Connect with us

Features

Memories of life in Russia in 1971

Published

on

by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It is precisely half a century ago that our family arrived in Moscow, the capital of the then Soviet Union (USSR). Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 it is Russia’s capital city. In 1971, the “Cold War” was at its peak. According to Wikipedia, The Cold War was the tense relationship between the United States (and its allies), and the Soviet Union (the USSR and its allies) between the end of World War II and the fall of the Soviet Union. It was referred to as the “Cold” War because the US and the USSR never directly fought each other.

In July 1970, my father at his request was transferred to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Moscow. We never understood his reasons for selecting Moscow. Maybe it might have been because in 1957 or 1958 he had been chosen to be the diplomatic officer to set up the embassy. According to my father, he had conveyed to the Permanent Secretary (PS) of the the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs that he was not in favour of accepting the transfer. He felt he would not be able to work with the designated Ambassador (Dr. G.P. Malalasekera), a political appointee! The PS conveyed this to the Prime Minister (PM) SWRD Bandaranaike. The PM had sent for my father and asked him why he felt unable to work with the Dr. Malasekera. My father had hesitantly divulged his reason/s at which point SWRD had laughed loudly and told the PS “Send Jayaweera to Singapore where he can be his own boss!” Quite a contrast from what might befall a government servant in the last few decades who refuses to work with a person appointed by the Head of State or even a Minister. How times have changed!

Our departure to Moscow was delayed for nearly five months as my father’s predecessor, whose apartment we were to occupy, had been diagnosed with TB. The apartment had been designated inhabitable by the health authorities in Moscow. As our family comprised seven, we needed an apartment with a minimum of three bedrooms that was not readily available. The Russian Foreign Ministry had said they would need to combine two apartments and that this would be possible after 12 months when a new apartment complex would be ready. On the other hand, our foreign ministry was in a hurry for my father to assume duties in Moscow as there was no senior diplomat at the embassy.

My father was not keen to leave his family behind. Therefore, the government decided to transfer out the junior diplomat at the embassy. Our family was to occupy his apartment, comprising just two bedrooms. It was patently too small for us. However, we were told to bear the inconvenience for six months until the larger apartment was ready.

We ultimately left Sri Lanka towards the end of December 1970. We took a flight to Madras (now Chennai) where we stayed for a few days and then took a flight to Bombay (now Mumbai) and stayed the night. Next morning, we took an Air India flight to Moscow. I still remember my father getting us to look out of the window to get a glimpse of the Himalayas.

We arrived in Moscow on January 2, 1971, and it was freezing cold. The temperature would have been around minus 35 degrees centigrade. Fortunately, some of the Embassy staff who had come to the airport to welcome us had brought some heavy overcoats and headwear to protect us. To our great relief, our apartment was as hot as Colombo!

For a couple of weeks other than our father who went to work, none of us was brave enough to venture outside in the freezing cold! It took some time to get us all kitted out in warm clothing. Once dressed, the only thing visible were our eyes and the nose! Despite being bundled up, once outside for more than 10 minutes, your toes and fingers were more or less frozen.

Everything outside was white; the scenery looked like something from the movie Dr Zhivago. Other than the main road and the sidewalk, all else was covered in three feet of snow; beneath it was solid ice. We would slither around and at times take a tumble as we got to grips with the art of walking in the snow. The Moscow river, a ten-minute walk from our apartment, was rock-solid ice. We were told that even a lorry could drive across the river as the ice was so solid.

As the academic year had started in September, we were told that we would not be attending school for another nine months, which delighted my siblings! The question was how to while away the time inside a small apartment. We quickly realized that the best way was to stand by a large window in the living room and watch and count the number of people who got arrested for “jaywalking”! The law in Russia was extremely strict, and anyone caught crossing the road other than at a designated zebra crossing was breaking the law. Those caught were bundled into a police cruiser and taken away; I assume they were charged and fined. Despite that, every day, there were a few who were brave enough to jaywalk. About 75 per cent of those who attempted to were caught.

The security service monitored the movement of foreign diplomats. The apartment complexes housing diplomats and their families were segregated. No Russian was either allowed to live or even visit unless accompanied by a diplomat. A police post manned 24 hours at the centre of the compound observed who was entering and leaving. They also recorded when a particular vehicle left the apartment complex. It was generally believed that the police post at the embassy where the person worked was informed. In case the person’s arrival at the embassy was delayed, the police would through its network try to trace the vehicle. The same happened in the evening in the reverse order.

I remember an incident that took place after my father got his personal vehicle. We went for a drive and got totally lost. There being no Google maps at the time and our Russian language skills being minimal, we were in a quandary. Fortunately, within a few minutes, a couple of police vehicles arrived, and my father was questioned. When he explained that we were lost the police escorted us back to our apartment complex.

There was also a rule that foreign embassy staff could not travel beyond 40 km from Moscow without informing the Russian Foreign Ministry. Details such as the location, number of people traveling, and vehicle details had to be shared. The summer months in Russia were gorgeous with trees blooming, and generally, it was quite warm. So, most weekends in the summer the embassy staff would organize a day trip for sightseeing and go in a convoy of several cars. We would then try to find a nice spot to enjoy a picnic lunch. On one occasion, the convoy went beyond the informed location, searching for a suitable place for the picnic. I recall our convoy was quickly surrounded and questioned. We were escorted back to a suitable place for us to enjoy our picnic. One of the drawbacks of this restriction was that you could not suddenly get up on Sunday morning and decide that you would like to travel beyond the 40 KM radius despite the day being perfect for an outing.

Another incident that I vividly recall even after 50 years took place in the summer. An Indian diplomat’s son and I were playing badminton by the roadside. It was by a sharp bend near the entrance to the compound. I still remember a blonde girl running towards us. When she reached the spot where we were playing, she slowed down. I think she thought that she had given the policeman at the post the slip. Unfortunately for her, a policeman had seen her and came quietly behind her. He grabbed her by her long hair and dragged her screaming in Russian to the police post. Within a few minutes, a police van came and took her away. My friend and I were astounded but being only 11-years could not do anything to help her. Perhaps she was engaged in the oldest profession who took her chances!

One summer day, my father’s first cousin, living in London, arrived at the embassy unannounced. He had studied in Russia from 1958 until 1964 before returning to Ceylon with a degree in Engineering. Unfortunately, back home, his Russian degree did not get due recognition. He soon found employment in London where both his Russian engineering degree as well language skills were better appreciated. He visited us to seek my father’s assistance to marry his longstanding Russian girlfriend and obtain an exit permit for his wife to accompany him back to London. At that time Russian citizens were not allowed to travel overseas without government sanction. My father arranged the exit permit through his contacts at the Russian Foreign Ministry and the cousin, a true gentleman, was able to honour a promise he made to his girlfriend several years before to come back for her. However, I think my father earned his Aunt’s wrath for helping her son marry a non-Sri Lankan!

Some of the incidents that I have related are not intended to criticize the governance system that prevailed in the Soviet Union. I firmly believe that it was up to the people of the Soviet Union to accept or reject those rules. We were guests in the country, and we needed to abide by their rules. Russia has always stood by Sri Lanka and supported the principle that our country should resolve our problems without foreign interference.

Our stay in Russia was limited to just one year as our education was at a standstill. Our command of the Russian language was wholly inadequate to study in Russian. The government’s education allowance was paltry, and my father could not afford to educate four of his children at the International school. At my father’s request, the government transferred him to our embassy in Pakistan, and we bade goodbye to Russia just after completing one year there. Since then, none of us has been to Moscow, although the destination is undoubtedly in my bucket list of countries to visit.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

31st night…Down Under

Published

on

The NYE scene at the Grand Reception Centre, in Melbourne

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the Voluntary Outreach Club (VOC) in Victoria, Australia, was able to hold a successful New Year’s Eve celebration, at The Grand Reception Centre, in Cathies Lane, Wantirna South.

In a venue that comfortably holds 800, the 200 guests (Covid restrictions), spanning three generations, had plenty of room to move around and dance to the array of fabulous music provided by the four bands – Replay 6, Ebony, Cloud 9 with Sonali, Redemption and All About That Brass. 

The drinks provided, they say, oiled the rusty feet of the guests, who were able to finally dress up and attend such an event after nine months of lockdown and restrictions. With plenty of room for dancing, the guests had a thoroughly enjoyable time. 

According to an insider, the sustenance of an antipasto platter, eastern and western smorgasbord, and the midnight milk rice and katta sambol, were simply delicious, not forgetting the fantastic service provided by Jude de Silva, AJ Senewiratne and The Grand staff.

The icing on the cake, I’m told, was the hugely generous sponsorship of the bands by Bert Ekenaike. This gesture boosted the coffers of the VOC, which helps 80 beneficiaries, in Sri Lanka, comprising singles and couples, by sending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 3,500, per month, to each of these beneficiaries, and augmenting this sum, twice a year, in July and December, with a bonus of the same amounts.

Continue Reading

Features

Fall armyworm:

Published

on

Strategies for effective management

by Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

Emeritus Professor of Entomology University of Ruhuna and former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy

Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera; Noctuidae), a quarantine pest, has been identified as a very destructive insect pest of Maize/Corn. This insect originated in Americas and invaded the African region in 2016 and was detected in India the following year and perhaps would have naturally migrated to Sri Lanka last year from India. Now, it is reported that FAW is present in all districts of Sri Lanka except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. In winter in the USA the pest is found in Texas and Florida and subsequent summer when it gets warmed up, the pest migrates up to the Canadian border. The corn belt of China is also at a risk due to its migratory habit and the cost to Africa, due to this invasion, will exceed $ 6 billion. Maize is a staple food crop in Africa and millions depends on it for food. Hence in Africa and now in Asia it is a global food security issue for millions of people that could be at a risk if FAW is not controlled. The adult moth migrates very fast almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km, before laying 1,500 eggs on average. The entire life cycle lasts 30 days in tropical climate. There are six larval instars and mostly the destruction is caused by the last three instars and the growing moth pupates in the soil for 10-12 days and the nocturnal adults lay eggs on leaves for about 10 days The pest thrives on about 80 host plants but the most preferable host is Corn/Maize. In Sri Lanka the preferred hosts includes Kurakkan and Sugarcane in addition to Maize. The symptoms of damage- scrapping of leaves, pin holes, small to medium elongated holes. Loss of top portion of leaves fecal pellets in leaf whorl which are easily recognizable. The Comb is also attacked in later stages with a heavy infestation, but after removing the FAW affected portion of the comb the remaining portion is still suitable for consumption and there is no fear of any toxicity. There are two morphologically identical strains––maize strain that feeds on maize and sorghum, and rice strain that feeds on rice and pasture grasses. However, in Sri Lanka only the maize strain has been detected so far. FAW thrives in a climate where drought is followed by heavy rains on a similar way we have experienced last year.

Although new agricultural insect pests are found in Sri Lanka, from time to time a number of factors make FAW unique (FAO Publication 2018)

1

FAW consumes many different crops 2 FAW spreads quickly across large geographical areas 3.FAW can persists throughout the year. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to develop a coordinated evidence based effort to scout FAW for farming communities and effective monitoring by the research staff

 

Management

Since the pest has already arrived in Sri Lanka, the Government/ Ministry of Agriculture should formulate short, mid and long term strategies for its effective management with all stakeholders. Also it has to be clear that a single strategy ex pesticides will not help in effective control but a proper combination of tactics, such as integrated pest management should be employed in the long term. In the short term, the recommended pesticides by the Department of Agriculture should be employed along with cultural and sanitary control strategies. These strategies have now been formulated and what is required to enlighten the farmers and people by utilizing the trained staff. The country should be placed on a war footing and an emergency should be declared in the affected areas to coordinate the control strategies. The integrated control tactics, such as cultural control, should be integrated with pesticides based on the recommendation of the research staff. The residues should be destroyed after harvest and avoid late planting and staggered planting. The Ministry of Agriculture should create awareness among the farmers and train the farmers on early detection of egg masses found on leaves and destroy them by hand. The pesticides for FAW control is recommended by the Department of Agriculture (Please contact Registrar of Pesticides of the Department of Agriculture for the recommended list of Pesticides) and they have to make it available at subsidized rates or given free with technical information considering the emergency. When the larvae are small early detection and proper timing of pesticides are critical for elimination of the pest. With this outbreak some farmers and the private sector is engaged using highly hazardous pesticides which should be avoided to make way for sustainable alternatives. The Department Entomologists should train the farmers for early detection of egg masses when present on 5% of the plants and when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are present on war footing. The economic threshold has been calculated as 2-3 live larvae per plant and the control strategies should commence as soon as this threshold is detected by visual observation. The majority of development officers, agriculture and science graduates working in Divisional Secretariats, are already trained on pest control and their participation on training the farmers for early detection and pesticide selection and application warrants the strategy. Some of the recommended pesticides are follows: Chlorantraniliprole 200g/1SC: Trade name Corogen, Emamectin benzoate 5%SG: Trade name Proclaim,, Flubendiamide 24% WG : Trade name Belt. The Principle Entomologist of the Dry Zone Research Station of the Department of Agriculture ( Mrs KNC Gunawardena) has prepared an effective online presentation on FAW control and this has to be shared by all. The African country Ghana has declared a state of emergency in response to this invasion as Maize is a staple crop which should be followed by us in Sri Lanka.

The long term strategies include early detection. Stopping its spread and initiation of a long term research programme to identify tolerant varieties and granting permission to import such varieties as seeds. The country should ear mark on a Biological control strategy by breeding and releasing FAW parasitoids regularly. In USA larval parasitoids such as Apanteles marginiventris, Chelonus insularis and Microplitis manilae have contributed to keep the pest population down along with egg parasitoids Trichrogramma spp and a similar program should be initiated in the affected districts. Finally the best option is to establish a task force with the involvement of entomologists, extension personnel along with the administrators and scientists working in the universities to ensure the country are safe with regards to food security

 

 

The author has read for a PhD at University of Florida Gainesville in the USA in 1985 and his PhD thesis exclusively deals on Fall armyworm parasitoids and its ecology

Continue Reading

Features

President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest

Published

on

by Jehan Perera

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced that the government will be entering into an agreement with the Adani Group, based in India, to offer them 49 percent of the shares in a joint venture company. This joint venture will include Japanese government financing and will manage one of the terminals in the Colombo port. The entry of Adani Group, into the Colombo port, has been opposed by a wide coalition of organisations, ranging from port workers, and left political parties, to nationalists and civil society groups. These groups have little in common with each other but on this particular issue they have made common cause and even held joint protests together. The main thrust of their objections is that control over the East Terminal of the Colombo port will pass into foreign hands and result in an erosion of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

The cause for alarm, among the protesting groups, may be fueled by the observation that one by one, the ports of Sri Lanka are being utilized by foreign powers. In particular, China has entered into Sri Lanka in a big way, obtaining a 99-year lease in the Hambantota port that it constructed. The Hambantota port, in its early period, showed it was economically unviable in the absence of Chinese cooperation. The burden of debt repayment induced the previous government to enter into this agreement which may become unfavorable in terms of national sovereignty. There were protests at the time of the signing of that lease agreement, too, though not as effective as the present protests regarding the change of management in the Colombo port, which is led by the very forces that helped to bring the present government into power.

In addition to the Hambantota port, control over the South Terminal in the Colombo port, and a section of the harbour, has been given to China through one of its companies on a 35-year lease. In both cases, large Chinese investments have helped to upgrade Sri Lanka’s capacity to attract international shipping lines to make use of the port facilities. The Hambantota port, in particular, could benefit enormously from Chinese ships that traverse the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. Instead of making refuelling stops elsewhere along the way, such as Singapore, they could now come to Hambantota. However, with these investments would also come a Chinese presence that could cause concerns among international actors that have geopolitics in mind. It may be that these concerns are finding expression in the opposition to the Indian entry into the Colombo port.

 

RATIONAL ANALYSIS

It will not only be Sri Lankans who are concerned about the Chinese presence in the country’s ports. As Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbour, India, too, would have concerns, which are mirrored by other international powers, such as Japan. It might be remembered that when Japan’s prime minister visited Sri Lanka, in 2014, there was a diplomatic furor that a Chinese submarine entered the Colombo port, unannounced, even to the Sri Lankan government, and docked there. With its excellent relations with China, that go back to the 1950s, when the two countries signed a barter agreement, exchanging rice for rubber, most Sri Lankans would tend to see such Chinese actions in a benign light. In recent years, China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest donor and its assistance is much appreciated. However, India’s relations with China are more complex.

The two countries have massive trade links, but they have also gone to war with each other due to territorial disputes. Even at the present time Indian and Chinese troops are in a stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border. In this context, India would be concerned that the Chinese presence in Sri Lankan ports could eventually take the form of an overall strategy to encircle it and use this leverage to India’s disadvantage. Sri Lanka’s location at the bottom of the Asian continent gives it a strategic importance in the Indian Ocean that goes beyond any possible India-China rivalry. The recent visit of US Secretary of State to Sri Lanka included an acerbic exchange of words between the US and Chinese representatives on that occasion and an open call to Sri Lanka to take sides, or not to take sides. As a small actor in itself, Sri Lanka would have no interest in getting involved in international geopolitics and has a longstanding policy of non-alignment and friendship with all.

More than anyone else, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be aware of these geopolitical issues. As Defence Secretary, during the years of war with the LTTE, he was a key member of the government team that obtained wide ranging international support for prosecuting the war. Today, the President’s key advisers include those with military backgrounds who have special expertise in geopolitical analysis and who have spent time in leading military academies in different parts of the world, including the US, China and India. This contrasts with the more parochial thinking of political, nationalist and even civil society groups who have come out in opposition to the agreement that the government has entered into with the Indian company to manage the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port.

 

GEOPOLITICAL IMPERATIVE

President Rajapaksa was elected to the presidency in the context of the security debacle of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks and with the expectation that he would provide clear-cut leadership in protecting the country’s national security without permitting partisan interests from becoming obstacles. In his meeting with the representatives of the trade unions, opposing the handing of management of the Eastern Terminal to foreign hands, the President is reported to have said that geopolitics had also to be taken into account. As many as 23 trade unions, representing the Ports Authority, the National Organisations collective, and a number of civil organizations, have joined the formation of a new national movement named the ‘Movement to protect the East Container Terminal’.

One of those political representatives at the meeting, leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), Pubudu Jayagoda, is reported to have said, “When trade unions met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (13), he told them about the broad geopolitical factors in play. This is reminiscent when the unions met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a few years back. The unions told Wickremesinghe what they told Rajapaksa––the ECT could be operated by Sri Lanka in a profitable manner. Wickremesinghe told the union representatives, ‘You are talking about the port, I am talking about geopolitics’.” However, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may not have had the necessary political power to ensure that his vision prevailed and failed to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

Entering into the agreement with the Indian company will serve Sri Lanka’s national interests in several ways. By ensuring that India is given a presence in Sri Lanka’s most important port, it will reassure our closest neighbour, as well as Japan, which has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent international donor, that our national security interests and theirs are not in opposition to each other. Second, it takes cognizance of the reality that about two-thirds of the Colombo port’s shipping is due to transshipment with India, and thereby ensures that this profitable business continues. Third, it will give Sri Lanka more leverage to negotiate with India regarding key concerns, which includes Indian support to Sri Lanka at international forums and in providing guarantees for the unity of the country in the face of possible future threats and the need to ensure devolution of power to satisfy ethnic minority aspirations.

 

 

Continue Reading

Trending