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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Sinhala chauvinism bares its fangs

November 1994

The Liberation Tigers welcomed the election of the new Peoples Alliance Sri Lanka Government (led by Chandrika Kumaratunga) in August 1994. Peace talks between the LTTE and the new Sri Lanka Government commenced soon thereafter. However, the presence of the Tamil Eelam flag at the negotiating table appeared to have irked Sinhala Buddhist sentiment and the Sinhala owned press in Colombo was quick to bear its chauvinist fangs.


The Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island has bared its Sinhala chauvinist fangs at the prospect of meaningful peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Government.

That Sinhala chauvinism which masquerades as 'Sri Lanka nationalism' was angered by the presence of the LTTE flag at the negotiating table at the Peace talks in Jaffna on 13 October 1994 was ofcourse understandable. But that anger appears also to have confused the mind.

The Sri Lanka Sunday Island, once owned by the late Upali Wijewardene and now run by Mrs.Bandaranaike's brother, (and for which ex PLOTE ideologue TARAKI is a regular paid columnist) appears unable to decide whether the LTTE flag in the conference room was an 'ominous sign' or whether the whole episode was a 'childish prank' by the LTTE and its leader.

On 16 October 1994, the Sunday Island declared editorially:

''The front page picture of the Sunday Island is one of negotiators of the Sri Lanka Government and those of the LTTE in a conference room with the flag of the LTTE in the centre... We take this as an ominous sign... The government negotiators most of whom are neophytes in dealing with the LTTE perhaps did not know that the LTTE flag had been declared by the LTTE as the flag of (Tamil) Eelam in 1991.

It is elementary knowledge that at international conferences where nation states participate the national flags of participating nations are displayed and given equal prominence. Since the LTTE at best could only be recognised as a militant group, there was no need to have any flag in the conference room. But the LTTE apparently has got away with it and could show the world the flag of (Tamil) Eelam has been recognised by the Sri Lanka Government negotiators...

The Government owes an explanation to all Sri Lankans for this stupid act of our negotiators. Some may argue that we are making a big issue over a minor matter of the display of a flag and what matters most is the fundamental objective of bringing peace....

(But) recognition of the flag of a group whose objective is the creation of a separate state is tantamount to recognition of a new state... What went wrong here is perhaps the composition of the delegation itself. They are indeed all honourable gentlemen having distinguished themselves in their professions. But apart from Mr.Lionel Fernando, the rest have no experience in negotiations of this kind quite apart from negotiating with the wily Tigers.

Ms.Kumaratunga by selecting her own confidantes was perhaps sending a direct message to the LTTE. She did not want to traverse the beaten track by sending diplomats or soldiers who will be guided by their professional instincts. All that can be appreciated but the interests off the nation should never be at risk...''


One week later the Sunday Island continued to vent its spleen…

One week later the Sunday Island continued to vent its spleen - but this time, not on the Sri Lanka delegation but on Velupillai Pirabaharan and the LTTE. It fumed editorially on 23 October 1994:

''...the LTTE staged juvenile pranks such as presenting an Eelam Guard of Honour and placing a so called Eelam flag in between the negotiating tables. While such childish pranks may boost the juvenile ego of Mr.Velupillai Pirabaharan and even some of the so called sophisticated party theoreticians, they do embarrass the Government and impede negotiations. The government must be firm and indicate that they would not succumb to such nonsense.''

The 'ominous sign' that had put the interests of the nation at risk on 16 October had become a mere 'childish prank' by 23 October! Again if it was all a 'childish prank' why did the Sunday Island pontificate on 16 October:

'Some may argue that we are making a big issue over a minor matter of the display of a flag... (but) recognition of the flag of a group whose objective is the creation of a separate state is tantamount to recognition of a new state...''


The abusive tone of the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island's diatribe reflects the unbridled chauvinism that runs deep in sections of the Sinhala body politic…

The abusive tone of the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island's diatribe reflects the unbridled chauvinism that runs deep in sections of the Sinhala body politic. It is a Sinhala chauvinism which is running scared at the prospect of a peaceful resolution of the conflict on terms which recognise the inherent equality, of the Tamil people, as a people, with the Sinhala people, as a people.

But in the same way as President D.B.Wijetunga's denial of the 'ethnic conflict' served only to unite the Tamil people behind the LTTE, the Sunday Island's intemperate attack on Tamil Eelam leader Velupillai Pirabaharan will serve only to increase Tamil support for the Liberation Tigers.

The Tamil people know only too well that it is the determined resistance led by Velupillai Pirabaharan and the LTTE that has moved Sri Lanka to the negotiating table. The presence of the LTTE flag at the negotiating table was no childish prank. It was an open assertion of the equality of status of the two parties to the talks.


But, as always, form and content go together

Again, the arrangement of the tables for the negotiations made clear that LTTE did not come as supplicants for favours or concessions at the Sinhala master's table, but as representatives of a free people seeking to negotiate a just and lasting peace. The arrangement of the tables also marked an end to the long running round table farce.

At the Paris talks for peace in Viet Nam there were several months of discussions about the shape of the table- round, square or rectangle. Nobody suggested then that either the United States or Viet Nam was being childish. After all, as always, form and content go together.

The vituperative attack launched by the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island serves as a timely reminder to the Tamil people, of the political reality that the late Sathasivam Krishnakumar spoke about, some three years ago:

'.. Sinhala chauvinism which was nurtured by Sinhala politicians for their electoral advantage has grown into a Frankenstein monster which now has the power to destroy and make politicians. This we understand very well.'' (the late Sathasivam Krishnakumar in an interview with Melbourne 3CR in 1991)

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