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Interview with Bradman Weerakoon

Deshamanya Bradman Weerakoon, who turned 80 recently, is an elder statesman in Sri Lanka and one of the oldest living civil servants in the country. During over half a century of public service, Bradman served nine Sri Lankan heads of State. It is frankly impossible in 24 minutes to capture this wealth of experience. What the discussion did concentrate was on key chapters in Bradman’s life. Bradman’s answers are always measured and diplomatic.

We began by discussing the pregnant title of his memoirs, Rendering Unto Ceasar, placing it in Biblical context (from Matthew 22:21) and going on to explore why Bradman embraced Buddhism when he was around 18.

We then discussed the Tamil pogrom of 1983, where the then President made Bradman the first Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES). I asked Bradman how it felt like to work on humanitarian aid and relief within a government, and indeed a President, widely known in later years to have condoned the violence. We also spoke about another bloody chapter in Sri Lanka’s history, the violence in the late 80s with the JVP uprising. At a time when Sri Lanka’s human rights record was significantly blemished, Bradman was appointed Presidential Advisor on International Relations. I asked him to compare his defence of the Premadasa administration versus the defence of the incumbent government, and recent allegations of gross human rights abuse, by those in and close to power now.

In light of the above, I asked Bradman to comment on the 81st comment in an interview conducted by Marianne David and published in the blog of DBS Jeyaraj on occasion of his 80th birthday. The comment noted, ““ Being a close associate to seven past leaders he was equally or more responsible for mistakes made by them.”

We spoke about his latest book, Kalutara, a look at the district of his birth and early childhood, written after the death of his wife. I ask him what led to the book, how he went about the research for it, and importantly, the complex ethnic and identity relations he found in this district alone.

After more compelling discussion on the issues above, the interview ends with a question to Bradman on whether he thinks it is possible to recreate the commitment and work ethic his life is an example of, or whether he is a product of a by-gone era.

  • rian

    great subject. Mr. Weerakoon is an extremely intelligent man. i just wished there were more of him speaking and less of the interviewer (even though the amount of research that has been done by him, was commendable).

  • justitia

    He mentions the “Kokkadicholai Massacre” and refers to the 1983 Tamil Pogrom when he was able to alleviate much misery by virtue of powers he was given at that time.
    These instances are only two of many massacres of tamils, the memories of which are seared into the psyche of tamils of sri lanka.
    http://nesohr.org/files/Lest_We_Forget.pdf
    He was a civil servant of a bygone era who moulded the thinking of many heads of state by telling them the truth rather than what they would have liked to hear.
    The death of the old Civil Service and its replacement by a new Administrative Service may have been unavoidable but today’s administrative service officers
    are mainly ‘yes’ men, and have to be such, to survive.

  • aminda

    but he in his book says that he thought LTTE could not be defeated? and that a war solution was not possible? just imagine, if we had a better presidential advisor, the LTTE would have been defeated much earlier? imagine the lives that could have been saved?

  • Johan

    Excellent interview. Enjoyed that very much. Need to go out and get those two books. I hope they are available in the bookshops.

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