Rajpal's Column

2nd September 2001

A Mills and Boon kind of agenda

By Rajpal Abeynayake
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Weary of sun, shopping and sightseeing, tens of thousands of Americans are venturing abroad as "reality tourists.'' Instead of that pastry making jaunt to Provence, for $ 1665, including room, board and air fare US travellers can spend a week in Guatemala to "learn about the history of repression and political violence.'' 

If scuba diving in Hawaii doesn't appeal, for $ 3,299 plus airfare "Americans can travel to South Asia to meet with landmine victims and learn how the secret CIA war on Laos affected the people.''

That paragraph was an excerpt from an international news magazine, touting "reality tourism'' to the world's political hot spots, which "offers a respite from the usual mundane vacation.''

Renton de Alwis will soon be advertising: "Come see Sri Lanka's bombed out A 30 airbuses." "Come see two of the world's most recalcitrant political prize fighters (named Chandrika and Ranil) lock horns.'' "Come see one of the world's oldest countries disintegrate before your eyes.''

If reality tourism is brought to Sri Lanka, the country's mania for self-destruction would have reached it's logical conclusion. But more importantly, the country would perceive it's own almost unseen contradictions far better.

This is a country in which even its most important Marxist party doesn't want to discuss matters such as the economy in any kind of respectable detail.

CNN announced repeatedly this week that Sri Lanka's beleaguered minority government is making a desperate attempt to ally with one of the country's Marxist parties, in order to "stay in power.''

But this Marxist party advocates protectionism and is justifiably wary of the World Bank and the IMF. But it does not say in any coherent way how it proposes to manage an economy sans the necessary evil of the customary IMF bailout?

But, that seems all very normal for a country which is almost romantically involved with the concept of a "political consensus'' but has not even though of anything like an "economic consensus.''

It's the ultimate top down theory. Solve the political problems at the top, and the economy and other problems will sort themselves out.

The performance of the Marxists in this sphere of setting out an agenda for an economy confirms a certain suspicion that Sri Lanka is fast becoming a country that refuses to think.

Take this excerpt from a recent news-magazine: 'Mr Gayoom ( of the Maldives) is determined to make tourism a sustainable, long-term source of income for his country. And nowhere else in the Subcontinent, perhaps with the exception of Bhutan, is tourism practiced as carefully as it is in the Maldives. The country has made sure it gets the maximum monetary benefit from tourism while minimizing its social and environmental impact. The only Maldivian that a visiting tourist comes in direct contact with could be the Immigration Officer at the airport.

At the end of their holiday, tourists are encouraged to take all waste paper, plastics and other rubbish back to their home country. Much of the cargo container of a departing LTU charter flight last month was taken up by white plastic bags bulging with tourist trash.''

Compare and contrast that with our economic somnambulence. Already, the Maldivians are keen to position themselves regionally as South-South Asians ( as opposed to South Asians) and model themselves after the ASEAN economies.

Though all that is not to say that Sri Lanka should model itself after Mahathir-land, or Lee Kwan Yew land, it is to suggest that Sri Lanka is on a loser's trail, even speaking regionally.

The war is problem number one, but, the current thinking that the war should be snuffed out before the country thinks of the economy, is quite like the thinking that the baby can be lulled to sleep - after it is thrown out with the bathwater into the nearest ditch.

The JVP, the government's tentative "Marxist ally'' for instance, wants protectionism and an "internal economy'' and wants no negotiations whatsoever with the LTTE. 

How is the war going to be prosecuted when the nation goes bankrupt, and the IMF doesn't give the customary bailout? Weerawansa will dream on about that, until both the Maldives and Bangladesh become newly-industrialized developed nations.

The economic consensus deludes most of all the nation's intelligentsia and its activists and civil society groups too, which, keen observers of social phenomena would say are "romantically involved with the idea of a consensus on war.'' It's romantic pacifism as opposed to hard headed pacifism; a pacifism big on ideas but badly blurred in its focus.

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