Connect with us

Features

THE WORLD HERITAGE SITES OF SRI LANKA

Published

on

THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS

By EVERYMAN

It was on July 31, 2010 that UNESCO inscribed The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka comprising Horton Plains, Knuckles Conservation Forest and the Peak Wilderness- Protected Area, as a World Heritage Site. In fact this site was one of the two which were classified by UNESCO as ‘Natural Sites’ the other being Sinharaja Forest Reserve(1988).

Horton Plains which is a Wonderland of Nature is undoubtedly the most popular of the three places described under the Central Highlands.

Under the shadows of Sri Lanka’s second and third highest mountains, Kirigalpoththa ( 7,854 feet ) and Thotupola ( 7,733 feet ) and at an elevation ranging from 6,900 feet to 7,500 feet lies this chilly, mist covered, 12.2 sq mile undulating plateau which was named in honor of a former colonial governor, Sir Robert Wilmot Horton (1831- 1837) A more descriptive name was given by our own people – Maha Eliya Thenna’ meaning the great open plains because here will be seen montane grasslands or high altitude grasslands and cloud forest which due to the abundant layers of mosses is also called a mossy forest.

Its awesome remoteness and varied biodiversity will make you forget the tumultuous world which you would have left behind before starting on this trip. It is a strange, silent, world that you have entered and prompts the writer to adapt a line from Gray’s Elegy, for here in the Plains you will be –

‘Far from the madding, crowd’s

ignoble strife, With only the sound of silence and

endemic life. Your plodding footsteps passing

gurgling streams And whistling winds like in your dreams’

Its high elevation, the sudden sharp showers, the incessantly blowing ice cold wind, makes it necessary that you wear woolen clothing and over this a leather jerkin with a hood /cap attached covering your ears would be the best. As you will realise it’s your ears that are most sensitive to the cold.

Of the alternate routes to the Plains the one from N’Eliya to Pattipola is the most enjoyable. Driving at a leisurely pace you can admire one of the most picturesque areas in Sri Lanka, like the sprawling Kande Eliya tank, vast meadows of shrubbery and montane forests with their characteristically conically shaped trees, the rich green pastureland of Ambewela farm and then on to Pattipola.

This little town has set a record of being the highest in the entire railway network in our island. From here to the entrance of Horton Plains will take you just a few minutes. The best time to start your exploration of the Plains is at least by 6.30 in the morning. As the sun begins to rise, a vast blanket of mist descends on the entire area, preventing you from enjoying the attractions which nature has to offer you. What is worse is that you may lose your way, walking aimlessly while stumbling over the slippery stones and precipitous pathways.

Here in the Plains are the headwaters of three main rivers which wind their way through the country and then pour out into the sea at different coastal towns. Mahaweli, which is Sri Lanka’s longest river (at Trincomalee ), Kelani ( at Colombo ) and Walawe ( at Ambalantota ) . The Plains also feed the Belihul Oya, Agra Oya, Kiriketi Oya, Uma Oya and Bogawantalawa Oya. Horton Plains it must be noted is one of the most important catchment areas in the island. Like a sponge it soaks up the water from the heavy rains which frequently fall and then from this high elevation, the water gradually seeps its way through the soil into streams, rivers and even into wells, located at lower elevations.

But it’s ‘World’s End’ which is the main attraction of Horton Plains. This is a sheer precipice. A drop of 4,000 feet, which is three quarters of a mile. As you stand at the edge of this steep massif which is in the Central Province and look right down below without getting a bout of acrophobia, you will be seeing the green foliage of trees of the Sabaragamuwa Province. Gazing a little farther you will see like tiny specks, the silvery, glinting, roof tops of plantation factories, hamlets and meadows.

And as you gaze still farther, you will be able to see 50 miles to the South, the hazy blue of the sky meet the shimmering blue of the sea. There are no protective railings at the edge of this escarpment, so forget about ‘selfies’ while standing here. In November 2018 a German tourist fell to her death while taking a selfie. It took the Sri Lanka Army, Sri Lanka Police and a group of volunteers, six hours to find her body which was in Non Pareil Estate located in the Sabaragamuwa Province. So the tragic and ironic fact is that she fell from one Province into another.

Passing on from this spectacular cliff there is another enchanting attraction. This is Baker’s Falls. Located on a tributary of the Belihul Oya it was formerly called ‘Gongala Falls.’ Here again the original Sinhala name was discarded and renamed in 1845 after Sir Samuel Baker who it has been claimed discovered it. Then, one may ask how was it that perhaps centuries before Sir Samuel Baker even stepped onto the shores of this island, our people knew about these falls and gave it its name? Also make note that this ‘eminent’ colonialist had the dubious distincti on of killing over 50 elephants right here on the Plains!

 

But never mind the name. It’s the sight that matters. It is 66 feet high and the icy cold water splashes in cascades at multiple levels before crashing into the 40 feet deep pool down below. Other than being the widest water falls in the country it is also claimed to be the most spectacular.

But that is certainly not all that the Plains has to offer. As you continue to plod your way, look around and observe the abundance of flora. Amongst the high altitude shrubland referred to as ‘pathana’ in Sinhala you cannot but fail to see the evergreen forests like coniferous and eucalyptus. The coniferous trees can be identified by the fact that they sprout long pointed green needles instead of leaves and cones instead of flowers. Amongst the tall trees there is Calophyllum walkeri called ‘ Kina’ in Sinhala. Its hard, durable, reddish, wood with dark streaks is used for making door frames, beams and rafters.

Another tall tree is Syzygium rotunifolium which grows to a height of over 30 feet and is commonly called ‘batapath damba.’ Amongst the smaller trees are evergreen bamboos (Indocalmus ) which grow up to about six feet. Cinnamon, Cinnamomum Zeylanicum are plentiful. Myrtaceae which belongs to the myrtle family is a shrub and one such is Syzgium aromaticum which produces cloves. Decorating the trunks of many of these trees are ferns, lichens and orchids. Sixteen of these orchids are endemic in Sri Lanka .

Here amongst the trunks of trees, you must peer closely and search for a species that looks like the tangled, unkempt beard of a lazy old man. This is Clematis Vitalba and its alternate name is ‘Old Man’s Beard’. Walking carefully by the water logged swamps and slow moving streams you will notice a variety of aquatic plants such as macrophytes which have large flowers with white petals and a yellow center. Search closely for another most interesting plant species which are the carnivorous bladderworts – Utricularia. They have a bladder– like trap which ensnares water fleas, nematodes ( tiny microscopic worms ), mosquito larvae and even tadpoles. Two renowned botanists, Peter Taylor Francis and Ernest Lloyd have stated that the vacuum driven bladders in these plants are the most sophisticated carnivorous trapping mechanisms to be found anywhere in the plant kingdom.

The fauna found here is much more fascinating. Do not be deceived by the silence for there is plenty of activity around, for you to listen and perchance to see. If you attune your ears you will be able to pick up the distant, muffled grunts and squeaks of monkeys such the as the Toque macaques, ‘Rilawa.’ In Sinhala, which has a whorl of hair on top of its head very much like a skull cap and the purple faced leaf monkey, called ‘kalu rilawa’ in Sinhala. You may even be able to hear the faint sawing of the Sri Lanka leopard which is endemic in Sri Lanka.

But if you are specially observant you might spot their faeces along the path on which you are walking. Take it as a warning that they are around. Similarly you would be able to see some freshly made patches on the ground. These have been made by wild boars when they dig the soil in search of worms and grubs. And if by chance you hear a barking noise that will be the Indian muntjacs, a species of deer which makes this peculiar noise when it is frightened specially when it sights a predator like the leopard.

Also living on the Plains is the Rusty Spotted Cat which is the smallest of the cat species, called in Sinhala ‘balal diviya.’ 

Then there is the Fishing Cat called the ‘kola diviya’ or ‘handun diviya’ in Sinhala which can not only swim but can even dive under water to catch fish. Looking up at the branches, it is hoped that you will be able to spot the Rhino Horned Lizard as it lies as if in deep meditation, with an occasional nodding of its head. It is a type of chameleon having a small white horn on its forehead, like the legendary Unicorn.

If you wish to see and indeed you must, a species listed as a global conservation priority and found only in Sri Lanka then

 endure the shivering cold of the night and be rewarded with the sight of the big eyed, shy, Red Slender Loris which sleeps

 by day and ever so stealthily gets active at night. Do not be concerned about snakes. There are only two types, both being non-venomous. One is the Rough Sided Snake called ‘dalawa medilla’ in Sinhala. It burrows into the earth and its cylindrical body shape facilitates this manoeuvre ever so easily. The other type of snake is the docile rat sna

 

ke, called in Sinhala ‘garendiya’.

However even if you fail to see any one of the species mentioned, it is most likely that you will see the her

ds of sambhur which roam about proudly displaying their large antlers which adorn their heads. They seem to be inv

 

iting you to video/ photograph them in all their majesty. So why disappoint them ?

 

 

Of bird life, it has been recorded that in Horton Plains there are 21 species, which can be found only in Sri Lanka and of these three can be found only in Horton Plains. For this reason Horton plains has been classified as an Important Bird Area ( IBA ). This classification was done by the BirdLife International which is an NGO having worldwide partnerships.

It is interesting to note that seven of these species have been honoured by being featured on postage stamps. They are the Dull Blue Flycatcher- ‘anduru nil masimara’, the Sri Lanka White Eye – ‘Lanka sithasiya, the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon – ‘manil goya, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie- ‘kehi bella.’ This species is quite different from the magpies you see in your home gardens. This one’s conspicuous colour is bright blue and as an added attraction has a reddish brown head. Then there is the Sri Lanka Spur Fowl – ‘haban kukula,’ the Yellow Fronted Barbet – ‘rath nalal kottoruwa’ the Orange Billed Babbler – ‘rathu demalichcha,’. But the most attractive of all the bird species found on the Plains is the Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl- ‘wali kukula’ A much deserved honour was bestowed on the Jungle Fowl when it was classified as the National Bird of Sri Lanka.

But these are not the only species of birds found in Horton Plains. There is a group of seasonal migratory birds which perform a two way marathon testing their endurance to the very maximum. Getting away from the bitterly cold winter countries of the Northern Hemisphere they arrive here to the pleasant climes of Sri Lanka in August/September and leave around May/ April. Here they find in abundance the food they require and more importantly the most suitable breeding places. It must be remembered that Sri Lanka is the farthest point away from South India with no land mass until the South Pole is reached.

Amongst these migratory birds are the Swiflets. This species make their nests entirely with saliva. Do not feel nauseated. Because these nests form the basis of that delicacy called ‘bird’s nest soup.’ Then there are the Alpine Swifts which spend as long as six months on the wing and remarkably, sleeps and – hold your breath, even mates while flying. The Mountain Hawk Eagle which is referred to as an opportunist predator, because it ambushes its prey of which it has a wide range from small birds to squirrels. Then there is the Black- Winged Kite. The male of the species has the habit of establishing ‘territories’ for themselves and defends such territories by fighting any intruder. After a noisy courtship the female obligingly enters the male’s territory. The writer wonders whether there can be a better example of female obedience!

Finally there is the Peregrine Falcon which is reckoned to be the fastest bird in the world with a speed of 240 mph as it swoops to grab it’s prey. These species are associated with falconry whereby such a bird is trained by a handler to catch and bring back small animals such as rabbits. It has been reported that Falconry (it was called a sport ) began in Mesopotamia around 2,000 BC. Fortunately, it never caught on in sports loving Sri Lanka and hopefully will never.

This being the Olympic Year or to be accurate the postponed Olympic Year, here is something to take note of. The world record for long distance flying is held by the Artic Tern which flies 12,430 miles from the Artic in the North Pole to the Antarctic in the South Pole and then back again doing another lap of 12,430 miles. Researchers have claimed that each year it sees more daylight hours than any other creature on the planet . And here is another world record for migratory birds, with a wingspan of 10 feet and a weight of 33 lbs, the Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world. Anyway neither of these record holders visit Horton Plains. So let’s hope that at least our athletes will break a record or two at the Tokyo Olympic Games if and when it is held.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

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

Features

Standoff between Church and State

Published

on

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.

Tamil Satyagraha

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.”

Felix Dias

“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

Continue Reading

Features

Region-wide war seen as looming over Europe

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Features

Remembering Pathi

Published

on

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:

https://learn.zoom.us/j/7253908656?pwd=bUtvQk92N0NIQlpvTkQ1VlVXbjNnUT09

Meeting ID: 725 390 8656

Passcode: Pathi@123

Continue Reading

Trending