INTERVIEW WITH JOHAN GALTUNG ABOUT THE CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA
TRANSCEND News, 24 Apr 2009
Editor’s Note: Published on Sun Apr 26 2009 in The Island, a major Sri Lankan daily.
NW – The Rajapaksa regime used the attack on Sri Lanka’s embassy in Oslo to officially terminate Norway’s role as facilitator in the peace process. Hanssen Bauer responded via news reports that mediation had ended a long time ago. Do you have any comments on this situation?
JG – I am not so sure there ever was mediation in the sense of seeking solutions, peaceful outcomes, that are both acceptable and sustainable. Ceasefire talks and CFA yes, not solutions. The general Norwegian line seems to be not to come up with proposals, probably for fear they will not be accepted, and Norway will then be seen as loser. Could also be because they are weak on ideas about solutions, and much stronger on the technicalities of a ceasefire. The “final state” talks always have to come later, and in the meantime very disruptive things usually happen making “final state” talks impossible. That “later” never comes.
Personally I think their approach is wrong. Few things are so important as images of what a final stateof affairs might look like, provided much and good work has been put into it. And it can always be phrased tentatively, “maybe one could think in terms of” etc. The major purpose to start with is to stimulate debate. As it was the LTTE bid for secession and independence, and the Colombo bid for status quo wsith some mini-changes, were almost ruling the discourse alone.
NW – About the attack and the fact that no arrests have been made despite CCTV footage being made available to the authorities in Oslo, is civil disobedience usually tolerated in Norway?
JG – There is a high level of tolerance for nonviolent civil disobedience, but this one was not nonviolent. I do not know what went on in their heads when they decided in favor of no arrests and no prosecution, but it may have been fear of entanglement in complex foreign policy affairs rather than being partial to the Tamils/LTTE.
NW – Is the government fair to assume that Norway is partial to the LTTE just because they didn’t take action in the aftermath of the attack or provide adequate security to the Sri Lankan mission?
JG – I think the attack caught them, including the police, unprepared, which spells amateurishness rather than partiality where this unfortunate event is concerned. The attention was more focused on theTamil demonstrations outside Parliament and Government against what they saw as human rights violations by the GoSl in connection with the war. The foreign mintster has apologized.
NW – Do you think that Norway was at any point partial towards the LTTE during their involvement in Sri Lanka’s peace process?
JG – Certainly. They treated LTTE as a party at the same level as GoSl. In a war that makes sense, for ceasefire negotiations too. To do the same for more general “facilitation” is a message that the LTTE embraced wholeheartedly, compatible with independence. This also came up in connection with the post-tsunami talks, and came close to a de facto recognition of LTTE. But again i would say more out of amateurishness than partiality, even if the big Tamil diaspora in Norway had some impact in defining the situation for the Norwegian “facilitators”.
Norway got attached to the two-parties warfare model of the conflict–now in its final stage we are told–and left out other Tamils, Muslims and other Sinhalese than the Prime Minister’s wing, not even paying attention to the Sri Lanka style of cohabitation (as the French say) between Prime Minister and President. In Israel-Palestine they made exactly the same mistake, engaging right wing Palestine and left wing Israel, with the obvious result that the two excluded groups sabotaged the process from the beginnig, one by in sublte ways killing the Prime Minister, another by starting suicide bombing. Such elementary mistakes are unexcusable.
And I understand that the Supreme Court threw it out, and have actually been surprised that GoSl did not end Norwegian mediation earlier — but maybe they actually did so, only less overtly.
NW – There is an opinion that Norway was naive in believing they could transform the LTTE and that naiveté ruined the peace process. Your comments?
JG – Naivete no doubt, bur rather than naive in thinking they could transform them naive by accepting the basic LTTE goal: of independence, “freedom” if not in words than in the way Norway constructed its role as facilitator between two parties. And by accepting the LTTE claim to be the sole representatives of the Tamil people.
NW – The last time I interviewed you, in 2006, I asked you this question: “The Rajapakse regime believes that terrorism must be defeated militarily. We see the war-for-peace strategy again. Will this work? Has it worked in other conflicts?”
And you responded: “Yes, there is talk about a winnable war—like from the South African and the Israeli apartheid government. That approach did not succeed in the former, nor will it in the latter. In Sri Lanka, both parties have soldiers in uniform pitted against each other in war. The Government of Sri Lanka has, in addition, state terrorism, bombing, killing civilians and the LTTE has terrorism. The LTTE also has a guerilla capacity. It looks to me as if both have the capacity to deny the other victory.
But imagine it happens: Killinochchi is flattened, Mr P is dead, LTTE dissolved. Will the Tamil dream of a Tamil Eelam die? Of course not. It will be revived, and new cycles of violence will occur. And probably new CFAs. And possibly the same mistake, confusing ceasefire with peace, using it as a sleeping pillow to do nothing.”
My question to you now is: Now that Kilinochchi is flattened, Prabhakaran is not quite dead but cornered, and the government believes the LTTE is nearly dissolved… what next? To split that question further:
A) The government brags that they have proved the world wrong by defeating the Tigers militarily and that not even the US has been able to achieve such a feat in other countries. Do you think the ‘war for peace’ strategy has succeeded?
JG – The experience all over the world is that the dream of being governed by one’s own kind never dies. Nor will it in Sri Lanka. The exact shape of the dream, and how it will be pursued in the future, is another matter. The cruel events unfolding in the North right now is a battle probably coming to an end, but not necessarily the end of a war, which may continue in many forms all over the island – as it has done ever since 1983. There will be no peace after this battle.
As you know I was deeply involed as a nongovernmental mediator, often also with the LTTE, and I felt a Sri Lanka federation with high level autonomy for North plus, say, half East, with their own consulates and power-sharing in the Center, with the Muslims as a third party, would make sense. I also felt this could be obtained nonviolently and that they had more to learn from a Gandhi than from all the bombmakers in the world. Their response was that federalism had been tried, so had nonviolence, both in vain. And I felt that the other sides, there are many of them, felt there was no danger as they could always fall back upon a referendum to throw out anything beyond a unitary state with some devolution. When the sound and fury of the present battle subside Sri Lanka will return to this deadlock, with or without bombs exploding now and then. Hopefully a creative federalism will sooner or later be on the agenda.
B) Do you think it will succeed in the short term, medium term and long term?
JG – Peace only as “unitary state with some devolution” is non-peace, and will never succeed, in my judgment. After some time that will become painfully clear to all parties. “Federalism” is a broad term, a broad agenda with many possibilities, and I only deeply deplore that it never proved possible to engage the parties in serious, detailed dialogues. They were locked up in their highly incompatible positions.
C) Will the government now have to anticipate the LTTE’s transformation from a local terrorist group to some other form of movement?
JG – I think so. The problem is not the TE, Tamil Eelam and repeat: if Delhi can live with Tamil Nadu, Colombo should be able to live with a Tamil Eelam. We all know how secessionism subsided in that part of India once they could identify themselves in the name of the state. Words matter. Identity matters.
I see much wrong in LT. Tiger is too violent, liberation too strong. Yes, 1956 was terrible, but there has been an apology for that, build on that. However, if “some other form of movement” stands by TE as a goal but gives up LT as the method, GoSl should follow suit and enter dialogues with no precondition and willingness to explore a broad range of options. Political work will be needed to assure the backing of Parliament, Supreme Court, Army and People, not using any one of these as a trump card to ultimately nullify any agreement entered.
D) Or is this the end of the iroad for the LTTE?
JG – For LT yes. For TE never. I only hope the million strong diaspora will understand this. It is easy for them to take extremist and violent positions as they live abroad in real, not virtual, no-fire zones.
NW – Back to Norway, do you think the acrimonious end of Norwegian facilitation here is further proof of their failure as peacemakers in the international arena?
JG – I think so. I also think that no country allied through NATO to a superpower, even one with a new and attractive rhetoric, should have been accepted, or offer itself, as a meditator. They are treaty-bound to report, and cannot do or propose anything incompatible with US foreign policy. What instructions they got from USA-UK, meaning also CIA-MI6, during their mediation years I don’t know. But neither Anglo nor America could permit terrorism to work, nor could they permit secessionism, nor, probably, advanced federalism lest some group like the Welsh or the Hawaiians might feel inspired. Maybe Norwegian naivete also included an overestimation of their independence of such forces; maybe GoSl actually understood this better and for that reason used Norway.
NW – Or do you think it’s more because the Rajapaksa regime is xenophobic and needs to cater to xenophobic elements within their government?
JG – That explanation does not exclude the points made above. On the other hand, I can understand Sri Lanka reaction against foreigners given how many groups came, and on how little basis they offered their strong opinions. They say that guests who overstay start stinking. The same applies to mediators.
NW – Has Norway’s failure here hurt their efforts in other parts of the world?
JG – The two failures in important conflicts, Israel-Palestine andSri Lanka, do not pass unnoticed. On the other hand, Norway has been clever in promoting itself as a peace nation, also as chosen to define peace through the Nobel peace prize once a year and mainly as a part of the West congratulating the West–not Gandhi but US presidents and foreign ministers for instance–so the blame will often be put on difficult Israelis, Palestinians and all kinds of Sri Lankans for not living up to these peace-loving Norwegians. Incidentally, Norway is weapons exporter no. 6 in the world, also to US troops in Afghanistan, and a very obedient (to the USA) NATO member. And the USA is by far the most belligerent country in world history with 243 interventions in other countries, 73 since the Second world war.
NW – What are your comments about international pressure on Sri Lanka at the moment? Do you think it will impact positively or do you think the international community needs to back off without making things worse?
JG – I am amazed by how long time this “final phase” takes, and I think international pressure is of little or no importance. The goal of GoSl has always been to win, the goal of LTTE has been to deprive them of that victory, to make the price very high, and certainly never to capitulate. I doubt there will be any :”unconditionalsurrender”. Both parties are enacting their badly reflected codes, international pressure or not. I belong to those who deeply, profoundly deplore my own inability to convince them that their codes of glory leads but to death and that an acceptable federal life for both on a small island is at hand. And the Rajapaksa government should take note: the seeds of hatred being sown any minute are more important than some Hero Day Speeches by Prabhakaran; and a people fighting like that will nit give up because they lose a battle.
NW – From your knowledge of peace processes, terrorist groups and conflict situations, what do you think of the “hostage situation” in Sri Lanka’s north where the LTTE are holding hundreds of civilians as human shileds?
JG – Terrible, horrible. But the government could also have useed another tactic, more like medieval warfare: surrounding the area, waiting, rather than an all out war. But both parties use all the means at their disposal.
NW – How can Sri Lanka tackle the situation in the north?
JG – The present government has defined as the only option all-out war to the end, actually meaning extermination, of what they define as LTTE. I doubt they will ever get Prabhakaran, neither alive, nor dead for hanging post mortem and export to India.
Sri Lanka could be wiser. Sri Lanka could declare a unilateral ceasefire, handle the enormous hunanitarian issue, and enter negotiations, but not with whatever is left of the LTTE as “sole representaqtive”. And “Sri Lanka” would have to mean more than the government. Rather than “war-for-peace” switch to “non-war for some peace”. But this is not exactly Mr Fonseca’s line.
NW – Should there be another peace process? What is the ideal way for the government to now proceed, having come this far?
JG – Be future-oriented. A viable future for Sri Lanka as a whole, with much history packed into so little goegraphy. Unfortunately, the government, and the LTTE people, will have to facor into the future equation the etxra hatred, the trauma, the hopelessness created by these last years, months, weeks. Highly creative conciliation is needed and that is not easy.
NW – Should there be international facilitation again?
JG – Not by governments, they have too many additional items on their agendas. But during these difficult years Sri Lanka has made many experiences with mediators, invite the better ones as individuals and ask them to become some kind of advisory board. However, the final decisions are of course all yours.
NW – The National Peace Council issued a statement today saying this: “The National Peace Council believes that the government needs to consider amending its demand for unconditional surrender to one in which the terms of laying down of arms is negotiated with international facilitation and an honourable exit is given for the LTTE and its leaders.” Is this feasible, in your opinion?
JG – Not feasible, the fighting has come too far. And the LT in LTTE is part of the problem not of the solution, particularly if it implies “sole represenative”. Moreover, I do not think LTTE has been more dishonourable than parts of GoSl. The National Peace Council would live more up to its name by producing some images of what a “national peace” might look like, over and above “laying down of arms with international facilitation”. Doesn’t Sri Lanka know by now that this means acquisition of new arms, handing in the old ones for disarmament, redeployment? The road to peace does not pass through laying down arms. Rather, the road to disarmament passes through peace, and the road to peace passes through difficult mediation and conciliation.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Apr 2009.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: INTERVIEW WITH JOHAN GALTUNG ABOUT THE CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA, is included. Thank you.
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