– A View from Homo Disorientus
| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne
( March 21, 2012, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mr. S.L. Gunasekara in his au fait article “The Circus in Geneva” published in The Sri Lanka Guardian of 20 March has this to say on the impending Resolution against Sri Lanka … “reactions of foreigners apart, what is most tragic is the inability of the several sections of our community to unite in the face of our foreign foes. Thus, we find both the Government and many a party in the Opposition seeking to make political capital out of this tragedy… The Opposition on the other hand uses this tragedy to ‘drum up’ hatred of the Government, create chaos and even to justify the horrendous resolution”. He makes a very good point. Mr. Gunasekara also makes the point that members of the Government “increasingly indulge in the profligate extravagance with public funds, vain ostentation, waste and corruption, as well as to ‘drum up’ support for itself by some nonsensical staged demonstrations.
Being far away from my motherland, my impression about the defeat of the terrorists of the North resonates with what Sigmund Freud jotted in his pocket diary when the armistice was announced on November 11 1918: “end of war”. Significantly he avoided the word “peace”. Karl Kraus, the antiwar satirist in his work “The Last Days of Mankind” said: “The war…will be child’s play compared to the peace that will not break out”. To me it seems that the peace that has not broken out so far quite apart from the prevailing absence of war in the country is seemingly the discord among the ranks of the legislature. I wonder, shouldn’t there be solidarity among those responsible for governance (both the Government and the Opposition) at this time of international threat?
I went into the history books and this is what I found. The intelligentsia play a critical role in national unity, particularly at times of war when national governments are formed. National governments (alternatively national unity governments or national union governments) are broad coalition governments consisting of all parties (or all major parties) in the legislature and are often formed during times of war or national emergency. History records several instances where national governments were formed on the basis of national unity when members of the opposition party joined the ruling party to form a robust legislature to cope with a national crisis. For example, The (then independent) Dominion of New Foundland had a National Government during World War 1.
In Canada, during World War I the Conservative government of Sir Robert Borden invited the liberal opposition to join the government as a means of dealing with the Conscription crisis of 1917. The Liberals, led by Sir Wilfred Laurier refused; however, Borden was able to convince many individual Liberals to join what was called a Union Government, which defeated the Laurier Liberals in the fall 1917 election in Canada, , during World War II, the opposition Conservative Party ran under the name National Government in the 1940 election as a means of promoting their platform of creating a wartime national government coalition (evocative of the previous war’s Union Government). The party did dismally in the election which re-elected the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King whose party continued to rule alone for the duration of World War II.
Israel has had several National Unity Governments, in which the rival Israeli Labour Party and Likud formed a ruling coalition.
Luxembourg has had two National Union Governments. The first was formed in 1916, during the First World War (in which Luxembourg was neutral, but occupied by Germany nonetheless). It was led by Victor Thon and included all of the major factions in the Chamber of Disputes, but lasted for only sixteen months. The second National Union Government was formed in November 1945, in the aftermath of the Second World War, which had devastated Luxembourg. It was led by Pierre Dupong, who had been Prime Minister in the government in exile in the in the war, and included all four parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies. The government lasted until 1947, by which time, a normal coalition between two of the three largest parties had been arranged, thus maintaining the confidence of the legislature.
In addition, Luxembourg had a Liberation government between November 1944 and November 1945, also under Dupong. It served a similar emergency role to a national government, but included only the two largest parties, the CSV and the LSAP. In the United Kingdom, , the electoral system is often said to discourage coalitions, but nonetheless National Governments were formed during world War I and World War II.. The coalition under David Lloyd George lasted until 1922. During the great Depression a coalition termed a National Government was formed in 1931 between Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and the conservatives and the Liberals.. Most members of the Labour Party rejected the government, however, and moved to the opposition benches leaving MacDonald and his supporters to stand as National Labour. This coalition had some support from National Liberals, also, with the disarray of the Liberal Party of the time; it took in broader support in the war years, and nominally persisted until the general election of 1945. Subsequently coalition politics in the UK was seen only in the form of the brief Lib-Lab pact.
All this goes to show that there is a strong possibility that a national crisis could be overcome with the active involvement of the intelligentsia of a country. Such involvement brings with it wisdom and pragmatism. Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and a former professor at Harvard, states in his book, “Where shall Wisdom be Found”, that there are three criteria that impel him to go on reading and teaching: aesthetic splendour, intellectual power and wisdom. Of these, the last is perhaps the most useful for survival. Wisdom is the ability to make correct judgments and decisions, and remains an intangible quality gained through experience. Often, society tends to attribute wisdom to an action or decision that is determined in a pragmatic sense by its popularity. Some criteria in judging wisdom are traditionalism and how long it has been around, and its ability to predict against future events. Wisdom connotes an enlightened perspective.
Given these historical fact my question, as an uninitiated non-expert in the area of men and matters when it comes to internal politics of a country, is if there is solidarity in Parliament as well as with the outside world of those having the burden of responsibility in facing this ominous resolution, would it help Sri Lanka.
I have no answer and would really welcome an erudite sage in the category of Mr. Gunasekara to comment.