by Gamini Seneviratne
Over 50 years ago in the aftermath of what is miscalled a six-day “war” through which the heavily armed Israeli armed forces slaughtered tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians and appropriated vast tracts of their land, I wrote “Draft for a Lyrical Ballad” (1968) part of which is given below. It was also a period marked by Robert Kennedy’s battles against Lyndon Johnson and the assassination of that Kennedy as well. It also refers to the twin agitations that shake the world and confront the West today.
America, you’re like me, a tired balloon
Looking up into the sky
On a clear, cold night
Waiting for all human sounds to die.
With the unremitting aid of the principal war mongers on this planet, the USA, Israel has acquired and used against unarmed people a whole array of the most obscene weaponry developed by Man (the caps serves to distinguish that entity from humankind)
In his essay of December 26, 2009, (Information Clearing House) “And What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Gaza? Operation Cast Lead and the Dismembering of a People”, Vincent Di Stefano places before the world some particulars of Israel’s criminal attacks on the people of Palestine. A few particulars follow:
Twelwe years ago Israel already had 180,000 heavily armed regular troops in their “defence” forces, 140,000 conscripts, 4,300 impenetrable Merkava battle tanks, 10,000 light tanks and armoured cars, 500 missile-laden fighter jets, 1,340 helicopters, three submarines, three destroyers and smaller warships. And the full might of Israeli military force was projected into the tiny space of Gaza during the three-week period from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. (Further details of what the so-called Israeli-Arab ‘wars’ have meant for the people of Palestine were included in my note of 2006 that follows below).
And right now in the midst of (or, perish the thought, in support of?) the carnage being visited on the Palestinians, US President Biden has offered them over $700 million worth of military hardware. Oh, and yes, he has also offered via USAID, a sum of $ 10 million to Palestine. To be channeled through Israel. Naturally. Biden, in whom people located hopes for humanitarian governance has, after all, done no more than confirm that America has no shame.
Let us look at what the engagement of the rulers of America (its military-industrial coalition) with Israel translates into. In February 2009, investigative journalist Conn Hallinan was to describe Gaza as “Death’s Laboratory.” Israel’s new weapons had caused injuries never before seen in the hospitals of Gaza. Many of these were the result of the widespread use of a new class of weapons called Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). These were initially developed by the US Air Force and scientists from the University of California’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in 2000.
DIME weapons consist of a high explosive core around which is wrapped powdered tungsten alloy in a carbon fibre container. On detonation, the tungsten sprays out explosively over a ten-meter radius shredding everything in its field. The resultant injuries are truly shocking. Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert commented: “The muscles are sort of split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns. . . . Those inside the perimeter of this weapon’s power zone will be torn completely apart. We have seen numerous amputations that we suspect have been caused by this.”
Here follows my note of 15 years ago on The Holocaust in Palestine.
In his Foreword to “The Little Drummer Girl”, John Le Carre reports that in Israel he was repeatedly assured that the “Palestinians are not a people.” What were they then? “A leftover rabble of peasants and layabouts whose only task for two thousand years was to keep the Jewish homeland ticking over until its rightful owners returned.”
That such was far from being the case may be gathered from the following: These are the words of the best-known British explorer of Arabia, Wilfred Thesiger. He was writing in the 1940s, around the time the Zionist ‘state’ was being set up: “I went to the ‘Empty Quarter’ with a belief in my own racial superiority, but in their tents I felt like an uncouth, inarticulate barbarian, an intruder from a shoddy and materialistic world”. How many in the White House, the State Department, the US Congress would understand such words, grasp such realities?
In a thumbnail account of how Israel has acted in that enterprise in the 1970s, Le Carre writes, “Israeli jets bombed the crowded Palestinian quarter in Beirut on the pretext that it was intended ‘to destroy the leadership’, – “though there were no leaders at all among the several hundred dead, unless, of course, there were future leaders among the many children killed.”
They obviously feel that they can get away with this savage treatment of the inhabitants of Palestine in their own land. Israel, in short, is a rogue state built on a violent process of encroachment into Palestine. ‘Legitimacy’ for its operations is traced to a sanction received from yet other intruders: the British and the French. One must begin the story of Israel with a look at the legitimacy of those who ‘sanctioned’ its creation. The so-called ‘Balfour Declaration’ (the caps there, some may think, give it some kind of legality) was no more than a personal letter of one paragraph from Balfour to his friend and creditor, Rothschild.
The most generous account by a Lankan of the Jewish intrusion into Palestine, now a totally unbridled invasion, was published 70 years ago in the ‘Ceylon Daily News’ by its Editor-in-Chief, H A J Hulugalle, an experienced and even-handed commentator. The substance of his report was that “The Jews of the world are concentrating on the gradual buying up of Palestine”. One such purchase, of 16,000 acres of a swamp that yields the water for agriculture in the Huleh valley, was made despite the protests of the Palestinians. It was bought for 200,000 English pounds off a young ‘absentee landlord’ domiciled in Syria, whose interest in the land was not in his fellow Arabs but in the waterfowl for his table. The ‘compromise’ imposed by the British occupiers of Palestine required the Jews to drain the land and render it malaria free; ‘in return’, the Palestinians were to have their land reduced by two-thirds of it! Those were relatively early days.
When Jewish immigration began in earnest in the late 19th century, (long before ‘the holocaust’ they keep talking about), there were only about 15,000 Jews in Palestine. In 1893 the Arabs comprised roughly 95 percent of the population. Even when Israel was founded, over fifty years later, Jews were only about 35 percent of Palestine’s population and owned seven percent of the land. ‘The Palestinian Problem’ today, as it has been for many decades, is that the Jews want as much of the land as they can lay their hands on, the ports, the sites sacred to Christianity and Islam – plus, of course, ALL the water that over the centuries had sustained the people of Palestine and Jordan.
Ben-Gurion wrote in 1941 that “It is impossible to imagine general evacuation [of the Arab population] without compulsion, and brutal compulsion.” In 1947-48, when Jewish forces drove up to 700,000 Palestinians into exile, Ben-Gurion had told Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, “If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. . . . We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”
The current (i.e. in 2006) Zionist leader, Ehud Olmert, came to power on an explicit promise to unilaterally set Israel’s “permanent borders”. The ‘package’ that he took to Washington included, in return for $10 billion he asked for (and received), a plan for the Zionists to withdraw from many smaller settlements – at least 17 in the first phase – in the West Bank and move most of the people in them to larger blocks that they ‘expect to annex’. The man also made it clear that “It will be only a civilian disengagement, not a military disengagement,” The Israeli army will remain in the bits of land the settlers are being moved out of.
Let us look, very briefly indeed, that history being so extensive – at just what the Zionists did. What they continue to do, under cover of the government of the USA, and therefore with apparent impunity is a ‘breaking story’ that may soon explode in their collective face.
The creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved explicit acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres, and rapes by Jews The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) also murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners-of-war in both the 1956 and 1967 “wars”. In 1967, it expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights. Following its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 it also directed the massacre of 700 innocent Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. During the First Intifida (1987-1991), the IDF distributed truncheons to its troops and encouraged them to break the bones of Palestinian protestors. The Swedish “Save the Children” organization estimated that “23,600 to 29,900 children required medical treatment for their beating injuries in the first two years of the Intifida,” with nearly one-third sustaining broken bones. The same proportion of the beaten children were aged ten and under.” Israel’s response to the Second Intifida (2000-2005) was even more violent: The IDF fired one million bullets in the first days of the uprising. Future Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir openly argued that, “Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat”.
After the victory of Hamas, in an open general election, in late January, Israel withheld $50 million a month in Palestinian customs and tax receipts, though it continues to pay Israeli companies $5.5 million a month from those receipts for the water and electricity used by the Palestinians.
Israelis are often touted as being the epitome of bravery (almost on par with George W Bush – seen, once, in dim light on an aircraft carrier hundreds of miles away on his ‘visit to the troops in Iraq’; the George Bush who, for the two days he spent in India and Pakistan, hunkered down, respectively, in a fort off Delhi and in Islamabad in the US Ambassador’s residence, heavily guarded within a vast expanse of streets emptied of people).
What do the Israelis in fact do? Israel is using men who have been conscripted to slaughter the Palestinians. Such men aren’t out there ‘fighting for Israel’s right to exist’. Their heart is not in butchering innocents; – their energies are focused on remaining unhurt themselves, no matter how many innocents they murder. Hence the commanders of the Israeli army are committed to guaranteeing that none of the conscripts will be in danger of injury, much less death.
In “Hiding Behind Civilians’ (New York Times, 22 June, 2006), Haim Watzman, who had served as an Israeli infantry reservist in the West Bank in the 1980’s and 90’s, and authored “Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel”, wrote, “Soldiers who had to raid a house or patrol a dangerous stretch of road would grab a nearby civilian and place him in front of them. This civilian had no function other than to protect Israeli soldiers.” Though Watzman says that he has “Never met a soldier who thinks armies ought to be able to maim and kill civilians with impunity,” and that “The practice was not a grassroots initiative. It was an army policy, handed down to soldiers by their superior officers,” he also points out that when the Israeli Supreme Court banned the use of such human shields, (just nine months ago), “many in the army felt they had been robbed of a tool that made their jobs safer, and which helped the commanders protect the lives of their soldiers.”(! ! !)
What have the great warriors of Israel put in its place? Bulldozers. Instead of entering a house behind a human shield, Israeli soldiers turn the house into rubble. Watzman concludes: “Morality in combat is not just an abstract principle. It is an element of an army’s strength. If the safety of soldiers becomes the standard according to which an army designs its missions, an army that does not take risks will be easily beaten by an opponent that does. It’s essential for a society to demand that its army observe moral standards, even if the price to be paid is that more soldiers will be killed.” Tell that to Olmert, – who has “vehemently denied that there was any Palestinian “humanitarian crisis”, adding that, “We wouldn’t allow one baby to suffer one night because of a lack of dialysis,” – or tell it to the marines.
Let’s take a look at them ‘in action’. After warplanes knocked out half of Gaza’s electricity and pounded sonic booms over houses, Israeli tanks, hunkered down inside southern Gaza at the airport on Wednesday, (last week) reported the New York Times.
The impact of this, presumably humanitarian assault (which continues as you read this), is that: “Repeated sonic booms are wreaking the havoc they have wrought before: repeated sonic booms are smashing windows, sending children screaming into the arms of terrified adults, old people collapsing with heart failure, pregnant women collapsing with spontaneous abortions. Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding of food and water. And no radios, television, cell phones, and no way to get news of how long this nightmare might go on.”
That is from Virginia Tilley’s latest report, as are the following.
“As food in the refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas. When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking. No cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread – the staple Palestinian foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is no firewood or coal in dry, overcrowded Gaza.)
“And, a grimmer fact: no water. Gaza’s public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps, too, are dry. No sewage system. Word is that the electricity is out for at least six months. The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage, due to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli settlements) and the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be drinkable, well water is purified through machinery run by electricity. Otherwise, the brackish water must at least be boiled before it can be consumed, but this requires electricity or gas. And people will soon have neither.
“If cholera breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation.” Over a million people, – yes, people like you and me, – are trapped in that Gaza that the Zionists salivate for. “They are hunkered in their homes listening to Israeli shells, while facing the awful prospect, within days or weeks, of having to give toxic water to their children that may consign them to quick but agonizing deaths.”
That is the Israel that has the effrontery to demand its “right to defend itself”.
Standoff between Church and State
The 1962 coup – Part II
A group of senior Police and Military officers attempted to overthrow the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government. They were driven by three critical events in the years leading up to January 1962. The coup participants belonged to the Westernised urban middle class who were alarmed at the undermining of the secular plural state and government.
By Jayantha Somasundaram
(Part I of this article appeared yesterday)
The first trigger was the anti-Tamil violence of 1958. The second trigger was the growing confrontation between the regime and the Christian community, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.
As soon as he took office S. W. R. D Bandaranaike had 21 CID and Special Branch gazetted officers resign or retire. Half of them were non-Sinhalese and the majority were reported to be Christian. Despite that, in 1957, 29 percent of the gazetted police officers were Burghers and about 65 percent were Christian. The situation in the military was no different during British times while the officers in the Army were mainly British, Burghers accounted for half the troops.
This anomaly goes back to 1902, when a Cadet Battalion was set up as part of the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers with companies initially in Royal College and then in the Christian public schools S. Thomas’ and Wesley in Colombo, Trinity and Kingswood in Kandy and Richmond in Galle. Buddhist and Hindu schools were late in introducing cadetting because of their adherence to ahimsa. When the Ceylon Army was established in 1949 the initial Officer Cadets sent to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for training were also largely from the ethnic and religious minorities. “Buddhist parents did not like their sons in the army … Perhaps there is something of the Buddhist aversion to killing in this prejudice …. There is an ancient tradition among the Sinhalese of employing mercenaries: Malays, Moors, Malabars, Tamils,” speculates Horowitz.
Despite their huge influence, the Protestant Christians in Sri Lanka were numerically small, a metropolitan minority making up one percent of the national population. By contrast, the Portuguese religious impact had resulted in a Roman Catholic community in the country that comprised seven percent. And unlike the Protestants who were split among numerous denominations, the Roman Catholics were united in a single church and fiercely loyal to their faith.
Neil Quintus Dias
The majority community as well as the regime feared what was termed ‘Catholic Action’, the attempt by lay Catholics to spread Catholic influence in a host society. “‘Bauddha Balavegaya (Buddhist Force) formed by L. H. Mettananda former principal of Ananda College, Neil Quintus (NQ) Dias, PM Sirimavo’s Defence Secretary and several other prominent Sinhala Buddhist nationalist leaders’ stand against ‘Catholic Action’ was well known. However, the existence of such a secretive campaign remained a mystery,” writes K. K. S. Perera (The Nation 4/11/12)
“N.Q. Dias was well known for his strong stand against ‘Catholic Action’ as it was then called,” wrote Bradman Weerakoon in Rendering Unto Caesar. “His actions in regard to the defence establishment and police were also being watched by the upper echelons of the three forces which were then largely manned by non-Buddhist officers.”
First the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Regime removed both local and foreign Catholic nursing nuns from state hospitals. This was followed by a decision to nationalise the assisted schools.
The school system was three-tiered. First, a small number of fee-levying public schools run mainly by the Anglican Church; they received no state financial support. Second, fee-levying denominational schools, mainly Roman Catholic, called assisted schools; they received government funding. Third, state owned schools which levied no fees.
The Catholic population is concentrated along the coastal belt stretching from Chilaw to Kalutara. In November 1960, the Army was brought in for internal security duties relating to the schools takeover; the 1st Battalion the Ceylon Light Infantry (1 CLI) covered Aluthgama, Ja-ela, Katunayake, Panadura and Kalutara. “There were demands in the Cabinet to … move forcefully against Christians protesting the takeover of the denominational schools,” explains Horowitz.
On the motive for the Coup, Sidney de Zoysa former Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) said, “The great issue then was the schools take-over. N. Q. Dias was a Buddhist chauvinist, and determined to take everything over into a Buddhist state. And Felix Dias was talking about a dictatorship and arguing that it would be a good thing,” wrote K. M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins in J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka Vol II.
A Christian education for their children is vital and critical to Roman Catholics and the takeover of denominational schools was bitterly opposed by the Church. Parents occupied the schools and a siege mentality developed. Finally, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to request Cardinal Garcia of Bombay to go to Sri Lanka and mediate between the Church and the government to defuse the standoff. The final outcome however was that many denominational schools were taken into the state system with a minority in the cities being allowed to remain the property of the churches, but the latter could neither levy fees nor receive government assistance.
When she became Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike proceeded to implement the Official Language Act. And in January 1961 Sinhala became the country’s operative official language. “Army officers who were Sinhala Christians retired under the language Act because they thought their careers had no future,” writes Patrick Peebles in The History of Sri Lanka. “The police had been about three-fourths Christian. In 1962 police and military officers staged a coup attempt led not by Tamils but by Sinhala Christians.”
K. M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins in J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka Vol II conclude, “N. Q. Dias was suspect to them as the leader of a powerful religio-political force in the government – the Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya – intent on establishing control over the machinery of government for themselves by championing the cause of the Sinhala Buddhist majority. He was seen as the evil genius behind the government’s policies since Mrs. Bandaranaike came to power, directed against the minorities – Christians and Tamils.
“A former Cabinet Minister in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s Government reported tremendous pressure from Sinhalese Civil Servants to enforce strict language requirements on their Tamil colleagues in the hope of forcing them out,” says Horowitz, “N.Q. Dias is said to have made life difficult for Tamil Civil Servants, helping to push some out because of disqualification in Sinhalese.”
These events led to the Federal Party launching a Satyagraha, a civil disobedience campaign across the northern and eastern provinces, bringing government administration to a standstill. The third trigger for the coup participants was the use of the Army against the Tamil Satyagraha.
One of the coup participants who had been assigned to Jaffna found the
Satyagraha peaceful and advised against the use of force. But when he sat in on a Cabinet discussion he found that the Government wanted to use the Army in the North to “teach the Tamils a lesson.”
The government therefore ordered the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment to Jaffna.
But when it was time to entrain, the commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Willie Abrahams MBE, and his second in command Major Ignatius Loyola, who were Tamil Catholics, were barred from accompanying the regiment. Instead, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Udugama MBE, an infantry officer who was a kinsman of Mrs. Bandaranaike was placed in command. The troops protested at the station, refusing to entrain without their commanders until Colonel Abrahams prevailed upon them to proceed without him.
Army occupation of
North and East
Leaders of the Federal Party were arrested and detained at the Army Cantonment, Panagoda. Lt Col Richard Udugama was appointed Coordinating Officer Jaffna District, with Lt Col Lyn Wickremasuriya (Trincomalee), Lt Col P. D. Ramanayake (Batticaloa), Major S.T.B. Sally (Mannar) and Major C.F. Fernando (Vavuniya). And a state of emergency was declared.
“The Army brutalized the peaceful protesters … (and) began a two year long occupation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces,” writes Brian Blodgett in Sri Lanka’s Military: The Search for a Mission 1949-2004. The government also began to establish “several permanent camps in the northern and eastern sectors of the country.” N. Q. Dias wanted to increase the armed forces deployed to the north and east and the creation of new military bases in Arippu, Maricchikatti, Pallai, Thalvapadu, Pooneryn, Karainagar, Palaly, Point Pedro, Elephant Pass, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee.
The deployment of the Army to deal with what was essentially a civil political issue was viewed by many Ceylonese with a liberal secular outlook, as deliberately provocative. And this sentiment, though more latent, was also shared by both the cosmopolitan Tamils living in Colombo who considered themselves essentially Ceylonese as well as the more conservative Tamil-speaking people of the North and East. In Sri Lanka: Political-Military Relations Prof K. M de Silva wrote, “The attitude of the Tamils to the police and the security forces stationed there began to change in the 1960s and with it their view of the role the forces played. In the Jaffna peninsula, the principal centre of Tamil residence in the island, the police began to be seen as part of the state security network devised to keep the Tamils down.”
These developments were compounded by what Blodgett believed was Mrs. Bandaranaike’s desire for more Sinhalese Buddhist officers in order to “give them greater influence in running of the armed services”, when Mrs. Bandaranaike took over as Prime Minister in July 1960. He quotes K.M. de Silva who says that with the new government there was a major shift in “the ethnic and religious composition of the officer corp.
“Interpreters frequently note that ‘all but a few of the accused were Christians, mostly Roman Catholics.’ And they generally view the coup as a Christian reaction to the Buddhist resurgence and ascendency of the several years preceding 1962,” writes Donald Horowitz. “The heavily Westernised English-speaking, urban elite felt itself under stress. So did the ethnic and religious minorities: Tamils, Burghers, and Sinhalese Christians. The urban elite and the minorities were well represented in the officer corps of all the armed services and among the conspirators as well.”
Horowitz goes on: “‘The politicians were treating the country as if it belonged only to the Sinhalese who were Buddhists and no one else,’ argued a Sinhalese Christian Police Officer. Other Sinhalese officers, Christian and Buddhist, agreed.”
“Although dispirited, those adversely affected by the post-1956 changes had not given up. Among Tamils there was some tendency to espouse the federalist solution…excluded from all the opportunities Colombo afforded at least they could return to administer their own areas in Jaffna … For non-Tamils, this course was not open. They dreamed not of an Asian Switzerland, where ethnic groups might coexist in an amicable territorial separatism; their model was rather of a tolerant, cheek-by-jowl cosmopolitanism in which a person’s origins might affect what he ate or where he worshipped but would have no public importance. The potency of these ideals … were held … because it was known that they were the ideals of the wider world beyond Sri Lanka’s shores,” concludes Donald Horowitz.
The Coup participants realised that Udugama was being groomed to take over command of the Army by promoting him over his seniors. He had organised a Buddhist Association within the Army, and officers including Buddhists who refused to be drawn into his Association regarded him with disdain.
For those who launched the coup the personification of the growing authoritarian-theocratic trend was Felix Dias, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and nephew of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. At their trial they asserted that the coup was a pre-emptive move to thwart a dictatorship by Felix Dias. According to one of the Coup participants “If Felix Dias had established himself in power … his regime would have rested on Sinhala Buddhist sentiment.”
By now military commanders were convinced that their authority was eroding and being replaced by an insidious dictatorship. “Felix Dias had at a meeting … in reference to conditions in Russia, stated that a little bit of totalitarianism might be of benefit to Ceylon.” (Trial-at-Bar)
“Felix Dias had antagonised many of the senior police and military officers by his interference in details of administration and by a hauteur which they found insufferable in one so young and inexperienced.” (K. M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka Vol II)
“The majority of the conspirators reserved their most extreme animosity for Felix Dias … Because of his political position and personal style, the conspirators distrusted and disliked him …” explains Donald Horowitz. “Their characterisations of him were unflattering in the extreme: ‘the most arrogant bastard you ever met … pompous … revengeful … untruthful … a bit mad.”
To be continued
Region-wide war seen as looming over Europe
The fear among sections of Western opinion is that a region-wide war is looming over Europe, basically on the lines of the two world wars of the 20th century. Two of the most immediate triggers to this belief are the seemingly non-interventionist military exercises being carried out by some 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukraine-Russia border and the reaction by the US to place 8,500 of its troops on high alert in the face of the development, besides getting together its Western allies in case Ukraine is invaded by Russia.
US President Joe Biden has been quoted as saying that ‘Russia would pay a heavy price’ in the event it invades Ukraine, in addition to warning of a ‘severe coordinated economic response’ on the part of the West in case of such a development. The results would be ‘disastrous’ for Russia and the Ukraine, the US President reportedly stated.
In a development of considerable significance, meanwhile, the US and Britain have bolstered Ukraine’s defense capabilities through the provision of some crucial military hardware. Britain, it is said, has already gone to the aid of Ukraine by sending to the country some of its military advisors and other key personnel.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, has dismissed the above Western reactions as ‘hysterical’. But he is on record as saying that Russians and Ukrainians comprise ‘one people, a single whole’. Thus, is he trying to acquire some legitimacy for the Russian military exercises on the Ukrainian border. That is, Ukraine is being seeing as part of Russia and taking back Ukraine should be perceived by the world as perfectly in order.
However, the stark reality is that Cold War type divisions are re-emerging in Europe. Russia made its intention clear to carve out Eastern Europe once again as its exclusive sphere of influence through its joint operations with Belarus a couple of months back against the backdrop of thousands of migrants from around the world flooding Belarus. It was believed at the time that Russia’s gameplan was to flood Western Europe in general and Germany in particular with migrants with a view to creating a refugee crisis in the traditionally Western sphere of influence.
As to whether there would be war or peace in Europe over Ukraine is seen to depend by some, entirely on Russian President Putin’s strategic thinking. What is he planning to do? This has emerged as the question of first importance in this connection. Whatever course of action the Russian leader may opt for, it is abundantly clear that he cannot afford to be seen as withdrawing tamely and faint-heartedly from the Ukraine border, now that he has sanctioned a heavy Russian military involvement in the region.
For Putin, ‘chickening out’ of Ukraine at this juncture is unthinkable. He will need to look over his shoulder constantly at those sections of the Russian public who see Ukraine as an inseparable part of Russia and are solidly behind the re-taking of Ukraine project. However, Putin is also obliged to consider the daunting consequences for particularly Russia from a military incursion into Ukraine.
At present except for Eastern Ukraine, which is within the Russian sphere of influence, the rest of Ukraine seems to be quite determined to fight a Russian invasion to the finish. This much is made clear by international media coverages of the Ukrainian crisis. In this effort, Ukrainians in general are bound to have considerable Western backing, militarily and otherwise, although it is difficult to say currently whether this would mean that Western military ‘boots’ would be on Ukrainian soil in the event of a Russian military incursion.
Considering that there will be no extensive Ukrainian backing for Russia in the event of an invasion, the latter would need to take their minds back to the 1979 USSR invasion of Afghanistan, which cost Russia very dearly. Is Russia opting for a military quagmire of like proportions? This question would need to figure prominently in Russian strategic calculations at this juncture.
However, the West has its share of problems as well. At present, it is not at all clear whether the US and Britain will be having West-wide, unanimous and ready backing for any military involvement in the Ukraine. Over the past few days, the US has been in consultation with the principal political and military formations of the West, such as NATO and the EU, but the US cannot rest assured that it would have their solid backing for a military riposte to a Russian invasion.
Germany, for one, has made no such unambiguous commitment and German backing is crucial to the success of a Western military response to Russia. Western countries would need to carefully factor in their economic links with Russia in particular prior to making any substantive military responses. For example, there is Germany’s high stakes gas pipeline project with Russia, ‘Nord Stream 2’, which needs to be taken into consideration. Would it compromise its energy needs for the sake of Ukraine’s sovereignty? This too is a poser to ponder on.
Moreover, President Biden has not been absolutely unambiguous on what he has meant by Russia being called on to pay ‘a heavy price’. Does he have in mind military repercussions by the West or collective economic sanctions? Besides, some of the President’s recent statements have led observers to believe that the US would not mind some minor military incursions into Ukraine by Russia. This has the West guessing but it could lead Russia into believing that it could get away with some violations of International Law in the Ukraine.
Accordingly, although war clouds may seem to be gathering over the Ukraine, there is no certainty as to whether we would be having a full-blown war on the lines of the First World War, for example. However, the existence of two antagonistic alliances, though loosely formed, tempts the observer into inferring that a region-wide war in Europe is within the realms of the possible. Nevertheless, the sides are in the process of talking somewhat and the hope of the sane is that Jaw-jaw-jaw will prove more potent than war-war-war.
The Department of Fine Arts of the University of Peradeniya honours the memory of Dr. Dharmasena Pathiraja with a Memorial Lecture by Dr. Laleen Jayamanne on The Relevance of an Alternative Film Culture Today at 5.30 pm on the 28th of January, 2022 at the Arts Faculty Seminar Room and via Zoom
Dr. Pathiraja graduated with an honours degree from the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya in Sinhala, with Western Classical Culture in 1967. He obtained his MA in Sinhala, working in the field of drama at the University of Peradeniya in 1992 and obtained a Phd. in Cinema Studies, from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, in 1999, with a dissertation on early post-independence Bengali cinema of Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen.
In honouring him with a doctorate posthumously in 2018, the University in its citation hailed him as a “renaissance man.” The citation continues with “in the fifties and sixties when Sri Lankan cinema was coming into its own with Lester James Pieris making a signal contribution to its stylistics, Pathiraja enters the scene with a distinctive style of his own that shares little with Pieris either in style and subject matter. More concerned with the lower middle class than with the decadent aristocracy, whom Pieris focused on, Pathiraja’s early films also capture an emerging ethos in cultural production: a language of the ‘masses’. This language‑ idiom‑ is expressly at the cross roads of a consciousness about the texture and complexities of the postcolonial state of Sri Lanka and of reaching out to an international audience. This consciousness has been his strength, what the audience has instinctively realiSed as new, as part of a new wave. Critics and the public have hailed him as the enfant terrible of the ‘70s, comparing him to the European Avant Garde of the 70s, especially trends emerging in Poland, Czechosolvakia and others.”
The memorial lecture at the event will be delivered by another illustrious alumna of the University, Dr. Laleen Jayamanne, who read classics at the University Peradeniya, and went onto become a major theorist in cinema studies. She taught at the Department of Cinema Studies at the Univ. of Sydney for several years and her publications include The Epic Cinema of Kumar Shahani and the more recent, Poetic Cinema and the Spirit of the Gift in the Films of Pabst, Parajanov, Kubrick and Ruiz. Her film, A Song of Ceylon (1985) is a dramatic and daring reworking of Basil Wright’s The Song of Ceylon. Jayamanne has written of Pathiraja’s films as visionary and ahead of their time.
The event will be in the hybrid mode and will be available to those interested via zoom on the link:
Meeting ID: 725 390 8656
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