As the men and women of the Armed Forces apply ‘spit and polish’ in preparation for the 65th anniversary celebrations of this country’s Independence tomorrow, we thought of referring to what we said on the eve of Independence last year. This is how we concluded our comment: “Only a few years ago, Sri Lanka was [...]


Fight for freedom and democracy


As the men and women of the Armed Forces apply ‘spit and polish’ in preparation for the 65th anniversary celebrations of this country’s Independence tomorrow, we thought of referring to what we said on the eve of Independence last year. This is how we concluded our comment:

“Only a few years ago, Sri Lanka was being touted as a failed state, and it was not far from the truth. With the ‘war’ behind us, and at least an appearance of economic development taking place such an allegation would probably not gain currency today.

“Yet what is missing is a true commitment to ensure the freedoms and civil liberties that every one of this country’s citizens surely deserves; to consolidate on all the gains of the past 64 years since Independence, learn from its mistakes and not take the short-sighted route where economic progress is nothing but a patina of wellbeing, the gloss on an apple, of a nation whose core is being consumed by greed, corruption and injustice. The examples of such nations around the world are easy to see. Let us not drift towards their ranks.”

We cannot but ask ourselves if the above bears any relevance even today. Independence is often observed with mixed feelings. Freedom is not to be taken lightly. The blood, sweat and tears shed to attain that Independence on February 4, 1948 must forever lie inscribed in memory with abiding affection for those national heroes and heroines; generations of our forbearers who had but one dream; freedom for the people.

Today we must look at that freedom with gratitude and great pride, but also with deep anxiety for the country. The week before we unfurl the national flag to salute our freedom and independence, a delegation from the United States of America and a senior diplomat from our former colonial masters were here to checklist this country’s human rights and good governance track record. They tell us that they will proceed to press with a resolution they supported at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) reprimanding Sri Lanka and give unsolicited homilies on good governance which they neither practised 150 years ago when they ruled this country nor practise now when trying to police the world.

In a few weeks’ time, Sri Lanka will once again be hauled up before the bar of the UNHRC in Geneva and asked to explain what has been done since the resolution was passed against the country last year.

Especially since a secessionist military campaign was launched with India’s backing to destabilise Sri Lanka, foreign powers, mainly India and the West, have sought a foothold in the affairs of this country. We recall that one-time Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who so valiantly resisted these moves in his day, said, “Sri Lanka has become a carnival ground for international players, a sort of hawkers’ street for foreign experts peddling their wares”.

All types of so-called experts would tell us how not to wage war against the secessionists, why we must go into peace talks with a terrorist group that was just not interested in negotiations, and now that the ‘war’ is done and dusted, the residue of that bitter battle and subsequent events are what they cling on to, to continue meddling in the internal affairs of this country.

In the process, NGOs (Non-Government Organisations), many of them financially and otherwise backed by other sovereign governments have had their own agenda on a scale that is greatly disproportionate to the geographical size of this country. This begs the question ‘what’s so special about Sri Lanka?’

It’s not that all NGOs must be tarred with the same brush, nor intend harm in Sri Lanka, but the agendas of many are clearly questionable and detrimental to the larger interests of this country. Some of their insidious funding activities, particularly in the field of religious affairs, either in promoting their sects or engaging in proselytisation, have prompted resentment and hate crimes against minorities which unless nipped in the bud, can lead to fresh socio-religious and racial upheavals.

The Government is under intense pressure from all sides, and one could feel an element of sympathy for it. In today’s New World Order, even the term ‘sovereignty of nations’ is being challenged and subject to qualification. On the one hand, weaker nations and their leaders cannot act at their whim and fancy. On the other, as India’s former Ambassador to the UN said at the Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Oration in Colombo midweek, referring to the blatant double-standards at the UN, that the world is a level playing field is a myth.

But make no mistake; the country’s problems are not entirely external, as some elements in the Government would try to make out to cover up their own lapses. Much of the hyperbole about foreign conspiracies can easily be negated if incumbent governments can truly govern decently, efficiently and with respect for their citizens.

Most of the wounds are self-inflicted. Over the past year or more, the independent media, even if few, have highlighted these shortcomings, often to no avail. Coincidentally, Germany and the world this week marked the 80th anniversary of the rise of Nazism. The present German Chancellor had this to say warning her people: “The rise of the Nazis was made possible because the elite of German society worked with them, but also, above all else, because all in Germany at least tolerated this rise. Human rights don’t assert themselves. Freedom doesn’t preserve itself all alone and democracy doesn’t succeed by itself”.

The breakdown of the Rule of Law, and to borrow a term from the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) report… and the “Rule of Men”, the rise of political interference and the collapse of even a façade of an independent judiciary; the rise of the cost of living and the crime rate and the collapse of autonomous institutions with thousands having to work in West Asia and dozens seeking to escape to Australia and other lands, have brought us to the brink of despair.

Without straining to repeat ourselves, this is what we said, inter-alia, this time last year, and we say it again now;
“There are several fronts on which there is a widening deficiency in making Sri Lanka a modern commercial state within a liberal democracy. It is a movement towards achieving this goal that most Sri Lankans would surely wish for at a time like this as they reflect on the country in which they ought to be proud to live in”.

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