I followed the conflict in Sri Lanka from the start all through the 80s and early 90s and was more aghast at what was happening on the island every time I went back, which was once or twice a year.
The slow unraveling of the country’s democracy and its descent into the lower depths of fratricidal hell was all the more tragic since, of all the meaningless civil wars I’ve covered, this ranked as probably the most mind-boggling. The roots of the Sinhalese-Tamil dustup were neither ethnic nor religious, which would have explained the ferocity, but linguistic; and even for the most passionate advocate of two-state solutions there was never any doubt that a viable Tamil state on this tiny clump of land was impossible simply because it wasn’t practical. Watching the mayhem, I was more often than not left wondering what the hell they were fighting over.
I was reminded of all this when an old friend emailed me a link to this editorial, titled “And Then They Came for Me”, by the editor of the Colombo newspaper The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge.
In what must be one of the most devastating pieces of journalism I’ve ever read, Wickrematunge, who was shot dead by two gunmen on January 8, not only executes a brilliant full-frontal assault on the presidency of his old friend Mahinda Rajapaksa but also predicts his own assassination — and names the culprits:
It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.
Wickrematunge then turns to address the president:
Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.
Breathtaking in its eloquence and tragic beyond words, Wickrematunge’s soliloquy offers no hope, even if the solution to the country’s ills is painfully obvious:
[…] A military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering ‘development’ and ‘reconstruction’ on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen – and all of the government – cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.
As for his own imminent demise, Wickrematunge takes solace in “knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man”:
I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.