Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

European Union – the Mask Slips

by Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan, tagots@hotmail.com

The liberal mask

On 29 September 2005 the liberal mask slipped.  The European Union (EU) dropped its evenhanded approach and singled out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for punitive action in its 'Declaration on Sri Lanka.'  The Declaration announced the specific decision that delegations from the LTTE will no longer be received in any of the EU member states until further notice.  It also warned that the EU might proscribe the LTTE as a "terrorist" organisation.

Sinhala nationalists in south Sri Lanka celebrated the Declaration as a slap-in-the-face for Norway.  Ruling Sinhala politicians heaved a collective sigh of relief that the EU, first, tacitly condoned their refusal to implement key provisions of the February 2002 Cease-Fire Agreement and, second, effectively endorsed the shadow war the Sinhala government is waging against the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement.

The British High Commission, in its capacity as local European Union Presidency in Colombo, moved quickly to limit the damage.  It issued a defensive press release on 4 October to explain that the EU does not side with Sinhala chauvinism.  "Some reporting" it noted, "has implied that the EU Declaration represents a ‘defeat’ for the Government of Norway."  And it decried: "this is false and highly misleading."

The revelry among Sinhala nationalists proved the contrary.  Moreover, Norway publicly distanced itself from the Declaration and Japan made no comment.  None of these facts discouraged the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca.  She reportedly made the claim the day after the Declaration that "the travel ban is a concerted message from the Co-Chairs – the US, EU, Japan and Norway."

Sinhala peace activists

Simultaneously, the liberal mask slipped also from the Sinhala peace activists in Colombo.  They openly support the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) presidential candidate, the Sinhala Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, claiming he will - after elected President in November - "negotiate" with the LTTE and "bring peace" in the country.  What about the anti-Tamil pact he has signed with the Sinhala-chauvinist Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and his commitment to retain the unitary State?  The peace activists glibly assure us that Rajapakse would abandon them after the election.

We then ask the obvious question: if Rajapakse is so untrustworthy, can the Sinhala people depend on him to negotiate in good faith with the LTTE?  The LTTE is untrustworthy, retort the peace activists, their liberal mask slipping, again.

There is a more interesting question.  Why have peace activists turned apologists to a hawkish and blatantly anti-Tamil Sinhala politician?  In fact, Rajapakse’s government has projected an increase of 23% in military expenditure, which would rise to a record US$700 million in 2006.  Ominously, the biggest chunk – US$40 million – of the increase is earmarked for the Air Force.  (This Air Force is particularly destructive of Tamil civilian infrastructure and its inhabitants.)

We, of course, remember how the same Sinhala peace activists vociferously backed President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s grotesque "War for Peace."  As the Sinhala army barrelled towards Jaffna in late 1995, peace activists defended the nakedly Sinhala colonial war as "something" Kumaratunga has to do to pacify Sinhala nationalists.  After occupying Jaffna, they duplicitously asserted, Kumaratunga would be "politically strengthened" enough to willingly devolve power to the Tamil-majority North East Province (NEP).

On the contrary – and as Tamils anticipated – Kumaratunga celebrated the "conquest" of "Yappa Pattu" on the 6th of December 1995.  The wretched peace activists turned on the Tamils; they accused the LTTE of intransigence and lack of good faith!!!

The support of these same peace activists for Rajapakse now reveals once again – this time conclusively – that the peace activists are rabid Sinhala nationalists shrouded in liberal cloaks.

The EU Declaration cited the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar as the main reason for imposing the ban; and Rocca underlined this point.  She claimed the Co-chairs had concluded, "the assassination of foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar should not go unpunished."  But both direct and circumstantial evidence of the assassination strongly point to the probability that he was a victim of an internal conspiracy in Colombo; moreover the LTTE has categorically denied any involvement whatsoever.

By not disputing the Declaration, the peace activists have in effect lent credibility to the EU’s unfounded allegation against the LTTE.

Political maturity

Here the most interesting questions are the following.

Why did the EU act so precipitously against the Tamils?

Are chauvinist peace activists divining a saviour in Rajapakse because he would inevitably attempt a military solution again to the Tamil National Question?

To answer them, we must look at the unprecedented changes taking place in ground conditions in the NEP.

For the first time, most Tamils are not interested in the upcoming November presidential election.  There is a new edge to their often-repeated indifference to national elections – "it doesn’t matter whether Rama or Rawana rules."  This time round, Tamils do not anticipate or even hope for any improvement in the Sinhala position, irrespective of whether Rajapakse or the opposition United National Party (UNP) Sinhala candidate Ranil Wickremasinghe is elected to power.

In other words, Tamils in the NEP have correctly concluded that the Sinhala leadership will not open the door to negotiations.  Sinhala politicians’ decades-old antics over "unitary", "united", "union of regions", "decentralisation", "devolution", etc are semantic mystifications to reject the "F" word – Federalism.  The "Oslo Declaration" is the most recent wordplay exploited by the Sinhala leadership to resist federalism.  Since federalism is the absolute minimum basis for a political settlement, most Tamils now fully understand the justification for the LTTE-led armed resistance and they have become acutely consciousness of the need to continue it.

For the first time Tamils are not giving the benefit of doubt to Tamil politicians and are confronting the web of deceit these politicians have spun for almost 50 years.  The politicians belonged to the Tamil Congress (TC), Ilankai Tamil Arasuk Kadchi (ITAK) – popularly known as the Federal Party (FP) – and later the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).  They fed Tamils the political fiction that it was possible to negotiate a settlement with some Sinhala leaders.  After all, if there are no Sinhala leaders who will negotiate a just solution, why on earth should Tamils send anyone to Parliament in Colombo?

So Tamil politicians conjured up "moderate" Sinhala leaders.  Then they sought Tamil votes.  "Send us to Parliament to negotiate on your behalf," they cried themselves hoarse at each election.

The most notorious instance of this deception took place in 1977.  The TULF declared the parliamentary elections that year would be a referendum on the Vaddukkoddai Resolution, calling for an independent Tamil State.  And TULF politicians, led by A Amirthalingam, purveyed a monumental lie.  They swore it is possible to create an independent State by NEGOTIATING with "moderate" Sinhala leaders and beseeched the Tamil people to elect them to Parliament!!

Of course, Sinhala leaders have implacably opposed negotiating federalism since 1951.  So, the TULF’s assertion that they might agree to an independent Tamil State was a "pigs are flying" story.

After the elections the TULF unceremoniously dumped the Tamil mandate it had received to implement the Vaddukkoddai Resolution and Amirthalingam compromised the Tamil National Movement by accepting the post of Leader of the Opposition.  To justify the betrayal, the TULF floated another canard.  It assured Tamils that the then Sinhala President J R Jayawardene was a "moderate" from the "older generation" who "is above Sinhala chauvinism" and is willing to negotiate a compromise settlement short of an independent State.

But Jayawardene was true to his Sinhala chauvinism.  The heinous crimes – and the Holocaust of 1983 – Jayawardene and his ilk committed against the Tamil people are well known.

As the LTTE-led armed resistance gathered momentum through the 1980s and early 1990s, it inexorably underlined the utter irrelevance of Tamil politicians.  Simultaneously, these politicians strained every nerve to deceive Tamils by conjuring up "moderate" Sinhala leaders.  In the run-up to the 1994 presidential election, the TULF’s Neelan Tiruchelvam marshalled Tamil votes for Kumaratunga claiming that she was from the "newer generation" and is "samathanathin chinnam" ("the symbol of peace").  On the eve of the election, another TULF politician, R Sambanthan, went on national television to convince Tamils to vote for Kumaratunga because, he alleged, she is "extending the hand of friendship" ("nesakkaram neetukira").

That "hand of friendship" unleashed the grotesque War for Peace within 7 months of taking office as Executive President.

Self-serving Tamil politicians cynically held up the mirage of a parliamentary path to solve the Tamil National Question for two important reasons.  First, they had to escape the spectre of unemployment.  Becoming a Member of Parliament seemed an easy way out.

Second, which is more important, after 1977 they manoeuvred to outflank the LTTE leadership by discrediting the armed resistance as unnecessary and at best premature.  So they dishonestly promoted a non-violent parliamentary path – which, in fact, never existed.

For the first time, most Tamils are seeing through the deception.  The LTTE skilfully helped the learning process along by not preventing Tamils from voting (after an early misjudgement).  The more Tamils have sent politicians to Colombo, the more they have learned that the TC and TULF politicians and members of assorted mercenary groups are political impotents.

This political maturity of the Tamils has greatly strengthened the LTTE.

Not surprisingly, the LTTE approves Tamils voting at the November presidential election.  After the elections those who voted hoping a Sinhala President would agree to a just settlement will again be short-changed.  And the popular Tamil support for the LTTE will inevitably grow larger.

The Sinhala government and its foreign backers did not anticipate this turn of events.  Nor were they prepared for some other developments that have further empowered the LTTE.

The LTTE is unable to induce the UNP or the SLFP to negotiate a just settlement despite the organisation’s impressive military prowess.  So Tamils are deducing that the toothless Tamil politicians in Parliament cannot fare any better - that there is no non-violent parliamentary path.

The unseemly tug-of-war over the LTTE’s proposed Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) and the limited Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) revealed the fundamental flaw.  It is now crystal clear to Tamils that the current Constitution will not permit any power sharing.

The chauvinist election propaganda of the two Sinhala parties conclusively demonstrates that the SLFP and the UNP are vying with each other to be the better Tamil-basher.  It is obvious to Tamils that neither party will amend the Constitution to share power and, therefore, that any Tamil politician who alleges there is a parliamentary path to a just settlement is deliberately deceiving Tamils again.

The international community expected the "counter-insurgency" tactic or the so-called "peace process" to reinforce the illusory parliamentary path, to confer greater legitimacy upon supine Tamil politicians and to drive a political wedge between the Tamil people and the LTTE.  The international community failed on all three counts because the LTTE managed the "peace process" in a way to neutralise the tactic and to politically strengthen the organisation.

One measure of the LTTE’s success is that the international community is unable to demand the organisation must engage in negotiations in good faith.  Earlier, as recently as in 2002, the foreign backers of the Sinhala government routinely exhorted the LTTE to negotiate.  That has changed.  Now the LTTE is requesting the same foreign backers to coax the Sinhala leadership to negotiate and to follow through on promises already made.

But the EU is reluctant to take the Sinhala government to task.  Instead the EU Declaration attacked the LTTE since the international community is alarmed by the rapidly spreading and deepening support among the Tamil people for the LTTE-led armed resistance.

We can expect the international community to put the cart before the horse in order to let the Sinhala government off the hook.  It is likely the foreign backers will make the absurd demand that the LTTE must disarm as a precondition to negotiate.  That will expose further the dilapidated "peace process" and convince all Tamils that the LTTE-led armed resistance is the only way forward.

Will the international community respect the wishes of the Tamil people?  Or will they help the Sinhala army to implement a Bosnian solution* in Sri Lanka, to slaughter the Tamil civilian population into submission?

11 October 2005

* Bosnian solution:

When Yugoslavia disintegrated, Slovenia and Crotia unilaterally declared independence on 25 June 1991.  Europe recognised them.  When Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence on 15 October it emerged as the first independent Muslim-majority State in the heart of Europe.  Alarmed European powers set out to crush this emerging Muslim State.  They allowed the Serbians living in the Srpska region within Bosnia to slaughter Bosnian Muslims; and they helped the Serbians along by imposing an arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims to prevent them organising armed resistance.  It was the biggest bloodbath in Europe since the Second World War and it was presided over by the international community.  At an opportune moment Europe stepped in and offered "protection" to Bosnia-Herzegovina provided the Muslims formed a federation with the Bosnian-Serb Republika Srpska.  Bosnian Muslims, with their backs to the wall, conceded and there ended the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Posted October 13, 2005