Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Dayan Jayatilleka

From Russia with Love Part 2

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on August 13 2020

Why Would Putin Interfere?

Misha Glenny is an experienced and distinguished journalist and an expert on Russia. He wrote the non-fiction book on which the TV series McMafia was based. In an article on Open Democracy, Glenny attempts to answer the question: “Why would Putin want to interfere in UK elections?” The motivation seems to be to drive a wedge between the UK and Europe. Putin’s Russia is a capitalist (albeit of a crony variety) not a communist state and is much more integrated into global trade than the Soviet Union was. The EU is by far Russia’s largest trading partner, importing 30% of its oil and 40% of its gas from Russia. The UK imports very little of its oil and gas from Russia – it is not a significant market.

Russia Struggles to Be a World Power

Focusing on foreign policy is a way of deflecting attention from Putin’s domestic problems, such as over-dependence on the export of hydrocarbons (60% of its exports and 40% of revenue) to the federal budget, rising discontent among Russia’s urban middle class, which has resulted in ever-more brazen authoritarianism, and a declining population. Putin’s aim is to present Russia as one of the four decisive forces in international politics, along with the US, China and the EU.

Because he cannot hope to compete with the US and China in economic capacity or weapons and military strength, his aim is to drive wedges to weaken the ability to co-ordinate policy on Ukraine and the Nord Stream II pipeline, which takes oil directly from Russia to Germany.

London – Haven for Russian Oligarchs

Since the early 1990s, the UK, and particularly London, has been a prime location for rich Russians to hoard their ill-gotten gains. As Richard Brooke has shown in his special report for Private Eye, Lootin’ with Putin, supposedly pukka British professionals were quick to establish themselves in Moscow when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1989. “‘Magic Circle’ law firm Clifford Chance led the way for the lawyers in 1991, by which time the Big Six accountancy firms, led by Ernst & Young (now EY), had also set up shop in Moscow.” In the second wave of privatisations of Soviet industry, a new breed of oligarchs who had taken advantage of the vouchers originally offered to ordinary Russians took control of the new corporations. In return for favouring the Putin regime with special deals for the president and his cronies, the oligarchs get safe deals and a luxury life-style. The kleptocrats need safe places to stash the loot and much of it ends up in Britain. In 1996, the UK government offered special “investor visas” for those with £1m. By 2015, 700 visas had been granted to Russians. Realtors Knight Frank stated that Russians were the largest spenders on “prime” London property. The following year, Savills estimated that one in 12 buyers of £2m+ houses was Russian.

Luke Harding: “Under Putin, Russia had become a virtual Mafia state in which the government, its spy agencies, and organized crime had merged into a single entity.” Russia Today broadcasts propaganda material, with the help of British politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage, Alex Salmond and George Galloway, to bolster Putin and together with the GRU’s data-mining hacking factories, to undermine western democracy.

Komplicity with Kleptocrats

As Misha Glenny put it: “For two decades, oligarchs have used British lawyers, courts, PR companies and politicians to cajole and intimidate their domestic enemies along with independent investigators or journalists. They have exerted influence in buying newspapers and football clubs.” Roman Abramovich enjoys a close relationship with Putin and owned Chelsea football club for years. When Alexander Litvinenko was killed on British soil in 2006 after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210, there was never the slightest possibility that oligarchs like Abramovich would be investigated. Over ten years later, Theresa May, after the Skripal case, denied Abramovich a work permit as a snub aimed specifically at Putin.

Jonathan Freedland called her stance “Janus-faced.” “Noisy about Salisbury, hushed about sabotage of the 2016 Vote.” In the US the special counsel’s inquiry identified dozens of Russian conspirators. May refused to carry out a similar exercise in Britain. Carole Cadwalladr won a Pulitzer nomination for her investigative reporting of Cambridge Analytica’s illegal harvesting of personal data taken from at least eighty-seven million Facebook users. Her exposé led to a $134 billion slump in Facebook’s market capitalization.


Brexit was a favour to Putin because it severed the co-operation and intelligence-sharing of the agreement known as Five Eyes. As part of the EU, the UK shared the criminal and intelligence databases of the European Union, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. On leaving the EU, the UK left Europol and will now be able to access European terrorism, espionage and organised crime data banks only through a lengthy application process, which will make the information useless. A win for Putin.

The Malevolence of Russia Today

Vasily Gatov once worked for Russia Today and many of the people who currently work for the broadcaster used to be his friends. He sees them as mainly motivated by disappointment with the west. They feel the west has betrayed them by thwarting their bourgeois ambitions. ‘There’s no algorithm in RT’s malevolence, no scrupulous propaganda technology. What powers it is the burning hatred of smart boys and girls who once thought of the West — and particularly Western media — as the ‘shining city on the hill’, but now feel offended and deceived. The ingenuity of broken illusions is the fuel of RT, coupled with lavish state funding and emotional reimbursement.” There are also western staffers who feel rejected by their own countries. “The broadcaster’s staff share the employer’s passionate position against liberal values, free and independent journalism, impartial and balanced reporting — and do their best to perform.”

Shadow State

Luke Harding’s book Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West provides a great deal of detail on how the Russian hackers operate to interfere with UK and US democracy (and who knows what other states!).  “Latterly the Putin regime switched targets. It now concentrated on the political systems in democratic countries. This was a genius approach. Moscow correctly concluded that Western politics was wide open—a soft underbelly. You could buy distressed newspapers, get émigrés to donate to certain political parties, and acquire troubled industries and infrastructure.”

Cyber-raids are carried out from the GRU’s military unit 26165 a yellow-painted neo-classical building in the heart of Moscow at 20 Komsomolsky Prospekt.  The GRU unit is also known as Fancy Bear and AP28 and has been operating globally since the mid-2000s, hacking the Bundestag and the French television station TV5.

The fact that Russia Today and the GRU are also interfering in US politics further weakens the UK’s position. Luke Harding: “The implication was explosive: that the Conservatives had put party political considerations above potential national security concerns. A post-Brexit trade deal with the US was evidently important. But so was the question of whether Trump was under obligation to Moscow or being blackmailed in some way—a strategic threat to the UK, if correct.”

Taking Back Control?

Paul Waugh writes on Huffington Post: “Where does all this leave the very thing that was supposed to be the ambition of the Brexit referendum: greater UK sovereignty? Some believe we are now more reliant on America than ever.” With the added disadvantage of the US and the UK being compromised by Russia. Taking back control?

Death, Democracy and Lexical Ambiguity

A shorter version of this article was published in Ceylon Today on May 9 2020.



On a mission in Augsburg, in 1604, Sir Henry Wotton said: “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” A novel concept is an ambassador going abroad and accusing his president of lying. Is our ambassador to Russia more loyal to the president of Russia than he is to the president of Sri Lanka?

Democracy has not been doing too well lately. Trump is busy wrecking the USA and its reputation and causing unnecessary deaths after winning three million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the UK, Boris Johnson struggled to “get Brexit done” with a majority of minus 43 and now struggles to cope with a pandemic with a secure majority of 80. The authority of the Irish Cabinet is diminished by the fact that three of its members were voted out of the Dáil (parliament) in the general election on February 8 but remain in Government. The Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar is getting good world press for the way he is handling the crisis (and working one day a week as doctor – medical, not political science) but his party was defeated in the election. The Dáil hardly exists at present and its committees are in abeyance. The most influential body in the management of the crisis, is the NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team). Neither elected representatives nor the media have access to its meetings.

In Russia, Putin was re-elected in 2018 with nearly 80 percent of the vote and faces no serious threats to his power. He has not been having a good pandemic. According to Andrew Higgins in the New York Times, “the pandemic has only highlighted what has always been Mr Putin’s biggest vulnerability: a pronounced lack of interest or success in tackling intractable domestic problems like dilapidated hospitals, pockets of entrenched poverty and years of falling real incomes.”  Putin has been sheltering at his country villa and has not been pictured in public for nearly a month. Higgins described his Orthodox Easter message to the nation as “what, me worry?” Russia has had 1,537 deaths out of a population of 144.5 million.

Sri Lanka tackles the current pandemic well compared to the UK and the US and does so without a parliament. I understand the need to get back to normal for the economy as a whole and for individuals who are suffering grievously. I appreciate the risks to democracy of government by task force. I also appreciate the danger of going back to ‘normal’ too soon. Remember how ‘normal’ coped with the Easter bombings.

Dayan Jayatilleke PhD, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Russian Federation now has time on his hands  to impart some wisdom on the domestic situation in the homeland. He published an article in the Daily FT on April 23. I advise you to try to read it.

Grasping the Main Thrust

I had to read the article several times before I could get anywhere close to grasping the main thrust. One problem is the usual epic name-dropping: “My old friend and fellow doctoral student of Immanuel Wallerstein, Prof. Jan Nederveen Pieterse of the University of California, Santa Barbara” (two name-drops for the price of one, there folks!). “My late father Mervyn de Silva, who edited the Daily News, the Times of Ceylon and the Lanka Guardian, would certainly have asked…” “I must admit that the College hosts an Annual Oration in memory of my paternal uncle Dr. A.V.K.V. de Silva, Univ of Edinburgh gold medalist, top epidemiologist and WHO program coordinator on AIDS.” What has any of this got to do with the price of fish? How many readers know or care about these names?

I have noticed a tendency with Sri Lankan columnists (and academics) to favour style  over substance. Rather than laying out a clear narrative line to help the long-suffering reader to establish what the writer wants him/her to take away from the article, he (it’s usually a he) prefers to launch a piece with rhetorical flourishes and move on with curlicues and rococo grace notes rather than setting out the Gradgrindian hard facts.

Dayan posits the case for a general election on June 20 against the arguments of “liberal critics”.  I am not sure what “liberal” means in 2020 – the word seems to have been fatally flawed by lexical ambiguity. I note that on his much-muted Facebook page, Dayan describes himself as a liberal and a Catholic rather than a Marxist. He describes himself as a politician rather than a political scientist or diplomat. He brings in “neo-liberal” at one point too. Anyway, let us judge these liberals by their arguments, which are “legalistic-constitutionalist points”. Unfortunately, he does not specify these arguments but describes them as “prissy proceduralism and legalistic literalism”.

Sinister Scenarios, Unnamed Plotters

Let’s recap. Those who are opposing an election are “legalistic”. Dayan concedes that their arguments may be true but they are irrelevant “because the real-world question is what if the Executive ignores all the ‘simply can’t do’ points they make and simply does them?” Simply can’t do what? Simply does what?

“Clearly the PM does not place himself among the ‘many [who] opine that there is no need for elections AT ALL’ (my emphasis – DJ)”. ‘Opine ‘is a favourite of Sri Lankan columnists and is rarely used anywhere else. Mahinda Rajapaksa does not want to ditch democracy, apparently. Neither does his brother. “It is not that President Gotabaya has a zero-election project or extra-constitutional preference”. Let us work up a panic anyway and create a froth of hypotheticals involving sinister scenarios created by unnamed figures from “the postwar Far Right ranks”.

Dayan graciously gives the government a (dimmed) gold star for the way it has handled the Covid19 crisis so far. This faint praise is effectively withdrawn when he compares Sri Lanka (to its detriment) with Israel and South Korea. He concedes, “There are few citizens who are not thankful that it is this administration rather than the previous one, in charge at this time. The armed forces and personnel of the State machinery as a whole are going flat out, motivated and functioning as they never would have been under the decrepit, languid, lackadaisical Ranilist UNP governmental sub-culture. “

Shifting Enthusiasms

It is difficult to keep up with Dayan’s political philosophy and allegiances. He worked with Tamil separatists and the UNP. He often describes himself as a progressive (but resists defining the term) and endlessly cites men of the left like Gramsci and Castro. To my face he praised Trump’s fascist adviser, Steve Bannon and, in writing, defended Jeremy Corbyn’s Stalinist apparatchik, Seamus Milne. He has expressed his admiration for Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn as well as the grand old mass murderers, Stalin and Mao. In the Daily FT article itself he offers the apartheid state of Israel as an exemplar (is this because Mahinda Rajapaksa has long been a supporter of the Palestinian cause?) Now I hear that he is working for his former boss’s son, Sajith Premadasa.

Sri Lanka Coping Well

How does he think Trump and Johnson are coping with Covid? What would Corbyn have done? Dayan thinks Brexit is good for Britain. He writes, “What are the ethics, values and morals of those who would put hundreds of thousands of people in harm’s way, by fudging or embellishing evidence in a severe epidemic which has dealt suffering, death and bereavement to so many around the world? “He seems to be saying that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is lying.  His heroes Trump and Johnson are widely acknowledged to be serial liars. This is a very serious charge for a fomer  ambassador to level at the government that paid  him.

I have no wish to make unwarranted boasts about the way Sri Lanka is dealing with the crisis. However, I do find it odd to see the western media saying this country or that country is doing better than Britain. True, Britain is among the worst for total incompetence and mendacity. At the time of writing, Britain’s official death toll was over 30,000, and climbing.  Ireland is held up as a good example. The population of the Republic of Ireland is 4.94 million. As of 7 May, the Irish Department of Health has confirmed 1,429 deaths. Sri Lanka’s population is 21.4 million and there have been nine deaths. There is of course the danger of complacency but let’s give ourselves a little encouragement in these dark days.

In the hope of establishing what the point of Dayan’s article was, I went to the last paragraph. The very last words were a bit of pointless name-dropping. Before that, this: “It is not that there is no political motivation as well, but that isn’t a simplistic one of pushing for a premature general election. It is a more complex two-pronged tactic, or more to the point, an ambush, a trap. The two prongs are on one flank, a snap election on unfavourable terrain for the Opposition and at a dangerous moment for the voter, and on the other, the project of zero-elections and open-ended rule by the President plus a “power cartel” “

Where does that leave us? I would advise readers to check out an article by DBS Jeyaraj who covers similar ground in simple prose without obfuscation.





Triumphalism and foreign commentators

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday August 29 2010.

Some months ago, my fellow LAKBIMAnEWS contributor, Dayan Jayatilleka, was kind enough to mention my humble efforts in what he called “the prestigious Le Monde diplomatique”. In a series of short articles, I tried to convey to the western world the complexity of what was actually happening in our country. Most people who  commented on these pieces described them as  “professional” and “unbiased”, although an article caused one reader to call me a government lackey and another to call me a regurgitator of terrorist propaganda. I received an e-mail addressing me as “you crazed Irish monkey, you IRA fugitive. You should be in a zoo or an asylum”.

The August 2009 edition of Le Monde diplomatique carried an article on Sri Lanka by one Cédric Gouverneur entitled ‘The Time of Triumphalism.’ The editor of the English-language edition, Wendy Kristianasen, asked me for my views, somewhat pointlessly,  after the article was published. Unfortunately, she did not like my views.

She wrote to me: “It will be rather a statement of the obvious for you, but it is a good way to get the wider world interested in the country and its complex politics.”

My response was that it was unhelpful to get the wider world interested if the wider world gets interested in a distorted picture. Her response was : “I think, for what it’s worth, that the West knows very little about Sri Lanka, particularly outside of the UK. …Most ordinary people simply know that there was a long, difficult conflict. That’s all. Whereas what goes on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and particularly Israel, is widely reported on, in every detail, and closely followed. Every ordinary person has an opinion on those subjects, and may even feel him/herself to be an armchair expert.”

Cédric Gouverneur wrote about Sri Lanka back in 2004: “Many observers would wager that the LTTE will evolve mid-term, influenced by the Tamil diaspora (accustomed to Western democracy after 20 years of exile) and their own pragmatic leaders, who are increasingly political and less warlike.”

He clearly got that horribly wrong!

In this latest article he raises several issues which need to be debated, and which have been covered in some depth in LAKBIMAnEWS and other papers, such as the plight of the IDPs, the militarisation of the north, the fear of colonisation of predominantly Tamil areas.

The phrase “the government, overjoyed at being able to divide the Tamils” occurs in the body of the text. I doubt if that is actually telling us anything real or useful. This phrase suggests that the Tamil inhabitants of Sri Lanka form a homogeneous entity. Tamils are already divided by differences of origin, class, caste, religion, income, status and political views no matter what the government does. It would be more accurate to say “The government, overjoyed at electorally annihilating the opposition”.

In the article, theories are developed on the strength of vox pop statements from unreliable witnesses. “This triumphalism has exasperated Tamils recently liberated from Menic (sic) Farm”. This is based on the comments of a man who is nostalgic about the days of the LTTE. But even he says : “I appreciate that since the shelling, the army has behaved well towards civilians. They want to win our hearts and minds.”

Shanti Satchithanandam’s views are cited and she is described as a “victim” of the Tigers. Others have described her as a Tiger supporter.

It is implied that Sinhalese were gullible because: “They truly believe the media’s line that their army freed the Tamils from the clutches of a criminal organisation.” Why should they not believe it?!

The article is riddled with factual inaccuracies. There many serious howlers in the historical timeline headed “Thirty years of civil war”. I will not bore you with all of them. The thirty years begins with 1815 (surely something wrong with the arithmetic!). “The British finish colonising the island, previously divided into three kingdoms – two Sinhalese, one Tamil”. The most egregious error is “December 2009. Rival candidates President Rajapaksa and the former chief of staff, Sarath Fonseka, dispute the election results”. How could they dispute the results in December 2009 of an election which did not take place until January 2010?

Ms Kristianasen was not pleased when I drew her attention to these flaws. She said “I must ask you to commit yourself to responsible journalism”. Monsieur Gouverneur sent me an angry and abusive e-mail after she forwarded to him my e-mail address without my permission.

I urge you to read the article in full. Only paying subscribers to Le Monde diplomatique can access it on their own website ( but the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice (whose Advisory Council includes Noam Chomsky, Bianca Jagger, Jake Lynch, Lakhdar Brahimi, who was once foreign minister of human-rights beacon Algeria,  and Edward Mortimer) have kindly reproduced it (historical howlers and all).

I am not one of those who use the tu quoque argument or says westerners are not allowed to criticise Sri Lanka because the crimes of the west are worse. However, Sri Lanka seems plagued by foreigners dropping in for a few days, becoming instant experts and disseminating a distorted picture. Cédric Gouverneur has written many of these “what I did on my holidays” pieces.

I urge LAKBIMAnEWS readers to study the article and engage in debate on it. Unfortunately, such debate is not possible with Le Monde diplomatique – they have no letters page, no readers’ editor, no complaints or corrections section, no facility to comment in any way on M Gouverneur’s article.

Dayan Jayatilleka’s Long War: The Irish Dimension

This article was published in Ceylon Today on 24 December 2013.



The road to hell is paved with false analogies.

Dr Jayatilleka’s book has had good coverage in many places, including this paper. I have been thinking about it again after some dialogue with people in Northern Ireland and in Sri Lanka about the question of justifiable violence.

At one point in the book, Dr Jayatilleka remarked about Prabakharan: “He burnt his boats as well as his bridges”.

This reminded me of Deaglán de Bréadún, of the Irish Times, who on a daily basis followed the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. He wrote about the Northern Ireland peace process in his book The Far Side of Revenge. My favourite quotation in the book is from a Sinn Fein spokesman, asked about the decommissioning of IRA arms. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”.

Beware of Irishmen Bearing Advice

Dr Jayatilleka discusses the visit of John Hume to Sri Lanka. By the time Hume received his Nobel Peace Prize (shared with David Trimble) his health had been broken by his long fight for peace, a fight that entailed, in his words “spilling sweat instead of blood”. Hume was horribly wrong about Sri Lanka. I am proud to have coined the phrase: “The road to hell is paved with false analogies”.

Hume’s greatness lay in the fact that stubbornly, over many years, he was prepared to be ostracised for talking to the men of violence. One of those men of violence, Martin McGuinness, also became a man of peace. McGuinness was in the right place at the right time and had the “freedom fighting” credentials to persuade the Provisional IRA to persevere with talks that were frustrating for all concerned and eventually got them to lay down their arms.

Mc Guinness came to Sri Lanka to advise us. My friend, the Reverend Harold Good is not naive about the horrors of terrorism. It was Harold, winner of the Gandhi Peace Award, who announced to the world that the IRA had surrendered their arms to General de Chastelaine. Harold counts McGuinness as his friend, following their partnership in the Northern Ireland peace process. When McGuinness ran for the presidency of the Republic of Ireland, Harold told me: “If elected he would be a circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike president.”

How unlike the LTTE

Can one imagine Prabakharan doing good job as a minister in the Northern province or being a “circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike President” of a united Sri Lanka (or, indeed, chief minister of Tamil Nadu)?

McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness criticized the EU for banning the Tamil Tigers as a Terrorist Organization. He said, “it was a huge mistake for EU leaders to demonize the LTTE and the political leaders of the Tamil people.” He may have meant well, but he was over-optimistic in seeing parallels with the Irish situation. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”.

Dr Jayatilleka Explains Why McGuinness Was Wrong.

Dr Jayatilleka is correct in saying: “John Hume’s experience and message had absolutely nothing to offer Sri Lanka as concerns the main aspects of its own conflict in 2002: the war, the LTTE and Mr Prabakharan”. He asks, “In Northern Ireland, who played Prabakharan?”  Provisional IRA leaders tended to be shadowy figures, not cult leaders like Prabakharan. In Sri Lanka, it would have been unlikely that Hume, McGuinness or  the good Reverend Good, would have survived. “Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran were in fact talking to the ‘men of violence’ over a nice cuppa when these men of violence turned rather more violent, pulled out their automatics and blew their hosts away”. “Neelan Tiruchelvam was doing a John Hume and would have picked up a Peace Prize of two but he was blasted yards away from his law offices”. “Many Tamil leaders had been murdered, and not a single one of them (arguably except for Kumar Ponnambalam) by a Sinhalese”.

“Mr Hume finally had US Senator George Mitchell. Our equivalent of a big power foreign mediator was Rajiv Gandhi, pulverised to a pulp in Tamil Nadu by a Tiger suicide killer. Sri Lanka’s Tony Blairs, David Trimbles and Bertie Aherns were all dead or half-blind”.

Why Did the Irish Troubles End?

Peter Taylor, in his book Brits,  provides convincing evidence  to show that  British intelligence had improved to such an extent that the IRA were well aware that they could not possibly win. On their side, the British were sensible enough to know that they could not achieve a definitive military defeat of the IRA. Both sides, (even under Thatcher) were for a long time edging towards compromise.

The Actors

De Bréadún provides pithy pen portraits of key participants. Of Bill Clinton, he says: “A needy man met a needy people”. He quotes George Mitchell: “No-one can really have a chance in a society dominated by fear, hatred and violence…a deadly ritual in which most of the victims are innocent”.

Three Catholic Northern Ireland citizens were essential to the peace process. John Hume, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party, sacrificed his health representing the nationalist community’s aspirations for an end to discrimination. Although Hume was a fervent upholder of non-violence, he was courageous enough to maintain dialogue with the men of violence, chiefly through Gerry Adams.

De Bréadún writes of Gerry Adams, “He failed to match the stereotype of the firebreathing subversive, choosing instead to act as a conduit for the grievances of the grass roots”.

While Adams dealt with the broad strategic sweep, Martin McGuinness proved to be a canny negotiator. According to a senior Dublin civil servant: “The boy revolutionary developed into a mature and skilful politician”. De Bréadún writes: “Mc Guinness got respect in his own right, thanks to his formidable history as an activist and his direct and commanding personality. If Adams was the architect of the republican project, McGuinness was the engineer”.

On the Unionist side, David Trimble had been involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard in the early 1970s before he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. As leader of the UUP he could not afford to be too “moderate”. The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party was constantly raising the “No surrender. No popery” ante and Trimble had to be seen to support triumphalist loyalist marches through Catholic areas.

Constructive ambiguity

Many in Ireland regarded the peace process with scepticism, concerned that it would bring men of violence into the heart of democracy. Symbolic issues like policing and decommissioning provided obstacles. In order to carry his party with him, Trimble had to insist that the IRA decommission its arms, even though that insistence was an irrelevant and a frustrating hindrance to negotiation. McGuinness and Adams had great authority with the rank and file of the IRA but could not sell decommissioning, as it would be seen as surrender without achieving the aim of a united Ireland.

To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993, after Clinton listened to Sinn Féin. On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, and 2007 elections, the DUP and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. Paisley became First Minister and McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister,

The nationalists could say that their struggle had entered a new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Adams’s Sinn Fein. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable naysayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.

Gramsci, Dayan and New Labour

I recently had the strange experience of receiving an e-mail from Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former press secretary. I would not expect such a man to be my friend. I will not forget his role in the illegal invasion of Iraq. My new friend Alistair was writing to thank me because I had signed a petition he had organised challenging Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail to debate with him about the paper’s attack on Ralph Miliband, the late father of Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

The article by Geoffrey Levy, published on 27 September 2013, described Ralph Miliband, who arrived in Britain as Belgian Jewish fugitive from the Nazis, served in the Royal Navy, and became a distinguished Marxist academic, as a “man who hated Britain”.

Levy argued that that young Ed intended to fulfil his father’s dreams and replace Margaret Thatcher’s legacy with a new 21st century socialism. “How proud Ralph would have been to hear him responding the other day to a man in the street who asked when he was ‘going to bring back socialism’, with the words: ‘That’s what we are doing, sir’.” A number of right wing commentators conflated the Milibands’ arguments in favour of socialism with the smear that they were in favour of violent revolution and repression.

I was reminded of the wacky world of the British Labour Party (and its uneasy relationship with Marxism) when I read Dayan Jayatilleka’s article in Ceylon Today dated October 13.

Dr Jayatilleka writes:

“It is no accident that the renovation and recovery of the British Labour Party during the long night of Thatcherism was intellectually spearheaded by three outstanding theoreticians of the Marxian Left, Eric Hobsbawm, Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques, all of whom drew on the political science of Antonio Gramsci, to critically comprehend the success, national and cultural, of the Thatcher phenomenon of ‘authoritarian populism’ (Stuart Hall) and the ossification and obsolescence of the Labour Opposition.”

That seems to me to be problematic on several counts. I will deal with the concepts of “Marxian” and “theoreticians” later.

I vaguely knew Martin Jacques when we were contemporaries at Manchester University in the heady “revolutionary” days of the late sixties. What bliss it was in that dawn to be alive! We did not move in the same circles, although I knew people who knew him. He was almost exactly a year older than I was. Our tangential crossing of orbits induced me to follow his career with some interest. He achieved some degree of media fame in the 70s and 80s when, under his editorship, Marxism Today– the theoretical magazine of the Communist Party of Great Britain – became readable and even slick and fashionable. The grim old Stalinists of the CP embraced media-friendly Euro-Communism and started wearing gaudy silk ties, smart double-breasted suits with pleated trousers, abandoned their wrapover baldy men look and started talking fluently on TV.

Martin entered the world of think tankery and became quite influential. If you trawl the blogosphere patiently, you will find references (accusations?) from the left that he made New Labour possible. However, it is a bit of a stretch to imply that Gramsci had some connection with “the renovation and recovery of the British Labour Party”.

I also had a tangential connection with Stuart Hall when I worked for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee. Professor Hall was a candidate to succeed Sir Arthur as Chairman. I argued Hall’s case vigorously but 1984 was not the time for an SSSAC chairman who was black and Marxist. Incidentally, one of the SSAC members was quite friendly and humorous. Henry Hodge was a human rights lawyer who later went on to become a High Court judge. His wife was Margaret Hodge, who achieved notoriety as the leader of left wing Islington Council (nicknamed “Enver Hodge”, after the Albanian despot). She later went on to become a minister in the Blair government and in 2010, she was elected Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. The Hodges were neighbours and friends of the Blairs. Henry once remarked that he was married to the Labour Party. Margaret (née Oppenheimer) is a multi-millionaire. The Daily Mail alleges that her role on the PAC is compromised by the fact that her company paid just 0.25 per cent in tax on its profits last year

In 1983, I was present in the House of Commons to hear Gordon Brown give his maiden speech. It was very impressive in a dour kind of manner, but I did not detect the influence of Gramsci.

Soon after taking office in 1997, the new Blair administration announced that it would be continuing the economic policies of the outgoing administration in the interests of stability. One of Blair’s “triumphs” had been to abolish Clause IV of the party constitution. This was what made the Labour Party socialist because it dealt with nationalization of the commanding peaks of the economy. By getting rid of this central pillar of Old Labour principle, the party became New Labour and abandoned any pretence of socialism. Blair had never been a socialist; he was one of those careerists who decided politics was a good job option and then chose the party that suited him best, regardless of principles. On attaining power, there would be no attempt to re-nationalize privatised industries, like the railways or water, even though 73% of the population wanted that. New Labour brought further privatization by stealth. Blair and his finance minister, and later successor, Gordon Brown, pursued with great zeal the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), using private capital to fund public projects. Private companies prospered, the public paid.

The problem with theory is that it has a tendency to disappear up its own fundament. Karl Marx was a brilliant man who made many perceptive judgements about the way the world works. Like Freud, he has been a major influence on modern life. Freud was a big fraud who made up most of his theories without any scientific proof. It would be better if we regarded Freud and Marx as creative geniuses rather than trying to shoehorn the real world into their theoretical framework.

This shoehorning can be fatal when one believes that the end justifies the means. Let us look at the career of Eric Hobsbawm. When he died at the age of 95, even right-wing historians like Niall Ferguson praised Hobsbawm’s achievements as an historian.  In 1998, Blair appointed Hobsbawm to the Order of the Companions of Honour.

However, Tony Judt cautioned that Hobsbawm’s bias in favour of the USSR weakened his grasp of important aspects of the 20th century. David Pryce-Jones thought Hobsbawm “steadily corrupted knowledge into propaganda, and scorns the concept of objective truth”. In an interview with Michael Ignatieff in 1994, Hobsbawm said 20 million deaths might have been justified if a communist utopia had been created. The problem with utopias is that they do not happen so no loss of life is justified. Hobsbawm retained his CP membership long after the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. David Pryce-Jones accuses Hobsbawm of actually supporting the invasion of Hungary. Marx biographer Francis Wheen argued: “When writing about how the anti-fascist campaigns of the 1930s brought new recruits to the communist cause, he cannot even bring himself to mention the Hitler-Stalin pact, referring only to ‘temporary episodes such as 1939–41’. The Soviet invasion of Hungary and the crushing of the Prague Spring are skipped over.”

Hall, Jacques and Hobsbawm’s advice may well have helped to make Labour electable. Hobsbawm’s daughter Julia was, like my new friend Alistair, a media adviser to Blair. It is very odd that these CP diehards would advise abandoning socialism and making Labour Thatcherite. Ralph Miliband described the thinking of Marxism Today under Jacques as a “very pronounced retreat from some socialist positions.’ Eric Hobsbawm’s writings in Marxism Today lent support to Neil Kinnock’s strategy of steering Labour rightwards. It is ironic that this gang of Stalinists gave Britain a new Thatcherism under Blair rather than any kind of socialism whatsoever. Hobsbawm derisively referred to Blair as “Thatcher in trousers”. This may have been some cunning Baldrickesque plan but I would ask any remaining socialist in the present-day British Labour Party – “how was it for you”? Was the outcome good for socialism or Britain?

Long War, Long Book


Reflections on Long War, Cold Peace by Dayan Jayatilleka.

This review appeared in the Sunday Island on June 30 2013.

As the paper’s website does not allow comments, I am posting it again here.

Varied Career

As well as being a diplomat, Dr Jayatilleka has been an urban guerrilla, political activist, active politician and academic political scientist. His book on the political thought of Fidel Castro was published by Pluto Press in London. His latest book  brings much inside knowledge to  a detailed narrative of Sri Lanka’s war and links it to issues of global significance.

Realism – Justification of War

Other reviewers  have drawn out a particular emphasis on the ethics of violence and the concept of a just war. Jayatilleka  argues that violence is common in the real world and it is  often necessary for the state to sanction  violence to protect itself and its people. This does not justify ‘‘terrorism targeting unarmed, non-combatant civilians; torture and arbitrary execution of prisoners; executions within the organization; and lethal violence against political prisoners’’.

When he was Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva he was able to fend off international criticism of the way Sri Lanka had won its war. In the book he rehearses the argument he made in Geneva.

“Sri Lanka was fighting a war within its internationally recognised and uncontested borders. Sri Lanka was not founded on occupation, dispossession and disenfranchisement of the indigenous. Both major Sri Lankan communities had been present on the soil for millennia. Sri Lanka had not economically embargoed the Tamil people and had not merely sent food but run schools, hospitals and paid the salaries of public servants in separatist terrorist occupied areas.”

Hearts and Minds- Myths about Insurgency.

Many repeated the old mantra that a guerrilla insurgency arising out of genuine grievances and nationalist aspirations could not be defeated by military action. This view was reinforced by vague memories of Michael Collins in Ireland and Collins’s ‘pupil’ General Giap in Vietnam.

General Westmoreland did not share this view – “Grab ‘em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow”. His notable lack of success has somewhat discredited the military option.  The Vietnam War was not ended by negotiation. It was ended by the USA being defeated militarily by the Viet Cong. The LTTE had gone beyond guerrilla warfare and possessed an effective navy and a rudimentary air force. It was no longer relying on small-scale attacks and suicide bombers but (and this is one of the factors contributing to its defeat) was fighting large-scale conventional battles.

Why Not Negotiate a Peaceful Settlement?

Jayatilleka supports my own Irishman’s view that, despite well-intentioned visits to Sri Lanka by John Hume and Martin McGuinness, there was no useful parallel to be drawn between Northern Ireland and the fight for Tamil Eelam.  The Provisional IRA had Sinn Fein as a parliamentary proxy but successful candidates did not take up their seats at Westminster.  TNA MPs did take their seats and served as a parliamentary proxy for the LTTE. They  did not  emulate Sinn Fein and negotiate with the Sri Lankan government. Dr Jayatilleka notes that in the 2004 election, EU observers were highly critical that  TNA members had  the protection of the LTTE under the slogan that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil people

The LTTE left no room for negotiation. “Tamil Eelam was an axiom, thus non-negotiable. His [Prabhakaran’s] commitment was absolute, fundamental. No alternatives were admitted as possibilities. Philosophical and psychological closure had been effected from the outset. The mindset was hermetically sealed…Only the modalities of secession were up for genuine discussion. The talks , the negotiations, the third party mediation, the path of peace that Prabhakaran mentioned … was just the small change- to buy time, to neutralise opinion, to divide and deceive the enemy, to secure the withdrawal of troops…”

Consequences of concessions

When the CFA was signed on February 22 2002, there were no pictures of a shared signing ceremony. “Mr Prabhakaran treated himself to a separate table, a separate office, a separate signing ceremony, and as conspicuous wall decor, a separate map showing his projected separate state on it in a shade of colour separate from that of the shrunken Sri Lanka depicted there…”

The CFA was lopsided because it disarmed those Tamil groups that accepted the unitary state but did not even entertain the issue of phased, internationally supervised demilitarisation of the Tigers. Unlike Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka was not to have its General de Chastelaine.

Under the CFA, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe conferred legitimacy on the LTTE, as did President Kumaratunga, and allowed them to operate a de facto state in the aftermath of the tsunami. The Tigers continued to kill SLA soldiers after an accord was signed but were allowed a preponderance in the regional committee set up to deal with the tsunami. “No state could afford not to monopolise the means of significant armed violence, and therefore the Tigers had to be disarmed as well as rendered bereft of the capacity to re-arm.”

Why Not Allow Secession?

Jayatilleka argues that allowing the LTTE a separate state was never an option. “Colombo could not trade Tamil Eelam, i.e. the North and East, for peace, because, even if such a Faustian bargain were struck, peace would not be the result. The Sri Lankan state would not have been able to withdraw into its southern cocoon and lived in tranquil prosperity.”

He continues: “An independent state of Tamil Eelam could legitimately secure any kind of weaponry it wished to and build up one of the strongest fighting forces in the region, thus upsetting the entire power balance and strategic environment. The geo-strategic salience of Trincomalee, which would have fallen within Eelam, would have endowed a Tamil Sparta with a military and economic value of extra-regional significance, again a seriously destabilising prospect”.

Sri Lanka’s Strengths

Dr Jayatilleka writes that Sri Lanka was not powerful or influential, but it had strengths: “One of these was the resiliency of its multiparty democracy under conditions of extreme duress, its eschewal of military rule and totalitarianism of the Right or Left. Another was the maintenance of comparatively decent labour standards and social indicators. Yet another was the synergy of civil society and state that made its recovery from the tsunami more impressive than those in Indonesia (Aceh) or post-Katrina Louisiana (according to Joel Schumacher of Refugee International).”


The story goes that, although Jayatilleka was a success in Geneva, he was rewarded with removal because he was too vocal in his support for the 13th amendment and devolution. He still maintains that it is necessary to have a Sri Lanka “which remains unitary but contains an irreducible autonomous political space for the Tamil people of the North and East”.  This continues to draw fire from some critics who choose to regard him as a puppet of India. In this book, he does not hide India’s complicity in the growth of the LTTE but recognises India’s difficulty in coping with Tamil Nadu.

Human Rights

Jayatilleka argues: “Human rights are not a Western invention or booby-trap, to be decried and shunned like the devil. Though there is a constant attempt to use human rights as an instrument to undermine national sovereignty, the answer is not to shun human rights or to pretend that these are intrinsically inscribed in our culture and therefore automatically observed, but to protect them ourselves and to maintain verifiably high standards of human rights observance nationally”.

The Future

Towards the end of the book, Jayatilleka declares that Sri Lanka’s future is “best defended by a Sri Lankan state which represents all its peoples, acts as neutral umpire guaranteeing adequate space for all ethnicities on the island. Sovereignty is secured by a Sri Lankan identity which accommodates all the country’s communities, paving the way for a broadly shared sense of a multiethnic yet single Sri Lankan nationhood.”


Other reviewers have taken issue with the author’s gratuitous tagging on of profundities from Marxist writers. I did not find the Marxism too much of a distraction. Indeed, the author comes across as protean and pragmatic. His brand of realism stresses the world as it is rather than the world as it ought to be.

In this book Jayatilleka claims that his position has been consistent, even though to an outsider it looks as though he has  changed direction a number of times. After being associated with revolutionary politics, the SLMP, the NEPC, the Premadasa government, he served with distinction as ambassador for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is now writing articles critical of aspects of the Rajapaksa government and seeing virtues in Premadasa’s son. It will be interesting to see where the author goes from here. Quo Vadis, Dr Jayatilleka?


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