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History/Civil War
Some decades ago I quoted Santayana’s dictum that a people who cannot remember its past is doomed to repeat it. I cannot remember the exact words. Shortly thereafter President Jayewardene repeated the quotation, and it was much in vogue for some years. Now, in writings on July ’83, the idea that a people who cannot remember its past is doomed to repeat it has been powerfully revived, though the quotation has been forgotten. A convenient and convincing illustration for that idea has been found in the ongoing racist anti-Muslim hate campaign and anti-Muslim action, which some weeks ago led to widespread fears of a repetition of the July ’83 pogrom, this time against the Muslims. All that can be seen as the consequence of a failure to remember the past, specifically the horrors brought to us by racist anti-Tamil action, particularly in July ’83.
Thursday, 05 September 2013 | 544 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
History/Colonial Era
The distressing neglect of the non-plantation territory The other day, an interesting video footage was shown on TV of a scene of two elephants fighting on the Buttala-Kataragama road causing a huge traffic snarl. The road itself appeared to be well laid, wide and asphalted; this is stated here to impress on the readers the great revolution that has taken place and is continuing to do so, by leaps and bounds in the island’s transport and travel systems in the last few decades. Having lived and worked there, a little more than fifty years ago, this writer is quite conversant with the travel and transport conditions that prevailed there at the time. What is called the Buttala-Kataragama road today was no road at all. It was, at best, a mere ‘bridle-path’ through thick jungle on the terrain that formed a part of the Yala Game Sanctuary and with no human settlement anywhere on its entire 26-mile stretch. The conditions prevailing were totally different to what were shown on TV. Indeed, if at all, any human presence on that only jungle track, at the time, was only during the two weeks of the Kataragama pilgrim season. Thereafter, it was totally abandoned to the jungle and left derelict, until the next season. Though, today, motor vehicles are seen swarming that road then it was the elephants that swarmed the place! The change that seems to have taken place is truly unbelievable; and let us remember this metamorphosis that has taken place is general, islandwide and not confined to one area.
Saturday, 03 November 2012 | 623 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
History/Colonial Era
Dutch rule in Sri Lanka started in 1640 and ended in 1796. The Dutch were ceded some territory by the Portuguese, the rest came through conquest. The Dutch conquered Negombo and Galle in 1640. Then they entrenched themselves in Galle and started taking control of the lands around. They took Colombo in 1656 followed by Mannar and Jaffna (1658), Kalpitiya (1659), Trincomalee (1665), Batticaloa and Kottiyar (1668). The Dutch controlled far less territory than the Portuguese. Rajasinha II had taken a large chunk of Portuguese territory while the Dutch and Portuguese were fighting. Then in 1683 the Dutch withdrew from some of the Kandyan lands they were holding. By 1688 Dutch territory in southwest consisted of a stretch of about 10-15 miles inland from Negombo to Walawe Ganga, and about 30 miles inland beyond that, taking in Hapitigam, Siyane, Alutkuru, Hewagam, Salpiti, Pasdun, Rayigam Wallalawiti, Galle, Weligam, Morawaka and Dolosdas korales.
Sunday, 26 February 2012 | 5756 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
Rajasinha II (1635-1687) was born at Mahiyangana in 1612. He was the son of King Senerat (1604-35) and Kusumasana Devi (Dona Catherina). Kusumasana Devi was the daughter of Karaliyadde Bandara, who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom from 1552 to 1582. Senerat was the son of Henerathamy, a village headman (gamarala) from Matale. Rajasinha II married from Madura and had one son who succeeded him as Wimaladharmasuriya II. Rajasinha took an aggressive stand against the Portuguese. He invited the Dutch into the island, to help him get rid of the Portuguese. However, the Dutch took over the Portuguese territories and refused to leave.
Sunday, 09 January 2011 | 4449 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
History/Early Periods
Sri Lanka is one of the best sources of prehistoric studies in South Asia. Over 180 prehistoric sites have been found including undisturbed human habitats dating to 100,000 years perhaps even 200,000 or 500,000 years. 20,000 years is reached at excavation level of 8 feet depth in Sri Lanka. Stone Age settlements have been found in a series of cave excavations. Dates were based on radio-carbon assay and thermo luminescence analysis. Tests were done on more than 50 sections of these sites. The excavated sites held skeletons. India has only about six or seven skeletons in the whole of India. Sri Lanka had many more.
Sunday, 14 November 2010 | 2825 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
History/Colonial Era
The apparent public outcry and protest about the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India has acted like a trigger to impel a searching inquiry and analysis of why there is such brouhaha.  The outcome is quite enlightening. The 443-year Colonial period introduced European forms of governance to this country.  First, the Portuguese and their military rule, then the Dutch and their corporate form of administration and finally the British imperial civil administration.  What we have inherited today is the legacy left behind by the British when they departed in 1948.  That structure of command and control is with us with minor modifications.  Those ‘modifications’ haven’t improved the system, only made it even more arbitrary by vesting almost unbridled power in the hands of governing party politicians and their toadies and lick-spittles.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010 | 1815 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
History/Colonial Era
1796 Third British delegation arrives in Kandy: king falls into the trap by believing their lies Led by Robert Andrews, they arrived at a good time when King was very unhappy with the Dutch for their desperate attempts to keep the trade monopoly. British offered an outlet for Kandy to obtain salt and fish, and to operate 10 ships. King wanted more ports and an assurance that the Dutch areas do not fall into British control. What the British really wanted was for the King to keep at least some of the Dutch troops tied down in the forts, enabling the British to take on the scattered Dutch military resources with the least casualties. They also frightened the king about the fall of the monarchs, giving French revolution as an example, and said that only the British could help Kings in the world.
Friday, 18 June 2010 | 8296 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
History/20th Century
When the future historians write on the political, social, economic and strategic environment, which existed in the second half of the 20 the century and the first decade of the 21st century, they will certainly highlight 2009 as a momentous year, perhaps they may term it as marking the ‘unification of the country.’ When one speaks of unification one wonders whether the terminology is appropriate in describing the culmination of the events, which unfolded during the last 30 years. Perhaps, during the past 30 years the political landscape of the country was gloomed and darkened by a spectre of the dastardliest of terrorism, which the land had never experienced before.
Monday, 13 July 2009 | 1463 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report | Read more
History/Colonial Era
The long and acrimonious history of racism has had an important impact on present day international relations. The historical reality, what actually happened, how colonialism bred racism, the stigmatisation of colonised peoples—the "lesser breeds without the law", the vast racist baggage that can still burden and oppress, these are complex and emotive matters. The countries that experienced foreign rule and smarted under racial discrimination have not forgotten what they had to go through. Some form of international action has long been sought to identify and dissipate the lingering incidence of racism, which remains widespread, and the UN has been at the forefront of it. But when in the mid-1970s, under mainly Arab pressure, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution describing Zionism as a form of racism, the issue became explosive. The developing countries, being in the majority at the General Assembly and with the backing of the then Soviet bloc, were able to push through a resolution containing this formulation, but it was indignantly repudiated by the USA and other Western states, and of course by Israel. UN Resolution The UN resolution was passed at a time when OPEC and the Arab states had acquired unprecedented say in global affairs through control of the oil weapon they had fashioned. They were determined to right what they believed were the historic wrongs inflicted on them, and seemed to command the necessary international clout. Since then, this contentious matter has surfaced periodically, to renewed controversy and discord. The latest outbreak has been witnessed at the UN anti-racism conference that has just been held in Geneva. Even before the conference could get going, major countries led by the USA decided they would not take part. The reason was that the draft document for the meeting reaffirmed the declaration adopted at the world conference against racism held in Durban in 2001—where the USA and Israel walked out—in which concern was expressed at the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. The draft text for the Geneva meeting made no such statement and it represents a considerable watering down of the Durban agreement, but it did reaffirm what had been agreed at the earlier conference. This was enough to make the text unacceptable to some major delegations led by the US. They tried to have the reference removed, and when this did not prove possible, decided not to participate in the conference. Some half-a-dozen countries from the Western group took this step and many others decided to downgrade their level of representation. This served greatly to reduce the significance of the conference even before it was able to convene. To take matters further, there was a concerted walkout by delegates of the European Union in protest against the speech of Iran’s President Ahmedinejad. He was the sole Head of State to take part and, as anticipated, he made a strong denunciation of Israel in his address. This became the occasion for the EU walkout. Though the Europeans left, others remained to applaud Ahmedinejad. Thus, far from bridging the gap on this sensitive subject, the conference served only to emphasise the divide and reinforce conflicting perceptions. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his profound disappointment at the boycotts the conference had elicited. In his words, this was a time to "reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights and dignity and worth of us all". But already the Geneva meeting is being described as a failure of the UN—unfairly so, perhaps, for it was not permitted to get down to business by a determined group of powerful countries. One of the major issues that had been taken up in the preparatory stages of the conference and had proved divisive is related to Islam. Migration from Islamic countries into Europe has created a substantial Muslim population in Western Europe and friction often develops between these relatively recent arrivals and older communities. Several highly publicised incidents have taken place in recent years and relations between races remain full of problems. Muslim sensitivities were seen in an effort to include a reference to "defamation of religion" in the text. But this could not pass because some Western delegates regarded it as amounting to a restriction on freedom of speech. On this issue, too, the conference seems to have had the unfortunate effect of widening the gap between people of differing views. In 1991, the UN General Assembly rescinded the notorious resolution of 1975 but the genie has proved difficult to put back into the bottle. In a variety of human rights contexts the Arab- Israel question keeps coming up. The Durban Conference of 2001 was thrown off the rails by it and now, eight years later, the Geneva meeting has been similarly disrupted. Nor is it unlikely that next time similar dislocation could occur, for the matter still hangs fire and no solution is on the cards. The US under its new President has initiated diplomatic activity in the Middle East to try to work for a comprehensive solution to the problems of the region. A senior special envoy has been appointed and a new reaching out to all parties has been attempted. This has been welcomed on all sides. The Geneva meeting shows, however, how difficult it is for the US to free itself from set positions in the Middle East, whether or not they advance the current diplomatic initiative. Worth noting, too, is how the faultlines on this issue extend deep into the US itself. Pro-Israel groups lobbied vigorously for a boycott and, as it appears, carried the day. But other organisations, especially black groups including the black caucus in the US Congress, were keen on US participation and have been critical of the decision to stay away. Rebuke The Iranian President’s harsh remarks have drawn a rebuke from the UN secretary-general, which is in itself unusual: clearly Mr Ban was distressed to see the conference becoming a platform for such strident denunciation of a UN member-state. It remains to be seen how the strife and anger in Geneva will affect the recent mildly encouraging signs that something of a thaw could develop in US-Iran relations. On the evidence of what happened in Geneva, all the protagonists seem locked into familiar postures which are very difficult to alter. The disagreements at the conference raise larger questions about the prospects for the Obama administration in some of its key foreign policy goals. It has begun to address some major problems in a distinctly more accommodating spirit than did its predecessor. Significant changes towards Iraq, Cuba, Latin America, human rights, the Middle East—to name only a few—are already to be seen, and have been widely welcomed. But the resurgence of familiar themes and demands at Geneva comes as a reminder that much remains before these intentions can be translated into reality. by Salman Haidar ~ The Statesman /ANN ~
Wednesday, 13 May 2009 | 1455 hits | Print | PDF |  E-mail | Report

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