Auspicious prelude to creation of a New Constitution
By Rohana R. Wasala
The Sinhalese in independent Sri Lanka have been nationalistic, but never narrowly communalistic; they have never illtreated non-Sinhala minorities on the basis of race or religion. Those who are wallowing in a sea of misinformation having been swept there by tides of hostile propaganda over the decades, may bristle at this, but the truth must be stated. The nationalism of the Sinhalese is not a construct of the last colonial era. Contrary to what Eurocentric theorists, their local clones, imperialist lackeys and their modern dupes believe, it is an inclusive nationalism. In their long history, the nationalism of the Sinhalese has been synonymous with patriotism or the love of their country, their island homeland. The JVP of 1971 and 1987-89 shed blood in the name of the country, not in the name of a race or a religion unlike respectively the defeated LTTE and the recent NTJ. To point this out is not being communalistic; it is only reacting to a false criticism. The racists and the extremists among the minorities raise false allegations of communalism against the majority community to justify their own communalism.
Today, even a section of the Sinhalese polity, including some young members of the FB generation, seem to think that to be a nationalist is the same as being a racist. That misconception is largely because they are not well enough informed about their own true history and truly admirable, multifaceted heritage, a legacy that is enjoyed by all communities in common: the still functional parts of the ancient hydraulic system, archaeological remains that attract foreign tourists and earn foreign exchange for the public coffers,and many other treasures. But anti-national individuals and agencies still censor Anagarika Dharmapala, the pioneer national revivalist of the colonial era, as a hate figure for ideologically rekindling, around the beginning of the 20th century, the nationalist spirit of the patriotic Sinhalese that had been choked in the course of a number of popular uprisings by force of arms by colonial invaders following the 1815 British intrigue. All the Sinhalese leaders who caused the 1948, 1956, 1972, 2009, and 2019 restorative revolutionary watersheds to happen were inspired by Dharmapala and were opposed by the real racists and received little support from non-Buddhist religious extremists.
The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British imperialists was naturally to the greater disadvantage of the majority community than to the minorities, who in fact stood to gain from it. The British exploited the minorities to weaken the historical defenders of the land. It may be plausibly argued that they used them as tacit allies to restrain the Sinhalese from rebellion, in return for privileged treatment (although this was limited to an elite that politically mattered to them, while the majority of the dispossessed mixed masses consisting of common Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims shared the rigours of colonial exploitation without discrimination).
Particularly, the racist leaders of the Tamil minority feared that a parliamentary system of government where the Sinhalese would hold power because of their numerical superiority would mean a loss of their privileged status (hence the notorious 50-50 seat allocation demand of G.G. Ponnambalam which was contemptuously rejected by the Soulbury Commissioners in 1946. All the overtures that Sinhalese leaders, from D.S. Senanayake to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, made to the few but powerful racists (among the minority politicians) who somehow manage to hoodwink their people and persuade them to vote for them have failed to convince them to cooperate wholeheartedly with the majority in making unitary Sri Lanka a strong sovereign state where they harbour equal stakes and enjoy equal rights and share equal responsibilities.
The false allegation of Sinhala communalism finds a convenient platform in the demand for the constitutional emasculation of the institution of the executive presidency (if complete abolition is not possible). This is because it is usually a Sinhalese who stands a chance of getting elected as president by the pan-Sri Lanka electorate. These minority politicians (the extremist few, not all minority politicians) propagate the idea that all Sinhalese are communalists, and that every president will be biased against their people. But this is a fallacy. Though, at present, there is no likelihood of a minority politician becoming president because the minority polities are still mostly under the sway of racists and religious extremists, it is not an impossibility. If the non-racist, non-extremist politicians that there are among them are allowed to emerge dominant, they certainly will find more favour with the average Sinhalese voters than a conceited Premadasa or a clueless Sirisena, and a correspondingly modest and knowledgeable Tamil or Muslim president will no longer be just a dream. There are many examples from the past to illustrate the possibility of such an eventuality, but this is not the time for dwelling on the subject.
Unwarranted dilution of the powers of the executive presidency was what was achieved by the controversial 19A, which, effectively divided people’s sovereign power between the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker. It was a three-headed monster, as a government minister recently said. As a result of it the sovereign people had to put up with a severely dysfunctional parliament that brought disaster to the country for an interminable four and a half years before it was finally dissolved by the President and a fresh Parliament elected. The potential for the continuation of such a corrupt malfunctioning parliament is greater when the executive power of the President to dissolve it is curtailed or is completely taken away. That provides a situation open to exploitation by the Rishads and Hakeems of this world.
editorial/October 20, 2020 made the following comment, which suggests the despicable way they are ready to cock a snook at the sovereignty of the people:
‘Bathiudeen brought down the hurriedly formed Sirisena-Rajapaksa government, in 2018, by refusing to vote with it in Parliament. That administration crashed, unable to raise a simple majority in the House. This time around, Bathiudeen can give the present regime the kiss of death by voting for the 20A. If he and his four MPs vote for 20A, as expected, those who claim that he and the government have struck a secret deal will be vindicated. The only way the government can avert such a situation is to engineer the crossover of some other Opposition MPs so that it does not have to depend on Bathiudeen…..’
Who is this Bathiudeen? He was one of the Muslims forcibly evacuated from the North as a result of Prabhakaran’s ethnic cleansing policy. When Bathiudeen came down to Colombo he was a penniless youth with nothing but the worn out clothes on his body, it is said. Today, he is a billionaire with palatial houses here and there, and thousands of acres of land in his possession, with some more lands given to his relatives. He was able to help himself to such great wealth and also indulge in philanthropy at the expense of the state because he became a politician and managed to join the winning side continuously from the previous MR government to the end of Yahapalanaya, and battened on the suffering of the fellow members of his own displaced community. During the near decade in power, he was charged by environmental groups with the devastating deforestation of the Wilpattu forest reserve; he was rumoured to be complicit in importing cocaine hidden among goods in CWE containers, illegally exploiting the ilmenite containing mineral sand deposits at Pulmudai for personal profits, abusing the CWE to propagate extremist Islamist ideology, and he was even accused of having connections with the Jihadists who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels. When the police finally started looking for him to arrest him on the charge of having abused state/public property by transporting by SLTB buses some 10,000 voters from their new places of residence to their old (for casting their vote a second time it was alleged in the media) on the day of the presidential election in November last year. How is it that an extremely unscrupulous, originally insignificant penurious politician has been allowed to invest himself with such power as The Island editorial has described?
This is because the minority communalists who stick that label on the majority have been empowered by the existing faulty electoral system being abused, and the majority community effectively disenfranchised in the process. Having to strike a deal with political criminals or to ‘engineer the crossover of some other Opposition MPs’ as The Island editorial suggests in order to get 20A or any other nationally important piece of legislation through parliament, is a wretched proposition for any sovereign nation even to contemplate. But, isn’t there any prospect for the nation to reverse this unfortunate self inflicted anomaly? In my opinion, there is. It is to get rid of our own fear of adopting strategies that might run the risk of being attacked as racist, Sinhala Supremacist, discriminatory towards minorities, contrary to international standards, etc. We have to learn not to give a fig to such unfounded accusations.
At present, the Sinhalese are scrupulously guiltless in this respect. Still they are treated as if they were the worst racists, human rights violaters, xenophobes, chauvinists in the world. Sometimes their own leaders criticise them for being jaatiwadin, or racists as Premadasa and Sirisena have already done:
Former President Sirisena was heard, at the Easter Sunday Attacks inquiry recently, referring to racists among the Sinhalese. In a Twitter message, which was only in English and Tamil, but not in Sinhala, during the presidential election campaigning period, SJB leader Premadasa charged that Muslims were subjected to discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese! He toured the North, presumably to show the northern Tamils that he was a champion of Tamil rights. He was given a heroic welcome in Jaffna and he garnered many Tamil votes, too. But it is not that they fell for stratagems; they knew that he was ready to betray his own people for a mess of (electoral) pottage.
Could a person who doesn’t care about his own kind be concerned about other people?
The alleged Sinhala racists are none other than the few monks and some young Sinhala activists who are merely reacting to proven cases of harassment, aggression, and subversion against them by some extremist elements from among the minorities. Considerable numbers of young Tamils and Muslims are also among their supporters. Had the successive governments taken them seriously, the slaughter of innocents on April 21 could have been avoided. They represent millions, but are they taken notice of? Are they given proper media coverage? Global media (international TV channels such as Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, etc) broadcast distorted news about them.
There’s no place for them on the You Tube, either.
The true situation in the country is different from what is usually reported in these media. Why did the nationalists win very nearly two thirds of parliamentary seats, with the racists and religious extremists getting fewer than what they usually win? The result surprised even the nationalists. This shows that the Sinhalese electorate can decide the future of the country by themselves. But they naturally prefer to do so with the participation of the minorities. If the Sinhalese MPs in parliament forget their partisan divisions and remember the patriotism of their ancestors who shed their blood to save their motherland for all its inhabitants, they will voluntarily help the government to muster the two thirds majority required or even more for introducing a completely new constitution when the time comes for that.
Not less than the survival of the unitary state, the nation, the dominant Buddhist culture and the island territory is at stake. The America-led West and India seem to have found a deus ex machina opportunity to further crank up pressure on economically doddering Sri Lanka in the fast expanding mysterious Brandix Covid-19 cluster and in a court judgement given in UK that is favourable to the LTTE rump still active there: It was reported in the media on Wednesday (October 21, 2020) that UK’s Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission has concluded that the Home Office decision to keep the LTTE as a proscribed terrorist organisation was flawed and unlawful. So, the British parliament is likely to lift the ban on the organization in that country. Britain is one of the forty countries that proscribed the terror outfit. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, this will make little difference to the status quo, because the UK has practically always allowed its members to behave as if there was no ban on it.
So, all MPs in parliament, please forget your party, ethnic, religious and interpersonal differences in the name of our motherland. At the time of writing, the ad hoc 20A is to be put to the vote. It will be passed with necessary amendments. It is good if this was carried out without the government having to strike secret deals with communalists or to engineer crossovers from the Opposition (which would be a slap in the face of the voting public). The more momentous responsibility that you are going to fulfill is to create a sound new constitution for our country that will save our nation from squabbling geopolitical powers who are promoting their own separate national interests at our expense, leaving us in perpetual political instability and endless economic misery. You Hon. MPs, especially the fresh thinking young ones, owe our resplendent island homeland no less.
(PS: The 20A was passed in parliament with 156 voting for it and only 65 against. The votes cast in favour exceeds the required two thirds majority by 6 votes. It is obvious that the government did not have to make undue special overtures towards Muslim MPs. There were only 6 Muslim votes but they were not critical, they were dispensable. It is clear that the Muslim MPs thrust themselves on the government side without being asked. Probably, they did this on the prior instructions of Hakeem (and Rishad as well). I think so because, about two weeks ago, Hakeem told media men that he wouldn’t vote for 20A but that the other members of his party would probably do so. The government had better be careful: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Only Faustian bargains can be made with fundamentalists. No reasonable democratic dialogue is possible with Islamists. The government, it seems, was short of only 2 votes for acquiring the required number of votes, which was 150. Those two votes came from Tamil MP Aravind Kumar and SJB’s Diana Gamage. The latter violated her leader’s injunction, for which she must be praised. In my opinion, it is obvious that the former president, Sirisena, didn’t take part in the voting, not because the controversial NGO drafted and promoted 19A was passed under his presidency, but because he couldn’t any longer get associated with the hypocrisy of its defenders.
The drafting of a completely new constitution commenced two or three weeks ago. The process will get into top gear now. The multiethnic drafting committee is headed by the renowned PC Romesh de Silva, and includes other legal luminaries such as Manohara de Silva and experts in related fields such as geologist and geopolitical analyst and commentator Prof. Gerald H. Peiris. They who love Sri Lanka as their beloved motherland can be expected to collectively produce a document that will be as much acceptable to the minorities as it is to the majority.)
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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