Trafalgar Tigers

A demonstrator shouts anti-Sri Lankan government slogans during a protest outside a hotel, where Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa is staying in central London on Dec. 2, 2010. Photo credit Dylan Martinez/Reuters

It is truly a pity that the Sri Lankan media did not feature the photographs of the demonstrations by sections of the Tamil Diaspora staged over the week of May 12-19 in variety of western capitals, as protest and in mourning for the final week of the war which was also the last week of Mr Prabhakaran’s destructive life.

I saw the demonstration in Paris and the subsequent gathering in the Trocadero which was at a vantage point in line with the Eiffel Tower.

A few phone calls that came in told me that the demonstrations in New York, London, Geneva and Toronto were the same, and that Paris was no anomaly.

The demonstrations were revelatory, and only those who do not wish to see, for whatever reason, can doubt the visual evidence.

The most visible flag, and the only one apart from black flags and the standard of the host country or continent (e.g. the EU), was that of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), with its roaring Tiger, 33 bullets and crossed rifles with bayonets affixed.

That was the only political flag; the only known, recognisable flag of political or organisational identity.

A half truck bearing a man dressed or rather, partially dressed/undressed, as the late Mr Prabhakaran was part of the parade.

In London, there were red and yellow flags, but the most manifest was the Tiger standard borne by the ranks of demonstrators.  One Tiger flag had even been hoisted on a high corner of the National Gallery which faces Trafalgar Square.

Those who claim that the Tiger flag is “the Tamil national flag” (and that Prabhakaran is ‘the national leader of the Tamils’) do the Tamil community a profound disservice by identifying that ethnic collective with a banner of a terrorist, secessionist and fascistic movement that assassinated, among others, Nehru’s grandson with a suicide bomber at an election rally.

That is of course if the claim is spurious. If not, matters are even worse.

The photos from New York show the Tiger flags waving among placards which read ‘Libya and Ivory Coast Today; Why Not Sri Lanka tomorrow?’

For the Sri Lankan state and the majority of its citizens, matters should be as clear as they were to me last week in Europe. The game is beginning to turn zero-sum, once again.

I could have well understood had the date for mourning the dead and protesting the Tamil situation had been July 23rd or 29th which would have marked the anti-Tamil violence of July ’83. May 18-19 marks the end of a war that tormented the majority of citizenry. Those who mourn pick May 18-19 over July 23-29, because what they mourn above all is the defeat in the war, the destruction of the Tiger armed forces and the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran.

I could well have understood if the banners had been those of the Tamil National Alliance, the TNA, the major parliamentary party of the Tamils of the North, or of a coalition of Tamil political parties. The sheer ubiquity and monopoly of the Tiger flag however, shows us where these protestors are coming from and what their aims and ambitions are.

In some countries, the demonstrations were organised by the TGTE, the so-called Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. In Paris it was by the Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC) but brought together all LTTE factions. In London the organisers were the British Tamil Forum (BTF), whose Mr Suren Surendiran has been getting around quite a bit lately, even to important addresses across the Atlantic. Doesn’t the clear dominance of the Tiger flag show us that the TGTE and BTF are increasingly serving as front organizations for and fellow travellers of the Tigers?

The pictures of politicians of various parties in some countries addressing the Tiger flag waving demonstrators reveal that there are political elements in some Western democracies who are either in sympathy with or do not care about the character of the Tigers.

They may not. But we Sri Lankans must. Some or even most in the West may turn a Nelsonian eye to the real identity and character of the phenomenon. We Sri Lankans cannot afford to.

This is not a movement of a marginalised minority seeking justice and autonomy. This is the same old fascist separatist enemy we have faced and fought for decades: the Tigers. This is the same terrorist movement and its supporters, sympathisers and fellow travellers, who waged a shooting war against us and lost. They are now waging a Cold War against us, for the same old objectives, but with new allies or allies who, with the Darusman panel Report, are coming out of the closet.  Their model is evident from their slogans last week: Libya and the Ivory Coast; meaning foreign military intervention by countries in which they form influential communities.

There has been no abandonment of aims, only a tactical suspension of methods or their abandonment due to inability.  There has been no self-criticism. There has been no rejection by the Tamil Diaspora market, of the Tiger brand.

The Trafalgar Square stage had, amidst the surrounding LTTE flags, a mock up of a prison cell with a life-size effigy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa behind bars, labelled ‘War Criminal’, while a young lady dressed in black read from the Darusman panel Report. The Report serves as a loaded weapon handed to the pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora. It also serves as an ‘enabler’; a passport and password to access many political and governmental circles mainly but not exclusively in the West.

If the Tigers are on that side, I must and shall stay on this side.

So long as – and precisely because– the anti-Sri Lankan demonstrators outside the country support the Tigers, the vast majority of Sri Lankan citizens within the country must, will, and do support the State; their State.

Standing firm is however, not good enough– and ideological regression is not good at all. We have to get it right. This Cold War cannot be won by ‘hard power’ but by that which Prof Joe Nye (perhaps unwittingly dumbing down and popularising Antonio Gramsci’s conception of hegemony) famously called ‘smart power’, i.e. the combination of soft power and hard power.

No country and no leadership provides a more complete lesson—a textbook example one may say—of the  fusion of Realism and Reason in successfully responding to  multiple, deadly external threats than post-revolutionary Russia under Lenin.

Lenin was characteristically lucid about what was to be done: to preserve, defend and consolidate the hard won gains, the victory of the revolution. Having departed from the classic progression and used the opening provided by the First World War to make a successful leap for power, going against the textbook wisdom of the traditional European Left, he was no less clear that to consolidate the historic victory in the face of a hostile external environment, compromises and concessions were necessary, and a step had to be taken backward if needed, to take two steps forward.

Having fought off the interventionist armies of over a dozen imperialist nations and fought and won a bloody Civil war, Lenin recognised by 1920 that the international balance of forces was unfavourable and would remain so for a period. He reversed course in terms of the radical programme of the Revolution and pushed through the New Economic Policy (NEP), seen by the far left as nothing less than a betrayal of the Revolution and a restoration of capitalism. He knew that after WW I and the Civil War, yet another violent conflict would ruin Russia’s economy and place at risk, the gains of the revolutionary victory.

The extensive compromises that Lenin made in 1920-1923 – both internal and external- were precisely to defend and preserve the essential thing and therefore to win for the Russian revolution, the time and space to consolidate its historic politico-military victory in an unpropitious international context over which it had no control.

Lenin was fond of saying that “nothing is more radical than Reality”. He never let false consciousness or old traditions and habits of thinking, blind or blinker him by obscuring the challenge of existing, emerging Reality. And he never lacked the audacity for reform; the clarity and courage for course correction and change.

How about us?