|We are no longer a colony: Dayan jayatilleka|
|Sunday, 22 February 2009|
Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations at Geneva maintains that the appointment of the Special Envoy to help Sri Lanka solve its problems would be more credible had Britain successfully completed the Bloody Sunday inquiry and brought anyone to justice 37 years after the daylight massacre of unarmed civilians.
Q: How do you look at the decision by the UK government to appoint a special envoy to Sri Lanka?
It would be useful to compare that with the Independence Day message we received from President Barack Obama this year. President Obama’s message was warm and respectful while there was a subtle signal discreetly placed between the lines. The UK must understand that for the overwhelming majority of Sri Lankan people, British colonialism was at least partly responsible for creating the problem that we are now dealing with, and as GoSL has said, we are no longer a colony. Perhaps the appointment of the Special Envoy to help Sri Lanka solve its problems would be more credible had Britain successfully completed the Bloody Sunday inquiry and brought anyone to justice 37 years after the daylight massacre of unarmed civilians.
Q: Since Hillary Clinton was once seen as a sympathizer of the LTTE many feel that she will attempt to change the US approach towards Sri Lanka now that she is the Secretary of State. What do you think?
No one seems to have noticed the sharply and unambiguously negative reference to the Tigers in Barack Obama’s second book The Audacity of Hope! It shows an understanding of the danger posed by the Tigers – in terms of “loose nukes”—far beyond that of most analysts and politicians. I think the perception of Senator Hillary Clinton as sympathizer of the LTTE was utterly misplaced. No one who has read her books could fail to notice the critical remarks about the LTTE (though I can’t recall right now if they were in ‘Living History’ or ‘It Takes a Village’). This erroneous labelling of Ms Clinton stems from a remark she made to a British newspaper about the need to distinguish between various types of terrorist or armed non-state movements. Though I believe she was wrong in her identification of the LTTE, she was attempting to grapple with an important intellectual and policy problem, in the course of reacting critically to the policy and consequences of the Bush administration’s slogan of the Global War on Terror.
Of course there will be some change in the US policy toward Sri Lanka. The new administration has to take into account the views of the Democratic majority in the Congress. One of President Obama’s first acts was the shutting down of Guantanamo and the outlawing of torture. Anyone who tries to justify human rights violations behind the outdated and discredited ideology of Bush and Cheney, which justified torture, rendition, and other egregious violations of human rights as a price to be paid for fighting terrorism, will not find any sympathy within the Obama administration. The new administration will also be far more sensitive to issues of discrimination, minority rights and equality, than its predecessors. The US will not be at all sympathetic to the Tigers, but it will also be utterly unsympathetic to assertions of majority chauvinism, be they ethnic, religious or ethno-religious. It is in Sri Lanka’s interest that Sri Lanka has the best possible relations with the Obama administration, not least because it is so admired, respected and liked throughout the world. The key to better relations is to carefully read President Obama’s Independence Day message to us, and read between the lines as well, reinforcing those shared values that he has identified – also because I believe this represents the international consensus on Sri Lanka. Just as the US has done, we too must clean up our act; build back or build in our “soft power” as a pluralist, law governed democracy and market economy.
Q: It is believed that following your appointment to Geneva, Sri Lanka has been able to engineer a major shift in the international opinion on Sri Lanka. What do you think are your biggest achievements in transforming the international approach towards our country?
I must preface my remarks by stressing that I am answering your questions entirely in my individual capacity. Thank you, but your opening question contains far too flattering a characterization of my achievement, and one that is impossible for any Ambassador to the UN in Geneva to achieve for his country. My achievement is best seen against the backdrop of the situation that prevailed when I arrived. We had a draft resolution hanging over our heads like sword of Damocles. What is worse, our Mission was engaged in negotiations on that draft resolution. I turned that situation around, refusing even to look at any draft resolution on Sri Lanka. I made our stance credible by the simple, basic practice of active adherence to Sri Lanka’s traditional policy of Non Alignment. We spoke out firmly in support of the stands of the Non Aligned Movement and the developing world. We supported our traditional friends and allies, including China. We maintained an excellent dialogue with the USA and the West. We spoke up robustly when our country was criticized unfairly. We did not practice a policy of silent or backdoor diplomacy when our country was criticized openly. To open criticism we gave open replies; to criticism in private we replied in private. We initiated a policy of constant communication, holding meetings with all regional and cross regional groupings. We reversed a policy in which Latin America was a blind spot. When you practice a policy of defending your own country robustly while defending other countries and causes no less robustly; when you defend your country not in terms that only you understand but in universal terms that anyone can understand and empathize with, then you can successfully represent your country’s national interests and defend its sovereignty. I think I provided an example and defended my country at a strategically sensitive place in the international frontline, reversing an earlier situation, and I did so at a crucial period in our history while we were fighting this decisive war against secessionism and terrorism, to reunify our land and restore our territorial unity and integrity.
I was greatly helped by the fact that the Minister for Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe is Sri Lanka’s highest level representative to the Human Rights Council and international humanitarian community in Geneva. He, his Secretary Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, and the Sri Lankan delegation we put together, including the Attorney General and his deputies, have given Sri Lanka a profile and voice we can be proud of. They would confirm what I have told you, not least because they have been told this by many Ambassadors here from all parts of the world, who have said “Sri Lanka was in great trouble, and would have been in great trouble if Ambassador Jayatilleka weren’t here. He turned it around.” I believe this was reported to the Cabinet.
Q: During the last couple of weeks however, there appears to be a sudden increase in the pressure mounted on the Sri Lankan government by the international community. Who do you think is behind these moves?
There are several factors and actors, but in the main the phenomenon is Diaspora-driven. The Tamil community outside of Sri Lanka is almost 80 million strong and has several components: Tamil Nadu, the Diaspora in the West, older layers of migration in places like South Africa, Mauritius and Malaysia. The Tigers have a stranglehold within these communities which is analogous to that of the Mafia over the Italian migrant community in the USA in the first half of the twentieth century, and the Chinese Tongs and Triads over the Chinese migrants in days gone by. The closest analogy would be the Miami Cuban community until this last Presidential election. Until this year that community was in the stranglehold of extremists who would even firebomb and murder those who wanted dialogue with the Cuban government. These elements got away with such crimes because of the electoral weight they carried – the votes they could deliver— the cash they could contribute to election campaigns and the high level contacts they had consequently cultivated. In many countries both Western and non-Western, elections are close, so the leverage of the pro-Tiger trend in the Tamil community is quite high.
However we must also not underestimate the factor of what Prof. Joe Nye called “soft power”. The anti-Tiger cause has no MIA while the anti-Sri Lankan cause does! Sri Lanka is currently suffering from a soft power deficit. Sri Lanka must learn from Cuba which always had a constituency in the West, including in the USA, and I do not mean a constituency of Cuban émigrés, I mean a supportive stratum of admirers from those Western societies themselves, inclusive of celebrities like Oliver Stone the famous film director.
We are failing to communicate. We must learn to communicate our case effectively to and through the international media. Our case must be one that can be communicated to both national and international audiences, but with different emphases, nuances and styles. The conduct of international relations must be governed by the enlightened self interest of the Sri Lankan state, not by domestic constituencies, local lobbies and Sri Lankan (actually Sinhala or Tamil) émigré networks.
We are suffering the consequences of a societal schism, where the nationalist-patriotic elements do not know how to effectively convince a Western audience especially at the more influential, sophisticated levels, while on the other hand the sophisticated , high achieving Sri Lankans including Sinhalese are turned off by a strident, culturally nativist nationalism. We need to transcend this split and arrive at a synthesis. Our examples and role models must be those great diplomats who were outspoken, patriotic in the best sense, passionately Third World-ist but able to convince and win over any Western audience. I refer to Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe (who took on Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban at the UN), Neville Kanakaratne (who could deliver a scintillating lecture, without a note, at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC) and of course, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar whose last performance on the BBC’s Hard Talk should be a training video for any Sri Lankan facing the Western media and speaking to a global audience.
Q: The West especially the US appears to be turning socialist lately in terms of market control. As somebody who had a soft corner for socialism how do you see this development?
No, the West is not turning socialist. It is however, turning away from the free market fundamentalism and rampant deregulation of Thatcher, Reagan and may I say Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP. The regulatory role of the state is coming back in, but the ratio of state to market is not the defining feature of capitalism or socialism. The UF government of Madam Bandaranaike and Dr N.M. Perera, with its high degree of state control of the economy was in no way socialist -- it was (dependent) state capitalist. You describe me as “someone who had a soft corner for socialism”. That is not in the past tense, it is true today too. I see and support new forms of democratic socialism that are emerging in Latin America.
Q: How far do you think President Barack Obama will succeed in salvaging the deteriorating financial situation of the US?
In the first place he has an absolutely brilliant mind, and that always helps. Secondly he has abandoned the free market fundamentalism of the Bush years and thirdly he has assembled a team of the best educated, most highly qualified and experienced technocrats and managers. All this would help him address the problem. However, I must admit that the New Deal of President Roosevelt seems to me to have been far more reformist and progressive, to have had far more of a change element, than this current bailout plan.
Q: Many predict that the plunging oil prices will make the Petro States like Russia, Venezuela and Iran more vulnerable. Do you agree?
I do not think that anything will reverse the trend towards multi-polarity. Many states and peoples are reacting against the drop in their standards of living as a result of a crisis that originated in the USA. Much depends upon the internal model. Yes Iran is affected but not anywhere as affected as it would have been had the Shah, with his narrowly based, socially exclusionary model, been in power. Russia, Iran and Venezuela have strong states, and those states have a large role in the economy; therefore, they are less vulnerable to the vagaries of the marketplace. These countries have also diversified their economic and strategic relations. Their governments have a broad popular base. Therefore one will not witness any dramatic erosion.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
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