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Sri Lanka Guardian : Weekend Review

Sri Lanka Guardian comment on weekend editorials and political columns


(October 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)
What the people in Sri Lanka see and hear and what they will read in their Sunday newspapers are far apart. This weekend newspapers’ news and editorials were no different. The utter lawlessness that the people in the country witness in all the police stations around the island was not deemed worthy of notice by any of the newspapers. Horrendous crimes that are heard from various parts of the country did not find a place in any of the commentaries. Rampant corruption in every aspect of life did not catch the eye of any of the writers. Perhaps it’s not that the writers have not noticed these things but that they have gotten adjusted to the self-censorship to serve the interest of survival. It is not what the newspapers write about that reveal the reality of the country but what they do not write about. Their silence speaks louder than their words.

If one were to go by the editorial of the Sunday Observer , there are no worse criminals in the country than university students. The advocacy for repressing university students is a sad reflection of the extent to which the editors are adjusting to the repressive policies of the government. Sarath Fonseka had to be in jail and others had to be silenced before the 18th Amendment was passed, so that it could be passed without much debate – that is, without much participation of the people. It is a well-established principle now that the laws in the country must be passed without the knowledge of the people. It all began by the way the 1978 Constitution was passed by JR Jayawardene and now the tradition is well entrenched.
It is this tradition that is asserting itself again in before the proposed laws on the privatization of higher education are introduced. What exactly are the content of these laws? That, no one knows. The editors of the newspapers have done little to find out. The attacks on the students are a precaution taken to ensure that by the time laws are introduced, there will be no critics. Sri Lanka’s authoritarianism has learned all the lessons from other authoritarian regimes.

There is no editor intelligent or caring enough to read that script and to expose it for the benefit of the people. Perhaps nothing is any longer written for the benefit of the people. Instead, the purpose of writing is to dull the mind before the worse things are to come.

Much of the space has been devoted to the local government elections and various methods of polling. Whether it is proportional representation or first-past-the-post system, the pre-requisite is the possibility of a fair contest and the possibility of free and fair elections. With the 18th Amendment, that possibility does not exist. All that the Sri Lankans can expect are manipulated elections from the beginning to the end - from the contesting to the counting of ballots. There is no freedom for the functioning of a political party system. The government pursues the development of a one-party system as a life and death issue. Whatever the form elections take, it’ll just be a façade or just a phantom limb.

SP Dissanayake, the former leader of the student wing of the communist party at Vidhyodaya (Sri Jayawardenepura) University, now the minister of higher education, promises to demolish student unions. He says he will bring freedom to the universities. Obviously, he does not even understand the meaning of freedom. While bringing repression to the universities, he calls it freedom. Such is the change of the meanings of words when totalitarianism arrives, as we have been taught by George Orwell in his great political classic, ‘1984’. Universities are now visited by Big Brother. Is that what is called freedom?

The JVP has always made a scapegoat whenever attacks are made on the basic freedoms in the country. Attacks on freedoms are made to appear as attacks on terrorism.

The real terrorist that is being attacked is the ordinary wage-earner who is earning very a poor salary. There are many boasts about Sri Lanka being first in this and first in that. However, as far as the salaries of the average wage-earner is concerned, there is nothing for the country to boast about. This is a matter that is hardly ever discussed. The entire enterprise of authoritarianism is a way to put more and more burdens on the wage-earner who is already suffering from the inadequacy of wages. To the increased price of food and medicine, the burden of paying for higher education will also be added. If the wage-earner cannot pay for his children’s education, then he must learn to give up the desire to have his children educated. Perhaps it can be said that according to the Buddhist philosophy, to have less desires is a great achievement and therefore, if the wage-earners do not have a desire to educate their children then they are getting closer to Nirvana.

Among the tragedies that a nation faces, the worst is to have the quality of their writers going down. The Sunday newspapers are proving that this too has happened in Sri Lanka. Reading such newspapers on Sunday does not add to any kind of enlightenment.
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