill him.

And Trump? He was speechless for a week, reluctant to criticize his mentor. When he finally found his tongue, he mentioned not a word against Putin, but predictably made a statement short on grief and sympathy, and long about himself and his mythical grievances. He described himself, with not an ounce of irony, as “the Navalny of the United States”, the victim of oppression, battling the persecution of the ruthless dictatorship of Crooked Joe! Hardly surprising, this is the narcissistic maniac who had previously compared himself to Nelson Mandela, and most famously, to Jesus Christ.

Actually, the analogy couldn’t be more antithetical. Alexei Navalny was prepared to sacrifice his life for democracy. Trump, on the other hand, was prepared to sacrifice the life of his Vice-President Mike Pence to destroy democracy.

It never ceases to amaze me that a felon already convicted of rape and fraud, indicted in four jurisdictions and on conditional bail for a world record of 91 felonies, has the gall to call Joe Biden CROOKED, as he described “Crooked Joe” in a tweet after Navalny’s murder. It’s like the Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial murderer who made a delicious meal of his victims, describing a vegetarian as a monster!

February also brought a confession by Alexander Smirnov, former FBI informant, on whose information Republicans based their allegations for impeachment of President Biden and his son, Hunter. Smirnov had previously stated that the Bidens had received millions of dirty dollars from the Ukrainian company, Burisma. He has now confessed to the FBI that his story about the Bidens was a complete fabrication, an invention of Putin’s Russian intelligence. He has since been exposed by the FBI as a “Disinformation Agent” of this Russian spy machine.

Many prominent Republican Congressmen still shamelessly lie that they have complete confidence in Smirnov’s credibility, in spite of the fact that FBI Director, Christopher Wray had warned them two years ago that Smirnov’s credentials were highly suspect. Smirnov is now under indictment for lying and providing falsified documents to the FBI. His testimony has completely undercut the Republicans’ case, and their desperate attempts to impeach President Biden have finally blown up in their faces.

There is no doubt that Hunter Biden was a flawed human being, who acted unethically in accepting money from an Ukrainian company, taking advantage of his father’s position as the Vice-President. Hunter has also admitted there was a period in his life when he was guilty of substance abuse and tax evasion, crimes for which he is in the process of paying his debt to society.

There is absolutely no evidence that President Biden was involved in any way with the activities of his son, a private citizen, during his two terms as Vice-President.

Interestingly, Republicans turned a blind eye when Trump’s children were defrauding the government for billions of dollars, when his daughter, Ivanka and husband, Jared Kushner, were senior employees in the Trump administration.

This complicity of Russian intelligence with Trump’s Republican cult leads to the terrifying conclusion that the Russians are, yet again, attempting to interfere in American elections. The stakes for Putin could not be higher. The re-election of Trump, his lap-dog, to the US presidency in November will open the doors to his ultimate dream of the re-emergence of the Superpower glory of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). And Trump will attain his dreams of dictatorial power, and use that power to rival Putin as the richest man in the world.

Alexei Navalny’s simple message to his supporters, as shown in the 2022 Oscar-winning documentary, was as ominous as it was inspirational.

“You are not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to use this power”. He ended his message with a maxim often attributed to Edmund Burke, widely known as the philosophical founder of British conservatism: “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”. A message that has guided Navalny’s life, and may prove to be even more powerful in his death, if it inspires the good people in Russia to continue the struggle against Putin’s evil regime and build a better future for Russia.

The good people of Germany ignored the evils of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s. They did nothing although they saw – and smelled – the smoke of burning human flesh billowing from the ovens of Germany’s many concentration camps. This gruesome evil was finally vanquished, though with international, including American, intervention. But not before the extermination of six million Jews.

Today, the good people of the world, even in Israel, are watching in horror but doing nothing as Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu and his right-wing cabinet intent on a one-state solution in Israel, are continuing to wreak vengeance on innocent Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza (29,000 killed as of date, and counting) for that one day on October 7, 2023. A day when Hamas, a terrorist organization, tortured and killed 1,200 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, kidnapping 140 hostages of various nationalities.

Revenge in the form of indiscriminate air and ground onslaughts by the Israeli Defense Force are beginning to metaphorically smell awfully like the noisome smoke that emanated from the ovens of Auschwitz. And who knows? Netanyahu might succeed in his ambition to wipe out all the Palestinians where Hitler failed in his ambition to exterminate all the Jews. A genocidal parallel, brimming with irony, that will not be lost in the history books of the future.

The tragedy is that this very same scenario exists in the greatest democracy in the world today. The good people of the United States of America are looking on in apathy, doing nothing, as Trump and the American equivalent of the Nazi Brownshirts harass, threaten and attack, not only Jews, but all brown skinned immigrants from “shithole countries”. They listen with enthusiastic anticipation to Trump listing all the Hitler-like measures he will implement to “preserve the pure white blood” of European Americans when he wins re-election.

These domestic terrorists will not surrender the white privileges they have enjoyed for centuries without using every means, domestic and Russian, politically deceptive and criminally violent, to perpetuate their illusion of white superiority.

The good people of America have eight months to wake up to what could well mean the end of their democracy and the position of their leadership of the free nations of the world. And the sad fact is that most people who read this will think I am being alarmingly fear-mongering and hyperbolic. Let me assure you, I am not. Trump’s “movement” presents the greatest danger the United States has faced since the Civil War, basically, for the same reason – preservation of the dominance of White Supremacy. This time around, however, the modern version of the soldiers of the Confederacy will be armed not with muskets but with military style killing machines. And led by an ignorant psychopath.

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