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RANIL’S REPRESSION: RETURN TO THE ’80s

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DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

There is intelligent conservatism and there is irrational Rightism. Declaring an Emergency, and with especially draconian provisions at this precise moment, makes no sense—or rather it makes sense only of the darkest, most twisted, sinister kind.

If Emergency had been declared on the night of May 9, or even during the small-scale street-fighting with the Army near the Parliament on July 13 by a group that was denounced real-time, publicly and repeatedly by the leading Aragalaya activists, it would have had some kind of law-and-order logic.

But now? The declaration follows the gratuitous assault on a clump of Aragalaya protestors (stragglers, perhaps) at Galle Face Green. Above all it follows the selection by Parliament of the unelected Ranil Wickremesinghe as President of the country, wielding the full panoply of autocratic powers of the 20th amendment.

Following the declaration of the Emergency, unarmed, non-violent Aragalaya activists have been arrested, seized on a plane and it is reported, even been picked up in a van.Hiru News reported that the Cabinet and the Government parliamentary group were briefed by the head of Intelligence that the Aragalaya was merely “the tip of the iceberg” of a revolutionary plot to seize power.

ILLOGIC & UNREASON

If that were indeed the case, how is it that the revolutionary conspirators did not push forward on July 9 when as the whole world saw it had a massive volume and momentum? How come the Aragalaya pretty much dispersed after its achievement of its main aim, the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, unilaterally withdrew from the state buildings it had occupied and was about to leave the precincts of the Presidential Secretariat?

It just doesn’t make sense. There are two possibilities.

Either there was such a plot but the plotters chose not to push forward when the Aragalaya was at its peak, when they had the momentum in plenty and instead they decided to camp out in the various state buildings they occupied and sing songs—one evening a young lady accompanied by a guitarist sang Bella Ciao on the lawn of Temple Trees or the PM’s Office.So, the revolutionaries were either dumb and didn’t take their shot, lost the momentum, and therefore the threat has passed, is no longer active—in which case the situation does not require the declaration of Emergency rule.Or, there never was such a wide-ranging revolutionary conspiracy in the first place.

LIES & FOLLIES

What is scary is that we have seen all this before; lived through this before.Firstly, in December 1982, the Jayewardene regime deprived itself of legitimacy by scrapping the parliamentary election scheduled for early 1983 and held a Referendum instead. In the current replay, legitimacy has leached out of the system by appointing through parliamentary selection—not even unanimity or consensus—Mr. Wickremesinghe as President.

Secondly, when 13 soldiers were massacred by the LTTE in July 1983 and both Prime Minister Premadasa and Colombo Mayor Sirisena Cooray urged President Jayewardene to send the dead bodies to the individual villages rather than hold the funeral in Colombo and the president agreed, he was prevailed upon by the Defense bureaucracy of the day to reverse his decision. The Kanatte rioting took place as a result.

Thirdly, when the anti-Tamil pogrom, Black July 1983, burst upon us, the Police top brass briefed the Cabinet that the JVP was responsible. Minister Anandatissa de Alwis told the nation that it was a three-stage plan: targeting firstly, the Tamils, secondly the Muslims and Christians, and thirdly the rich. This sounds exactly like what we are hearing from the Ranil-plus-Rajapaksa regime today.

President Wickremesinghe knows better than to swallow this bilge. But he has chosen to do so, or to dish it out to the public.The JVP was framed and banned in 1983. Today the FSP and JVP—though the order is reversible—are being framed.

ARAGALAYA 3.0/HARTAL 2.0

Since the Aragalaya is in ebb-tide, there is no valid reason for the declaration of a state of Emergency. It cannot be in order to deal with a clear and present danger. That leaves only one other explanation. Emergency has been declared in order to deter economic protests by the people and to unleash the Armed Forces and the Police against the people when the economic crisis bites even more.

More specifically, Emergency has been declared to smash the student unions, the trade unions, the peasant unions, the fisheries unions, the women’s organizations, i.e., the organized mass movement, to blast open the resistance to ‘stabilization’ and ‘structural adjustment’ programs of neoliberal ‘shock therapy’.

To put it baldly, the draconian Emergency is not aimed at a radical terrorist threat or at Aragalaya 2.0.The Emergency is aimed at Aragalaya 3.0, which, given the economic crisis and the coming austerity, cannot but be Hartal 2.0.

OLD GUARD vs. YOUTH REVOLT

The strangest speeches during the parliamentary debate on the Emergency came from two ex-military-men in the government benches, to wit, Rear Admiral (Retd) Weerasekara, and Major Denipitiya. They said that if fingerprinted as having participated in the Aragalaya, young people would be unable to secure employment. Whether that is in keeping with the law and the Constitution, the BASL should know.

But what I know is that those remarks reveal a delusion that this administration will remain in power for a long enough a period of time for that to be a problem for the youngsters who were in the Araglaya, which at one point was probably a million strong.It is far more likely that those who voted for the harshly repressive Emergency on July 27 will suffer the same fate electorally that Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP did in 2020.

Will Ranil’s counterrevolutionary repression work? Can it work? Remember what happened after the framing and repression of the JVP in 1983, which pushed that party out of open politics and the democratic mainstream in which it was functioning? Our country was plunged into an intense civil war in which tens of thousands died. Today the Left is represented by the JVP and FSP, both of which are demonized by the regime.

Today there are hundreds of thousands of young people who did not and do not belong to these Left parties, but are as if not even more spirited and rebellious. If they are subject to repression, they can either join one of the two Left parties or form their own radical-democratic rebel movement which is bigger than the socialist FSP and JVP put together.

Is that what the new President and his Government want? In the 1980s the civil war in the South was barely containable, because the working people, including the peasantry, were not involved because the economy was ticking over. It was an insurrection of radical left youth, not the adults, the working people, and the middle classes.

Today, with an economy that has tanked, or been tanked, all classes and all generations have been drawn into the struggle. In the 1980s, the country was led by JR Jayewardene who had won the Presidential election of October 1982 convincingly. He was succeeded by Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa who won the Presidential election of November 1988.

Today the country is run by an unelected leader. Would President Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the Cabinet and the ruling SLPP really like to spend the rest of their term having provoked the most massive, militant rebellion this country would have seen since Independence, against the backdrop of a collapsed economy? Does the Old Guard really feel that lucky?



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South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what it means for SL

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At the head table (L to R): High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya and Executive Director LKI Dr. D.L. Mendis.

State circles in Sri Lanka have begun voicing the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the country, on the lines of South Africa’s historic TRC, and the time could not be more appropriate for a comprehensive discussion in Sri Lanka on the questions that are likely to arise for the country as a result of launching such an initiative. There is no avoiding the need for all relevant stakeholders to deliberate on what it could mean for Sri Lanka to usher a TRC of its own.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, took on the responsibility of initiating public deliberations on what a TRC could entail for Sri Lanka. A well-attended round table forum towards this end was held at the LKI on November 25 and many were the vital insights it yielded on how Sri Lanka should go about the crucial task of bringing about enduring ethnic peace in Sri Lanka through a home-grown TRC. A special feature of the forum was the on-line participation in it of South African experts who were instrumental in making the TRC initiative successful in South Africa.

There was, for example, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Communication of South Africa Roelf Meyer, who figured as Chief Representative of the white minority National Party government in the multi-party negotiations of 1993, which finally led to ending apartheid in South Africa. His role was crucial in paving the way for the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Highlighting some crucial factors that contributed towards South Africa’s success in laying the basis for ethnic reconciliation, Meyer said that there ought to be a shared need among the antagonists to find a negotiated solution to their conflict. They should be willing to resolve their issues. Besides, the principle needs be recognized that ‘one negotiates with one’s enemies’. These conditions were met in South Africa.

Meyer added that South Africa’s TRC was part of the country’s peace process. Before the launching of the TRC a peace agreement among the parties was already in place. Besides, an interim constitution was licked into shape by then. The principle agreed to by the parties that, ‘We will not look for vengeance but for reconciliation’, not only brought a degree of accord among the conflicting parties but facilitated the setting-up of the TRC.

Meyer also pointed out that the parties to the conflict acted with foresight when they postponed considering the question of an amnesty for aggressors for the latter part of the negotiations. If an amnesty for perceived aggressors ‘was promised first, we would never have had peace’, he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fanie Du Toit, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, in his presentation said that the restoration of the dignity of the victims in the conflict is important. The realization of ethnic peace in South Africa was a ‘victim-centric’ process. Hearing out the victim’s point of view became crucial. Very importantly, the sides recognized that ‘apartheid was a crime against humanity’. These factors made the South African TRC exercise a highly credible one.

The points made by Meyer and Du Toit ought to prompt the Sri Lankan state and other parties to the country’s conflict to recognize what needs to be in place for the success of an ethnic peace process of their own. A challenge for the Sri Lankan government is to ban racism in all its manifestations and to declare racism a crime against humanity. For starters, is the Lankan government equal to this challenge? If this challenge goes unmet bringing ethnic reconciliation to Sri Lanka would prove an impossible task.

Lest the Sri Lankan government and other relevant sections to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict forget, reconciliation in South Africa was brought about, among other factors, by truth-telling by aggressors and oppressors. In its essentials, the South African TRC entailed the aggressors owning to their apartheid-linked crimes in public before the Commission. In return they were amnestied and freed of charges. Could Sri Lanka’s perceived aggressors measure up to this challenge? This question calls for urgent answering before any TRC process is gone ahead with.

Making some opening remarks at the forum, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said, among other things, that the LKI discussion set the tone for the setting up of a local TRC. He said that the latter is important because future generations should not be allowed to inherit Sri Lanka’s ethnic tangle and its issues. Ethnic reconciliation is essential as the country goes into the future. He added that the ‘Aragalaya’ compelled the country to realize its past follies which must not be repeated.

In his closing remarks, former Minister of Public Works of South Africa and High Commissioner of South Africa to Sri Lanka ambassador Geoffrey Doidge said that Sri Lanka’s TRC would need to have a Compassionate Council of religious leaders who would be catalysts in realizing reconciliation. Sri Lanka, he said, needs to seize this opportunity and move ahead through a consultative process. All sections of opinion in the country need to be consulted on the core issues in reconciliation.

At the inception of the round table, Executive Director, LKI, Dr. D. L. Mendis making some welcome remarks paid tribute to South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela for his magnanimous approach towards the white minority and for granting an amnesty to all apartheid-linked offenders. He also highlighted the role played by Bishop Desmond Tutu in ushering an ‘Age of Reconciliation’.

In his introductory remarks, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena said, among other things, that TRCs were not entirely new to Sri Lanka but at the current juncture a renewed effort needed to be made by Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka should aim at its own TRC process, he said.

During Q&A Roelf Meyer said that in South Africa there was a move away from authoritarianism towards democracy, a democratic constitution was ushered. In any reconciliation process, ensuring human rights should be the underlying approach with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights playing the role of guide. Besides, a reconciliation process must have long term legitimacy.

Dr. Fanie Du Toit said that Bishop Tutu’s commitment to forgiveness made him acceptable to all. Forgiveness is not a religious value but a human one, he said. It is also important to recognize that human rights violations are always wrong.

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Cucumber Face Mask

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*  Cucumber and Aloe Vera

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel or juice • 1/4th grated cucumber

Method

Mix the grated cucumber and aloe gel, and carefully apply the mixture on the face and also on your neck.

Leave it on for 15 minutes. Wash with warm water.

* Cucumber and Carrot

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon fresh carrot juice • 1 tablespoon cucumber paste • 1 tablespoon sour cream

Method

Extract fresh carrot juice and grate the cucumber to get a paste-like consistency. Mix these two ingredients, with the sour cream, and apply the paste on the face.

Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (This cucumber face pack is good for dry skin)

* Cucumber and Tomato

Ingredients

• 1/4th cucumber • 1/2 ripe tomato

Method

Peel the cucumber and blend it with the tomato and apply the paste on your face and neck and massage for a minute or two, in a circular motion.

Leave the paste on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water. (This cucumber face pack will give you brighter and radiant skin)

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Christmas time is here again…

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The dawning of the month of December invariably reminds me of The Beatles ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again.’ And…yes, today is the 1st of December and, no doubt, there will be quite a lot of festive activities for us to check out.

Renowned artiste, Melantha Perera, who now heads the Moratuwa Arts Forum, has been a busy man, working on projects for the benefit of the public.

Since taking over the leadership of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha and his team are now ready to present their second project – a Christmas Fair – and this project, I’m told, is being done after a lapse of three years.

They are calling it Christmas Fun-Fair and it will be held on 7th December, at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Koralawella.

A member of the organizing committee mentioned that this event will not be confined to only the singing of Christmas Carols.

“We have worked out a programme that would be enjoyed by all, especially during this festive season.”

There will be a variety of items, where the main show is concerned…with Calypso Carols, as a curtain raiser, followed by Carols sung by Church choirs.

They plan to include a short drama, pertaining to Christmas, and a Comedy act, as well.

The main show will include guest spots by Rukshan Perera and Mariazelle Gunathilake.

Melantha Perera: Second project as President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum

Although show time is at 7.30 pm, the public can check out the Christmas Fun-Fair scene, from 4.30 pm onwards, as there will be trade stalls, selling Christmas goodies – Christmas cakes and sweets, garment items, jewellery, snacks, chocolate, etc.

The fair will not be confined to only sales, as Melantha and his team plan to make it extra special by working out an auction and raffle draw, with Christmas hampers, as prizes.

Santa and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ will be in attendance, too, entertaining the young and old, and there will also be a kid’s corner, to keep thembusy so that the parents could do their shopping.

They say that the main idea in organizing this Christmas Fun-Fair is to provide good festive entertainment for the people who haven’t had the opportunity of experiencing the real festive atmosphere during the last few years.

There are also plans to stream online, via MAF YouTube, to Sri Lankans residing overseas, to enable them to see some of the festive activities in Sri Lanka.

Entrance to the Christmas Fun Failr stalls will be free of charge. Tickets will be sold only for the main show, moderately priced at Rs. 500.

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