Responding to a facile appeal: Galle Literary Festival and the freedom of expression

Michelle de Kretser signing. Photo by Sharni Jayawardena, courtesy Galle Literary Festival

The Editors of Groundviews received via email this morning intimation of an international appeal made by Reporters Without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), a network of exiled Sri Lankan journalists. The Galle literary festival appeal notes inter alia,

“We believe this is not the right time for prominent international writers like you to give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government’s suppression of free speech by attending a conference that does not in any way push for greater freedom of expression inside that country.”

Now in its fifth consecutive year, the Galle Literary Festival has been called many things, but a ‘conference’ it has not. Things go inexorably downhill from here. This ill-advised appeal reminds us of the equally ill-conceived Amnesty International human rights campaign during the last cricket world cup in 2007. At the time, even well-known human rights defenders in Sri Lanka wrote against AI’s campaign. As The Amnesty Campaign: Taking the Eye Off the Ball by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu noted,

“The full extent of the impact and damage of this campaign is yet to be seen. One hopes that public discourse on human rights protection in Sri Lanka is not going to be irretrievably obscured and obfuscated by reference to the rights and wrongs of this campaign or that Sri Lankans will in any way be deterred from lending their voice to the urgent need for human rights protection in this country, by concerns about being unpatriotic that have been aroused by memories of this campaign. The Amnesty campaign has been clumsily and insensitively conceived. It as made an issue of itself in Sri Lanka and detracted attention from the issue in Sri Lanka it rightly sought to draw attention to.”

Another pseudonymous writer on Groundviews (Amnesty Campaign: Some quick thoughts) and the vast majority of commentators on both articles concurred on how myopic AI’s campaign was. Few, if any, discounted that human rights protection in Sri Lanka was a serious challenge, and that the government had largely failed in this regard. Many however were strongly opposed to how AI chose to go about flagging it. The RSF/JDS campaign tragically revisits the fiasco. The bizarre appeal attempts to peg what are indubitably serious and real concerns over media freedom to a festival of literature that has nothing to do with media or journalism. It is unclear what if any consultation there was with local media freedom activists and groups before this appeal was launched. We could not find similar appeals by RSF to stay away from the Jaipur Literature Festival over India’s human rights violations in Kashmir and elsewhere within its borders, as Arundhathi Roy, a signatory to this appeal, knows better than most.

We also wonder why this appeal is issued now, in 2011? GLF began during war, and continued throughout it. Reflecting this, GLF sessions proper, as well as a number of fringe events over the years, have addressed issues of media freedom and the freedom of expression. At the 4th GLF, fringe panels included interesting discussions on what post-war literature and writing would be like, what issues they would address and how. At the 3rd GLF, a fringe event brought together a senior government spokesperson from the Presidential Media Unit as well as other journalists to talk about what even at the time was a fairly bleak outlook for media freedom. At its core, GLF is embodies precisely what RSF/JDS often advocate – a space for critical enjoyment of the written and spoken word and a platform for the celebration of ideas. If writers boycott the festival, so will international media. And if international media boycotts the event, how can they report on the challenges facing mainstream media when compared to the freedom of expression in the festival? As Lindesay Irvine said in the Guardian in 2009,

“All of this marvellously free expression struck a distinctly uneasy note, knowing that one of the world’s bloodiest civil wars was being played out on the other side of the island, with thousands of civilians trapped between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the world’s press kept away and local journalists all too aware that to report anything other than the government’s propaganda is to put your life in peril. (I should stress here that both sides of the Sri Lankan civil war are very careful not to endanger western tourists, and visitors to the southern half of the island are at no tangible risk. They need your money. Go.)”

Each GLF brings with it more, not less scrutiny on the country’s media landscape. It keeps Sri Lanka on the international media’s map, when in fact it rarely is now that the war is over. The festival’s curator, Shyam Selvadurai, is an award winning Tamil author. Any charge that he is insensitive to the complex politics of conflict and violence is one that simply does not stick. His recent interview featured on Groundviews suggests a festival that is popular and keenly anticipated, locally as well as internationally. As for not dealing with more contentious issues related to war, the BBC World Forum is organising as part of the official programme a session moderated by the outspoken, award winning human rights and media freedom activist Sunila Abeysekara on how displacement continues to affect the Sri Lankan psyche almost two years after the end of the civil war. The panel also features Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who explores the lasting effects of Nigeria’s 1960s civil war through some of her stories in The Thing Around Your Neck. Perhaps this escaped the attention of RSF and JDS.

Groundviews and Vikalpa have borne witness to Sri Lanka’s atrocious record of media freedom since their inception, including on Lasantha and Prageeth. RSF/JDS find it “it highly disturbing that literature is being celebrated in this manner in a land where cartoonists, journalists, writers and dissident voices are so often victimized by the current government.” The concern over the deterioration of media freedom is fully shared. How to address it is emphatically not. If GLF celebrates literature, that alone is reason enough to support it, attend and expand as much as possible the idea of the festival to other locations in Sri Lanka and in the vernacular to boot. If it is the case that the freedom of expression within GLF is absent from mainstream media, then the remedy is surely to not boycott the one instance where it is actually present?

The appeal ends by noting that “unless and until the disappearance of Prageeth is investigated and there is a real improvement in the climate for free expression in Sri Lanka, you cannot celebrate writing and the arts in Galle”. In fact, it’s also investigations into Lasantha’s murder that we need to be concerned about. Sustained emphasis on both cases in particular and the serious challenges facing media freedom in general, however, does not justify a boycott of GLF. In not recognising the symbolic value of an event where during war and after it, the freedom of expression is actively encouraged, RSF and JDS undermine their own appeal.

Events like GLF are sadly rare. Let us enjoy them in peace.

[Update, 24 January 2011: Also read Writing against the RSF/JDS appeal to boycott the Galle Literary Festival, by Sunila Abeysekara.]

  • Sri Lankan

    International human rights groups have always been facile when it comes to Sri Lanka. Nothing new there. Most of them are ill-informed and have an agenda.

    • Ameena

      Well said, Groundviews. I was forwarded this e-mail this afternoon and had pretty much the same response as you did.The Galle Literary Festival has irked some members of society year after year. If not one then they have another complaint against it. I am surprised that Arundhati Roy among others do not do their homework when it comes to these campaigns. Their names carry weight and by signing onto such a campaign and in fact endorsing it, they do not realise that they may be hurting the cause of free speech rather than ‘pushing for greater freedom of expression’ as the campaign claims to do.

      • IA
      • The Mervyn Silva

        Yo! Everybody!

        I am having several points to be making.

        Firstly, I am thanking the Groundviews for teaching me new word: facile. Until today I am not knowing what is facile. Now I am knowing. Everyday I am picking up new word from Groundviews. Like Yo! from the Dayan Master.

        Secondly I am having little advice for the Ameena. You are saying that people calling the Galle Literature Festival many things. This is not very normal.Look at me. Many peole ae calling me also many things, mostly animal names. But it is not stopping me from doing what I am doing. In fact and truthfuly speaking, I am becoming more and more obnoxious day by day. Our government is also like this. When somebody is calling us things we are getting very tough and brutal. The baby Tigers caling us murderers and we are giiving Tamils national anthem in the Sinhala. People protesting against the Fonseka in the jail and calling us tyrants and we are giving them water from the cannon. The best thing is for people to be quiet and very docile like. Then the government is not going to be hurting them because the government is not feeling threatened.

        This is bringing me to my third point. (If you are already not noticing, I am writing in the point form now, like academic person. This is because I am also doctor)

        I am agreeing fully and one hundred percent that the facile apeeal the Reporters without Borders people are making and the Arundathi is signing is another way to be making the Sri Lanka feel threatened. We are already seeing theatenings everywhere; under the bed, over the shoulder, behind the curtain and around the corner. As if all that is not enough we are now having to be putting up with this new threatening by the reporer people also. Sri Lanka is currently rated number one in the list of insecure countries because of threats exactly like this one but after this new threatening I am sure we are going further up in the list.

        I am thinking we must not be taking this threatening lightly, even if it is facile-like (I am liking this word very much). The Arundathai and the Chomsky are dangerous peoples and can be causing serious incident during teh Literature Festival. Therefoer I am making the following recommendations:

        1. The Galle area to be made high security zone and the military to be deployed there all over the place.
        2. All peoples having the name Arundathi or Roy to be arrested and taken to the military camps, even if they are male. Foereign agents are very devious these days. They can be hiding the woman in man’s body.
        3. One whole week of fastings, demonstrations and effigy burnings to be protesting against the appelaings.
        4. To be realy and totally obnoxious to the Reporters without Borders people, all of Sri Lanka is to be declared “Borders without Reporters”. We are already making this happening. Only declaration is needing to be made.

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com/ PresiDunce Bean

    If the authors who participate at the GLF speak out against what happened to Lasantha, Prageeth and many others instead of sucking up to this regime I have no issuses on the GLF going on as planned.

  • Candidly

    It is sad to note how campaigns for human rights, freedom of speech & similar important issues have become the modern day chic McCarthyism with many of the characteristics of that odious moral & political panic from the 1950s. Those characteristics include: poorly researched information, vague blanket statements, reduction of the complex to simple black & white, finger-pointing & scapegoating, innuendo, guilt by association & absence of reflection about causes & effects.
    As with previous witch-hunts, I suppose it’s largely because there’s so much money, fame & status to be gained by being part of the wolf-pack hunting down easily identifiable scapegoats such as literati travelling to Sri Lanka.

    • Sri Lankan

      It’s interesting to see Arundhathi’s name here. Indi has written previously on her poorly informed view on Sri Lanka:

      http://indi.ca/2009/03/arundhati-roy-is-irresponsible-and-lame/

      “What I find deeply irresponsible about her article is that she both admits that she’s ill-informed and yet sees fit to basically accuse the whole Sinhala south of prosecuting this as a racist war. Well, WTF. I don’t agree with the war and I didn’t support it but I understand that some response is necessary when there are a constant bomb attacks in Colombo, when the Foreign Minister is killed, when people are banned from voting, etc. I actually agree with her on many broad points, but her tone is so sweeping and broad that it’s frankly insulting.”

    • Gehan Gunatilleke

      This has got to be the most ironic use of the term “McCarthyism” I’ve come across in a while. Bravo.

  • Andrew Kendle

    Having worked with AI when the ill-conceived cricket campaign mentioned in this article took place, I have some sympathy for the argument made in the piece. Overall, however, I have more sympathy with RSF/JDS. The debate about free expression in Sri Lanka is really only possible in the country on websites like Groundviews, which cater to a small group of Sri Lankan junkies like myself. The space for free expresion at the GLF is equally just as sectoral. It’s still good that both are able to occur, but let’s not kid ourselves. While I have dutifully signed the petition launched yesterday and, despite some qualms, wish I could see some of the people at the festival, the real issue is the fact that debates such as this one are limited to only rarefied spaces in the country. However arguable or cackhanded some attempts/campaigns at highlighting the latter reality are, they are not wrong in pointing out that expanding the space for free expression in Sri Lanka is a goal that has long needed to be achieved. The families of Prageeth Ekneligoda, Lasantha Wickremetunga, Mayilvaganam Nimalarajan, Taraki Sivaram, and Richard de Zoysa to name just five from the roll call of the journalists slain or disappeared in Sri Lanka over the years, are still waiting for that goal to be realised.

    • wijayapala

      Dear Andrew Kendle

      Would you agree that Sri Lanka might be better off without the writers who are boycotting because they are anti-Sri Lanka?

    • Hela

      If people like Andrew Kendle think that free speech will be enhanced by boycotting literary events, they are sadly mistaken. Why AI and other such groups are considered hostile groups and therefore enemies of the nation precisely because their failure to separate the state and it’s population in escalating human rights issues. By equating the population (mainly the majority Sinhala Buddhists) with the state, and trying to punish both the state and the population, they have caused more harm to furthering human rights. Any action to harm the image of Sri Lanka (and by extension both the state and the population as opposed to targeting only the actions of state) will be counter productive and will be met with strong resistence from the population and the groups who are involved in such action will be considered as enemies. This will be particularly so for expatriate Sri Lankan groups such as JDS who in their hatred towards the regime have gone and insulted the country and it’s people.

  • http://nazreen.wordpress.com naz

    I too received the email this morning and did not give it a second thought as i presumed it a hoax – given that the mail appears ill conceived and has an ‘air of desperation’ around it. What cemented my conclusion were the signatories to the email. Surely the likes of Noam Chomsky and Arundathi Roy would be far more prudent when assigning their names to such things? Apparently not. Great response Groundviews.

  • Post DJBS Scenario

    Groundviews,

    Is it ill-advised to not hold Sri Lanka accountable? Beyond words, what mechanisms would you suggest people, groups, or countries use?

  • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

    Isn’t it ironic how perceptions shift, and how once scoffed at reasoning becomes dear when the blade nears ones own throat?

    • veedhur

      1.Any one remember IIFA?

      2.Can Art/literature and Politics be dealt with in two separate spaces?

    • veedhur

      Me thinks

      - the festival is promoted more by corporate interests (the tourism board just raked in for some legitimacy)than by any government backing.May be the organizers can open their account book for transparencies sake.

      - why so much ado about a lit fest that is attended to by a group of elites who any way had little in common with the suffering people of the Island. Why punish them by obstructing their revelry when they had nothing to do with the atrocities committed by the regime?

      - Is Sri Lanka the only country where the main and burning issues are dealt with in the ‘side events’ and on the fringe of a main literary festival?

      - So the Government of Sri Lanka had no problem issuing visas to these foreigners who are coming to talk among other things about freedom of expression in the southern heartland (while denying visas for the UN panel, HRW etc)?

  • SD

    “We could not find similar appeals by RSF to stay away from the Jaipur Literature Festival over India’s human rights violations in Kashmir and elsewhere within its borders, as Arundhathi Roy, a signatory to this appeal, knows better than most.”

    This is not the first time that Arundhati Roy has displayed a facile understanding of the Sri Lankan situation, as displayed by her dim-witted, MIA like participation in the genocide chorale: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/01/sri-lanka-india-tamil-tigers

    The fact that her soothsaying has proven to be wildly off the mark doesn’t seem to have deterred her in the slightest from pontificating yet again on a situation she badly needs to clue herself in on.

    It’s all too easy to confuse image for substance.

  • niran anketell

    This response is deeply disappointing. The relative strategic merits of the JDS/RSF appeal aside, this response advances a number of downright dangerous ideas. First, it contributes to the government’s desperate charge that Sri Lanka attracts disproportionate international criticism and action for it’s human rights failings, and that there is some kind of double-standard at play. The reference to an absence of a similar call targeting the Jaipur festival is a classic move from Keheliya’s playbook. Second, it drops the adjective “Tamil” while speaking of the principal organiser, as if his Tamilness alone is sufficient to detract from the substantive allegations made. Another tactic perfected by the government, in promoting the government’s “Tamil” strongmen in the North and East. Third, it ignores the fact that the GLF is promoted by the Sri Lankan government. Why else would they be sponsored by Sri Lankan Airlines and the Tourism Board to boot? There is little doubt in my mind that the GLF directly and indirectly promotes the tourist industry. The Editors may not have many qualms about this, but there are serious people out there who are seriously concerned about what’s happening here who believe that a tourist boycott will help. Perhaps if there was more freedom of expression, you’d realise that there are people living here who share the same views as well. Ignoring these views and labelling them “facile” is to approach these issues without the serious reflection they deserve. Finally, touting the GLF as some kind of bastion of free speech, and trumping up some tokenistic presentation on the psycho-social impact of displacement as evidence of some kind of commitment to human rights is wrong and irresponsible. I’m sad to say this, but I expected better from the Editors.

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    “The festival founder, Geoffrey Dobbs, described the boycott call as “badly informed and negative”. He said the festival, now in its fifth year, encouraged pluralism and free expression and that guest writers should come and judge things and speak out if they wanted to.”

    Galle festival controversy – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2011/01/110120_galle.shtml

  • Naveen Welikala

    Al though it is not very much clear what made Groundviews editors to respond so passionately against an appeal that targets the Galle Festival ,there are some interesting facts that have been either conveniently ignored or unnoticingly missed in their response. As far as I understood, the collective appeal launched by the RSF/JDS with the backing of highly eminent progressives, does not denounce or condemn the ones who have already decided to participate and packed their bags in a hurry. This “ill advised – bizarre – tragic” appeal (as the editors describes it) doesn’t even promote a ‘total boycott’ demand. What it simply tries to convince the participants is “to stand with your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are not allowed to speak out” and to “send a clear message that, unless and until the disappearance of Prageeth is investigated and there is a real improvement in the climate for free expression in Sri Lanka” literature is not something that can be celebrated. What is so offensive about it? Don’t see any “facilety” as far as the facts are concerned. If anyone has any doubts about the connection between “promoting tourism and the scheduled literary festival”, why not take some time to visit the festival’s official website and enlighten us by clarifying what the following paragraph (filed by the organizers under “plan Your Trip”) exactly implies: ” If you are attending the literary festival why not plan a trip to Sri Lanka around it? Our travel partner Sri Lankan Airlines is offering special deals over the Festival period – please contact your local Sri Lankan office for more details! Accommodation around Galle is usually tight around the Festival period and we strongly urge you to book in advance. Please refer to our travel partners, our Ground Handling partners – JF Tours and this website for suggestions. On your way to Galle (from Colombo), consider taking a breather at the gardens of the Bawa brothers in Bentota or poke around the antique shops of Ambalangoda. If you are coming from the south, you could go whale watching off Mirissa or visit the inland temples and rainforest in the Galle hinterland.” – (http://www.galleliteraryfestival.com/plan_your_trip)- Or else, why not visit the official sponsors list on the same website and try to elucidate why the Sri Lankan Airlines/ Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau/ Jetwing Lighthouse / Amangalla / Emirates / The Sun House / The Dutch House / Galle Face Hotel/ Era Beach Hotel/ Kahanda Kanda / JF Tours / Deccan Aviation Lanka/ Aditya / Galle Fort Hotel / Citrus Hikkaduwa have become enthusiastic sponsors of the event. Can’t be co-incidental , ha? So, just curious to know who and what sounds more bizzare, tragic, misinformed and ill advised!!

    • Hela

      The responses who supported the boycott call clearly indicate that the real intention is economic strangulation of Sri Lanka. For example this so called literary festival may help Sri Lankan economy and therefore should be boycotted.

      These guys are clearly anti Sri Lankan in all respects and therefore must be treated as enemies of the country (as their actions are hostile to the country and it’s people).

  • Suren Raghavan

    I wonder why GV is becoming the spokes vehicle for a semi government function? further if there is any controversy, as a forum with neutrality GV should not defend one party while blaming the other

    Sanjana (and others)

    Honestly I am feeling as though your team is losing the balance in the recent pats

    1. the issues around Kusal Perepa’s ‘(Blaming) Buddhism’ essays and the way the editorial responded ( to defend it) was a shocker

    2, and now your team takes sides to defending GLF

    while you may have an editorial policy to support or oppose certain view, neutrality is a key element for a forum such as this
    I hope you have not missed that

    best

  • Chamath Jayasinghe

    According to the Committe to Protect Journalists, India is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists so why are the people who are up in arms about the GLD silent about the Jaipur Literature Festival? Where is Roy’s outrage?

    http://www.zeenews.com/news440137.html

    India figures among 13 most dangerous countries for journalists to work and fares very poorly when it comes to prosecuting killers of scribes, according to city-based Committee to Protect Journalist’s report released late Wednesday.

  • national guard

    well said Suren… groundviews is reflecting the hegemonic sinhala discourse that is sri lanka… are we really surprised?

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com/ PresiDunce Bean

    Sanjana what you read below is just in jest. But very few people in Sri Lanka including the the numerous “Useful Idiots” got their knickers in a twist when China urged the “Can’t Be Developed Countries” to boycott the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE CEREMONY.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement that the envoys of Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco would miss the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony “for various reasons.”
    Meanwhile Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that more than 100 countries supported Beijing.
    - BBC -

    Speaking in front of a large gathering of reporters, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Xiaoming urged the “Can’t Be Developed Countries of the World” to join together in symbolically boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. Wang welcomed “illegitimate family dictatorships, autocratic regimes, drug-fuelled banana republics, corrupt theocracies, war-torn hellholes, and all-around shitty countries” to “march with us in solidarity against openness, tolerance, and equality.”

    Almost immediately, “Can’t Be Developed Countries” around the world including Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Colombia, Iran, Pakistan, and Serbia responded that they too would boycott the ceremony.
    Less openly reprobate countries had to be goaded into not attending.

    In a later press conference, Wang argued, “If you attend this ceremony, it is saying, ‘Please, give dissidents in our country awards to highlight how corrupt and illegitimate our rule is.’ Then you’ll have to censor websites, throw peaceful protesters in jail, wage a PR war that ultimately makes you look like an idiot, and maybe even kill a few thousand innocent people and call it zero casualties. Save yourself the trouble.”

    Wang expressed surprise that even though comic dystopia Sri Lanka had announced their support to China, other comic dystopias like North Korea and Zimbabwe had not yet announced their communion with China but forgave them, saying that they were probably “too busy trying not to starve.” Wang added that, “My colleague Jiang Yu has just informed me that 812 failed states, 534 Can’t be developed Countries and 4 intergalactic empires are now with us.”

    When asked if, in recognition of their fealty, China planned to support these countries in the future, he laughed. ”It’s a big world out there with a lot of f****d up countries. I wouldn’t trust any of them.”

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    A little logic please. GLF is NOT a state sponsored or supported function, right? So what’s the logic in the call for its boycott?

    GLF is an almost classically ‘ civil society’ event, ( i believe an academic who is also an opposition personality is on the organising board), hardly has a preponderence of pro-govt personalities and usually has a side event critical of the govt.

    Therefore, is it perhaps that the RSF boycott call reveals the real target of the campaign: not a policy, a practise or a regime, but Sri Lanka as a country, a totality, inclusive of its citizenry, society and autonomous non-political spaces?

    • Kerry

      I like to party, and I decide to throw a party at my house for some folk, heck I’m in such a good mood I’m gonna throw a god damn festival! you know coz they’re my pals. Someone says don’t go to my party because I live in Sri Lanka – it’s a spooky little place ooOOooOOOoo. I am in no way affiliated to the SL Gov other than pay income tax so I’d say to anyone who says otherwise to take a hike and preferably not to interfere with my fun. No one likes party poopers! Get a life RSF/JDS. The last I expect from organisations like these is to infringe upon my liberty. Hypocrites!

  • Maria

    The Appeal asks writers “in the great tradition of solidarity that binds writers together everywhere, to stand with your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are not allowed to speak out. We ask that by your actions you send a clear message that, unless and until the disappearance of Prageeth is investigated and there is a real improvement in the climate for free expression in Sri Lanka, you cannot celebrate writing and the arts in Galle”.

    It is more than a little ironic that RSF and its supporters’ solution to the stifling of free expression is to suppress it some more. There is no better time to celebrate literature and the arts in Sri Lanka. The GLF is an important avenue for the very expression of these concerns.The Festival is an important cultural and critical space for a lot of writers concerned about the current situation. It is no coincidence that in the aftermath of the last festival, participating journalists published informative, hard-hitting articles about press fredoom and the HR situation in SL in the international press. These articles served to raise awareness at a time when the international media’s attention had shifted to more immediate issues. Boycotts of this sort are lazy and lack the sort of strategic approach such important causes require. Lets not fall into the trap of believing “boycotts” are the only way to raise awareness about human rights concern and reverse the culture of impunity. The Sri Lankan government will inevitably ignore the appeal. And it will only rob local writers of an opportunity to share experiences and meet with international authors.

    A better way to send a clear message that the international community remains concerned by the suppression of free speech and other freedoms and demands an immediate investigation into the disappearance of Prageeth and other journalists is to attend, share information, encourage young voices and write! That is what a successful campaign requires. Lets not bury our heads in the sand as this appeal asks. Let us celebrate and recognise the power of the written word. Sinking the festival by calling for a boycott will only hasten the drowning of Sri Lankan voices and their international supporters.

  • Thinking Simon

    I find it incredible that RSF and folks like Arundhati Roy have joined forces to try and hijack the GLF which has been going on for many years without political interference or involvement. What does Arundhati Roy have to say about her own country? One has to really wonder! Why has she not voiced any opposition to the Jaipur Literary Festival which is currently underway when so many human rights abuses occur in her own country from Kashmir in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south?

    See:

    India must face up to Hindu terrorism

    India’s anti-minorities bias is so strong that it has failed to acknowledge the threat posed by Hindu radicalism

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jan/19/india-hindu-terrorism-threat

    For far too long, the enduring response of the Indian establishment to Hindu nationalists has rarely surpassed mild scorn. Their organised violent eruptions across the country – slaughtering Muslims and Christians, destroying their places of worship, cutting open pregnant wombs – never seemed sufficient enough to the state to cast them as a meaningful threat to India’s national security.

    It is when you look at the reactions to non-Hindu extremism that you absorb how strongly majoritarian assumptions inform the state and society’s conduct in India. In 2002, the Indian government banned the radical Muslim group Simi (Students’ Islamic Movement of India) citing the group’s charter, which seeks to establish sharia rule in India, and the terror charges some of its members were facing. But the Hindu radical outfit RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the National Volunteer Corps) remains open for business – even though it campaigns, very openly, for a Hindu state in India, and its members incite and perpetrate violence against Muslim and Christian minorities.

    So where is Arundhati’s voice speaking up against such oppression in India? Where is the RSF’s voice of indignation? Just because someone attends the GLF it does NOT mean that person is happy with whatever policies the GOSL is promoting. This is nothing but “guilt by association” and that ‘association’ itself is quite tenuous.

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    “To I think uniform ‘huh?’ within Sri Lanka, RSF and Arundhati Roy have called for a boycott of the Galle Literary Festival. Apparently they want to express solidarity with writers by… preventing writers from speaking. This is honestly an ignorant joke. I have appeared at the GLF and criticized the government, the government media guy has come and gotten liberally yelled at, it’s generally a free space. Whatever these people are doing has to do with their own agendas, nothing to do with free speech or writing in Sri Lanka.”

    GLF WTF?, http://indi.ca/2011/01/glf-wtf/

    • Suren Raghavan

      GV,
      Agaian why are you taking sides of a on going debate if you are not part of the organizers of GLF? You should be the moderate to promote a healthy discussion on the issues than to blame one side for their(unknown) personal agenda. By doing so have you have not fallen victims of the same ‘personal agenda’ game?

      • NVN

        “Agaian why are you taking sides of a on going debate if you are not part of the organizers of GLF?”

        Are the reasons why so overwhelmingly unintelligible? Once again, incomprehension is an unfortunate talent you seem to have mastered.

        “By doing so have you have not fallen victims of the same ‘personal agenda’ game?”

        I will not dignify that question with a response.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Suren Raghavan inquires: “Agaian why are you taking sides of a on going debate if you are not part of the organizers of GLF?”

    Whaaa?

    Why should anyone “take sides in an ongoing debate” on, say, the Nobel Prize boycott or the earlier Beijing olympics boycott campaign….if they were not part of the organisers of either the Nobel Prize award ceremony or the Beijing olympics?

    Some brilliant reasoning huh? Way to go, Suren.

    • Suren Raghavan

      Well Dayan Sir,

      I thought GV is one forum we can consider to be neutral in a comparative sense. if you say it is not then now we have a new rationale why Sanjana has a (il)legitimate reason to often promote you as an intellectual genius in modern politics of SL

      My radio plays ”Johannah give me hope Johannah me hope before the…

  • Mango

    In any Sri Lankan context, I propose the Chomsky-Roy-Ali-Pamuk (CRAP) Law. Oppose whatever they stand for.

    As Dr DJ pointed out, the GLF isn’t a GoSL-sponsored event. To attack it as a substitute for attacking Mahinda & Co is so idiotically counter-productive that this sort of idea could only come from a group of self-regarding Western leftists.

    • to mango

      @mango & Dayan, maybe you should check who the sponsors are before you make silly statements… the last time i check SRI LANKAN ARLINES & the TOURIST BOARD were both sponsors of GLF & both a part of the GoSL… ergo, the GoSL is a sponsor of the GLF… open the books GLF let’s see some accountability…

      @Blacker and others who try to compare the GLF & the JLF… do you know that the Jaipur Lit Fest is FREE unlike the elitist GLF… unfortunately both are run by white men, but that’s another story…

      • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

        So, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board and Sri Lankan airlines were….responsible somehow, for Lasantha’s death and Prageeth’s disappearance?

        Freaky deaky…

      • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

        Firstly I never compared Jaipur to Galle; I pointed out that it would be a good opportunity for an author from a country facing boycott to engage with the two authors supporting the boycott on a similar stage.

        Secondly the reason Jaipur is free is because it’s organised by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation, a charitable trust. If a similar trust supported the GLF it wouldn’t have to seek sponsorship. However, it would still run the risk of being called a GoSL initiative by the likes of the idiot commentator I’m responding to. Neither SL Airlines nor SLTPB have anything to do with organising the GLF, nor are they doing it out of any great love for literature. They’re doing it for the same reason any commercial sponsor does so; publicity. In fact, many Sinhalese right wing elements have long criticised the GLF for being exclusively in the English language and for not incorporating Sinhalese literature into it. It’s therefore ironic that it is this festival that is being targeted by the boycott.

        The GLF is organised by private individuals, and yes, increasing tourism revenue for hotels in the region was the original driving force. What’s wrong with that?

        In addition certain commentators here have claimed that authors at the GLF are sucking up to the GoSL, and others that the festival is some sort of centre for dissent and free speech. It’s neither. The GLF is a celebration of English literature backed by commercial interests. There’s no reason to apologise for that. It’s as representative of the GoSL as a golf tournament in Colombo.

      • NVN

        “unfortunately both are run by white men, but that’s another story…”

        You’re such a progressive thinker and clearly, you’ve got your facts right with everything else. Well done.

      • Mango

        The GLF’s other sponsors include UNESCO, The British Council, The American Centre, Dutch Embassy, Norwegian Embassy, Emirates Airlines etc. It is NOT a GoSL-sponsored event despite being supported by two GoSL departments.

        Do you propose a pigmentation level test to assess who should organise and run literary festivals? Isn’t Shyam Selvadurai (curator or the GLF) black enough for you? Watch his interview; he’s good man trying to do something good, unlike the useful idiots at the RSF/JDF and their running dogs in the circle-jerk of discredited, irrelevant CRAP Coalition.

        Feel free to enrol in a course in basic logic. Perhaps Dr DJ could recommend a good university for this unfortunate, logic-deprived commenter? :)

  • Chandre DW

    Arundathi Roy and Chomsky are well-meaning individuals who are unfortunately extremely uninformed about most matters. Celebrity status does not confer one the capacity to avoid doing the basic home work before making pronouncements. Arundathi R has recently written glamorizing the Maoists in India – an organization which has every intention to use violence and terror to achieve its objectives (which may themselves be unobjectionable). Naom Chemosky’s name is in websites connected to people who work with Garry Ananadasangaree of the CTC and others who promotes “boycott Sri Lanka”, “Genocide in Sri Lanka”-type programs. Some of these individuals openly supported the Tigers when it was not illegal to do so. Selecting a whole country, group of people (blacks, Jews, Sri Lankans, North Koreans, Iraqis) is a modern aberration of racism, even when it is practiced under a “UN” resolution. In this call for a boycott of the literary festival, we have some activists in RSF and such organizations donning the moral mantel to caste stones at others and begin to smother even literary festivals. The RSF should
    also propose to boycott French literary organisms supported by La Republique to protest about the treatment of Muslims, Bretons, and Gypsies in France. Doesn’t RSF know that Sarkozy rounded up the Gypsies and deported them by force?

    • Belle

      Chomsky does his research, his “homework” as you put it. If you’ve read his work, you would know that. He has been following the SL situation and has spoken out against GOSL on a few occasions since the end of the war. He is one of few intellectuals who does take the oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka seriously. He did not just haphazardly put his name to this campaign. (Strange that you accuse him of not doing his homework, yet here you are criticizing him without even knowing how to spell his name.)

      Boycotting an entire country can’t be racism if the cause itself turns on acting against the racism of a majority group against a minority group. What is it that you are saying? That Whites cannot boycott a non-white country even if terrible injustice is happening there, just because it is a non-white country? What about the racism in that position? And this is an international campaign, is it not? How is that racist?

      • SD

        Dear Belle,

        RE: “Chomsky does his research, his “homework” as you put it. If you’ve read his work, you would know that.”

        But you haven’t addressed some of the critical issues raised by others here.

        1. Could you please explain what earthly benefit there is in protesting against a literary festival which is there to encourage free-thinking in a country that could greatly benefit from a dose of it?

        2. How can a boycott of this festival serve to convince the general public that this is not merely misdirected revenge against the citizens of a poor country (of all races) for ridding itself of terrorism?

        3. Ok. Seriously. Let’s say the festival was cancelled. What exactly would have been achieved? Is the government now going to get down on its knees and gouge its eyes out in agony at not being able to attend a festival that’s generally confined to pro-devolution, civil society members anyway?

      • SD

        Belle,

        RE: “That Whites cannot boycott a non-white country even if terrible injustice is happening there, just because it is a non-white country?”

        Last but not least, does this also mean you are also ok with all Tamils being painted as terrorists and being confined to barbed wire camps? You seem to have no hesitance in doing the same to an entire country of people?

      • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

        The GLF doesn’t cater to the majority. Its organised by, and caters to, an urban English-speaking elite from all communities who largely dislike this GoSL administration. All this boycott will do is alienate this audience as can be seen by the comments made by Ameena and Naz who are anything but members of the MR constituency.

  • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

    Actually, Chinaman author Shehan Karunatilake is participating in the Jaipur lit fest, along with Pamuk and Desai. Maybe someone should suggest he use the platform to speak on behalf of the Galle Lit.

  • http://offthebeatentracksl.blogspot.com/ N

    The usual nonsense from Arundhati Roy. Leave a comment on the JDS comment page (http://www.jdslanka.org/2011/01/galle-literary-festival-international.html#comment-form). Let’s see how much they walk the talk. I thanked them for equating all of us with the government and for promoting collective punishment.

  • Savithri Rodrigo

    Well said indeed Sanjana! Even though I received this email sometime ago, I figured it was just a storm in a teacup. But reading the papers this morning, if as they say Kiran and her partner are boycotting GLF due to Sri Lanka’s record of muffling freedom of speech, then something needs to be said.
    First and foremost, don’t turn GLF into a circus. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a forum where like minded indiviuals get together and enjoy the ‘sights and sounds’ of the arts. Freedom of expression was never in question here as everyone is ‘free’ enough to say what they like. That’s what the open forums are for.
    Secondly, it is sad that authors of the ilk of Arundathi Roy decided to take up championing a cause without doing much homework (which she admits). Sad indeed, as we expect literary artistes of that stature to be more grounded with their views and inform themselves better without jumping to conclusions and then being authoritative about it.
    Thirdly, GLF extended invitations to the participating authors some time ago albeit long after Lasantha’s death and Prageeth’s disappearance. So if authors like Roy felt so strongly about the muffling of the media, why did they accept the GLF invitation in the first place and then cancel at the 11th hour? Maybe they like the controversy that surrounds such a move – sells more of ones works, doesn’t it?
    If you want a circus, take it up with those you think are responsible, not with the people who like to take a few days off and imbibe in a milieu that gives them some thought provoking R&R. GLF may not be perfect – but then are the Oscars or the Grammy’s? GLF opens out Sri Lanka to the world of literature and the arts – it is a uniting platform, where people of all cultures, ethnicities and religions get together to foster common interest. Isn’t this what we are looking at in the first place – methods of nation building?
    Please, let those of us who enjoy GLF, enjoy it in peace.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    1. The GLF cannot be legitimately criticised for NOT featuring Sinhala language literature or foregrounding Sri Lankan writers. Most festivals of art and music all over the world do NOT foreground or in many cases even feature artists/performers native to the area or country, let alone in the native languages.

    2. The struggle in many countries is precisely to be able to have something like the GLF; to open up the space for such an occasion. Here, the campaigners such as RSF, are targeting that space which should in fact be defended and preserved. Some irony, huh?

    3. The division of opinion reveals a reality: the distinction between (i) those who are sharply critical of or simply distant from, a particular policy, practice, political party, project or personality, and on the other hand (ii) those who are hostile to the country and Sri Lanka as a state…and wish to place it under siege.

    4. Category (ii) and its project often go against the interests of, and undermine, Category (i) and the space for Category (i). It also lends credibility to the propaganda of the xenophobes.

    5. Readers should also take into account the clash of opinion between the young writer Vihanga Perera and editor Rajpal Abeynayake in last week’s SundayLakbimanews, where the latter explains why he rejects the former’s call to boycott the GLF.

    • veedhur

      @Dayan,

      on point no.3

      Sanctions and boycotts are always blunt tools used in desperation to get at personality or policy or at least to irritate and bring about pressure when other means are not working …..but to impute that those who boycott don’t like ‘Sri Lanka as a state’ or are against ‘Sri Lanka as a country, a totality, inclusive of its citizenry, society and autonomous non-political spaces’ is stretching it a bit too much in my humble opinion.

  • Samuel P

    Well, I can only hope those people who were cheering on RSF and the JDS over the last few years have woken up to themselves. Remember when you guys were up in arms against those who said that these two organisations had an agenda against Sri Lanka? So now what? You thought it was the “paranoia of the patriot” but perhaps there was some truth to it after all. I wonder what Sunanda Deshapriya’s connection is to this as he was a long time correspondent for RSF. Whatever the case I think this has vindicated all those people who pointed an accusing finger at the RSF and the JSD for being anti-Sri Lankan, and for being uninformed about the ground situation in Sri Lanka. Shame on RSF

  • Agnos

    GV: “…And if international media boycotts the event, how can they report on the challenges facing mainstream media when compared to the freedom of expression in the festival?”

    This argument is unconvincing.  It is not like the international media hasn’t had its hands full reporting on war crimes, the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the disappearance of Prageeth or the 20-year sentence to J.S.Tissainayagam.

    If your argument is that attending the GLF will keep the Sri Lankan government’s atrocious crimes against media in the spotlight, the boycott call—or the controversy generated by it— has already done so.

  • Kushil Jayasena

    There is an interesting write up on this issue in today’s Lakbimanews, which makes some excellent points:

    The Galle Literary Festival (GLF) is a business undertaking. People make bucks out of it. It has enough spectacle to warrant the festival tag. As for the literary element, apart from the showcasing of some really good authors from overseas, there’s been a lot of mutual back-patting among a set of local English speakers whose literary credentials are largely pedestrian, especially when compared with their Sinhala (and probably Tamil) counterparts. It is a good place for interesting and even stimulating conversation; a tad too expensive for me to obtain a full experience of event and personality, but by and large harmless.

    Now an outfit whose credentials for ‘being’ are largely made of self-congratulatory love-notes has called on writers invited for this year’s version of the GLF to boycott the event. Reporters Without Borders (RWB), championing the cause of expression freedom want to gag a literary event. I laughed and laughed at the irony. I laughed and laughed when I read that the co-sponsor of this gagging was an organization called ‘Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS)’ which fancies itself as a network of exiled journalists.

    This JDS is made up mostly of apologists for the LTTE. They include people who have made careers out of flinching monies off organizations dedicated to championing the cause of media freedom. Their spokesperson, Rohitha Bashana was in the pay of the LTTE and edited that terrorist outfit’s Sinhala rag, Dedunna. Sunanda Deshapriya, for example, was ingloriously evicted from the Centre for Policy Alternatives amidst charges of theft. He was hoofed out of the Free Media Movement for all manner of wrongdoing. I doubt if many of their membership would be recognized as journalists by the media fraternity in Sri Lanka.

    Now RWB is naturally as thick-as-thieves with the likes of Deshapriya and Bashana because these clowns were the principal sources they depended upon for information about Sri Lanka. Needless to say their conclusions about this country are laughable. I remember taking them to task a couple of years ago in an article titled ‘Reporters sans accountability, integrity and pants’. Going by their preamble to this Boycott-GLF campaign it looks like they’ve stuck to their guns and remain without accountability, integrity or pants.

    http://www.lakbimanews.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=295:by-malinda-seneviratne&catid=46:columns&Itemid=50

    I still cannot believe that such a hair-brained call for a boycott was actually released by Reporters Without Borders.

  • Belle

    SD,
    Just realized that I actually posted my last comment–I hadn’t finished composing it and was going to tackle some of the questions you raise. Will try to do that soon. But as to your comment that boycotting the festival is like saying all Tamils are Tigers and incarcerating them, I don’t think the boycott organizers are directing judgement against Sri Lankans–they’re targetting GOSL. Also, incarceration behind barbed wire is not quite in the same league as not being able to attend a literary festival.

    • SD

      Dear Belle,

      Re: “… I don’t think the boycott organizers are directing judgement against Sri Lankans–they’re targetting GOSL.”

      Ok, but the problem is that the connection between the GOSL and the GLF is rather tenuous, making one wonder what Chomsky’s rationale was?

      RE: “Also, incarceration behind barbed wire is not quite in the same league as not being able to attend a literary festival.”

      Sure, no arguments there. But the underlying logic seems to be the same?
      Quite honestly, I’m not sure how trade embargoes, boycotts or general condemnation of Sri Lanka will achieve any justice for Tamils, because such actions do not affect only the GOSL, but the entire country as a whole. This is similar to the fact that locking people up in barbed wire camps affected not just a few hundred LTTE cadres, but all people in the Vanni.

      In the past, I personally bought into the idea that holding people in confinement was a good idea, till the LTTE cadres could be caught and the problem durably resolved. It was Wijayapala who argued quite convincingly that this was a rather stupid move.

      I feel that these boycott calls are similarly misguided. What will happen, is that it will strengthen the people’s resolve against the so called “meddling” and “imperialism” of those omnipresent “foreign powers”, as per the popular rhetoric.

      Don’t ask me how else to affect change though. That, I don’t know.
      My best bet? Give people an education, not threats. And what better venue than the GLF for that?

      • Veedhur

        SD,

        In your view were sanctions against South Africa justified? Including against its medical practitioners, artists, athletes etc etc?

      • SD

        Dear Veedhur,

        RE: “In your view were sanctions against South Africa justified? Including against its medical practitioners, artists, athletes etc etc?”

        Was it justified because it was fair? No. It affects the guilty and the non-guilty alike.

        Was it justified because it might have been effective? Only if one assumes that the ends justify the means (What’s your take on it?) and it can be shown that sanctions were effective in achieving the desired ends.

        Were they effective in S.A? Maybe. Maybe not. Some say not.
        http://www.econ.yale.edu/growth_pdf/cdp796.pdf
        http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1987/06/us-sanctions-on-south-africa-the-results-are-in

        Secondly, what did sanctions achieve in Cuba or Iran?
        In those countries, it only served to strengthen and unite the country against those perceived as international bullies. The main reason was because the people in the country did not believe that sanctions against them were justified, which in turn strengthened the government.

        In Sri Lanka, the effect will be the same.
        The Sri Lankan people are happy to be rid of terrorism. (see my other post to Belle)
        They believe this government deserves credit for it.
        If sanctions are imposed, the govt. can blame all their failures on the sanctions as well as justify increased repression.
        The people will stand by in support, just as in Cuba or Iran.
        It will achieve nothing for the Tamils nor will it do justice to many poor people in this country.

      • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

        Veedhur, the sanctions against South Africa made some amount of sense, because in the medical, sports, artistic, and other fields, blacks were being repressed by both the Apartheid regime, as well as white organisers and administrators of non-state entities.

        Can you show any indication that the English literati of SL are similarly complicit in repressing the media, attacking journalists, or in anyway contributing to a lack of free speech?

        This boycott is akin to the US invading Iraq because Bin Laden was in Afghanistan.

  • Naveen Welikala

    It has been repeatedly emphasized by many that the GLF does not have any connections to the Sri Lankan government, and therefore the “RSF/JDS gang” should be crucified for having a sinister agenda against Sri Lanka, and so on. Now, here comes the most interesting part:

    “The Sri Lankan Presidential Secretariat has said that writer Orhan Pamuk’s absence at the Galle Literary Festival (GLF) had no link to freedom of expression issues in Sri Lanka.

    “The Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk had informed the organisers in early January 2011 that he will be unable to participate in the festival, due to what he considered to be Indian visa restrictions, said Lucien Rajakarunanayake, Director, Policy Research & Information of the Presidential Secretariat.

    “Mr. Pamuk made his intentions clear much before the Reporters sans frontières’ (RSF) call to writers, to keep away from the GLF due to alleged freedom of expression issues in Sri Lanka.

    “Any attempts to link the non-participation of Orhan Pamuk at the GLF to an alleged situation about freedom of expression in Sri Lanka is therefore wholly unfounded, and only serves the agenda of those seeking to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka abroad,” he added.” (http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article1116277.ece)

    Does anyone smell a rat?

  • Belle

    Groundviews says “Events like GLF are sadly rare. Let us enjoy them in peace.” That may be the point the campaigners are trying to make. How does one enjoy peace in a country where people are being killed for their ideas? By choosing/creating an intellectual/cultural space for ‘free’ expression that will not invite the ire of those killing people for their self-expression. People then take refuge in this compromised space. If you look at the festival programme, it is indeed severely compromised. The BBC is organizing a round table talk on the legacy of “civil war”. It has universalized the topic of civil war, and only one speaker will touch on the local situation. Is there any SL Tamil speaker who will address the Tamil side of the issue of displacement? No. I can see why GOSL would not object to this talk. Look at the tours arranged to touristy sites. Why not arrange tours to see the devastation the war has exacted in the North? Pamuk’s comments about how he will miss seeing the beauties of SL and Kiran Desai’s remark that she had a “super time” when she was last in SL suggest that this was very much a touristy, fun event for them.

    What inevitably happens with events like this is that they become the alibi that ‘prove’ that there is indeed freedom of self-expression in Sri Lanka. This is how the government will play it. It’s interesting how quickly GOSL entered the fray. The Sri Lankan Presidential Secretariat’s comment shows that GOSL is invested in the festival as a sign of free expression in SL. The Secretariat said, “Any attempts to link the non-participation of Orhan Pamuk at the GLF to an alleged situation about freedom of expression in Sri Lanka is therefore wholly unfounded, and only serves the agenda of those seeking to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka abroad.” The argument here is that Pamuk’s absence isn’t due to the political issue but to Indian visa restrictions; ergo, there is no freedom of expression problems in SL.

    Why should the SL literati enjoy the event “in peace” when their fellow writers, SL journalists, are under threat for speaking their mind? I find it disrespectful. Why should they be allowed to be in peace when their Northern fellow-citizens are obviously not in peace?

    What does the boycott achieve? No matter what their face-saving PR statements may say, Desai and Pamuk have been forced to re-think the politics of their action (or at least, how the wrong politics may affect their sales). (The Indian High Commission has revealed that the visa-restrictions excuse is fake.) In inconveniencing the SL bourgeoisie, the latter will also be forced to realize that GOSL tyranny is now also invading on their comforts and privileges, and that they too need to throw their hat into the ring of clamouring for justice. What else the boycott may achieve? Perhaps, just perhaps, GOSL will think twice about taking the murderous way out in dealing with dissenting views.

    SD:
    “How can a boycott of this festival serve to convince the general public that this is notmerely misdirected revenge against the citizens of a poor country (of all races) for ridding itself of terrorism?”

    I think RSF and JFD should not pander to neuroticism like this in deciding whether or not to call for a boycott. Their statement clearly says that the boycott is to address freedom of expression issues. If people prefer to think it is about their society being hounded for having won a war against terrorists, they need to examine their own guilt issues about the war.

    • SD

      Dear Belle,

      RE: “If people prefer to think it is about their society being hounded for having won a war against terrorists, they need to examine their own guilt issues about the war.”

      There are no guilt issues about the war. You need to understand that. Let me try to paint a picture of what someone born in my generation might think. A person born in my generation was probably not involved in anyway with anti-Tamil persecution (or was too little to remember). Yet, what they do remember is living in an environment where bombs regularly went off and the whole country was held hostage by terrorists for 30 odd years, not due to any unbearable discrimination by them, but for the crimes of a portion of their ancestors.

      Now, I’m not in any way suggesting that injustices in the past should merely be forgotten or that present generations should not aim to rectify misdeeds of the past, but it needs to be clearly understood that newer generations are not only more and more removed from the roots of the problem, but also, less and less responsible. Simple analogy: No point hanging me because my dad’s second cousin was a chicken thief. Failure to understand this will only result in further radical polarization of opinion, not empathy.

      There’s no point expecting a guilt complex from people while blowing them to kingdom come for their ancestor’s crimes. And why don’t most people even feel guilt for the carnage during the last stretch of the war? Because everyone damn well knew that the demands of the LTTE could not be realistically met (I think you know that too) and it ended up being more or less a Hobson’s choice. A necessary, unavoidable evil, if you may. So for what exactly do you expect a guilt complex to manifest itself for? For doing the only that most people considered necessary for the continued good health of their country?

      If you want to understand that mindset, just look around you. How many Tamils easily justify the crimes of the LTTE against innocent civilians as a “necessary evil”, although arguably, they hardly have a leg to stand on?

      None of this means that the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka is resolved. But most people in Sri Lanka are glad that some progress was made on this seemingly intractable issue – at least, one major evil is gone! People in Sri Lanka are grateful for small mercies. That’s all they have.

      • Agnos

        SD: “A necessary, unavoidable evil, if you may.”

        That the murder of nearly 40,000 civilians and the maiming of many more thousands of fellow citizens are considered a necessary evil by Sri Lanka’s majority population only reinforces the rationale for sanctions and boycott wherever possible.

      • SD

        Agnos,

        RE: “That the murder of nearly 40,000 civilians and the maiming of many more thousands of fellow citizens are considered a necessary evil by Sri Lanka’s majority population only reinforces the rationale for sanctions and boycott wherever possible.”

        First, where did you get your figures from? Lying for “justice” are we?

        Secondly, as I wrote in my post to Veedhur, sanctions and boycotts might work if it brings about the desired ends, depending on what your desired ends are. What are yours? Vengeance?

        Lastly, your boycotts and ire are best directed at those who funded this rabid terrorism, and kept giving glimmers of hope to a terrorist organization in its death throes, and thereby, were directly culpable for the mass civilian deaths during the final stretch of the war, don’t you think?

      • Belle

        SD,
        I wasn’t saying that they should feel guilt or that they in fact do feel guilt. Rather, if the boycott organizers say that they are calling for the boycott to address concerns about freedom of expression, then people should argue based on that concern. To instead accuse them of really wanting revenge on Sri Lankans because they ended terrorism in the country is an extremely neurotic response because the two causes are unrelated. Isn’t it more than plausible that journalists’ associations would care about lack of media freedom of expression and centre their activism on it?

        My analogy: If somebody tells me they can’t stand me because I am a racist, but I think that it is really because of my gender, then wouldn’t you think that I had some deep psychological issues about my gender, a chip on my shoulder because of it? That’s where I’m coming from. All this constant harping about how the international community is trying to do SL in for ending terrorism, trotted out every time the IC tries to do something–all that tells me is that Sri Lankans do have guilt issues about the end of the war. Your argument only tells me that they are either not conscious of that guilt or are very invested in denying it.

        “Simple analogy: No point hanging me because my dad’s second cousin was a chicken thief.”

        Nobody cares about that. I would think that Sri Lankans should care about giving Tamils their due rights simply because they are citizens. These are inalienable rights of citizens–ethically, that’s non-negotiable. When your society finally arrives at that point, then the ethnic issue will be resolved, and other issues too will have half a chance of being resolved.

        At heart, it boils down to feeling respect for your nation. Who wants a nation that is known worldwide for not being able to give minorities their rights? Someone who feels respect for their nation would not want such a reputation for it.

      • SD

        Dear Belle,

        RE: “Rather, if the boycott organizers say that they are calling for the boycott to address concerns about freedom of expression, then people should argue based on that concern.”

        How can we address concerns about freedom of expression, when the very event that’s being boycotted centres precisely around freedom of expression?

        RE: “To instead accuse them of really wanting revenge on Sri Lankans because they ended terrorism in the country is an extremely neurotic response because the two causes are unrelated. “

        If you wish to suddenly make an ahistoric analysis, that argument might hold water. But the reality is that continuous meddling by those who have no idea about the ground realities in Sri Lanka have resulted in public opinion turning *against* them. What in the world kind of a discussion do you expect to generate then?

        RE: “Nobody cares about that. I would think that Sri Lankans should care about giving Tamils their due rights simply because they are citizens. “

        Yes, I agree. But the point is, the whole exercise had degenerated into a much more pointless exercise by then. It was no longer about due rights, it was a different matter of secession – entirely contestable. We shouldn’t conflate these issues and use them interchangeably.

        Also, if we are now on the subject of due rights, you must first mention what specific rights you are referring to so we have a basis for discussion. In my understanding, much of the outstanding issues, are not of policy, but implementation. And much of the implementation was actively hampered (or conveniently excused) for decades by – guess what? terrorism.

        Whether the LTTE and its terrorism was entirely fruitless or not might be debatable, but whichever the case, they had long since overstayed their welcome, we all know this. In fact, they overstayed their welcome long enough that there was even enough time for newer generations to spawn and become increasingly divorced from the origins of the problem, time in which the LTTE itself managed to evolve into an altogether different problem for everyone – including and perhaps mostly for -Tamils.

        So as I mentioned earlier, the bottom line as I see it is – slaying, punishing or boycotting the newer generations are unlikely to achieve anything. They grew up with a different problem.

        RE: “When your society finally arrives at that point, then the ethnic issue will be resolved, and other issues too will have half a chance of being resolved.”

        Your contention that resolving the ethnic issue is a pre-requisite to resolving the other issues needs a citation. I suspect it’s the other way around.

        RE: “At heart, it boils down to feeling respect for your nation. Who wants a nation that is known worldwide for not being able to give minorities their rights?”

        One wishes a magic wand could be waived, and humanity will sing Kumbaya forthwith. However, we work under the influence of much more primitive forces, and you should surely understand that better than most.

        If you want the issue under discussion to be minority rights – then we will once again have to make that take centre stage. This problem needs a reboot, whether we like it or not. The demise of the LTTE provides the space for that reboot. I don’t see people seizing that opportunity – digressing instead onto freedom of speech, war crimes etc. etc – all of which can be legitimately contested by those who opposed terrorism.

        That’s why the Roy’s who are divorced from this situation and passing judgement from above will not change realities or perceptions on the ground.

    • Travelling Academic

      Here are five recent events in SL, and I was a participant in four of them:

      1. Karainagar Sivan kOvil thEr;
      2. A scientific conference at the University of Jaffna, where the two keynote speakers were from the SL Tamil diaspora;
      3. Tamil writers conference in Colombo;
      4. An undergraduate course I taught;
      5. A research conference at Peradeniya at which the French ambassador was chief guest.

      Which of these would you like me to have boycotted because we both can easily agree on a list of bad things about the guys in power?

  • MC

    It’s quite interesting to discover the true limits of Sri Lanka’s pseudo liberal discourse on dissent and democracy. Scratch a liberal, you get a English speaking rightist cultural dwarf! Hence, all the fictitious cockeyed theories about “RSF/JDS conspiracy to tarnish the image” of Sri Lanka.

    Just leave all the nonsensical name calling and demonizing campaigns aside, for a moment. According to Groundviews editors, the GLF is simply “a festival of literature that has nothing to do with media or journalism.” But quite a lot of things to do with ‘tourism and business promotion’ it seems. Read this: “Priya Epitawela representing Sri Lankan Airlines, the official carrier to the Festival, said they were pleased to help in bringing in and taking out foreign presenters at the GLF. She said it was rewarding to see how the event has grown and that this year, participants need not spend time traveling in vehicles to Galle; they could do the trip in thirty minutes by Sri Lankan’s air taxis. A further bonus is offered – 25% off the ticket price!

    “Hiran Cooray, Chairman Jetwing and current Chairman PATA noted that Jetwing and its hotel in Galle, The Lighthouse, have been associated with the GLF with mutual benefit. He said that tourism adds 2% to the GDP but is expected to up the figure to 8%. With events such as the GLF drawing foreign crowds along with the increased number of tourists, that higher target could be reached. “Next to the Kandy Perahera, the GLF is the most exceptional event in the country. It celebrates more than literature – all types of culture including gourmet cooking, the arts, and environmental issues.” This year whale watching is included in the programme.” (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=16575)

    So, grab the message: Screw Prageeth (who was, unfortunately, a journalist) and fly Sri Lankan!

    • The Mervyn Silva

      Dear the MC,

      I am glad you are brigning up the scratchig issue.Yes, I am very agreeable to this idea. In fact and truthfully speaking this is what we are doing in the government side whenever we are finding somebody saying nasty things about us. We are finding that person and scratching him or her. Very often we are finding that the person is not who he is claiming to be. He is also just like us. This is what we are doing to the leftist people, priests, trade unionists and journalists and the human rights activits who are making noise and causing us the trouble. We are finding them and scratcing them like they are having mother of all rashes and after a good hard scratch they are sayig things exactly what we are wanting them to be saying. Some people we are not even having to be scratching. We are just giving them Literature Festival and they are scratcing themselves.

      Before they are dying the Tigers are also scratching people. Then they ae also getting scratched, well and truly also. Now we are scratching the man who is scratching the Tigers, the Fonseka, but there is not much progress for us. Maybe we are scratching him the wrong way.

      Please do not be worrying about the Prageeth. We are not screwing him. Only scratching. Real hard. Just like we are scratching the Lasnatha and the LTTE is scratching the Neelan.

    • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

      So you’re saying that because the GoSL isn’t arsed enough to investigate what happened to Lasantha and Prageeth, anything (regardless of whether it’s connected to the GoSL) must be attacked and damaged simply because its organisers are more interested in their lives than other’s? :D That’s a pretty childish attitude.

      The GoSL will not care if the GLF disappears (in fact some elements would prefer if it did); nor will it benefit if it goes on forever. Tourism in the Galle area is at peak capacity; to the point where you couldn’t get a room anywhere between Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna throughout December and most of January. Most GLF attendees are locals or Colombo-based expats; very few are tourists or visiting just for the GLF.

      Which part of the GoSL doesn’t give a [damn] about the GLF do you people not understand? You might as well boycott the National Gay & Lesbian Kite Flying Parade for all the good it’ll do. All this boycott is doing is alienating the English-speaking urban elite choir. SL must truly be blessed if the gods have made all her enemies this stupid :D

      • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com/ PresiDunce Bean

        Dear David, in your last line you say, “SL must truly be blessed if the gods have made all her enemies this stupid.” Is it stupid to ask the Government Of Rajapaksa to find the killers of Lasantha, Ekanaligoda and many others? Is it stupid to ask the Government Of Rajapaksa to have an ‘ independent commission’ (pronounced neutral umpires) to look into war crimes against civilians.

        The excerpt given below was taken from Fredrica’s editorial In the
        ‘Sunday Leader’ under the headline ‘ Losing The Peace.’

        “What Rajapaksa simply will not get or refuses to understand is that no matter how much money he may pay a British PR firm to lobby and brush up his international image nothing is going to detract from these charges of human rights violations having been perpetrated until and unless he permits a credible, inquiry into war crimes.”
        “Thousands of victims in Sri Lanka demand accountability for the abuses they’ve suffered from the Sri Lankan security forces as well as armed groups such as the LTTE,” Amnesty’s Zarifi said.

        http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/01/23/losing-the-peace/

        It’s people like you David who should be ashamed to keep defending the Government Of Rajapaksa and the armed forces day in and day out.

        I am faithful to my country, but I’m not a lackey or running dog of any Government or any individual or family.

        I will leave you with a verse from the Bible.
        “A faithful witness will not lie, but a false witness speaks lies.”
        Prov erbs ch:14 vs 5

        ps. Also David, it’s no use calling me a Dunce etc. because sticks and stones and police batons may break my bones and white vans may permanently rehabilitate me…but I’m immune to any harsh words…Ha.

      • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

        “Is it stupid to ask the Government Of Rajapaksa to find the killers of Lasantha, Ekanaligoda and many others? Is it stupid to ask the Government Of Rajapaksa to have an ‘ independent commission’ (pronounced neutral umpires) to look into war crimes against civilians.”

        No, Mr Dunce, but it is stupid if instead of targeting the GoSL, which you think is responsible for the above, you target those that are in fact removed from the GoSL and are actually in principle agreement with you. Or at least they were before the boycott. And you wonder why I think you’re stupid?

        “It’s people like you David who should be ashamed to keep defending the Government Of Rajapaksa and the armed forces day in and day out.”

        I don’t need to defend the government or the Rajapakses; you’re very welcome to attack them if you can. But you can’t, because aside from idle speculation and a few fantasies, you have nothing concrete to charge them with. Which is why instead you try to bully the GLF. It’s like you holding a grudge against me, but because you don’t have the balls or the wherewithal to come after me, you find a distant relative of mine who I don’t really like, but to whom I occasionally send Christmas presents because he’s a relative, and then attack him in the hope that this’ll make me change my ways. Instead, I make a big fuss since he’s my relative (even though I don’t like him and wish he’d stay far away), and my relative who doesn’t like me either suddenly wonders why someone he doesn’t even know is abusing him for no fault of his beyond being distantly related to me. Now he begins to realise that maybe I’m not such a bad guy, and the only way to get ahead is by sticking close to his kith and kin. So congratulations Mr Dunce; what have you achieved?

        “I am faithful to my country, but I’m not a lackey or running dog of any Government or any individual or family.”

        I’m sure you believe that; many misguided people also believe that their view is that of what’s best for their country; including VP and Wijeweera. FYI I have never voted for MR or the SLFP or even the old PA — though I did vote for CBK when she ran for president. If you can only engage my opposition to your viewpoint in the context of my defence of an individual or a political party, that’s your small-mindedness, and it is this latter failing, seen multiplied across the comment boards of the SL blogosphere that reassures me that SL’s enemies will fail yet again, not because we’re particularly intelligent, united or strong, but because you’re particularly stupid, confused and weak.

        “I will leave you with a verse from the Bible.
        “A faithful witness will not lie, but a false witness speaks lies.”
        Prov erbs ch:14 vs 5″

        And let me leave you with one which you will profit to take heed of: Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not: — Jeremiah 5:21

        “ps. Also David, it’s no use calling me a Dunce etc. …I’m immune to any harsh words…Ha.”

        I was merely addressing you by the pseudonym you have chosen for yourself; and I have even been exceedingly polite by adding the prefix “Mr” to it ;)

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    The Editors of Groundviews were sent a personal letter from Sunila Abeysekara addressed to a leading signatory of the RSF/JDS appeal to boycott the Galle Literary Festival. She kindly agreed to publish it on Groundviews for a wider appreciation.

    See Writing against the RSF/JDS appeal to boycott the Galle Literary Festival, http://groundviews.org/2011/01/24/writing-against-the-rsfjds-appeal-to-boycott-the-galle-literary-festival/

  • Cyril

    SD
    “A person born in my generation was probably not involved in anyway with anti-Tamil persecution (or was too little to remember).“

    aha– Yes! your innocent Generation in Sinhala society was probably not involved in the way of 1983,1981, 1977, 1972, 1958..etc. but last decade they have done it with most formal way. instead of the goons wearing sarong who were in old generations; your generation have done it with wearing formal uniform. instead of arson or knives your generation have used Most sophisticated weapons with state power. Your generation did not kill or raped Tamil women in the streets of cities. They have done it in Secret locations.when 40000 people masscred and a whole population herded in to the camps surrounded by barbwires, your generation have celebrated it with “Kiribath”.yes no guilt issues.only the issues of glory.

    • SD

      Oh cut the melodrama Cyril. I’ve made it clear that “our generation” had to deal with the realities confronting us, in the political space provided to us. On the one side by a barbaric terrorist organization that had no hesitance in cannibalizing even their young. And on the other, scores of incompetent, power-hungry governments. Not forgetting of course, the loony nationalists, both Sinhalese and Tamil to add fuel to the fire.

      I’d say I’m stunned at even this much progress.

      • The Mervyn Silva

        Dear the SD and the Cyril,

        I am thinking the problem we are having is having power hungry governments and kiribath hungry peoples.

  • Nancy

    A personal letter! really! According my late grandma, it is not good to read someone´s personal letters.

  • Agnos

    SD: “First, where did you get your figures from? Lying for “justice” are we?”

    My friend, a doctor with the WHO frequently visiting Vavuniya, told me about the 40,000 deaths, though he himself had been opposed to the LTTE from his undergrad days at the Univ.of Jaffna. Then there are the UTHR reports and the submission of the Catholic Bishop of Mannar to the LLRC. I have great respect for the ICG and the HRW as well.

    In contrast, you voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, despite knowing well that the Rajapaksa regime is implicated in a number of blatant lies.

    1. The deep penetration units of the SLA killed civilians along with the LTTE, and routinely denied that it was even operating there.

    2. The GoSL/SLA murdered MP’s like Joseph Pararajasingham, Raviraj and Maheswaran as well as journalists like Lasantha and a number of others, by using paramilitaries or SLA death squads. Moreover, the GoSL knew the SLA and STF/allied paramilitaries were responsible for the Trinco 5 and ACF 17 massacres, the murder/rape of TRO members, etc. But they all lied about it.

    3. Gotabhaya has let slip in interviews that he was determined to exterminate the LTTE even while he was living in the US after hearing the rhetoric of George Bush about Al Qaeda; so the LTTE’s idiotic provocation at Mavil Aru was just the excuse the GoSL was waiting for to start a merciless war disregarding civilian casualties. But the GoSL lied from the beginning that it was drawn into the war by the LTTE.

    4. The GoSL deliberately lied that there were only about 130,000 civilians in the Vanni. But when the IDP camps were overflowing with more than 350,000 people, every pro-Rajapaksa idiot ignored that deception and rationalized the regime’s actions, saying that the number didn’t matter.

    Given that you voted for Rajapaksa, I will take that lying about these things is natural for you.

    On the other hand, the total blackout imposed in the war zone, the expulsions of the UN and ICRC, and denial of access to independent media, all point to the fact that there was the clear and present intent to commit mass murders. A figure of 40,000 could well be lower than the actual figure. The bottom line is that the people you support, having done everything to suppress the truth, have zero credibility to speak on these matters. Someone could say 60,000 civilians died, and given your zero credibility, you have no standing whatsoever to argue against it.

    I don’t have more time to waste with people who have no credibility.

    • SD

      Dear Agnos,

      RE: “The bottom line is that the people you support, having done everything to suppress the truth, have zero credibility to speak on these matters. Someone could say 60,000 civilians died, and given your zero credibility, you have no standing whatsoever to argue against it.”

      You do have a point there. There’s no denying that, given the lack of investigations and the govts.’ zero casualty claim, any figure would fly.

      Contrary to your beliefs, I don’t hold a candle for this govt. However, with regard to the war, whether or not the govt. managed to uphold the high ideals that you expected of them, matters unwinded in the only logical way that those waiving Tiger flags for violence should have expected. Acting all indignant and shedding tears at this “surprise” ending will not change anything.

      We’ve already lived through the murder and death of massive numbers of youth during the JVP rebellion. In a similar fashion, once the ordinary citizen found it difficult to conduct their daily lives, their security threatened and patience exhausted, that’s the point at which there was no redemption. That was true after the ’83 riots with Tamils, which is why the LTTE became as powerful as it did, and things have now come full cycle and became true again with the Sinhalese, after 30 years of LTTE violence.

      As I said before, your ire for this last stretch is better directed at those who funded this rabid terrorism.

  • Humanist

    Thank you, Arundhati and Noam, for univiting people to the GLF and stifling the opportunity for free discussion and exchange in Sri Lanka. After all, this is not surprising coming from you, who have both made statements on tape at various times that you do not really know what is going on in Sri Lanka. What’s lost from signing yet another petition over an issue which you have no understanding or influence?

    Thank you, Shyam, for being the chief organizer of the festival this year and Sunila, for participating. You are our role models and we want to hear what you have to say, rather than Noam or Arundhati. The GLF is not perfect but it is one of the few spaces left in Sri Lanka to meet and discuss critical social and political issues openly, while celebratiing the power and pleasure of literature. As someone who supports the rights of Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka, GLF is a place I can count on to meet other like-minded people, to build bridges and not be reprimanded for being a traitor – and gain much needed strength for the struggle for justice during the rest of the year.

    Thank you, Groundviews, for your continued endorsement of the festival – you are not supposed to be neutral when it comes to positive engagement.

    Now that Noam and Arundhati have called upon writers not to come to Galle, we can expect only the kind of people who are seriously interested in literary debates and/or concerned about making a difference in what happens in Sri Lanka to attend. I would like to see people who want transformative change, such as the Travelling Academic, participate in this event, rather than marginalized leftists who have nothing better to do with their potentially valuable lives than sign ineffective petitions.

    If Chomsky had achieved anything in his life, the US would not be having the largest share of defence spending, around 46% of the total US $ 1.5 trillion spent in the world. Roy should have stuck to literature, where she was actually effective, rather than move into political activism where she has replaced her lyrical, nuanced, powerful literary voice with strident sloganeering, which convinces only other strident sloganeers. I seriously don’t think they have the ability to persuade anyone who matters and they are not terrbily well known for their ability to build bridges for peace and reconciliation.

    Let us celebrate Galle Literary Festival as a space for sharing critique and beauty, and a place which holds the potential to build much needed bridges for peace.Such an event cannot practically happen without financial sponsorship and event management, so it is a lame excuse to boycott it for that reason.

  • http://www.sandrajensen.net Sandra Jensen

    I have appreciated this dialogue very much, as it has helped me understand some of the issues on both sides. Perhaps there can be a positive outcome of the boycott and the press coverage: it might encourage all writers and participants attending the festival to listen and learn, to take the time to attend Sunila Abeysekara’s talk, and to share with others what they perceive is happening in Sri Lanka. It is a writer’s festival after all, it is what we do: communicate.

  • Belle

    SD,

    Looks like you didn’t get my meaning. I said due rights for minorities as citizens are non-negotiable. But you want to talk about the history, and the terrorism, and the who-did-what-first, and the ground realities. Even if the LTTE killed as many people as Sri Lankan governments have done, it doesn’t take away the minorities’ rights to equal rights and opportunities as citizens. Sri Lanka didn’t give that to Tamils, either pre or post LTTE, so let’s not obfuscate the issue.

    Thank goodness Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky are not trapped in the “ground realities” as you are. At least there are people who are neither Tamil nor Sinhalese who can see things clearly, and their clarity is no doubt due to the fact that their own self-interests are not caught in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, that they are indeed, “divorced from the situation and passing judgement from above”. It won’t change realities or perceptions on the ground? You think so? I’d be willing to bet that discussion will be a lot more intense at the GLF than was originally planned as people try to prove to themselves that they do in fact realize the seriousness of issues of freedom of expression and do recognize that their attending a literary event and speaking their mind in between cake and coffee is not quite the same as Lasantha, all on his lonesome, penning ideas that he knew could cost him his life.

    Nevertheless, you do raise an interesting question. What will it take for Sri Lankans to change their perceptions, to realize that they as a society do deserve better than tyranny, that all their citizens deserve full rights? What will liberate them from their defensiveness, which is keeping them trapped in their cages? Like you for instance—you love your “ground realities,” don’t you? You say you don’t like them but you’re doing your darned best to explain these to others and to even justify them! Thanks to you, SL youth can use the excuse of LTTE behaviour (all that they can remember) to explain why they want to deny rights to Tamils. Why don’t you critique these “ground realities” instead?

    • SD

      Dear Belle,

      RE: “Thanks to you, SL youth can use the excuse of LTTE behaviour (all that they can remember) to explain why they want to deny rights to Tamils. Why don’t you critique these “ground realities” instead?”

      Maybe because bleating about the obvious won’t change anything?

      Anyone with a reasonably modern education and has invested a little bit more thought beyond the bigotry instilled in them by their parents would know that “due rights for minorities as citizens are non-negotiable.”

      What all of us would like to know is how in the hell to get that working in Sri Lanka, given the realities we confront.

      What we hear instead are pointless preaching from the clouds to “enlighten us of the fact” – because the people doing the pontificating jolly well don’t have a clue how to achieve anything practical on the ground either.

      The least they could do is not to antagonize and alienate everyone who are at least potential or actual allies. The GLF is therefore the wrong target.

      Get it?

      Secondly, there are some things that didn’t help us resolve this situation. One of them was the terrorism that was tried out for 30 years. Lesson? Antagonizing the elected government doesn’t work either. Get it?

      There are some systems that are convoluted beyond comprehension. The way to make progress in such situations is to do the best you can within the constraints of that system. That’s why “people who are not trapped in ground realities and can see things clearly” aren’t seeing anything really useful to affect change. They don’t understand the system in the first place.

      The only way forward is to, guess what, work *with the government available to you*. Progress will be slow, but I guarantee it will be a heck of a lot better than antagonizing them. That’s not to say that external pressure won’t help in some situations – but pressure should be exerted on the *right things*. Blindly opposing the government at every turn will create a similar mentality in return. You will do better to understand the system you are trying to change.

      I hope this simple and obvious wisdom doesn’t evade you.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    1.Apartheid South Africa? Which planet are these folks on? That was a situation precisely of minority rule over a disenfranchised majority! The anti-apartheid struggle was for ‘one man, one vote’! That’s what we HAVE in SL and which the minority (ultra)nationalists were unreconciled to and agitating against from the days of the Soulbury commission!

    2. How does a boycott or sanctions help the cause of human rights?

  • Roshan

    Sri Lanka’s Galle Festival ‘hurt’ by boycott appeal

    Sri Lanka’s literary Galle Festival kicked off on Wednesday despite last week’s call for a boycott, issued by Reporters Without Borders. They asked international authors not to attend the festival due to Sri Lanka’s poor record on freedom of expression and free speech. The festival organisers say they have been ‘hurt’ by the call, but the festival continues as planned.

    The festival’s spokesman Rameez Abdeen told RNW that the Reporters Without Borders’ action was ‘unfortunate’ and that the festival organisers have been ‘hurt’ by it. “The Galle Festival is in itself a form of free speech in Sri Lanka, one of only a few. We respect the decision made by Reporters Without Borders but obviously we do not agree with it”.

    Mr Abdeen says that, despite the boycott, the festival programme is going ahead as scheduled. “We have spoken to people who come to the festival every year and they saw no reason to stay at home. In fact, the box office has never been better. We sold more tickets than in any other year”.

    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/sri-lankas-galle-festival-hurt-boycott-appeal

  • Geeth J

    It is so clear what RSF/JDS is asking about GLF event.

    And also it is so clear why Dayan J who is changing political hypothesis smarter way for his own sake, supporting GLF.

    I can understand Sanjana H who is trying hard to fill the imminent SL English speaking society gap, backing up GLF (Why should he damage this culture!!).

    I know when Canadian novelist & gay activist Shyam S who escaped SL with parents because of 83 Sinhalese riots against Tamils and now dreaming stars in literary sky, managing the festival as the curator.

    Sunanda D’s silence in this regard is well understandable.

    And also it is discerned the supporting GLF by Malinda S who keep telling Prageeth as a porn-writer because he believes that the article on LankaEnews against his buddy Champika R was written by Prageeth, Ranga J who is having close deals with Rajapakse’s, and Indrajith S [edited out] who criticize ironically mammoth Arundathi Roy in his column 14.

    But why Sunila A?

    I was always highly regarded Sunila what she has done before in terms of fighting against human right violations and all kind of social activities, demonstrations, lectures inside the country and overseas. She remained adamant. Why she cannot realize how she is supporting current SL government who is having most human right infringements ever, as a moderator to the GLF 2011. That is what I cannot understand. Don’t say this is aging decease.

    The GLF is categorically co-sponsored by SL government. If you don’t like that, I would say that everything out from GLF is for the benefit to the SL government. This SL government has very simple formula that Sunila knows very well.

    State = Government = Political Party in the power = SLFP = Rajapakhas

    The ‘my country’ concept is a myth. It is no longer and it is a fantasy which keeps warm some patriotic minds. This country is always a prey for the politicians who are in the power. Now it belongs to Rajapakshas. They guzzled every single thing from few square feet of lands in Colombo to the several small islands located in North and East. They have a whole lot on their hands from legal system to the underground drug dealers and criminals. Corruptions, deceptions, human right violations, martial laws are to the top desperately. Country’s disparity is very high. How anybody can say that promoting the tourism or trade or business in this country is for the benefit of the ordinary people. Give me a break!!

    Tell me Sunila!
    1. Are ready to toast with glass of chardonnay with a well known writer while Sandya Eknaligoda is handing over leaflets looking for her husband in front of your hotel.
    2. Can you bring two photos of Prageeth and Lasantha to all of your GLF breakfasts and ask for the justice in public prior to start.
    3. Are you ready to raise the issue and highlight about SL government’s war crimes during the GLF, as a small effort to avoid at least another massacre in future by the government.
    4. Can you assure the free life for journalists and writers exiled from the country to bring them back to join with GLF.
    5. Can you assure not to have any other missing or death of journalist at least during this event?

    Positioning the side of Dayan and Lucian R is telling us to read back Sunila A? As Sanjana’s thought ‘Events like GLF are sadly rare. Let us enjoy them in peace’; I don’t think RSF/JDS broke your aathal. It might be a matter of others but I know it is not a matter of you, enjoying mesmerized music, having fun with reputed foreign writers and artists, at the end upload the Facebook or Myspace with proud photos expecting comments around the world.

    Probably RSF/JDS haven’t contact you, when you have to contact them prior to your decision. But Sunila, never too late for a right decision or action.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Who or what is an ‘aathal’?

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    And what’s an ‘aathal’ doing on Groundviews?

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Is it like ‘King aathal and the knights of the Roundtable?’

    • ram kapoor

      knights of the brown table i think…

  • Humanist

    Thank you RSF/JDS for the controversy. A few authors boycotted. The vast majority participated. More Sri Lankans than ever are attending the festival. All box office records have been surpassed. RSF/JDS lost their credibility with the majority of critical people in Sri Lanka. Hope they are pleased and celebrating their victory with chardonnay.

  • Geeth J

    Lanka E News office set on fire last night. Any comments from Sunila?

  • Humanist

    Perhaps Sunila will say that myopic actions have negative and tragic consequences…

  • Jack Point

    Whether you like the literary festival or not, whether you support the government or not, if you feel that Reporters without Borders’ boycott was damaging to the cause of free speech, please join this Facebook group, to prove that most people oppose the boycott:

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_177552512286865&ap=1

  • Heshan

    SD,

    We’ve already lived through the murder and death of massive numbers of youth during the JVP rebellion.

    Out of curiosity, are you willing to call the members of the JVP rebellion, terrorists?

    • SD

      Dear Heshan,

      RE: “are you willing to call the members of the JVP rebellion, terrorists?”

      Yes, terrorists would be an appropriate term. However, I would not put them anywhere in the league of the LTTE, as they did not employ suicide bombers, child soldiers and become an ongoing threat to the state and society on a similarly organized scale.

      In both cases, good riddance.

    • wijayapala

      Prof Heshan

      Out of curiosity, are you willing to call the members of the JVP rebellion, terrorists?

      Only those who were not Christian (non-practicing is ok).

  • Heshan

    SD,

    The JVP threatened to topple the government itself (and nearly succeeded). So technically the JVP posed a bigger threat to the future of the island than the LTTE (which only wanted a very specific piece of piece).

    But what is also interesting is that the JVP was brought into the political process, whereas the LTTE was and still continues to be ostracized.

    • TT

      Heshan,

      No whitewashing JVP terrorists (in my view) but their subversion lasted a very short time unlike the LTTE. Their terrorist tactics, weapons, skills, oraganisation falls well short of terrorist groups particularly the LTTE (world’s most ruthless terrorist group).

      JVP DID topple the government in 2004 but through an election!

      More than 33 countries recognize LTTE as a terrorist organisation but JVP, none. I think this settles the matter beyond debate.

    • wijayapala

      Prof Heshan

      But what is also interesting is that the JVP was brought into the political process, whereas the LTTE was and still continues to be ostracized.

      Actually the JVP chose to enter the political mainstream, while the LTTE refused to do so even during the CFA lopsided in its favor.

  • Heshan

    TT,

    The JVP had a grassroots following among the Sinhalese youth that posed far more danger to the Sri Lankan government than the LTTE, which was always containable. If the JVP had managed to topple the government, then what? They would have had access to the weapons and foreign recognition you speak of. And finally, does not the brutal response of the government show the severity of the JVP threat?

    • TT

      JVP didn’t pose that much of a security threat. They had only crappy weapons. The brutal response was self inflicted by the JVP. They attacked army personnel’s families. A brutal tactics LTTE never used but not a very effective one.

      JVP could never have toppled the government by force.

      Another interesting thing is immediately following the 2 JVP uprisings, governments were keen to engage in war/conflict in the north. Faced with this threat, the majority unified. And JVP’s demise accelerated as people consider “those who pull from the leg of the govt at war” as traitors.

      e.g. 1972 (Tamil armed groups were formed following the republic constitution)

      e.g. 1990 (Elam war-2)

      Some unwise Tamil seperatists pray for another JVP uprising. What they don’t know is that will eventually end with a military assault on them!

      The 1971 JVP thing was an eye opener. Just imagine LTTE attacking the army/police for the first time (had there not been any JVP uprising in 1971). They would have been clueless how to respond. After successfully responding to the JVP threat, the army had some apprehension of fighting guerillas. Forces used same heavyhanded tactics against Tigers in early 1980s. It worked well to reduce the Tigers.

    • TT

      JVP was never “brought into” the political process. Nobody liked them coming to politics. No concessions were given to them to come to politics. But they came on their own. Don’t forget JVP WAS a political party before taking up arms. LTTE on the other hand was only a terrorist outfit with no political leadership whatsoever.

      LTTE had to depend on ITAK, ACTC, TULF politicians for guidance. Of course TULF’s Vadukoddai resolution was the guiding light of the LTTE. This shows LTTE’s total lack of knowledge/ability in politics.

      LTTE had a golden opportunity in 1987, 2002 to enter politics but refused because they knew nothing of politics.

      Sole representative drivel is another result of LTTE’s total lack of political knowledge.

      Anyway SL lost nothing much by LTTE not coming into politics. After all war is politics by other means! What the military can handle best should be given to the military.