The Samaraweera-Yahapālana Induction of Tony Blair in support of their “Reconciliation Programme” in August 2015

Michael Roberts

A chance finding during my sojourn with Moninna and Ranjit Goonewardena in Galle Fort in July/August 2015 introduced me to the visit of Tony Blair’s family to Sri Lanka in August 2015 ….. See https://thuppahis.com/2020/11/22/tony-blair-and-family-in-galle-mid-august-2015/ As we all know, in 2015 the Yahapālana govt indulged in an about/turn (with US backing) and joined the HR lobbies by saying ‘mea culpa’ at the UNHRC Sessions in Geneva in March/April that year. This programme overturned the presentations pursued earlier by Dayan Jayatilleke and Tamara Kunanayakam under the Mahinda Rajapakse dispensation. Kunanayakam’s competent representations in 2011 earned the undiluted ire of Eileen Donahue (the American ambassador at the UNHCR) who even threatened Kunanayakam verbally on the phone: “we will get you!”.[1] Internal machinations within the Rajapaksa camp, apparently involving Sajjin Vaas Gunawardena and a Ministry staffer Kshenuka Seneviratne, led to Kunanayakam’s displacement a little later.

Donahoe  Samaraweera at UNHCR sessions in 2015

USA had cultivated Maithripala Sirisena by offering him a Howard Fellowship to visit America and it is widely suspected that its local officials, as well as Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, had a hand in the processes that brought Sirisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe into the combo known as Yahapalanaya in late 2014 to challenge the Rajapaksa Administration. Mangala Samaraweera was probably party to this process. He certainly was a beneficiary and, as Foreign Minister, represented the island at the UNHCR sessions in Geneva with a programme of revolutionary implications – saying “mea culpa” and falling in with the programme of USA and the HR forces in the world order. It is not insignificant that a leading HR campaigner in the island, Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council, was one member of the Samaraweera delegation to Geneva.[2]

Given that Mangala Samaraweera was a major figure in this programme from the Colombo end, if not the key driver, his association with Samantha Power of USA at various moments (mostly after the UNHCR 2015 gathering as far as I can work out[3]) indicates that Power’s hard-nosed thinking has been a major ingredient in his policy-statements in Geneva and elsewhere from 2016 at least. Therefore, specialists in this sphere must study Power’s book entitled A Problem from Hell published in 2003 and Steven Wertheim’s essay of 2010 on her thinking.

It has now dawned on my pea brain that Tony Blair was invited to present the Kadirgamar Lecture in August 2015 as one pathway towards RECONCILIATION in Sri Lanka by reaching out to the resident Tamil people and politicians (oblivious to the imposing FACT that some well-placed Tamils within Western cities as  well as our island are set on VENGEANCE towards Sri Lanka topped off with oodles of humiliation).

The Blairs with President Sirisena in August 2015

During this public presentation in Colombo, Tony Blair expounded on the relatively successful and hard-earned Labour Party campaign of rapprochement that was secured for the two parts of Ireland in the early 2000s. So, readers must listen to his Kadirgamar Lecture after Samaraweera introduced him briefly……….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=vuk0JoEZBgMan [also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuk0JoEZBgM].

In presenting this tale here I briefly (note the emphasis) indicate my critical outlook on the potential within the story of Ireland and UK for lessons in reconciliation suitable for Sri Lanka. I stress that we need to place such studies within a general perspective on IRREDENTISM and an emphasis on the geographical and political variations in such irredentist situations.

“Irredentism” refers to (A) “a policy of advocating the restoration to a country of any territory formerly belonging to it” – arising from the historical moment when there developed “(in 19th-century Italian politics) a policy of advocating the return to Italy of all Italian-speaking districts subject to other countries.”

The focus at that point in world history was on the political relations between Italy and Austria-Hungary and the land borders between the Tyrol and Italy because there were German-speaking Tyrolese-Austrians within the north-eastern segments of Italy.[4] I refer here to what is now, in the 21st century, known via “its official trilingual denomination [as the]  Autonome Provinz Bozen–Südtirol in German, Provincia autonoma di Bolzano–Alto Adige in Italian and Provinzia autonoma de Bulsan – Südtirol in Ladin, reflecting the three main language groups to which its population belongs” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Tyrol). Data from 2014 indicates that “62.3% of the population speaks German as first language (Standard German in the written form and an Austro-Bavarian dialect in the spoken form); 23.4% of the population speaks Italian.”

It was the focus of international struggle in the 19th and early 20th centuries and emergence as “an administrative entity originated during the First World War” [because] the Allies promised the area to Italy in the Treaty of London of 1915 as an incentive to enter the war on their side.”[5] Thus, “until 1918 it was part of the Austro-Hungarian princely County of Tyrol, but this almost completely German-speaking territory was occupied by Italy at the end of the war in November 1918 and was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. The province as it exists today was created in 1926 after an administrative reorganization of the Kingdom of Italy, and was incorporated together with the province of Trento into the newly created region of Venezia Tridentina.”[6] A programme of Italianization pursued by Mussolini in the 1920s and subsequent developments have meant that today (2014) German-speakers amount to roughly 62 percent of the population, while Italian-speakers have increased to 23 percent.[7]

  German speak = 62.3 = 314,604

  Italian = 23.4%

  Latin = 4.1

  Others = 10.2

In other words, the first irredentist situation in world history was the outcome of power-mongering and was settled via victory in war – the First World War of 1914-18. The irredentist situation of the Protestants in Ireland and the irredentist situation of the Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka do not share the same outlines, whether historically, geographically or demographically, as those of South Tyrol in its juxtaposition between Austria and Italy.

In Northern Ireland the principal political division is on religious lines and set within a long history of Protestant/Catholic rivalry in the British Isles dating from the 16th century. Today the Catholics in Northern Ireland make up roughly 42 percent of the population, while the three Protestant denominations add up to roughly 36 percent –but one requires a detailed map to comprehend the local concentrations and mixes.

 Identity Map

The weight packed by the Catholic loyalists has been bolstered by the looming presence of the Catholic-dominated nation state of Eire to the west and south; while the Protestant political forces had the ear of the parliaments in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. The long history of political friction between the British rulers and Irish Catholic forces in Ireland writ large[8] certainly made Tony Blair’s task of appeasement a difficult one. But the irredentist outlines, historical roots and geographical landscape were of a totally different shape to the situation in the island of Sri Lanka set alongside looming brother India and its provincial arm of Tamilnadu.[9]

For anyone, therefore, to chart the process of political mediation in Northern Ireland as a guideline for any fresh re-working of the political order in South Tyrol today or a political round of provincial boundary negotiations within Sri Lanka would be to raise a hornet’s nest in each of these locations.

Take the latter hotspot: Sri Lanka. As so many scholars (foreign and local) studying the Sri Lankan situation in the mid-twentieth century noted, the Sinhalese were a people who ‘enjoyed’ a majority within Sri Lanka (Ceylon), but also laboured under the fears of minority subordination in the context of historical precedents and India’s looming presence. That set of arguments was stressed by several scholars in the 1960s and 1970s: by Wriggins, Kearney, Farmer, Ludowyk, Kodikara and Arasaratnam for instance (see Bibliography).

One MP presented this reading pithily in 1962: “the Sinhalese are the minority in Dravidistān. We are carrying on a struggle for our national existence against the Dravidistān majority.” Again, in 1967, no less a figure than the Mahanāyake heading the Ramānya Nikāya asserted that “if the Tamils get hold of the country, the Sinhalese will have to ump into the sea. It is essential therefore to safeguard the country our country, the nation and the religion and work with that object in mind.”[10] Here, then, we see a regurgitation of the hoary old myth attributed to one of the hero-kings of the Sinhala past, namely, Duttagāmini, who spoke of being endangered by a pinzer situation of “dakunen sädi kotiyo, uturen golu muhudai,” [wicked-cum-vile Tigers to the south and the turbulent sea to the north].”[11]

To repeat the crux of this analysis briefly: within the Indian Ocean context the Sinhalese were a majority in Sri Lanka with the fears of a minority. The excesses of the Sinhala-majority parties in competition with each other in the electoral process in the 1950s-1970s then brought the fears home to roost. The emergence of militant Eelamist groups, the TULF’s adoption of Eelam at Vaddukoddai[12] in 1976 and the political machinations of the Indian government in the 1980s nailed and slammed the fears into the pores of the island corporeal.

Again, in 1967, no less a figure than the Mahanāyake heading the Ramānya Nikāya asserted that “if the Tamils get hold of the country, the Sinhalese will have to ump into the sea. It is essential therefore to safeguard the country our country, the nation and the religion and work with that object in mind.”** Here, then, we see a regurgitation of the hoary old myth attributed to one of the hero-kings of the Sinhala past, namely, Duttagāmini, who spoke of being ….

A whole array of scholars in the 1960s and 1970s underlined the prevalence of these fears: Wriggins, Arasaratnam, Farmer, Kearney, Kodikara and Ludowyk for instance.** To repeat the crux of this analysis briefly: within the Indian Ocean context the Sinhalese were a majority in Sri Lanka with the fears of a minority.

The excesses of the Sinhala-majority parties in competition with each other in the electoral process in the 1950s-1970s then brought the fears home to roost. The emergence of militant Eelamist groups, the TULF’s adoption of Eelam at Vaddukoddai[10] in 1976 and the political machinations of the Indian government in the 1980s nailed and slammed the fears into the pores of the island corporeal.

Set briefly and perhaps inadequately thus, I INVITE readers to present their thoughts on the Blair Lecture and the specific moves towards reconciliation initiated by Samaraweera and the Yahapālana administration in 2015. …… Michael

 

REFERENCES

Ashik Bonofer 2005 “After Kadirgamar’s Assassination: Options for LTTE, Sri Lanka and India,” 23 August 2005, http://www.ipcs.org/comm_select.php?articleNo=1828

Dayan Jayatilleka 2015 “Mangala in Geneva: Backstabbing the Armed Forces,” 3 March 2015, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/mangala-in-geneva-backstabbing-the-armed-forces/

Christopher Black 2016 “Samantha Power leads USA’s Threatening Squeeze on Russia,” 7 October 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/samantha-power-leads-usas-threatening-squeeze-on-russia …………….. in Near Eastern Outlook 3 October 2016, where the title is “NATO’s War On Russia: The Winds Howl Before the Storm”

Richard Gowan 2015 “A Hardline R2P Interventionist? An American Analyst’s Interpretation of Samantha Power,” 22 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/a-hardline-r2p-interventionist-an-american-analysts-assessment-of-samantha-power-in-april-2014/#more-18552

[Tamara Kunanayakam] 2019 “We will get you.” American Threat at the UNHCR in Geneva in September 2011,” https://thuppahis.com/2019/09/27/we-will-get-you-american-threat-at-the-unhcr-in-geneva-in-september-2011/

E. Manickavasar 2016 “Vaddukoddai Resolution: A Watershed in The History of Eelam Tamils,” 1 April 2018, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/vaddukoddai-resolution-a-watershed-in-the-history-of-eelam-tamils/

Samantha Power 2003 A Problem from Hell, New York: Perennial.

 Stephen Wertheim 2010 “A Solution from hell: the United States and the Rise of Humanitarian Interventionism, 1991–2003,” Journal of Genocide Research vol. 12/3: 149–172

Stephen Wertheim 2020 “Samantha Power on USA’s Interventionist Mission in 2002,” 25 November 2020,  https://thuppahis.com/2020/11/25/samantha-power-on-usas-interventionist-mission-in-2002/

 

END NOTES

[1] Donahue had been chosen for this post by Barack Obama in 2009. After her stint in Geneva, she was appointed as Director of Global Affairs for Human Rights Watch (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eileen_Donahoe). Note that she was also appointed to the board of International Service for Human Rights and is also a former affiliate of Stanford University‘s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

[2] I need to confirm this fact and am in search of detailed information on the personnel that made up the SL team in Geneva in early 2015.

[3] At the moment there is a yawning gap in my information on this point. Whether Samaraweera had been made familiar with Samantha Power’s line of thought from well before March 2015 is an issue that requires exploration

[4] Some of these “Italians” were among the migrants who reached Adelaide from the 1940s onwards. ‘They had the capacity to set up a community organisation known as the “Fogolar Furlan Centre” in 1958. Note the self-description on the web pages today: “The Fogolar Furlan was established in 1958 by an enthusiastic migrant community who was emphatically determined to maintain their heritage, in an environment that was alien to their cultural experiences. The Friulan people migrated to Australia from Friuli Venezia Giulia, a unique region cradled in the north eastern corner of Italy. The strongest manifestation of Friulan identity is its dialect that is classified as a Romance language, deriving directly from Latin. The region is influenced by its literature, traditions, fine wines and gastronomic delicacies. Another tradition that is retained as symbolic of Friulan family and community life is the ‘fogolar’, the hearth, which not only provided warmth, but also served as a focal point where important decisions were made. The Fogolar Furlan Club has benefited not only the Friulan community by offering a means of maintaining its unique heritage, but also society at large by the propagation of its customs.” As it happens, Sri Lankan organisations have resorted to the function centre built by the Fogolar Furlan in Felixstowe, Adelaide on several occasions – leading to my interest in these people and their historically-grounded capacities.

[5] Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Tyrol).

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Tyrol.

[7] Latin-speakers are 4% and “Others” add up to 10 per cent. More meaningfully, the strong provincialism that prevails in most parts of Europe inclusive of Italy, Switzerland and the regions of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire has evidently worked out to install considerable local government autonomy within the units that make up South Tyrol now in the 21st century.

[8] Inclusive of IRA elements hidden within the considerable number of Irish migrants in Britain who initiated ‘terrorist’ attacks within British cities every now and then in the 20th century.

[9] By itself, the provincial state of Tamilnadu was a looming presence in the Sri Lankan firmament. The Dravidistan movement of the 1930s and thereafter fostered Tamilness amongst some of their ‘brethren’ in Sri Lanka. Again, from the 1970s, most of the major militant Tamil organisations had supporters and working units within Tamilnadu. The July 1983 pogrom in Sri Lanka prompted both the Tamilnadu government and central government arms to support these groups with arms and training. The direct intervention and ‘invasion’ of Sri Lanka by Rajiv Gandhi’s government in July 1987 was a major outcome.

[10] See https://www.sangam.org/FB_HIST_DOCS/vaddukod.htm and E. Manickavasar 2016.

[10] Quotation from Kodikara1970: 103.

[11] Roberts 2002.

[i12i] See https://www.sangam.org/FB_HIST_DOCS/vaddukod.htm and E. Manickavasar 2016.

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One response to “The Samaraweera-Yahapālana Induction of Tony Blair in support of their “Reconciliation Programme” in August 2015

  1. Edawrd Upali

    The “Fellowship”‘ offered to Sirisena was from the Harvard Universiy, Boston, and not from the Howard University in Washington, DC. as mentioned in para 2 of your article. At the time, Sirisena and a number others from “third world countries” were recognized for their service to Public Health.

    Sirisena was for sometime the Minister of Health Services, in Mahinda Rajapakse gov before Sirisena bacame President of the Yahapalana Gov.

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