GLF: A space for activists?

A playground for Colombo’s “artsy fartsy?” A personal initiative by G. Dobbs (Founder) to increase the per capita income of G. Dobbs? A promotional tactic to draw tourists to our fair land? An ideal getaway for the middle and upper classes to catch up with old friends and make merry? A platform for cultural and literary exchange and constructive discussion/debate? An ideal forum for writers and participants to engage and learn from one another? The Galle Literary Festival (GLF) is probably a combination of all this put together. I’m no ‘party pooper,’  and that’s all well and good. But, is it permissible to claim that the festival provides “relatively ‘safe’ spaces for literary and political exploration and debate” and is a forum at which the “real situation of the country” can be brought to light? http://groundviews.org/2011/01/24/writing-against-the-rsfjds-appeal-to-boycott-the-galle-literary-festival/

I find this particular claim to be quite difficult to digest. Firstly, because it has been stated by a well -respected human rights activist of Sri Lanka – Sunila Abeysekera, and secondly, because I strongly believe that although on an individual level, people can use the GLF to air their views on many things including politics, claiming that the GLF at large is a space to raise awareness on political issues is only giving it undue credit. It’s like claiming Hollywood to be a hub for activists, just because a handful of actors/actresses advocate for their respective pet causes.

Whilst agreeing that Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) calling for a “boycott” of the GLF on the grounds that the international writers attending will “give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan Government’s suppression of free speech” thesundayleader.lk – Appeal To Boycott Galle Literary Festival, is an extreme and somewhat counter-productive measure, I also flatly refuse to accept that the GLF as an entity is one that nurtures or encourages an environment of dissent and political debate. The agenda for the GLF is clearly set as one of commercial gain. Furthermore, given the close linkages that the GLF has with the Government run Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau  (Sri Lanka Tourism), I highly doubt that the organizers would find it in their best interests to ‘rock the boat’ as it were.

In addition, Sunila’s statement that “it is extremely disappointing to find those who defend media freedom in Sri Lanka playing a role in depriving us of an opportunity to express ourselves and our desire for a democratic and peaceful environment in which to live and work, with a broader community from outside the country,” too, I feel gives way too much importance and significance to an event, which in reality, has a rather lukewarm approach to the promotion of human rights related issues, and that too, if at all. Even though the likes of Sunila would be brave enough to maximize on every opportunity cast her way, http://www.thehindu.com/arts/books/article1134417.ece, it by no means speaks for the agenda of the GLF, and what it intends to achieve.

All I ask is that you call a spade a spade. Nothing more. Nothing less. Whilst, I respectfully acknowledge, and am abundantly grateful for the tireless, and often thankless work that Sunila has done in the field of human rights in our country, often at the cost of her personal security, I am saddened to say that this one time, she couldn’t be more wrong.

  • Post DJBS Scenario

    Three things that i think are important to mention (in order)

    1. RSF / JDS did not call for a boycott.

    http://www.jdslanka.org/2011/01/jds-explains-their-stand-on-glf-appeal.html

    2. Lakbima news has a beautiful picture of two foreign writers enjoying short eats at the Galle Festival.

    http://www.lakbimanews.lk/

    3. The office of Lankaenews.com was burnt down this morning.

    http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/01/31/lankaenews-office-set-on-fire/

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

    I don’t think there was any claim whatsoever by the organisers of the GLF to the effect that they were any sort of venue for dissent and free speech. This is something that has been claimed by third parties such as GV and Sunila Abeysekara, and is mostly a reaction to the RSF/JDS accusation that the GLF isn’t defending media rights. It’s a stupid accusation in the first place, and it was unnecessary to react in this knee-jerk manner.

    As for the SLTPB, it is merely a sponsor, and has no control over the GLF’s programme or agenda whatsoever. In fact, the SLTPB wasn’t even a sponsor until a year or two ago. Since the GLF itself isn’t profit-making, it requires sponsors, and the SLTPB is one amongst many such as the British Council and several foreign embassies and airlines.

    • Not-A-Rajapaksa

      David Blacker
      I would hesitate to lay a label on anyone, such as yourself, who claims that an agency such as the Tourist Promotion Board, appointed and controlled by the Rajapaksa government, would be free to participate in any event that is even mildly critical of the current regime. Even my naivete doesn’t encompass such a thought, though yours appears to. And that is a kind description of your comment.

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

        Have I ever claimed that the GLF is critical of the GoSL?

  • MC

    “I don’t think there was any claim whatsoever by the organisers of the GLF to the effect that they were any sort of venue for dissent and free speech. This is something that has been claimed by third parties such as GV and Sunila Abeysekara, and is mostly a reaction to the RSF/JDS accusation that the GLF isn’t defending media rights. It’s a stupid accusation in the first place, and it was unnecessary to react in this knee-jerk manner” says Blacker the genius!

    But this is what the festival founder had to say to the BBC: “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.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2011/01/110120_galle.shtml)

    well…welll..who cooked his own goose here? blacker or dobbs?

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

      Perhaps you should stick to cooking, MC :D How is “encouraging pluralism and free expression”, which certainly is a part of literature, the same as being “a centre for dissent and free speech”?

  • Amarnath Sunderagama

    “It is extremely disappointing to find those who defend media freedom in Sri Lanka playing a role in depriving us of an opportunity to express ourselves……” Sunila Abeysekera against GLF boycott

    “I’m not 100% satisfied with our trip to Galle as I expected to speak to the whole crowd, at least for five minutes,” Sandhya Eknaligoda told the BBC. She didn’t get the chance to do that, but managed to give out some leaflets. – BBC Sinhala

    “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.” from the Joint Appeal by RSF/JDS

    “Unidentified attackers in Sri Lanka have set fire to the offices of a website critical of the government.” BBC News, South Asia

    I, Amarnath Sunderagama, a resident in Colombo, Sri Lanka, refrains from commenting on any of the above quotes, for fear of having to decide the UN award winning HR Activist that Ms. Sunila Abeysekera is, has taken the readers of GV, with its tacit consent, on a blind ride by calling the five year old “spade” a brand new “back-hoe” that could lift more and better, for democracy’s advantage.

    Theruwan Saranai,
    Amarnath Sunderagama

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

      The problem, Amaranath, is that the GLF is not a excavating tool, but a dinner plate; attempting to use it to dig holes is a bit stupid.

      • Not-A-Rajapaksa

        How does it go, David Blacker: “Better to keep your mouth shut……..

  • Pissu Poona

    Before anything more is between you both, I’d like to say, David, I didn’t say that the GLF had claimed anything. My post was in relation to Sunila’s letter to Cheran. Dobbs’s take on what the GLF is or isn’t is of little concern to me. As for the Tourist Board being “merely” a sponsor and nothing more, I’d like to believe so, but, in this day and age, I’m afraid anything and everything affiliated to the Govt cannot be considered a “mere” anything. For instance, if the GLF were to decide that come next year, everything on the schedule is going to be related to politics in some form or other, I can bet you, that “mere” sponsor will have a thing or two to say about it. Don’t be naive David.

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

      Don’t be er… pissu, Poona. The GLF isn’t affiliated to the GoSL. This has been made very clear to everyone:

      1. The GoSL has NO say in the programme of the GLF, and never has, and never has attempted to have such a say.
      2. The GoSL is a relatively recent sponsor.
      3. The GoSL is one of many sponsors, which include the British Council, the Norwegian Embassy, and various other international entities.

      All of the above has been completely ignored by you and other supporters of the boycott in favour of making claims of GLF affiliation with the GoSL, possible future control of the GLF by the GoSL, and other flights of fancy. You have not an ounce of evidence of any of it. The only thing you have is this extremely tenuous connection between the GLF and the SLTPB via its sponsorship fee. Under your reasoning, every single thing and event in SL is affiliated to the GoSL, and yet the one thing picked for boycott is the GLF; basically innocent bystanders who probably sympathise with your cause, or at least did until the boycott. Basically the JDS has attempted to bully the GLF with the help of the RSF and has failed miserably. You guys are now trying to defend the indefensible. You look frankly like a bunch of inept idiots.

  • Pissu Poona

    I have nothing more to say on the subject of the Govt’s possible influence of the GLF, or not. I’ll leave it to be proved right or wrong at a later date.

    As for your “assumption” that I’m part of the boycott, you obviously haven’t read my post very well.

  • http://thecarthaginiansolution.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/antony-loewenstein-–-master-of-doublethink/ Mango

    Pissu,
    Look at the background of a key supporter of the GLF boycott, Antony Loewenstein, ‘expert’ on Sri Lanka and a self-proclaimed ‘best selling’ author.

    http://thecarthaginiansolution.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/antony-loewenstein-–-master-of-doublethink/

    or http://tinyurl.com/49372a5

    A supporter of ‘Tamil Homelands’, arch hypocrite (free speech is OK but not for Sri Lanka), boycotter of SL garments, pro GSP+ suspension and SL cricket team boycotter etc.

    If you have proof of SLTB influencing the GLF agenda, let’s see it. After all, anyone can make allegations about anything without having to show proof… a bit like how the typical SL politician behaves, no?