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Adrian Wijemanne - An Appreciation

Date: 31 July 2006
Source : TWG - Brian Senewiratne MA.MD.FRCP.FRACP, Australia - A fellow Sinhalese

Brisbane, Australia 29 July 2006: This is not an obituary. There are more informed people who can write one.

This is just a "Thank You" to a fellow Sinhalese who has risen above the ethnic chauvinism that has consumed my people.

A "Thank you" for being a shining light in the darkness of Sinhalese ignorance, and for the example and encouragement to those of us who have supported the struggle of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth. A "Thank you" for trying to save Sri Lanka from physical and economic destruction. I once wrote, "It makes me proud to be a Sinhalese because it is the ethnic group to which Adrian Wijemanne belongs".

My knowledge of him is meager. He graduated in the University of Ceylon (in European, Indian and Ceylon History) and then passed the examination of the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service, where he worked for 14 years, and the last five as Deputy Land Commissioner. After a varied career in both the public and the private sectors, he worked in Switzerland and the Netherlands in charitable foundations, financial institutions and the World Council of Churches. He retired to Cambridge, UK. I know little else of the man whom I met just once, in 2001, when I was invited to London to address the International Tamil Foundation on the Abuse of Democracy in Sri Lanka. Adrian had addressed this group twice. The organizers offered to pay my passage from Australia but I said it would not be necessary as long as someone took me to see Adrian.

So, three of us, the late Jeyam Thamoderam, the doyen of expatriate Tamils in the UK, Subramanium Sivanayagam, one of the finest and most courageous journalists Sri Lanka has produced, and I, were driven to Cambridge. A photograph of this unique meeting of two Sinhalese and two Tamils, all working for the same cause, has been published in Siva's monumental work, Witness to History. (I am ashamed of the shirt I wore. It was not meant for publication!)

Adrian had an enormous advantage over us, lesser mortals, because of his extensive knowledge of History. While I struggled with a background in Medicine, Adrian could see the problem in Sri Lanka from an enlightened perspective. In an article I wrote for his 80 birthday, I said that he "has written more sense than any Sinhalese I know". His observations and suggestions vis a vis the problems in Sri Lanka and their solution, have been outstanding.

While those of us with inadequate knowledge struggled to come up with a solution to problems in a country with two separate armies, Adrian had the answer, which he set out in his Unitary State, Federation, Confederation and Union - A personal experience. He summarized his life and wide experience in several countries.

The first 23years were in the colonial state, Ceylon, under imperial rule. He "…cannot recall any sense of oppression during that time though towards the end of that period I did desire independence in the sure and certain conviction that life would be better if we were independent."

The next 25 years were in independent Ceylon. He describes the "mounting sense of disillusionment on the poor quality governance and the rising tide of physical violence in affairs of state. The newly independent State attempted to function like the former colonial state by exercising State power by military means. No one, myself include, seemed to understand that the new State needed to be founded upon the freely given consent of the governed rather than coercion."

The next three years were spent in the world's only Confederation, Switzerland. "The classical difference between a Federation and a Confederation is that in the latter all power vested in the constituent States of the Confederation except those ceded by the constituent States to the Federal central government".

The next 10 years (from 1977) were in one type of Union - the Benelux Union, of three independent sovereign countries - Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg . He pointed out that "….this Union differed from other forms of government (Unitary, Federal and Confederal) in that it had no unified military force under a central command. On the contrary, each country has its own independent military force under the control; and direction of each government."

He finally moved to another form of Union, the European Union, made up of the Benelux countries and 12 other countries. "The EU, as it exists today, illustrates the possibility of having an economic, social, judicial, and monetary union without military unification." He concluded, "Now for the lesson I wish to draw from this experience. It is quite simply this. Where military unification is not possible, it is still possible to have a viable, social, economic and monetary union between each State, each of which has its own independent military structure. I am convinced that this is the only practical basis on which peace and prosperity can be founded in Sri Lanka."

Since Sri Lankan Governments are too dumb to appreciate this, Adrian forecast the future." In Sri Lanka, he stage is set for a long-drawn-out guerilla war, the total impoverishment of both nations (the Sinhalese nation and the Tamil nation), and the demise of civil government among the Sinhala people and the essential establishment of the State of Eelam. The best efforts of the Sinhala State can only postpone this sequence of events - they cannot avert the final outcome." In an article War and the New Realities (October 2002), Adrian drew attention to the fundamental changes brought about by war - irrespective of who 'wins'.

"The changes wrought by war are, generally irreversible. At the end of a war a new era commences for the societies and nations that join to make the peace that ends the war. Deplorable as war is, it is war that marks the great watersheds of human history. The status quo ante bellum is wiped away and gone for ever, utterly beyond recall. This is the case irrespective of whether the war ends with the unconditional surrender of one of the protagonists (e.g. the Axis powers of World War II) or by a stalemate between two undefeated adversaries left with their forces intact (e.g. the end of the war of Irish Independence in 1922)".

He goes on to deal with some crucial issues regarding the war in Sri Lanka - the "End of the single all-island State", the "Rise of the Eelam Tamil Diaspora", "The vain hopes (of the Sri Lankan government) of international help", "the increasing costs of the military hardware" and "the implications of these realities for policy".

He concluded, "The political parties of the Sinhala nation, old and new alike must now evolve new, rational, credible, viable policies based on the se new realities, policies which offer hope of ending war and delivering a lasting peace". In March 2005, with Adrian desperately ill with a pneumonia complicating myeloma, a type of bone-marrow cancer, I called for world-wide prayers. Whoever listens to these summed to have acted, since Adrian recovered and went on to celebrate his 80th birthday (29 May 2005). I wrote another article calling for "good wishes to be sent to this extraordinary man"

Adrian is one of only a handful of Sinhalese who have freed themselves from the shackles of Sinhalese chauvinism to campaign for the Tamil people. It is not a fight between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. It is a fight between injustice and justice. It is not a question of who wins the war between Sinhalese chauvinism and justice for the Tamil people; it is a question of defining where one stands. Adrian has clearly defined where he stood. In a recent article I defined where I stood and why. I suggest you do the same. If you stand with a brutal government determined to force the Tamils to be second-class citizens, say so and justify your stance. If you cannot, then join us - there is plenty of room on our side. It is too important an issue to have no opinion, to sit on the fence and be on no side. At a recent TV interview in London, I was questioned by a listener who started, "As an impartial person …." I stopped the questioner in his tracts by saying that I was not impartial. I was very partial, being heavily biased in favour of the oppressed Tamil minority. There have been, (and are), Sinhalese such as Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe (Ranil's uncle), Edmund Samarakkody (my uncle), Merryl Fernando (a close associate of my uncle), Nanda Wickremesinghe, Kumar Rupasinghe, Victor Ivan and others, who, despite ostracization, vilification, and even threats to their lives , have had the courage and integrity to stand with the Tamil people and/or their struggle. The pity is that they are few and far between.

Adrian, like all of us who have stood with the Tamil people e.g. Professor Peter Schalk of Uppsala University, Sweden, has had his fair share of insults - being called, completely inappropriately, a "Tamil Tiger Terrorist". (For the record, this 'terrorist' was, for some 11 years, a senior executive in the World Council of Churches and Prof. Schalk is the Professor of the History of Religions!) While such a 'title' is expected from Sinhalese chauvinists and hoodlums, it is not expected from those who profess to be Christians. I learnt this the hard way - at no small cost.

There is a long-standing quarterly, The Christian Worker, published in Sri Lanka. It had championed the working classes and had the support of people like Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe and my uncle, Edmund Samarakkody (who introduced me to it). In 2001, I was told that the publication would have to cease if funds were not found for a computer and printer. I offered to send both from Australia to prevent the closure of what; I thought at the time, was a reasonable publication. The management said that it would be 'better' to purchase them in Sri Lanka. I got the bill - nearly A$10,000.

I sent the money and then contacted the Manager to make sure that he got the money. I said I was leaving for London to address the International Tamil Foundation, and also to see Adrian Wijemanne. The response, "Why do you want to see that Tamil Tiger terrorist?" It was later that I realised that the Christian Church in the Sinhalese South is more Sinhalese than Christian. This extends well beyond the Christian Worker, into the Church establishment itself. If there is a need for a revival of Buddhism , there is an equally important need for a revival of Christianity, in the Sri Lankan Sinhalese South.

If there is any doubt about this, may I suggest that you contact the Christian hierarchy in Colombo and ask whether any of them have voiced their concern at the massacres of Tamil civilians in the North (many of them Christians, not that that matters), now reaching alarming proportions. Let me be specific. On 17 June 2006, there was a clash between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Navy in the sea off Pesalai, a largely Catholic community situated halfway between Mannar and Talaimannar in the northwest. Terrified civilians, some 3,000, took refuge in the Church of Our Lady of Victories, in the heart of the town. Men, identified as marines from the Sri Lankan Navy, fired at the refugees in the Church and, for good measure, tossed a grenade into the Church, killing several. They then moved to the beach and shot Tamil fishermen who happened to be there, burnt 39 fishing boats and 45 fishing huts. Bishop Rayappu Joseph was prevented from visiting the beach. What did his Christian brothers in Colombo do? Did they express outrage or merely raise their hallowed eyebrows (if they did even that), to express their Christian concern? I went to London to draw the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury (in whose Cathedral I have worshipped), and his Roman Catholic counterpart (whose earthly 'charges' were being massacred). The former was too busy to see me ; the latter did not bother to respond. I might add, completely irrelevantly, that when the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were on their way in 1995 to bomb Jaffna to smithereens, the banners of the Armed Forces were placed on the alter and blessed . As they marched off to inflict their own brand of terrorism on the half-million Tamil civilians in the Jaffna Peninsula, the Band struck up Onward Christian soldiers marching as for war. The miracle is that I am still a Christian, admittedly clinging to my faith with my fingernails. But I digress.

In my good wishes for Adrian's 80th birthday, I said, "It is a tragedy that there are fewer and fewer Sinhalese who can see the entirely justifiable cause of the Tamil people, struggling, not for a separate State or even a Federal State, but for the basic human right to exist as equals in a multi-ethnic, multireligious, multilingual and multicultural country."

I went on to deal with the need to apprise the international community, "The 'ammunition' for this 'international assault', has been supplied by people like Adrian Wijemanne." This is the 'voice of reason and authority' that we have just lost. I ended with a futile hope that if Adrian "…is spared for a few more years, he might see what he has campaigned for all these years - justice for the Tamil people."

At the time I wrote it, I was not fully aware that the Tamil State, which Adrian had forecast, had already arrived and was functioning very well, certainly better than the totally corrupt, incompetent and chaotic regime in the Sinhalese South. Adrian was too ill to read Professor Kristian Stokke's outstanding paper, recently published, Tamil Eelam - a De Facto State. Building the Tamil Eelam State: Emerging State Institutions and Forms of Governance in LTTE-controlled Areas of Sri Lanka. Had he read this he would have said "I told you so". It is a pity that he did not live long enough to see de facto transformed into de jure which will surely happen. Adrian has left us a legacy - his opus magnum,"War and Peace in Post-Colonial Ceylon 1948-1991", published in 1996. This is essential reading for anyone interested in Sri Lanka. He dedicates this, in typical Adrian-style, to his charming wife, Chitra, (who made asparagus rolls for us when we visited Adrian!)

"To Chitra, my wife, whose relentless opposition to the entire project and uncompromising rejection of every salient point herein has dispelled any lingering doubts as to the need, the urgent need, for this book?"

He has also left behind a large number of very important articles. When I met him in 2001, I suggested that we publish these as a book. He said he had left this for his friend, Neville Jayaweera, to do. Neville was a former Government Agent in Jaffna, and an outstanding one at that. He was the one who read Adrian's tribute at Jeyam Thamoderam's funeral. His own contribution on that occasion was a refreshing departure from the usual anti-Tamil stance adopted by most of our ethnic group. Directing his comments at the packed congregation (mainly of expatriate Tamils) he said something like this, "I want you to ask yourselves why it was necessary for all of you, talented people, whom Sri Lanka needs so much, to leave that country"

When Adrian's papers are finally published, I hope that they will be translated to Sinhalese and distributed free, if necessary, in the Sinhalese South, so that my people will know that they are being seriously misled by ethno-religious chauvinists and political opportunists. They will realise that there are solutions to the ethnic problem that do not involve 'crushing' the Tamils and which will result in a situation that leads them out of grinding poverty. They will then realise that it is rampant corruption and outrageously poor governance, not Tamil 'terrorism', that is making Sri Lanka a failed State.

It might be also a fitting tribute to this extraordinary man, to have an annual memorial lecture, one in Sri Lanka and one in London, The Adrian Wijemanne Oration, which focuses on a just peace in Sri Lanka. I am so very grateful to Adrian for his infectious enthusiasm, courage, leadership, integrity and persistence, which has been an inspiration to us all. I will certainly miss him, but it should not be tears and sadness but a celebration of a life dedicated to a worthy cause, which is already yielding visible and tangible results.

Source: Tamil Writers Guild - By: Brian Senewiratne MA.MD.FRCP.FRACP
Date: 29 July 2006

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