Peace and Conflict

Dayan Jayatilleka: From Geneva to Sri Lanka

Running time approx. 50 mins. Download high-quality version for Apple iPod Touch, iPhone and PC here.

Recorded on 31st July 2009, this was the first interview on video given by Dayan Jayatilleka after he was asked to quit his position as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva a few weeks ago. Going into the reasons behind his sudden sacking, the interview interrogates his most contentious submissions regarding the 13th Amendment, his take on the current Presidency and future prospects for peace in Sri Lanka, key memories of his sojourn in Geneva including the epic Human Rights Council sessions and other issues related to politics and democracy. I also ventured to ask some impertinent questions about his love life, given that for the duration of the interview, he was flanked by his wife Sanja.

Dayan’s been a regular voice on Groundviews. In addition to contributing over 30 articles to Groundviews, Dayan has penned hundreds of detailed comments and generated tens of thousands of pageviews.

When the former President of Sri Lanka Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge wrote to Groundviews in response to Lasantha Wickremetunge’s murder, it was Dayan to whom she addressed her comment to. Dayan’s response triggered off a critical debate with one of Sri Lanka’s leading bloggers on the freedom of access to communities displaced by war, which at the time was on-going and increasing in its ferocity. More recently, in Taking a page from Chechnya: Sri Lanka’s insincere constitutional reform and its apologists, Dayan engaged with another well known online identity in Sri Lanka, Aacharya. Two recent articles that generated a lot of debate that also featured Dayan’s input were,

Out in the Wilderness — Dayan Jayatilleka on 13th Amendment and getting sacked by Boggles
Sending Dayan home: the triumph of folly in Sri Lankan politics?

With Dayan’s departure from Geneva, Groundviews loses a unique perspective into the workings of an opaque regime. Nevertheless, the content generated by him or on account of him on Groundviews is an unparalled public record of historic interventions in Geneva, as well as insights into the policies and practices of the Rajapakse regime domestically. Going back to his first submission in July 2008, one can guess why the Rajapakse regime finds men like Dayan, once useful, now terribly inconvenient.

Don’t Lose the Peace
Xenophobia, cultural or otherwise, is profoundly counter-productive for winning the war as well as the peace. Scholarly and scientific research has shown that creativity and innovation in all fields takes place not so much from within the bowels of homogeneous and unchanging cultures but precisely where cultures interface, interact, exchange and cross-fertilize. Sir Arthur C Clarke correctly observed that Sri Lanka contains the greatest cultural diversity in the most compressed space, which is a source of conflict but potentially also of great creativity. Unless we embrace pluralism, learn to celebrate the treasure that is our own diversity, and tap into it as an energy source for advance, we shall certainly be unable compete regionally or globally. Worst of all we shall not be using all our cultural capacities, making the best of our endowments, making the best of ourselves.

The best performing of our youngsters, the brightest minds coming out of our universities with First classes, are migrating. Unless we can retain them by creating an environment in which the intelligent discerning internationally aware individual can flourish, we may win the war but lose the capacity to re-build, regenerate. Post war Sri Lanka must not be like pre-war Sri Lanka, because that order was so flawed as to contain the seeds of war. As we reconstruct we must restructure, transform, learning from past mistakes.

Similarly, post war Sri Lanka must be unlike wartime Sri Lanka. If ideologies of resentment and closure prevail over those of conciliation and openness, we shall be unable to manage the problem of the hemorrhage of quality human resources, which in turn will decide whether we shall develop or decline as a country.

It will serve little purpose if we win the war and lose the peace.