Feature Article

Autonomy within unitary structure paradoxical: Peter Schalk

[TamilNet, Thursday, 15 November 2012, 14:17 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s ambassador in France, Dayan Jayatilleke, calling for “autonomy within a unitary structure,” at a seminar in Paris earlier this month was a political-populist statement, responded Professor Emeritus Peter Schalk, who participated the seminar arranged by Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). A unitary structure excludes autonomy. A social scientist would not have uttered such a sentence, Prof Schalk said, in a note sent to TamilNet on Thursday. Calling CNRS partial in providing propaganda platform to Colombo, he said that the violence by the governments of Lanka is structural and genocidal that is practiced over the decades and not just an occasional aberration or some nuts.

Meanwhile, in an interview to Palaka’ni programme of TamilNet this week, Mr. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam came out with similar views, explaining how the talk of ‘devolution of power’ under unitary structure goes against all realities in the island.

‘Devolution of Power,’ without the rejection of unitary Sri Lanka and without recognition to the sovereignty or the right to self-determination of Eezham Tamils, is a persistent chant of particularly Washington and New Delhi.

Full text of the note received from Prof Peter Sckalk:

Autonomy within a Unitary Structure?

Peter Schalk
Professor Peter Schalk
On November 7, 2012, I participated in a seminar in Paris arranged by Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

The theme was Sri Lanka and South Asia: New Challenges for a Regional Policy. I expected to get a new and deep geopolitical analysis, but we can forget about that.

The guest speaker was Dayan Jayatilleka who was presented on the written announcement to the public as Ambassador of Sri Lanka in France, not as social scientist. He performed as ambassador. He was openly backed up by one invited scholar from the CNRS and by consenting voices from the public which was supportive.

I have never seen before in Scandinavia, UK or Germany during my 42 years of academic service that an academic institution has invited only one party of a protracted conflict. I was baffled by the fact that the CNRS made no attempt to counter-balance the ambassador’s partiality. The chair-person just kept silent having declared that he had no competence in the subject.

The seminar in the locality of the CNRS was a propaganda meeting for the policy of the Sri Lankan Government from the beginning to the end. The ambassador came up with the usual and expected anti-LTTE attacks: The LTTE did not want to negotiate and therefore a war of total annihilation of the LTTE in the final end in 2009 was justified.

A time consuming consenting exchange of statements took place during the seminar on the question why Tamil speakers supported the LTTE. Dayan Jayatilleke’s favourite comparison with Nazi Germany was retrieved by himself as usual. Tamil speakers’ support of the LTTE was allegedly caused by the LTTE’s terrorist methods against the Tamil civilian population. None in the seminar took up the possibility that the support by civilians of the LTTE was a result of the history of suffering by the Tamil people. Against this background they declared in 1976 that they wanted to found a separate state of Tamililam.

The ambassador’s tirades of hate against the LTTE has taken sickly proportions and is a true obstacle to reconciliation between a large Tamil population in Paris (“La Chapelle”) and his embassy.

According to him the Sinhalas have a justified fear of the 70 millions of Tamils in South India where still the LTTE is supported.

Indian policy was taken up several times by him, but China was only touched.

When it came to the 13th amendment of the Constitution in which he was heavily involved in the late 1980s, he pinpointed the LTTE as cause why it has not been implemented.

He also pointed at a “discussion” that is taking place about this amendment within the Government.

I have heard all his platitudes and clichés many times before during my observation of the island from 1970s onwards. Therefore, I was astonished to hear him say that the 18th amendment was not good.

A critical voice from the public, the only one, had earlier pointed out the undemocratic features of this amendment.

The history of suffering of the Tamils was no theme during the seminar. Nothing was said about the last months of the war, of Mänik farm, of the 300 000 displaced civilians, etc.

It is not possible in the future to say “I did not know” because there is a very good documentation of structural violence against the Tamil people documented in the book Massacres of Tamils (1956-2008) issued in English in 2009 in Chennai and in German under the name of Damit wir nicht vergessen… Massaker an Tamilen 1956-2008, issued by the Draupadi-Verlag in Heidelberg 2012. A French version will be issued very soon. A Tamil version is also available.

Realising that the violence by the Governments of Lanka is structural and genocidal being practised during decades, it is not possible to classify the present violence as an occasional aberration or as being related to some nuts only.

The ambassador’s presentation ended with the following characterisation of the Lankan state’s policy: It strives for “autonomy within a unitary structure”. A social scientist would not have uttered such a sentence. A unitary structure (=centralised structure) excludes autonomy. But the ambassador’s point is to show that he has listened to Tamil demands for autonomy. It was a political-populist statement.

The seminar had no scientific qualifications, but it left a tragic insight that the Government represented by Dayan Jayatilleke has not learned any lesson from the past.

Peter Schalk, professor emeritus,
Uppsala, Sweden



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