Really great Jazeera video comparing the Tamil and Sinhala insurrections. See 3:45 for a young Mahinda in his human rights days. Nice hair.
The LTTE Great Heroes Day is coming up, and the JVP’s November Heroes Day just passed. Both groups terrorized, tortured and tried to kill their way to political change, and yet both feel that there is something to commemorate. While I support mourning the dead, I think it’s folly to say that they died for something more than sociopathic assholes promoting a corrupted cause.
JVP’s November Heroes
Colombo has been plastered with pictures of Rohan Wijeweera, with his Che cap and beard, and an authentic smile. He led a Khmer Rouge style Marxist insurrection, killing policemen, government officials, people who tried to vote, the families of security forces, etc. During that period almost everyone remembers seeing young men burning in the streets. My family member had her leg broken by JVPers looking for guns. However, a friend was beaten nearly to death by the police for wearing jeans and looking like a JVPer. His legs were hurt so badly that he could never wear shoes again. As you can tell, the government responded to a terrorist group with brutal, blanket force, crushing that largely Sinhalese insurrection at the cost of many innocent lives.
LTTE’s Heroes Day
Vellupillai Prabhakaran led a similar insurrection in the north, and now his face (or the LTTE flag at least) are plastered around Toronto and London, as diaspora separatists (about as effective as it sounds) prepare to commemorate him and his movement. Prabhakaran killed policemen, soldiers, civilians, other Tamil groups, members of his own group, villagers, monks, people riding the bus, anybody. He was a much more creative and effective terrorist than Wijeweera, and also lived longer. In time, however, the government also brutally crushed him with, I would say, actually less innocent slaying, but still a good deal too much.
November is the time that both of these men and their ideas are ostensibly commemorated, though both the men and the ideas were bad. A Marxist dictatorship would have sucked, and a separate state based on race (with the accompanying racial cleansing, as per the LTTE’s expulsion of Muslims) would have sucked also. Killing and terrorizing the population was also a bad way to go about anything, and the men who warped the ideas and actions of a generation deserve nothing but scorn.
However, the thing is that a lot of innocent people died in those insurrections, and a lot of well-meaning people died participating in them, and those people are mourned. Which is why I think these days are popular. The JVP has evolved into a non-violent, rather ordinary political party and are able to have their day in Sri Lanka, in public. The LTTE has devolved into two warring foreign mafias, more about the money than anything else, so they hold their commemorations abroad.
Why does this happen? They are commemorating people as heroes some of whom, maliciously or misguidedly, killed innocents and damaged their countries. So why is that feeling still there?
I think it’s because the government and the nation doesn’t remember or acknowledge the dead at all, and those dead still mattered. There are actually far more moves towards inter-racial reconciliation than there were to reconcile the largely Sinhalese rebels of the JVP. Those people (and young people in general) were just killed or disappeared and no one ever really talked about it again. While Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has announced a census of war dead in the north (noting dubiosly that deaths by the Army are negligible), dead LTTErs are not counted or mourned in any particular way.
These commemorations are led by mediocre assholes, showing the faces of magnificent assholes, but beneath it all are real human beings. Not heroes necessarily, but heroic in their own way. Heroes I think of as sacrificing to accomplish a worth goal. The people who died in the JVP and LTTE insurrections sacrificed for unworthy goals, but they sacrificed nonetheless. They should be remembered and commemorated for that.