Colombo, Foreign Relations, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

A response to Basil Fernando: Sri Lanka is not a Gulag Island

I am proud of my country, Sri Lanka, which has just been able to vanquish a formidable, ferocious and fascistic foe, despite its vast global network and in the face of considerable external pressure. I am proud that my country Sri Lanka has been able to restore its territorial unity and integrity and reasssert its independence and sovereignty. I am proud of the Sri Lankan armed forces which have achieved that which the armies of major powers have been unable to in many parts of the world. I am proud that Sri Lanka has been able to defeat not one but two armed totalitarianisms, South and North, Sinhala and Tamil — the JVP and the LTTE- while maintaining at least the rudimentary foundations of an electoral democracy.

The very fact that I am able to express my criticisms on TV gives the lie to the description of Sri Lanka as a Gulag Island.

In the first place, the defining characteristic of the Gulag is that it was a system of forced labour camps. Sri Lanka is not and not even the IDP camps fit this description. The Gulags also had execution by firing squad.

In the second place there were no multi-party elections in the old USSR – the Opposition was IN the Gulag. By contrast there is an election imminent in the Southern province of Sri Lanka , which would be actually competitive if not for the present state of the Opposition, which is cannot be blamed on the Sri Lanka state or regime but on the internal supineness of the UNP itself. ( By the way my betting is that the UPFA will secure over 70% of the Southern vote).

In the third place there is nothing “totally”, or “systemically” warped in a country which can be put right by restoring a basic political equilibrium, as can Sri Lanka, by a simple substitution of the current leadershipof the opposition, which resonates more with mainstream opinion. There is nothing more irrational in this country today than the non-replacement of an individual who has caused the meltdown of the UNP’s earlier irreducible mass base to the point that the Opposition is in electoral and social free-fall, and looks like a tribe facing (peaceful) extinction.

[Editors note: This is a response by Dr. Jayatilleka, at the invitation of Groundviews, to an article by Basil Fernando that was published on Sri Lanka Guardian, titled Sri Lanka, the Gulag Island (2) – Zero Status of Citizens- Dayan’s problem. Mr. Fernando calls Sri Lanka a Gulag Island based on Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s, The Gulag Archipelago and notes that in this work, “Millions of Russian citizens were turned into zeros just by somebody knocking on their doors or telling them that they were under arrest. The citizens began to expect such a call at any time”.]