A National Lottery?
12 March 1999
" Where does the noble concept of self-determination
stop? In expedience. Purists may yearn for a single principle to apply across the board.
But, says Brent Scowcroft, George Bush's National Security Adviser, "consistency here
doesn't work." Pragmatism is what rules the world of power politics, in which a range
of less high-minded considerations determines who wins and who loses in the statehood
lottery. The bad luck of historical accident is what has left most current claimants
out in the cold. To change that, you need to be in the right movement at the right
time in the right place. The Kurds in northern Iraq were just another bunch of bickering
agitators until the U.S. needed them to challenge Saddam Hussein. No one cared a whit for
the Kosovars until Slobodan Milosevic ground them into the dirt. It obviously helps to be
the victim of a reviled dictator. But Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka: Your moment has yet to
arrive." (Johanna McGeary, Time Magazine, 8 March
'Pragmatism' may rule the world of power politics but statehood
is not a lottery...
Often that which passes off as 'luck' is
the meeting of opportunity with preparation...
The Kurds were neither the victims of
'historical accident' nor of 'bad luck'...
The Albanians like the Kurds, were victims of
a cynical enterprise directed to secure the strategic interests of countries far
more powerful than them...
The wise learn from the experience of others -
the Tamil people are a people, not without wisdom...
Dictators are reviled when real politick so
demands - otherwise, they are 'friends'...
The comments of the US Congress
Human Rights Caucus on Sri Lanka serve only to underline the correctness of Velupillai
Pirabaharan's analysis in 1993...
'Pragmatism' may rule
the world of power politics but statehood is not a lottery...
Johanna McGreary is right to point out both the
nobility of the concept of self-determination, and the less high minded 'pragmatism' which rules the world of power politics. Some
six years ago, Tamil Eelam leader, Velupillai Pirabaharan made the same point.
He declared on Maha Veerar Naal in 1993:
"We are fully aware that the world is not
rotating on the axis of human justice. Every country in this world advances its own
interests. Economic and trade interests determine the order of the present world, not the
moral law of justice nor
the rights of people.
relations and diplomacy between countries are determined by such interests. Therefore
we cannot expect an immediate recognition of the moral legitimacy of our cause by the
However, Johanna McGreary's reasoning may be less than
sound, when she suggests that the 'bad luck of historical accident is what has left
most current claimants (for statehood) out in the cold'. Statehood is not some sort of
that which passes off as 'luck' is the meeting of opportunity with preparation...
It is true that the historical situation in which a people
find themselves will impact on their struggle for freedom. But, states do not
come into being by 'luck'. Often, that which passes off as 'luck' is the meeting of
opportunity with preparation - and 'bad luck' may be simply a reflection of a failure to
prepare adequately and lead effectively.
It was on this that Velupillai Pirabaharan dwelled, when he
went on to say in his address on Maha Veerar Naal in 1993:
"The world is constantly changing and there
will be unexpected changes. At a particular conjuncture, the international situation may
change favourably for us. At that time, the conscience of the world may be conducive to
the call of our just cause. In reality, the success of our struggle depends on us, not on
the world. Our success depends on our own efforts, on our own strength, on our own
determination. The moral legitimacy of the cause alone will not lead to victory. We must
be strong, firm in our convictions and skilled in the art of war."
The words of Subhas Chandra Bose to
Nehru are, perhaps, not without relevance: if you do not take care to seek solid
ground under your feet, you will never be able to stand perpendicular anywhere.
A Jewish academic when asked in Cambridge in 1987 to give a
'short answer' to the question as to how it was that the Jews had succeeded in
establishing an independent state, responded: "The short answer is that we never gave
up the idea." That unshakeable determination, coupled with years of preparation,
found the Jewish people not wanting, when the opportunity for independence arose in 1948,
with the withdrawal of the British forces from Palestine. It was a determination which
found expression in the eloquent words of Golda Meir
to the Jews of the United States on 2 January 1948:
"I want to say to you, friends, that the Jewish community in
Palestine is going to fight to the very end. If we have arms to fight with, we will fight
with those, and if not, we will fight with stones in our hands. I want you to believe me
when I say that I came on this special mission to the United States today not to save
700,000 Jews. During the last few years the Jewish people lost 6,000,000 Jews, and it
would be audacity on our part to worry the Jewish people throughout the world because a
few hundred thousand more Jews were in danger. That is not the issue. The issue is that if
these 700,000 Jews in Palestine can remain alive, then the Jewish people as such is alive
and Jewish independence is assured. If these 700,000 people are killed off, then for
many centuries, we are through with this dream of a Jewish people and a Jewish
Today, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam may
well say, with equal determination, to more than 70 million
Tamils living in many lands and across distant seas:
"We want to say to you, our brothers and sisters,
our udan pirapukal, that the people of Tamil
Eelam are going to fight to the very end. If we have
arms to fight with, we will fight with those, and if not, we will fight with stones in our
hands.We want you to believe us, when we say that we appeal to you, not simply to save
Tamil lives in Tamil Eelam. During the last decade the people of Tamil Eelam have lost
more than 50,000 Tamil lives and many hundreds of thousands of Tamils have been compelled
to flee their homeland, and it would be audacity on our part to worry the Tamil people
throughout the world, because a few thousand more Tamils were in danger. That is not
the issue. The issue is that if the people of Tamil Eelam can remain alive without
submitting to alien Sinhala rule, then the Tamil nation as such is alive and an
independent Tamil state is assured. If the people of Tamil Eelam are killed off or
subjugated, then for many decades, we are through with this dream of an independent Tamil
state and a Tamil homeland."
The Kurds were neither
the victims of 'historical accident' nor of 'bad luck'...
Johanna McGreary is wrong to dismiss the Kurds in northern
Iraq as 'just another bunch of bickering agitators until the U.S. needed them to
challenge Saddam Hussein'. The language she uses insults a people who were described by
the Minority Rights Group in its report in1975 in the following terms:
"The Kurds are the fourth most numerous people in the Middle East. They constitute
one of the largest races, indeed nations, in the world today to have been denied an
independent state. Whatever the yardstick for national identity, the Kurds measure up to
was not created by the United States. As long ago as 1920, the Treaty of Sevres,
imposed on Turkey by the victors of World War I, provided, amongst other matters, for the
recognition of Kurdistan. But in the share out of power that followed the ending of the
first world war, the Treaty of Sevres was not honoured. Again, the US attempt to
use Kurdish nationalism to further US foreign policy objectives is not a recent phenomenon
but goes back several decades.
A month after the signing of the Iraqi-Soviet Friendship Treaty
in April 1972, the U.S. decided to counter Soviet influence in the region.
The Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives (under the
chairmanship of Otis Pike) disclosed, on November 1 1975 (almost a quarter of a century
ago) that the Shah of Iran had been able to convince President Nixon during his visit to
Iran in 1972 that the United States should provide covert aid to the Kurds. After
the visit, Nixon ordered the CIA to deliver millions of dollars worth of Soviet and
Chinese arms and ammunitions (some of which were collected in Cambodia) to the Kurds.
The Pike Committee Report charged:
"The President, Dr. Kissinger and the Foreign head of state (the Shah) hoped our
clients (the Kurds) would not prevail. They preferred instead that the insurgents
(the Kurds) simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of
our ally's neighbouring country (Iraq). This policy was not imparted to our clients
(the Kurds) who were encouraged to continue fighting. Even in the context of covert
action, ours was a cynical enterprise."
The use of Soviet and Chinese arms was intended to secure 'deniability' if the
US role was questioned in the international arena.
"... Given the large number of clear instances in which one nation has felt the
need to meddle in the affairs of another, short of actual declaration of hostilities,
governments have become adept at fighting wars by proxy. In times of notional peace,
United States deniable operations are planned and executed solely by the
CIA..." (Mark Lloyd: Special Forces-The Changing Face of Warfare -Arms and Armour
Press, London, 1995)
In the end, the Kurds failed in 1975, because
at that time, they lacked an effective leadership, with the armed strength and the
political skill to resist the 'cynical enterprise' in which Iran and the US were engaged.
The Kurds were neither the victims of 'historical accident' nor of 'bad luck'. They failed
for the same reasons that some Tamil militant groups, overly dependent on India,
failed in 1987.
The Albanians like the Kurds, were
victims of a cynical enterprise directed to secure the strategic interests of
countries far more powerful than them...
Johanna McGeary is also wrong when she asserts that 'no one
cared a whit for the Kosovars until Slobodan
Milosevic ground them into the dirt.' During the Second World war, Italy united the
Kosovo Albanians with Albania. The Albanians supported Italy and Germany in
their war against the West. The Serbs of Yugolslavia, led by Tito fought against the
occupying German army. At the end of the war, the victorious Western powers found it in
their strategic interests to return Kosovo to Yugoslavia.
However, a few years later in 1948, with the sharpening of the cold war,
(and long before Slobodan Milosevic was even a gleam in the Yugoslav political landscape),
the United States and Great Britain decided to use the Albanians 'to act militarily'
against Stalin. Nicholas Bethell, wrote in 1984, in the The Great Betrayal:
"Hardly anyone knows that the United States and
Britain chose to make Albania, Europe's poorest country, a secret battleground between
West and East, and the central point of their efforts to regain the initiative in the Cold
War that began the previous year in 1948....
The Albanian affair was conceived by American and British officials at
a meeting in Washington, then approved by government leaders. It was a carefully
considered act of policy based on the idea that Stalin would be impressed by a Western
decision to act against him militarily even on a small scale and in an outpost of
The military side began in October 1949 when the first teams of armed
British-trained agents were landed on Albanian territory. It ended in the last days of
1953 when the failure of an important American-sponsored mission was publicly
revealed..." (Nicholas Bethell, The Great Betrayal, Hodder and Stoughton, 1984,
Albanian exiles were recruited to fight for Albania. The
Albanian exiles were later to complain -
"(They) complain that their innocence and trust were exploited by
the secret services of two powerful and sophisticated countries. They were recruited, they
say, on the understanding that the United States and Britain wanted to liberate Albania
from communism. And on this basis they were happy to agree. They would fight and they
would sacrifice lives, not only their own, but also those of their brothers. wives and
They were ready to fight for Albania but for no other cause. And
this is why, they say the truth was kept from them. They were not told of the many other
reasons why the operation was taking place, about the need to relieve communist pressure
on Greece in the civil war, about the decision to retaliate against Stalin's aggressive
moves... They were not advised that the conspiracy against communist Albania was no
more than a single move in a great game of geopolitical chess and that they, the 'little
men, were the pawns most likely to be taken...
American and British intelligence men who took part in
the conspiracy point out in reply... In battle it is sometimes necessary to give up a
platoon so as to facilitate a battalion's withdrawal. If 'pawns' have to be 'sacrificed'
in order to deter an adversary from aggression, then so be it, it must be done. And in
extreme cases, when vital interests are truly at risk, the victims must be deceived."(Nicholas
Bethell, The Great Betrayal, Hodder and Stoughton, 1984, London)
The Albanians were not the victims of an 'historical accident'. They, like
the Kurds, were victims of a cynical enterprise directed to secure the
strategic interests of countries far more powerful than them. And,
present day Albanian
nationalists are not unaware of the nature of the support extended to them by the
The wise learn from the
experience of others - Tamil people are a people, not without wisdom...
It is said that the wise learn from the experience of others. The Tamil
people are a people, not without wisdom. The Kurds and the Albanians were
compelled to learn in the crucible of harsh experience, something of that which had led
Subhas Chandra Bose to tell the Indian National Army in
Singapore in 1942:
"....It is our duty, to pay for our liberty
with our own blood. The freedom that we shall win through our sacrifice and exertions, we
shall be able to preserve with our own strength......"
These were the same concerns which led Velupillai Pirabaharan to
point out some seven years ago:
"The whole world is providing arms and funds to
our enemy. We are not begging from the world....We stand firm on our own legs, on our
own soil, relying on our own people and fight with our own hands.... Since we are firmly
rooted in our own strength, we stand upright without bowing to the pressures of
others." (Maha Veerar Naal Address, 1992)
The struggle for Tamil Eelam is, ofcourse,
not unique. If the 1950s and the 1960s were the decades of the anti
colonial liberation movements directed against rule by 'First World' countries, the 1980s
and the 1990s have proved to be the decades of the post colonial national liberation
movements, directed mostly, against the occupying forces of 'Third World' states. Today,
the organic growth of nations within and across the patchwork states of
former empires continues to gather pace.
reviled when real politick so demands - otherwise, they are 'friends'...
Johanna McGreary is right to suggest that "it
obviously helps to be the victim of a reviled dictator". But she may have put the
cart before the horse. Dictators are not 'reviled' because they are evil dictators.
They are reviled when real politick demands that
they be reviled. Otherwise, they are 'friends'. The Shah of Iran was a friend. So
was President Pinochet of Chile. So, also was President Suharto of Indonesia. And,
President Jayawardene's Sri Lanka was described by the US State Department Human Rights
Report for 1984 (in the months following
an 'open, working, multiparty democracy'.
Fourteen years later, Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, faced with growing
support in South Africa for the Tamil struggle, found it politically expedient to admit:
"Mr. J. R. Jayawardene ... believed that he could use
violence against the Tamil people and solve the problem in the same way he used violence
continuously against our people, Sinhala people and all other Sri Lankan people as a
solution to all political problems. The Tamil people were attacked 4 times between
physically attacked, bodily attacked, their properties destroyed. 1983 was of course, the
high water mark of this anti-Tamil violence practised by the UNP - horrendous crimes were
committed against the Tamil people." (Sri Lanka President
Kumaratunga in a TV interview in South Africa in October 1998)
Now, in March 1999, the
US Congress Human
Rights Caucus on Sri Lanka has chosen to assert that Sri Lanka is a 'strong, vibrant democracy' -
though Sri Lanka's reliance on
extraordinary powers unknown to a free democracy continues; though
torture continues on a systematic basis; though the
disenfranchisement of the opposition continues and the
Sixth Amendment to the Sri Lanka
constitution stands unrepealed; though
ballot boxes continue to be
stuffed and voters are intimidated; though the
muzzling of the media and politically motivated attacks
on journalists continue with increasing frequency; and though
the impunity afforded to violators of human rights
and perpetrators of extra judicial killings,
proves the deep involvement of successive Sinhala Sri Lanka governments in the actions of
those under their command.
the US Congress Human Rights Caucus on Sri Lanka serve only to
underline the correctness of Velupillai Pirabaharan's analysis in 1993...
US Congress Human
Rights Caucus on Sri Lanka may not have recognised that its comments
(in the teeth of the proven record) served only to
underline the correctness of Velupillai Pirabaharan's analysis
in 1993 - an analysis which bears repetition:
"We are fully aware that the world is not
rotating on the axis of human justice. Every country in this world advances its own
interests. Economic and trade interests determine the order of the present world, not...
the rights of people.
relations and diplomacy between countries are determined by such interests... At a
particular conjuncture, the international situation may change favourably for us. At that
time, the conscience of the world may be conducive to the call of
our just cause. In reality, the success of our
struggle depends on us, not on the world. Our success depends on our own efforts, on our
own strength, on our own determination."
Johanna McGreary may be right when she says to the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: "Your moment has yet to arrive." But, it will
- and that will be no historical accident.