The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

01st June 1997



Lesson a picture taught

The Colombo Traffic police have acted promptly after "The Sunday Timess'" published a picture of a police vehicle violating traffic laws.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Camillus Abeygunawardene, in a letter to 'The Sunday Times' thanked the photographer who captured the incident on film.

Sanjeewa Niroshana's picture published on May 18 showed a police truck trying to pass over a railway crossing while the red light was on.

"The police driver concerned has been traced and he has been dealt with according to Motor Traffic Regulations and according to police disciplinary procedures," the letter said.

Building a bridge of peace with bricks and books

Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mangala "Innocence" Samaraweera says the new edifice of the Jaffna Library for which a campaign will be launched shortly will be structured with books and bricks coming from all parts of Sri Lanka and every wall of the library will be a wall of unity and national harmony. In an interview with The Sunday Times he also spoke of the construction of a museum 'Shrine of Innocence' which will depict human rights violations of the JVP, the LTTE and the security forces. Excerpts from the interview
By Frederica Jansz

Q: Could you elaborate on the proposed "brick or a book" campaign to gather support for the the rebuilding of the Jaffna Library?

A: Eighteen months ago, the President appointed a small task force within the Sudu Nelum Movement to report on the possibilities of re-building the Jaffna Library which was burnt 16 years ago. Plans were drawn up and the State Engineering Corporation has estimated that it would cost Rs 700 million. The master plan includes an additional floor, but it retains the design of the old library. If everything goes according to plan this will be the first significant event in Jaffna in the 21st century. While these practicalities are being addressed we have thought it prudent to use the burning of the Jaffna Library as the central theme. We must give all citizens of this country an opportunity to do some soul searching as to how such a crime could have taken place in this country where we value books and education.

Q: Is it that society is to blame for burning of the Jaffna Library, or some politicians?

A: We feel that you cannot blame any segment of society for what took place. It has been a culmination of a series of mistakes committed within the last several centuries resulting in this crime. In that context we all stand guilty of the crime committed in Jaffna. We are not pointing fingers at any one party or person. And if we all stand guilty it is high time we took responsibility and attempted to correct this historical mistake. It is in this context that it was decided to have this campaign with the plea 'a book or a brick', a symbolic gesture towards re-building of the Jaffna Library.

Q: How are you going to fund the project?

A: Some money has been released from the Presidential Fund and other foreign sources. The President has already in her capacity as a citizen of this country and as leader of a party has made her contribution. We will request ministers, MPs and members of all political parties to do the same. Through this campaign, we want to remind the people of the history of the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka. We wanted to launch the campaign on June 1 the day the Jaffna library was burnt.. However, due to some practical problems, the start of the campaign has been postponed. We hope to collect a brick from every Grama Seveka Division with its name inscribed and also a book with signatures of people in that division who have participated in this campaign . It is also hoped that one wall of the Library will be built with a stone from every Grama Sevaka Division in this country as a symbolic participation in re-building the Jaffna Library, which would further lend a sense of community.

Q: How else would the Sudu Nelum Movement feature prominently in promoting participation towards re-building the Jaffna Library?

A: We will be selling a specially designed book-mark again as a form of participation, which price will range from Rs. 5 to Rs 500. This will be done primarily in schools and 25% of the earnings will be returned to each respective school towards a library fund in each school. Every school in the country will in turn get a donation from Sudu Nelum towards enhancing their own library. So while participating in the Jaffna Library process every school in the island will also benefit. Further four mobile exhibitions which would go to all electorates, will depict the ethnic crisis.

Q: What would be exhibited at these mobile exhibitions?

A: We will have various seminars and other forms of live theatre, highlighting the Sri Lankan tragedy. Our goal is to explain to the people why a solution to this crisis is essential if such tragedies are not to happen again. This will be another form of explaining devolution proposals and the proposed constitution to the people. These exhibitions will attempt to lend a fairly balanced view of the ethnic tensions, especially through photographs depicting why such crimes against humanity took place in a country like Sri Lanka. The burning of the Jaffna Library was not an isolated incident. It has been the cause of various political and social factors, mainly after Independence, but going back perhaps even earlier, specially during the British colonial times where the seeds of discontent were sown. Hopefully, these exhibitions will highlight that. Video films on this subject will also be shown .

Q: When will reconstruction work of the Library begin?

A: We are awaiting clearance from the Defence Ministry. But hopefully before the end of this year we should be able to begin work. The State Engineering Corporation has already begun the initial stages of work.

Q: Do you foresee any serious threat from the LTTE with regard to the library plan?

A: Yes, I feel that the kind of understanding that is being built between the two communities after many years will be a threat to the survival of the LTTE. The LTTE like any other chauvinist group in the north or in the south has been thriving on the myths and misunderstandings which have existed between the two communites. The new library will hopefully be a symbol of the ethnic harmony which I am sure will prevail in this country, with the coming of the new century. The Jaffna Library will be a monument to peace.

Q: President Kumaratunga has asked you to initiate the setting up of a museum called the "Shrine of Innocence." Can you elaborate?

A: The President was initially keen that we build a memorial for all victims of human rights violations in this country. She got one of our best sculptors and designers, Dr. Jagath Weerasinghe, to initiate an idea and he has been responsible for designing this monument which will be called "Shrine of Innocence" which in turn has been inspired by the disappeared students of Embilipitiya. The shrine will symbolize all those who have been killed in political violence, especially since Independence, in 1971 and 1989. Work has already begun on the 'Shrine of Innocence' and hopefully by September we should be able to open the memorial. A museum will also be incorporated into this memorial which again will highlight aspects of human rights violations taken place in this country. All documentation and records pertaining to such will be preserved to ensure such crimes do not take place in the future. In Germany such museums, depicting realistically the crimes committed during the Nazi regime have served in some ways to create an awareness among the young. In that respect we feel it is essential to establish a similar structure in this country.

Q: Will such a museum have political significance?

A: It will not embarrass any political party at all. For what has happened in this country, we cannot blame the SLFP or the UNP or whoever has governed, because eventually we all stand, guilty. If we understand that it becomes easier. In fact, one of the first exhibitions which we are planning will be on human rights violations against women from Premawathi Manamperi to the recent Krishanthy Kumaraswamy case. Press reports police reports, - if the police bothered to take down any entries - (laughing) and even clothes as in the case of the Embilipitiya disappearances, parents have provided us with bits of clothing which the victims had last been wearing. All this will contribute in the way of depicting events in an innovative and creative manner. There is a whole lot of documents of human rights violations in private hands. Many people have already come forward offering documents. I would appeal to the Sunday Times readers, to contribute to this museum with records and documents of human rights violations.

Q: Would this museum house any memorabilia on the LTTE?

A: Yes, and also will depict the excesses of the armed forces. The human rights violations from whatever side will be depicted, be it the Government, the JVP or the LTTE. This museum will not attempt to whitewash anyone. We have invited a JVP Member of Parliament to be on the planning committee for this museum but he has not responded as yet. When we laid the foundation stone for this museum we invited members of the JVP and UNP to be a part of this initiative. So far they have not responded.

Q: Will the Sudu Nelum Movement play a significant role with regard to this project as well?

A: Yes, the Sudu Nelum Movement is the implementing organization for the Shrine of Innocence. Sudu Nelum will provide the necessary funds through the President's fund for the Construction.

Q: How effective has the Sudu Nelum Movement been in promoting the set of power sharing proposals?

A: Since the inception in June 1995, we have had more than 700 seminars and workshops for youth, the Buddhist clergy, lawyers, trade unionists and others. I personally feel the results of this work has been vastly under-estimated specially by the media. The greatest achievement as far as I see through the Sudu Nulum Movement is for the first time in this country, Sinhala Buddhist politicians are spending their own time and money to visit Sinhala Buddhist villages in this country to explain to them that the Tamils in this country do have justifiable grievances. And that they must also be given a share of their dues if they are to live in peace. In a country where chauvinism has been the main political platform since Independence, for the first time politicians of this government have had the courage to turn this upside down and stand by their convictions. Sinhala villagers now admitting that the Tamils do have genuine grievances is a unique situation. Even the SLFP as recently as ten years ago was protesting against the devolution. So in that respect, to have achieved a complete turnover among our own party members has been a great achievement. This basically means understanding at grassroot level in the Sinhala villages, for which work the Sudu Nelum Movement has been largely responsible.

Q: You are confident peace will dawn in Sri Lanka soon?

A: Oh yes, I am confident. I always say the golden years for Sri Lanka has only just begun.

Q: Are you as equally confident of the LTTE being brought into the political process?

A: I hope so. Unfortunately of course after the experiences we have all had with the LTTE we are now no longer naive to believe that this can all be thrashed out militarily. At one point or another the LTTE in a perhaps different scenario will also have to be a part of this process, if not it will also be thrown into the dustbin of history not by us or by anyone else but by the Tamil People. So I hope good sense even at this late stage will prevail with the LTTE to join the democratic process.

The man who ungagged the mighty Pravda

During the height of the cold war, Pravda was the mighty and tightly-controlled mouthpiece of the Soviet empire. Now, six years after the collapse of the empire, it is an independent newspaper and a stern critic of the Yeltsin government. In Colombo now, is the man responsible for this significant transformation.
By Roshan Peiris

His pink cheeks, smiling brown eyes and charm can be beguiling at 35 he is the President and head of a business house with twelve companies in Moscow. Theordores Giannikos was born in Athens, collected a degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Athens University and worked as an Attorney in both London and New York.

The Sunday Times met Mr. Giannikos now the Executive Director of Pravda the flag ship of his twelve companies since 1991. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pravda was a strict state-controlled newspaper boasting of one of the largest circulations in the world. But free media advocates had pointed out that the Soviet people had read it then because they had no option.

Today Mr. Giannikos said Pravda is an independent newspaper with a Russian editor, perhaps the Executive Director is not a Russian.

"But pardon me", said Tchou Ranov international editor of the paper, "he looks more Russian than I".

Pravda since 1991 is owned by the Giannikos Group of Companies while it maintains many a good tradition in the quality of writing. It is today the main critic of the government.

"We now watch and comment on the doings of both the government and the Opposition. We don't take sides and maintain an independent policy. Our charter for Pravda is democratic and pluralistic and we fiercely protect human rights", said Giannikos.

"Well you look surprised, naturally that Pravda in six years has changed so much under the Giannikos Group.

"We are totally committed to the freedom of the press and speak out boldly. The liberalised Government of Russia does not take offence but naturally would like us to support it.

Q: Does the government deny you of advertising?

A: The government as such does not advertise but corporations and companies close to the government don't give us advertising.

Q: Does your management including you lay down policy?

A: Why should we? The journalists, we believe, know their own profession better than we do. We including myself don't see why we should tell them how to do their job. But we do meet to discuss advertising, finances and such matters.

Q: Why has the Giannikos Company chosen to establish its group of companies in Moscow?

A: We came to Moscow in 1989 because partly due to my father who since 1958 has had friendly relations with Moscow. Then since 1989 with the policy of liberalisation, the industry was given an impetus.

"Russia is still going through a difficult period. It was worse three years ago. Since around 1995, there is a great degree of stablisation. Certainly the national economy was in crisis.

Giannikos Companies started investments to help revive the economy and generate jobs.

The Government has privatised gas, oil, transport and some big factories holding a percentage of shares.

I have seen your country's attempt at privatisation and I must say it is being done more effectively here than in Russia.

Q: Why do you say so? The left parties including the Communist Party in Sri Lanka are critical of privatisation.

A: First of all there is a high level of production. The Government seems to have defined what the country will get and what it needs and most importantly enacted legislation which promotes and protects privatisation.

Also small business here is thriving. This is good for the economy. Compared to Sri Lanka, Moscow is not so good. Small businesses must be encouraged so that they grow and collectively help the national economy. This is a big plus for Sri Lanka.

Q: The Giannikos Group of Companies deals with typographic works, construction of houses and office buildings, tourism, trading in metal, private eudcation to mention a few. What has made you come over here?

A: The first reason is that your Ambassador Izeth Hussein is a fine Ambassador knowing how to make friends, and invites the confidence of those who know him. That is the start.

Secondly, we want to promote tourism between the two countries. Your people are friendly and hospitable, besides the scenic and historical value of your country.

We also want to promote and expedite the buying of high quality tea. Last year we exported 80 million U.S. dollars worth of tea. We want to export Ceylon tea to an affluent market there. Remember there are the Republics and Moscow itself is so vast."

Q: I notice that you have private education unlike before. Why?

A: Why not give a better education to those who can pay. Both Britain and the US have good and fine education. I grant the fees are high and you say it is so here. But there are scholarships to be won by bright students. The Government must also keep the level of education in public schools high.

With this my first visit I am very well impressed and hope to back again soon to invest and promote not only trade but investment projects as well.

Continue to the News/Comment page 4 - * How to kill... and escape, * Understanding history of a troubled nation

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