Autonomy and the Unitary State

 Dayan Jayatilleka replies to Prof Peter Schalk
( November 19, 2012, Paris, Sri Lanka Guardian) My last conversation with Prof Peter Schalk was in the faculty dining room at Georgetown University in the fall of 2005, when I was a visiting professor at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. We were speaking at seminar on conflict in the Asian region hosted by the East–West Centre of the University of Hawaii. At brunch I believe it was, I reiterated with emphasis, to Prof Schalk what I had said at the seminar, namely that the Tigers strategic military achievement was unimpressive to me from a comparative historical point of view; that they were clearly inferior as an irregular fighting force to the Hezbollah for one, and that the next war, which was imminent, could and would result in the military defeat of the LTTE. This, I might add, was before the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President of Sri Lanka.  I made the same points as a panellist at a seminar hosted by the Georgetown Centre for Strategic and International Studies, roughly around the same time.
Now Prof Peter Schalk makes a critique of my presentation at the CNRS in Paris. He goes further, and criticises that prestigious institution, the chair, the other distinguished panellists, an eminent scholar who spoke from the audience, and the audience itself.  The problem then arises: why on earth didn’t he make these points at the seminar itself? Why didn’t he debate me and thus try to convince the audience? Why, in fact, did he remain utterly and absolutely silent? Indeed I didn’t notice that he was in the room, and know that he had been present only when reading his diatribe on Tamilnet.
Prof Schalk’s main objection seems to be that I advocated autonomy within a unitary state. His main contention seems to be that this is, by definition, a structural impossibility. He also claims that therefore, no social scientist would have advocated the solution that I did. Since Prof Schalk is not himself a social scientist, I suppose we might excuse him for not knowing that a great many states which choose to define themselves as unitary, do in fact have autonomous units. These range from the UK to the Philippines. What is most ironic about Prof Schalk’s position is that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) main, democratic political party of the Tamils of Sri Lanka’s North and East, many of whose leaders have been murdered by Prof Schalk’s pin-ups, the Tigers, have received and accepted an invitation to visit China, a unitary state if ever there was one, precisely to study arrangements for regional autonomy. The Chinese constitution which defines the state as unitary, also enshrines the concept of ethnic regional autonomy–so perhaps Prof Schalk should direct his absurd, politically fundamentalist objections to the leadership of the TNA and the Chinese Communist party, rather than to me.
Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD; Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sri Lanka to France & Permanent Delegate to UNESCO   

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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