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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne
The Mirage of a 'Political Solution'
Hot Springs, 1 November 1998
1. This paper is written in the wake of the traumatic events on the Wanni battlefield at the end of September 1998. Nothing like them were experienced in the preceding 15 years of the conflict. The immense loss of lives on the Sinhala side, the enormous numbers of wounded, the Sinhala nation in a pathetic state of denial of reality and bitterly divided within itself, democracy among the Sinhala people, such as it is, declining from primacy to contingent status. Our nation holds its breath, wonders what next and when and how and through whom the salvation of peace will come. Few understand that our salvation lies within us, within each one of us, and not in others especially politicians, or political parties or governments of any description.
2. All governments since independence have reflected faithfully the widely held views of the Sinhala people, too faithfully perhaps. Our "leaders" were not leaders but the led, led by the mistaken views and prejudices and malice that lies within us. Sinhala politicians of every shape are no more guilty than any one of us. The attempt to shift the blame on to them is a shameful shirking of our personal responsibility which can no longer continue.
The National Question
3. This is the first question that we have to face head on, and answer for ourselves, now. Is every individual entitled to decide for him/her self which nation he/she belongs to ? Or is that question to be decided by someone else for each one of us ? National allegiance is a matter of visceral, emotional bonding, the product of history and nurture and affection. Before going any further I will answer the question for myself. I regard myself as a member of the Sinhala nation to which I owe my deepest allegiance. I cling persistently to this tie even though (and,perhaps,because) I am not a citizen of Sri Lanka but am a subject of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Why nation and legal nationality do not correspond in my case, and in the cases of many hundreds of thousands of others, has to be answered in a thousand different ways, each having its own rationale and validity in terms of modern human experience and need. These answers together form a part of the modern history of our nation and its present parlous state.
4. So the answer to our question isthat every individual has the right to decide of which nation he/she is a member. On the other hand, membership of a state is a matter of law. We have come to a parting of the ways between nation and state - they are not co-terminous bodies. Membership of a nation is a matter for autonomous, unilateral decision by each person; conversely, membership of a state depends on a legal decision of others vested with the duty of making such decisions.
5. We have the right to decide which nation we belong to by virtue of our being human beings - in short, it is a human right. Human rights are common to all human beings. There is no one who does not have them. They are not the private property of any individual or group of individuals. People can decide for themselves whether they belong to the English nation, or the Scottish nation, or the Irish nation, or the Welsh nation, or the Sinhala nation, or the Tamil nation, or the British nation, or the Indian nation and so on.
6. So far we are not in trouble but we will soon be - and all it takes is to step into the island of Sri Lanka. Is there only one nation there or many ? Do the people who live there belong to the human race and so have the same human rights as others all over the world in respect of national allegiance ? Can people living there decide for themselves whether they belong to the Sri Lankan nation or to the Sinhala nation or to the Tamil nation ? Or are they told by some higher authority such as the President that there is only nation on the island, the Sri Lankan nation made up of Sinhala and Tamil "communities" ? If so how did the common human right to a choice of national allegiance disappear ? Did all the people living in the island surren-der it by some formal act ? Are there no people on the island who assert an allegiance to a nation of their choice ? If there are how is that assertion dealt with?
7. These are important issues which we cannot avoid. They are not political issues - they are personal issues. We need to meet them head on and doing so will help us understand the peril to which we have put ourselves and all others in the island. The Tamil people asserted through their representatives in joint concourse assembled in May 1976 ( exactly 200 years after the American Declaration of Independence) that the indigenous Tamil people of the island whom they represented were a nation to which they belonged, which was separate from other nations on the island and which had a right to self-determination in the area of their domicile where they constituted the majority of the population. Is there anything wrong in that ? Do we have the right to give our allegiance to a nation of our choice, the Sinhala nation or the Sri Lankan nation ?
Are there any Sinhala people who say they do not have such a right, the same right which all other peoples in the world have ? My conviction is there are none. We have a perfect right to belong to a nation of our choice. How can we say the indigenous Tamil people on the island do not have that very same right ? If we are misguided enough to say so, does that deprive the Tamil people of that right ? By what authority do we have the power to deprive others of the rights they claim for themselves ? Our refusal to recognize that the indigenous Tamil people on the island who claim to belong to the Tamil nation have the right to decide that for themselves is devoid of a semblance of justification either rational or moral. It sets us against them on a fundamental human right, the right to belong to the nation of their choice. They do not deny to us that very same right, yet we deny it to them.
8. This is the fons et origo of the island's tragedy. We cannot bring ourselves to understand that the indigenous Tamil people on the island are a nation, with national rights, exactly like ourselves and other nations of the world. We believe that our avoidance of the word "nation" in respect of the Tamil people ends their nationhood. We hope to sweep under the carpet a vital issue of national rights by resort to a primitive hegemonic stance the absurdity and immorality of which does not even occur to us. A dispute over national rights can be dealt with rationally by negotiation and accommodation or irrationally by recourse to war. The rational course was tried but without a clear understanding of the nature of the problem and for that reason failed. We are now engaged in the second and irrational way of dealing with a dispute over national rights i.e. by recourse to war. It is irrational because war cannot, and does not, extinguish the rights of a nation. When we hope to end the war by "a political solution" we demonstrate dramatically that we still have no understanding of the nature of the problem.
A Political Solution
9. A political solution implies the existence of a political problem, i.e. a problem relating to the governance of a country. For the first 35 years after independence there was a political problem resulting from legislative and administrative discrimination against both plantation and indigenous Tamil peoples. Strenuous efforts were made by Sinhala and Tamil politicians who were elected to represent their peoples to secure a viable political solution. Parallel to these efforts, however, from 1956 on repressive violence , countenanced by the state, was used against the Tamil people to browbeat them into accepting "concessions" which the Sinhala majority considered adequate. Predictably this policy produced counter-violence by militant Tamil groups, culminating in 1976 in the Vaddukoddai Resolution opting for separation and independence. One year later, at the general election of July 1977, the Tamil people votedoverwhelmingly for separation and independence.
10. Those two events, namely, the Vaddukoddai Resolution and the massive vote by the Tamil people in favour of it at the general election of 1977, radically transformed the problem. It ceased to be a political problem amenable to a political solution and became. instead, an issue of national rights capable of resolution rationally on the basis of equal and reciprocal rights or irrationally by recourse to war in the hope that the larger nation could extinguish the right to independence of the smaller. The resort to arms by both sides sealed "the paradigm shift".
11. This fundamental change in the nature of the problem was not recognised by the Sinhala nation or its political establishment then, nor in the years that followed, nor even now. That is why persistent efforts from 1977 onwards, right up to now, to secure a "political solution" have failed. Even the "political solution" legislated by constitutional amendment in 1987 the 13th Amendment and its provincial council system) has had not the slightest effect. The constitutional "Package" now under consideration is wholly irrelevant to the conflict over a nation's right to independence and sovereign self-government.
12. The war now in progress is being fought over the geographical extent of the Sri Lankan state. The single all-island state through the length and breadth of which the writ of the Colombo government ran ceased to exist when the armed challenge to it in the northern and eastern provinces began in 1983. Fifteen years later that challenge continues stronger than ever before. During this period that challenge has grown to include a naval challenge, an aerial capability through surface-to-air missiles and, latterly, a significant conventional warfare capacity. In several detailed analyses I have explained that the Sri Lankan state lacks even a small fraction of the financial and personnel resources needed to hold in check the armed challenge of the LTTE.
13. There is a common and very widespread assumption that it is essential for the government and the opposition to agree for "a political solution" to be secured. No thought is devoted to what these two parties should agree upon. In fact they are agreed that the single all-island must be preserved ( or restored if it no longer exists) but it is precisely that which has proved so dramatically incapable of achievement. Agreement (even unanimous agreement) to do the impossible does not make the impossible possible. All Sinhala political parties, without a single exception, would like to see the LTTE disappear or be exterminated. Complete unanimity has not produced the desired result. Indeed, the reality is precisely the diametrical opposite of the wish i.e that the LTTE keeps on growing stronger and stronger with every passing year. So what is important now is not that the government and the opposition should agree on trying to do the impossible but that they should understand that there is no problem out there which they can "solve" either individually or together but that the irreversible situation on the island necessitates a re-ordering of the island's statal map and that peace requires peace talks with the LTTE ending in a peace treaty with the LTTE and that the longer this is delayed the stronger the LTTE will become and the more fraught will be the future relationships between the two states.
Peace Talks ending in a Peace Treaty
14. It is now an irreversible reality that there are, and there will continue to be on a permanent basis, two contending armies on the island. That is the fundamental fact of the future. It cannot be reversed by "a political solution". It cannot be reversed by any "solution." It is not a "problem" capable of "solution". It is not a "problem" at all. It is a simple basic reality whichwill not go away and which has far-reaching consequences. Peace requires an understanding of these consequences and a rational and necessary re-ordering of the island's geophraphical structure into states corresponding to the national aspirations that gave rise to, and sustained, the long-drawn out conflict.
15. This can be done only by negotiation between the contending parties on the basis of the new reality that has emerged over the last 15 years of war. Such a negotiation is not "a political solution" for a problem within a single assumed state. The state within which a political solution could be implemented has disappeared. Negotiations between the two parties to the conflict with a view to ending the conflict are peace talks aiming for a peace treaty. A peace treaty is not "a political solution" but its terms will undoubtedly shape the political arrangements and political structures of the two states that will emerge from such a treaty.
The Long Term Future
16. The peace treaty and peaceful separation should pave the way for the negotiation of an eventual Union between the two new states on the lines of the Benelux Union which is a purely social union and not a political one. It is because that Union is social and not political that it has contributed so much to the great prosperity of the three states that are joined in that Union. It should be well within the capacity of the Sinhala and Tamil nations and their respective states to achieve a similar prosperity, tranquility and happiness for their peoples when they join some day in the Union of SRI-LAM.