Global Radar Screen

The Slow But Relentless War Against Ethnic Nationalism

Displaced again! Pakistani and Afghan refugees in Sri Lanka were uprooted from their homes following the Easter Sunday bombings.

Dissector

We have no choice but to resort to a tired figure of speech, ‘rolling in the grave’, to describe a strange malaise that has gripped sections of those who consider themselves ‘progressives’ and sworn Leftists in Sri Lanka. The disquieting frequency and relish with which some local ‘Leftists’ use the term ‘patriotism’ compels Dissector to say that world renowned communists, such as, Lenin and Trotsky, must be ‘rolling in their graves’ to see their seemingly ardent adherents in Sri Lanka resorting to or finding refuge in  ‘patriotism’ currently.

Communists of major stature the world over had no truck with nationalists. The greatest of these figures, Lenin, Trotsky, Castro, Che Guevara, to name a few, were Universalists in the true sense of the term. They identified with the international working class and considered it grossly contradictory of the central tenets of communism to associate with narrow group identities, which is what nationalism in the restricted sense is all about. Given their advocacy of universal working class brotherhood they would have found even broader nationalism to be reprehensible. By the latter phrase we mean the exclusive and narrow-minded identification with a country and its self-determination.

Sri Lankan ‘Leftists’ should only read and re-read Leon Trotsky’s monumental chronicle, ‘The History of the Russian Revolution’, to learn the error of their present ways. In this book Trotsky repeatedly decries nationalism, in the context of the Russian communist revolution, and so does Lenin, whom he quotes. Irrespective of national or ethnic identity these major Leftists identified with workers all over the world. Accordingly, how could local ‘Leftists’ take refuge in ‘patriotism’, as they are wont to do now? Alas, narrow political and power considerations seem to be compelling these betrayals of working class interests. Time will tell what is exactly up the sleeves of local ‘Leftists’.

We have no choice but to quote that great Sri Lankan trade union leader V. Balathampoe to elaborate further on the magnitude of this ‘betrayal’. When questioned on the role of the Left, during the tenure of the former Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, Balathampoe said: ‘There is no Left worth speaking of in Sri Lanka now. What we have currently is a huge reactionary Right.’

What is prompting these reflections on the course taken by the local ‘Left’ is the intensification of ethnic nationalism locally, regionally and globally. Time was when the local Left took up a principled position against ethnic nationalism/chauvinism and its disintegrative impact. It was a huge and strong bulwark against this divisive and inimical political force. But today, the ‘betrayal’ referred to has had the effect of orphaning the progressives of Sri Lanka. What we are left with is the noxious political current of ethno-nationalism.

They were Universalists, Che Guevera, Lenin, Trotsky, but the Sri Lankan followers of their doctrine practice narrow group identity politics. ( courtesy en.Wikipedia.org)
They were Universalists, Che Guevera, Lenin, Trotsky, but the Sri Lankan followers of their doctrine practice narrow group identity politics. ( courtesy en.Wikipedia.org)

Nationally speaking, the present disintegrative political trends in the country, post-April 21, 2019 in particular, are confronting us with a fast imploding Sri Lanka. Ethnic nationalism among almost all of Sri Lanka’s principal communities and social groups makes the impartial observer wonder whether the ‘Balkanization’ of Sri Lanka is upon us. This phenomenon refers to the devastating and wasting internal wars of the nineties that tore the former Yugoslavia apart on ethnic lines and led to the formation of separate mutually-antagonistic national entities. Ethnic cleansing was the order of the day. Could all those meaning well by Sri Lanka continue to stand idly by?

Regionally, the picture is as bleak as it is nationally. In almost all the countries of South Asia, ethnic and religious minorities are being targeted for marginalization by ethnic and religious majorities. Even in India, the region’s most secular state, minorities, such as Muslims, are feeling insecure, particularly in the wake of the re-election of Narandra Modi as Prime Minister. It is no secret that the Christians of Pakistan are being subjected to violence by groups associated with the country’s religious majority. Sri Lankans, for instance, today have in their midst refugees from religious minorities who have been forced to flee Pakistan.

In Myanmar, wasting ethnic conflicts are continuing, capped by the persecution and suffering heaped on the country’s Rohongya minority in particular. Myanmar’s bleeding on this score is yet to see an end. The problem has caused Aung San SUU Kyi her iconic status as a revered democratic leader.

Myanmar’s Rohingiya community, seen here crossing over to Bangladesh. (Courtesy Human Rights Watch)
Myanmar’s Rohingiya community, seen here crossing over to Bangladesh. (Courtesy Human Rights Watch)

However, there is a silver lining of sorts in this dark cloud of gathering implosive violence on ethnic lines within states. More and more perpetrators of ethnic violence are being brought to book in the Balkans in particular. On and off we hear of UN linked and inspired tribunals bringing former war criminals to justice in the Balkans. This has been particularly true of former Serb leaders. The latest of such positive developments is the conviction and imprisoning of a former Serb soldier who stood accused of killing five civilians from the same family in Bosnia’s civil war of the nineties. All such sentencing is happening decades after the devastation of the nineties. However, slowly but surely justice is being meted out even to a degree. Needless to say, such acts of justice are only a drop in the bucket considering the enormity of the crimes which were committed. However, some hope may be gleaned from the fact that there is a relentless process of bringing wrong doers to justice.

However, ethno-populism must be stopped in its tracks. This is the ever looming challenge. Thanks to political leaders of the world, such as US President Donald Trump, ethnic tensions would be only accelerating in the days ahead since white supremacy is the trump card of such politicians. Countries of the West with a high migrant or ‘alien’ presence are vulnerable to the spread of ethnic and religious tensions. That is, almost the entirety of Europe.

Containing this steep rise of ethnic chauvinism necessitates a coming together of progressives the world over to fight the scourge. The rallying call ought to be: ‘Progressives of the world unite’. This is the reason why the Lankan ‘Left’s’ current sharp turn to the Right should be deeply regretted.

The wolves are at the door and the door is unguarded.

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