Photo courtesy Nidahasa

The chilling news came in the afternoon – our friends, colleagues and comrades who had been holding a small scale meeting in Kumbukgate, Kurunegala, were under attack, surrounded by a group of goons clad in blue t-shirts of Nil Balakaya. ‘What on earth can we do’ was the question that we both silently shared but were frightened to ask out loud. We could call our friends in the media, of course, and alert them of the horror unfolding there. But all that could only have significance later, after, and if, they come through unscathed.

In the infinite abyss of the present there was nothing we could do.

Except perhaps to hope that they would indeed come through unscathed and to reflect on the terrifying state that our collective existence had come to. To be sure, this is not the first eye-opener we have had apropos the sad predicament of this society, worsening in its condition every single day. This is not the first time we realized that this is a society that does not tolerate dissent, peaceful argument, or even dialogue. It was indeed the president Rajapaksa himself who said, in his widely heard ‘victory speech’, five years ago, that this country would henceforth contain only those who love this country and those who are its enemies. Put differently, those who do not agree with the Rajapaksas and their world-view would become, by default, enemies of this country. An enemy is not someone you can agree to disagree with. It is someone who should be defeated at any cost.

Ironically enough, the Rajapaksas may be right in this regard. In the same vein they think of us as enemies to be wiped off the surface of the earth, we too should confront the hard fact that the figure of the enemy is inevitable in politics, no matter how hard the good-hearted liberals try to convince us otherwise. For we have nothing to converse with the Rajapaksas. Nothing to discourse about. Nothing to communicate. They are simply the enemy and they should be defeated.

Naturally, this does not mean that we endorse murderous violence unleashed on ones enemies. On the contrary, it is precisely because that we do not endorse such violence that we want to defeat those who do – like the Rajapaksas. Unlike them, we believe that every person – even someone one would consider to be an enemy – should be given the right to hold onto his or her own opinion and the right to propagate that opinion. Unlike us, on the other hand, they do not believe in the necessity of the existence of such a terrain of disagreement. That is why our friend and veteran artist Lakshman Wijesekara was assaulted today by a Provincial Council member claiming to represent the Will of the People. That is why stones were thrown at our friend Samanalee Fonseka by a Nil Balakaya claiming to create a better tomorrow for our youth. For those goons were indeed following the rigorous logic of their Master – since neither Lakshman nor Samanalee was with the Nil Balakaya they have to be those who do not love this country and, consequently and naturally, enemies of the country.

So this makes everything clear. What confronts us is a choice, not so much a choice between abolishing and withholding the executive presidency or a one between a unitary state and a devolution of legislative power, but rather a one between those who deny the existence of a terrain where political disagreements are a possibility and those who believe that its existence is a fundamental necessity of our collective future. One can even put this in a way that appears to be silly: Rajapaksas should be defeated because they consider us to be their enemies.

The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously remarked that man not only can be free but that he is condemned to be free. By that he meant, given that there are no external guarantors – like God or Karma – to give meanings to our values, whatever we do will necessarily carry with it the burden of freedom. One will always be forced to make a choice of freedom. Even remaining silent is a choice we would choose freely. Our friends chose to defend the right to dissent. Nil Balakaya has chosen to defend the binary logic of the Rajapaksas. What will you choose?

Saumya Liyanage & Vangeesa Sumanasekara

  • Ayanthi Perera

    if it really were the nil balakaya, i doubt very much whether they would be so explicit about their identity. Celebrities are also another set of citizens! Let us choose for ourselves.

  • Dev

    A 2004 article by reporters without borders (RSF) indicates that whats happening now is NOT new.
    http://archives.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=9646

    Given that the opposition includes the likes of:
    Rishad Bathiudeen (who threatened a sitting judge and attacked his court premises in Mannar)

    Chandirka, under whom attacks (physical and via state media) were known.
    Chandrika who led the UPFA in that infamous victory in Wayamba (1999) where even woman (despite herself being a woman) were stripped naked and paraded and she turned a blind eye. Chandrika who took secret oaths to try and stay an extra year (power hungry like Mahinda who is going for a 3rd term).

    Champika who has spoken out against minorities and has defended the likes of BBS.

    I suspect that there will be more of the same even if the opposition comes to power.

  • Fitzpatrick

    Everyone is involved in picking sides at this election. What price? What do they all want? Sirisena/Mahinda must be ready with their pound of flesh after 8th of Jan.

  • Aia

    Good article, could not agree more with what has been written. Very saddened to note what had happened to our home grown artists. Noting what have been instigated by this Government and the comments they have been making even in public, it is very clear that they lost touch with common voters. Only way out for them to come back from where they are right now is to play the race card. What puzzles is while the very regime articulates a home grown solution for ethnic issue, rejecting solution based on the 13 proposed by India, it goes after an Indian artist to make up some numbers to their election platforms, does not it shows its hypocrisy or, perhaps, sheer desperation. Massive amount of money being spent that is for sure, while downtrodden are languishing for a decent meal per day. Usually, power breeds arrogance and absolute executive power with a puppet made to sit at the top of justice system breeds absolute arrogance, that is what we witness more and more during this election campaign. Didn’t see all it were coming the way it did, otherwise next couple of years would have allowed them to amass a few more billions that could have helped to crown a prince of their choice pursuing other methods, if not, at least to get a green card- understandably it was a hugh disappointment, not much time and space left to work out alternatives other than set free the lapdogs. What a gimmick, on the one hand pure patriotism bashing Western nations trying to divide the island on the other hand gaining migration to the same nations via Green card and other deals. Too much at stake for the family to loose, 9th Jan 15 may end up in something that this island has never seen. People have endured lots of hardships, they deserve a better tomorrow and to taste real freedom with tolerance to each other, particularly do not want to give an opportunity yet to make other monster in MR, similar to Tamils did with VP..

  • Fitzpatrick

    The author of the piece has been very quiet in the light of the comments. No response?

    • Vangeesa Sumanasekara

      I didn’t feel like there is something new to be added. I think the reason why we should still vote for Maithri, in spite of the very valid suspicions we may have about him and, especially, his allies has been sufficiently clarified – if not by us in this piece but by others for whom we have much respect like Jayadeva Uyangoda, Kumar David, Tisaranee Gunasekara, Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, Kalana Senaratne, Kumudu Kusum Kumara and many others. If someone is still not convinced about this, I’m afraid we should simply ignore it. As the old saying goes, how can we wake up someone who is only pretending to sleep?