Sunday, February 24, 2008

Kosova - Unpalatable realities

Dangerous Delusions and Unpalatable Realties
Tisaranee Gunasekara

Mike Ghouse: The statement "However illegal the birth of the new state of Kosovo may be, it is now a fait accompli." legitimizes what is not. I am studying the issue of Kosovo, if we have gone against the agreed upon rules, then we are wrong. The big three seem to endorsing the idea that some day, when someone else is powerful, it is OK for them to rule. There is someting seriously flawed in the powerful nations, it is based on grabbing what we can when we have the gun, tomorrow when the other has the gun, what will happen? We should strive for just societies, where each member nation can be at peace.

"Every pose leads to a lie and every lie to death"
Theodor Fontane (A Man of Honour)

Kosovo in her Unilateral Declaration of Independence violated a UN Resolution; the US, Britain, France and Germany in promoting and accepting that UDI acted in contravention of international law. However illegal the birth of the new state of Kosovo may be, it is now a fait accompli. No amount of protests by Serbia, no amount of threats by Russia will change this reality. Peace, stability and prosperity may elude Kosovo, but it will survive, an intensely troubled ‘post-modern state’ guarded by more than 16,000 NATO troops, buttressed by a US base (Camp Bondsteel), "an entity that is sovereign in name but a US-EU protectorate in practice" (The Guardian – 19.2.2008).

The Kosovo story is a modern morality tale that helps us understand the real nature of the world we live in. It is a world in which a new Big Three, the US, the UK and the EU, calls most of the shots (within the EU, France and Germany are decisive). Where these three entities have contradictory agendas, spaces are created giving a degree of manoeuvrability to less powerful countries, Iran being a case in point. But when these three entities act in unison, they achieve their objective, even at the cost of the international law, as in Kosovo. Such a ‘united front’ is most likely when America has a Democratic President. It was Bill Clinton who, together with the EU, presided over the NATO air war against Serbia, a ‘humanitarian intervention’ based on the ‘Right to Protect’. Both Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama would be equally willing to don this mantle of ‘humanitarian intervener’.

Serbia is backed by Russia and has the support of countries as diverse and as influential as China, Spain and India. Yet it lost the battle for and with Kosovo. That failure contains a warning for Sri Lanka. We must not antagonise all the Big Three, simultaneously. Instead a conscious effort must be made to gain the support or at the least neutrality of one of the three entities. This does not require servility to the West. But it does require a less extreme, more moderate approach, both to the war and to the ethnic problem. Even as the war against the Tigers is prosecuted, concrete and immediate steps must be taken to reduce human rights violations to the absolute minimum. The search for a political solution to the ethnic problem should be expedited. If we are mindful of the need to protect Lankan Tamils in the midst of the war, the humanitarian intervention argument will lose its validity. If we do not discriminate against the minorities in the name of anti-terrorism or national security, if we demonstrate our willingness to share power with them, the R2P principle will become superfluous. That and not a head on confrontation is the best way to avoid a Kosovo outcome in the North-East.

A World of Pitfalls

Vellupillai Pirapaharan obviously understands the post-Cold War/post-Socialist international conjuncture; he used his 2007 Mahaveer Day Speech to argue the applicability of humanitarian intervention and R2P principles to Sri Lanka: "The world’s powers, even while taking forward their own geo-political interests, respect human rights and democratic institutions…. That is why nations like East Timor and Montenegro broke free of their subjugation and gained their freedom with the help and support of the international community. Even now, the international community continues to work for the freedom of nations like Kosovo". The correct script but the wrong actor. The most crucial impediment to a ‘Kosovo outcome’ in Sri Lanka is the nature of the LTTE and the identity of its Supremo. India would not want to see the killer of Rajiv Gandhi carving out a state for himself. But this obstacle is not an eternal one. It can be removed by the death of the Tiger Chief; sans Mr. Pirapaharan, the LTTE will become palatable to Delhi. But the Pirapaharan factor may lose its potency in the eyes of India, if we make sufficient human rights violations in the context of the Fourth Eelam War and in the absence of a political solution to the ethnic problem. If the Northern offensive results in large scale civilian casualties and an exodus of refugees to Tamilnadu, Delhi’s current policy of benign neutrality can be replaced by one of inimical intervention. After all, the new state of Kosovo is also the child of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serb supremacism, of his brutal attempts to impose Serb hegemony on non-Serb people.

Ranasinghe Premadasa once warned, "If we alienate the Tamils and Muslims in the North and the East by acts of intolerance and injustice, they would have no alternative but to throw in their lot with the terrorists" (Daily News – 24.1.1993). By acting in a manner that does violence to the pluralist nature of Sri Lanka we can also antagonise India and the West – that part of the international community which can influence, even decide our future. Recently the Supreme Court criticised the police in the Maradana and Modera divisions for issuing forms to residents smacking of racism. According to the lawyer appearing for the CWC – which filed the case – the Maradana police is issuing a ‘visa’ for four months for non-Colombo Tamils; those who overstay this period are liable to be arrested. This racist measure coincides with a recent request by the JHU for special ID cards be issued to all Tamils: "The (JHU) yesterday urged the government to issue an identity card for all Tamils living in Sri Lanka…. The party is also planning to make a proposal on the matter in parliament" (The Nation – 10.2.2008). Last week we witnessed the indecent spectacle of the Minister of Education trying to deny a Tamil child the right to go to the school of her choice because of her ethnicity. These are symptoms of the malady of Sinhala hegemonism the Lankan state is succumbing to under Rajapakse rule.

Recently the German Economic Cooperation and Development Minister revealed that her government will attempt to persuade the EU to remove the GSP facility granted to Lankan garments. The German minister’s statement should be taken seriously because Germany, together with France, plays a leading role in the EU. Interestingly this warning was made less than a week after President Rajapakse proclaimed in his Independence Day address that the international community has not lost an iota of confidence in us. Either our political leaders are lying to us or they are schizophrenics, who have lost touch with reality, who live in a world which has no existence beyond their febrile imaginations. This would explain the present ‘Chandi malli’ attitude to international relations, with important ministers and key political allies trying to outdo each other in insulting any country, individual or entity that does not offer Sri Lanka uncritical support.

The sickness is obviously a contagion. Last week the Central Bank did what the Central Bank has never done before in Sri Lanka – issue a vitriolic statement against a reputed international organisation. When Standard and Poor’s downgraded our credit ratings to negative, arguing that the country is too dependent on foreign borrowings, the Central Bank accused the agency of subjectivity and partiality, of acting in a manner that is ‘illogical, ill-advised and without rational basis or foundation’. To make matters both more hilarious and more preposterous the Central Bank implied that S&P is in cahoots with the Tigers: "The Central Bank was also disappointed at the way the war against Tamil Tiger separatists has been viewed by the rating agency. The monetary authority said S&P has ‘apparently not realized’ that the war on terrorism is a global effort with which many countries are today dealing in the same way. S&P's emphasis when the Sri Lankan military is ‘making clear headway’ in defeating terrorism and putting forward a political settlement also raised ‘further concerns’, the Central bank said" (LBO – 15.2.2008). Perhaps this unprecedented response by the Central Bank is an inevitable outcome of the unprecedented appointment of a failed electoral politician as the Governor of this august institution. A deadly confluence of unintelligent governance and fevered imaginings are thus created, which makes Sri Lanka act in a manner that is inane and indefensible, counter-factual and counter-productive.

Overzealous Protectors

Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s commitment to a separate state for Tamils cannot be doubted. Ironically his vision of this separate state and the methods he uses to make it a reality have undermined not just his capacity to achieve it but also the well being and the future of the people on whose behalf he has claimed it. Mr. Pirapaharan wants not a Tamil Eelam but a Tiger Eelam, a state under his domination. Mr. Pirapaharan is also indiscriminate in his choice of means to achieve his goal; for him the end is all. The outcome is the imposition of an unending war not only on the enemy, the Lankan state, but also on the Tamils. Though Mr. Pirapaharan’s commitment to his nation cannot be doubted, his vision of what that nation should be and the means he is using to realise that vision are damaging that nation far more than the ‘Sinhala enemy’ even did or could.

Mahinda Rajapakse’s commitment to an undivided, unitary Sri Lanka cannot be doubted. He seems determined to win the war against the Tigers come what may. But the means he is adopting to win the war and his Sinhala supremacist vision of Sri Lanka are undermining his own cause and endangering the well being of the people he represents. By permitting the living, education and health standards of the masses to be severely undermined, the regime is endangering the current and future well being of the nation. More and more people are being compelled to restrict consumption which is bound to affect the health of not just the present generation but also the next one. There will be more malnourished children and more underweight babies (the first signs are already visible). The educational capacity of children will decrease as their nourishment levels fall. We will breed future citizens less intelligent, less educated, less strong and less healthy. This is what Vellupillai Pirapaharan, the Tamil nationalist turned fascist, has done and is doing to the Tamils. Now the Sinhala nationalist Rajapakses are imposing an almost similar fate on the Sinhalese. If the current trends continue, by the time President Rajapakse completes his first term the country would be poorer, sicker, less literate, more internally divided and internationally isolated than ever before.

A majority of Serbia’s Serb population greeted the birth of Independent Kosovo with a sad fatalism, brought about by ‘patriotic exhaustion’. Kosovo is considered the cradle of Serb civilisations, but a majority of Serbian Serbs – as different from the Serbs in Kosovo - seem unwilling to risk another war to keep Kosovo. This is evidenced by the outcome of the recent Presidential election in Serbia. The ultra nationalist and pro-Russian candidate Tomislav Nikolic was narrowly defeated by the pro-European incumbent President Boris Tadic - despite the common knowledge that Mr. Tadic’s election would act as an encouragement for Kosovo to declare independence. A majority of Serbs, however unhappily, chose economic well being over nationalism; they opted to be a part of the EU, someday, even at the cost of Kosovo. No people will tolerate unbearable hardships indefinitely, if they have a chance of opting out of an untenable situation peacefully. And in most multi-party democracies that choice is available, even if it is the unpalatable one of betrayal. A majority of Serbs decided to let Kosovo go because the price of trying to retain it was more than they were willing to pay. Economic distress and desperation can take nations where they never intended to go, and are not happy to be in, simply in order to survive, as individuals and families. This is a historic truth the Rajapakse regime would do well to bear in mind.

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