by Dr. Dayanath Jayasuriya
Compared with most other erstwhile British colonies, independence was granted to Ceylon virtually on a silver platter. This statement is not meant to undermine the efforts of our own freedom fighters who without bloodshed managed to convince the colonial ruler that the country was gradually getting ready for independence. The Donoughmore system of government was a precursor to the decision for self-rule. When the first independence constitution was drafted, with the able assistance of Sir Ivor Jennings, there were simmering issues that the draftsmen took into consideration. Rights of minorities and stateless persons, religion, language of instruction, parity of status and land rights were among the many issues which multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual issues that typically encounter when power is to be transferred from a colonial ruler to a self-elected body of representatives. The British approach varied from country to country; in India, for instance, the issue of the division of India and East and West Pakistan was left to be resolved after independence was granted.
In 1972, the first constitution was replaced with the country becoming a Republic and changing the name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. Prior to the enactment of the Constitution, which followed an ad hoc method of working through a Constituent Assembly, the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was abolished. Her Majesty the Queen ceased to appoint her representative as Governor. During the period 1971 to 1977 the country witnessed many issues; an insurrection by a large number of youth was quelled within a short-time by then then Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and the rise in global petroleum prices had a severe impact on the country. Import restrictions, ceiling on ownership of houses and land, nationalization of foreign industries etc. took place but with mixed results.
In 1977 a new Constitution was enacted. The Executive President, J. R. Jayewardene, led the initiative to liberalize the economy. With free trade and various expensive developmental projects, corruption began to erode the system slowly but surely. Even though the early signs of Sri Lanka becoming a transit centre for international drug smuggling, arms smuggling, illegal gambling, casino and sex establishments became evident but these were largely ignored by law enforcement agencies. This Constitution still remains in place, notwithstanding a record of 19 amendments. The 19th amendment was meant to curb the powers of the Executive President and to empower the Prime Minister. But on two occasions a President and a Prime Minister belonging to two different political parties led to disastrous results.
At the Presidential elections of 2019 and at the general elections of 2020, a major issue was the amendment or repeal of the 19th amendment and/or the adoption of a new constitution. The Government has opted to amend the 19th amendment through a 20th amendment as the first step.
The case for a strong Executive President is based on the assumption that the country can make rapid development under such a regime. In several speeches broadcast over the media the current President has requested that he be provided with the freedom to accomplish his developmental agenda without undue hindrance. Over the 72 years since independence the country has made only marginal gains in relation to many widely accepted socio-economic and related indicators. In the early 60s, the Sri Lankan model of development was studied by countries like Singapore and Malaysia but today Sri Lanka lags behind these and most other developing countries. Gains in the health and education spheres have had a major set back, caused partly by the 30-year long separatist war which exacted a heavy toll. Issues of internationally orchestrated calls for accountability for war crimes, justice for displaced minority groups, the rise in Islamic militancy as was evident by the brutal attack on churches and hotels in April 2019, the large numbers unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19 are among a few of the major issues that loom large.
It is in this background that the Government is poised to push ahead with a new constitutional amendment. Only time will tell whether this was timely or not, as the country has had a major setback due to COVID-19 and the closure of the airports and the economy is barely recovering. The economy also took a major beating a few years ago when an expatriate Singaporean friend of the then Prime Minister possibly caused what is now regarded as the biggest Central Bank robbery.
This article looks at the enabling environment required for selected priority national development to gain speed under the enhanced powers of an executive President.
a) People-centred Development
The exact size of the wealthy class cannot be estimated. Operations against drug traffickers with large quantities of drugs, arms and currency notes and multiple bank accounts raise credibility issues with regard to our banking system and customs controls. The Financial Intelligence Unit has remained silent as to how banks would have done a genuinely serious job with regard to due diligence and ‘Know your Customer’ requirements; otherwise one cannot explain the large deposits in accounts of people who cannot possibly provide any legitimate sources of income. Political patronage and corrupt officials within the law enforcement agencies would have provided their blessings for crimes of such great magnitude to take place. Over the decades the poor classes have become poorer and a new class (nouveau riche) has emerged vying with the traditionally rich upper class. Large numbers have gone to the Middle-East for employment and have been remitting part of their relatively modest salary but this alone has not been sufficient to raise their standard of living.
Unlike India, Sri Lanka lacked a permanent National Planning Council. Several governments did set up small national planning cells but without any real impact. A national poverty alleviation plan requires precise information of unmet needs at the micro-level of villages and in the fringes of urban centres. Media coverage often shows how the impoverished classes live. Basic facilities such as safe drinking water are lacking in many parts of the country. Empirical evidence suggests that well nourished children live healthier lives and perform better at examinations but large numbers find it difficult to have even a square meal.
We have recently seen the current President visiting selected villages and ascertaining problems and immediately suggesting to officers a solution. This is reminiscent of late President Premadasa’s taking the “Kachcheri to the villages and towns” concept where a one-stop improvised centre promptly attended to unmet needs, particularly documentation such as national identity cards, birth certificates etc. This is what should be done by Provincial Councils and other local authorities and respective ministers. It is to be hoped that the example that is now being set will trickle down to ministers, state ministers and heads of departments. For each village or cluster of villages there should be a mapping exercise done of unmet needs and the resources required for timely action. Bottle-necks should be identified and brought to the notice of the relevant authorities who should not hesitate to give directions for prompt action. Accountability mechanisms are grossly lacking or even if they do exist they are largely ineffective. ‘Passing the buck’ is a skill many public servants have effectively mastered.
The State alone cannot uplift the status or influence the life-styles of millions living in under-served villages and towns. The private sector should be assigned the responsibility of assisting selected villages for developmental activities as part of the CSR agenda or otherwise. This might result in a new paradigm shift in poverty alleviation through public sector-private sector joint endeavors. We have witnessed foundation stones being laid for so many important projects such as new hospitals and medical centres, schools etc. but follow-up action is often lacking due to bureaucratic indifference or lack of funds.
Bureaucratic indifference or sabotage is not a problem confined only to small developing nations. It is significant that a few weeks ago the Presidents of the US National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine issued a strongly worded message condemning ad hoc policy-making in relation to US health policy:
“As advisers to the nation on all matters of science, medicine, and public health, we are compelled to underscore the value of science-based decision-making at all levels of government. Our nation is at a critical time in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic with important decisions ahead of us, especially concerning the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Policymaking must be informed by the best available evidence without it being distorted, concealed, or otherwise deliberately miscommunicated. We find ongoing reports and incidents of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, to be alarming. It undermines the credibility of public health agencies and the public’s confidence in them when we need it most. Ending the pandemic will require decision-making that is not only based on science but also sufficiently transparent to ensure public trust in, and adherence to, sound public-health instructions. Any efforts to discredit the best science and scientists threaten the health and welfare of us all.”
An Executive President should be able to periodically monitor what happens in the field by getting regular feedback from responsible ministers, state ministers, departmental heads and so on and play the role of a trouble-shooter when necessary without fear or favour.
b) Good Governance, Law and Order
When the first post-independent constitution was being drafted Sir Ivor Jennings was against the idea of providing for the justiciability of human rights stating that this would hinder administration and will become a gold-mine for lawyers. The 1977 Constitution empowered citizens to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court if their fundamental rights are violated. Though an important development per se, it comes at a cost
Reluctance by some heads of department to institute disciplinary action is impeded by several reasons, two such reasons being the possibility of the action being challenged in a court of law or due to the interference by a Minister or other powerful politician. The tradition of appointing commissions or committees to look into each and every major problem issue is a costly and often meaningless exercise. After a period of time public and media attention is diverted to new public issues.
There needs to be a robust system of accountability at every level for any issue that is subjected to investigation. On certain important national matters, the Cabinet itself or the Minister in charge of the relevant ministry, department or agency, as the case may be, must be accountable for ensuring that due process is followed and consult the Executive President where his or her guidance is required.
In matters of international relations, the country has to delicately balance competing vested interests and demands and speak with one voice. The country has to be sensitive to international commitments offered in the past. Rating agencies have given a low rating which is a red flag to possible foreign investors.
Recent media reports on the smuggling of drugs, liquor, arms, cigarettes and other contraband suggest the degree to which law and order had deteriorated within many law enforcement agencies and how certain officials have facilitated or participated in these illegal activities. The April 2019 bomb blasts could have been possibly avoided if relevant officials had done what they ought to have done with regard to such a serious matter and the officials monitoring national security had acted more sensibly in a timely fashion.
A major task ahead of an Executive President is to take stock of institutional strengths and weaknesses, identity bottlenecks and improve governance systems leaving little or no room for deviations from accepted procedures. It is when those at the top are indifferent or lack moral courage to take on problems as and when they arise, that the rot begins to percolate down the entire system and a sense of complacency arises. A proper system of checks and balances will ensure better productivity, efficiency and a better outcome. Nepotism, bribery or corruption and undue interference will gradually phase-out when a better and just governance system is in place.
Lord Acton once remarked that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Sri Lanka now has a chance to prove that even with almost absolute power there can be great and good men. As I conclude this article I hear someone playing one of Elvis Presley’s classics: “It’s now or never,… tomorrow will be too late.”
[The author is the former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka. He has previously served as UNDP Regional Adviser on HIV and Development and Community Development Adviser for Asia and the Pacific and as Head, UNAIDS Secretariat and Senior Policy Adviser to the Government of Pakistan. He could be contacted at (email@example.com)]
Dr Dayanath Jayasuriya
Tel. 0777 384047
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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