Tamil self-determination and the LTTE: Some lessons for the struggle

On May 23, 2009, anti-war activists joined members of Sydney's Tamil community in a march to protest the Sri Lankan government's war against the Tamil people, organised by the Stop The War Coalition.

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By Reihana Mohideen

May 21, 2009 -- “To save the lives of our people is the need of the hour. Mindful of this, we have already announced to the world our position to silence our guns to save our people", said Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the head of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) International Diplomatic Relations on May 17, thus flagging the military defeat of the LTTE.

While the military defeat of the LTTE does not necessarily mean its demise, and it most certainly does not represent the end of the struggle for Tamil self-determination in Sri Lanka, nevertheless it is a major setback to the struggle for a Tamil Eelam.

And while calls for a political settlement of the conflict must be supported, the possibility of a genuine political settlement, i.e. peace with justice, is probably far less likely today than when the Tigers were still a powerful military force willing to negotiate a political settlement. The Tigers are in a far weaker position to negotiate a political settlement for a liberated Tamil homeland today than they have been in previous years.

At the same time, the Sinhalese government victory is a veritable double-edged sword. The Tamil struggle will rise again and it could take more desperate forms. The fact that the Sinhalese army feels compelled to hold Tamil youth prisoners in military camps, and according to defence ministry spokesperson Lakshman Hullugalle, even for up to two years if necessary, is an acknowledgement of this possibility.

The defeat of the Tigers, one of the most powerful liberation armies in the world, which controlled northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, does come as a shock. How was the Sinhalese government able to defeat a disciplined armed force, with substantial support among the Tamil population? While international intervention, such as military support to the Sinhala government by imperialist countries such as the UK and Israel are factors that weighed against the Tigers, the strategy of the LTTE itself needs to come under scrutiny, particularly by those very Tamil youth who will continue the struggle for Tamil self-determination.

While the LTTE has carried out a heroic struggle for the self-determination of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, one of the main limitations of the LTTE was that it primarily pursued a military strategy and not a political strategy based on mobilising the Tamil masses and building solidarity amongst the Sinhalese and Muslim populations in the rest of the island. The militarisation of the struggle by the LTTE also resulted in human rights violations of Tamils by the LTTE in Tiger-controlled areas. The centralised and hierarchical military structures, and the refusal to accommodate different political views and currents which exist (until today) within the movement for Tamil self-determination, all contributed to weakening the Tamil liberation struggle.

As Australian socialist and solidarity activist for Tamil self-determination Chris Slee, writing in Green Left Weekly points out, the military strategy pursued by the LTTE also led to the alienation of potential allies. The LTTE was unable to build strong alliances with sections of the Sinhala and Muslim populations. As Slee notes, “The Tigers sometimes disregarded the need to win support among Sinhalese workers, peasants and students in southern Sri Lanka for the right of Tamils to national self-determination. This also applied to the Tamil-speaking Muslims of eastern Sri Lanka. The absence of a mass anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka is a key obstacle to the success of the Tamil self-determination struggle. The LTTE has been willing to negotiate with Sinhalese political leaders whenever they showed any signs of wanting to reach a peaceful solution. But the LTTE has not made a serious effort to get its message directly to the Sinhalese masses, bypassing the politicians whose promises of peace have been deceptive.”

While the lack of a strong anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka primarily reflects the weakness and political limitations of the Sri Lankan left, the military strategy of the LTTE and the tactics which flowed from this, such as the bombing campaigns in the south which killed civilians, have also alienated the Sri Lankan masses from supporting the Tamil struggle for self-determination.

While our main focus has to be building the international solidarity campaign to free the Tamil population imprisoned in the Sinhala army camps, for the withdrawal of the Sinhala army from Tamil territory and putting pressure on the Sinhala government for a political settlement to the Tamil question, the left -- especially in Sri Lanka and within the Tamil population -- has the responsibility to provide a critical framework to develop a political strategy to continue and renew the Tamil struggle for self-determination. This does not mean relinquishing support of the right of Tamil people under occupation to take up arms against an occupying Sinhala army. In the current situation, however, emphasis on political struggles and campaigns is clearly to the advantage of the Tamil fighters and peoples, and this will also be the case in the mid-term.

[Reihana Mohideen is socialist activist and writer, born in Sri Lanka, now living in the Philippines. She is a leader of the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Laboring Masses) of the Philippines and head of its international relations department. This article first appeared at Mohideen's blog, Socialista Feminista, and has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 05/27/2009 - 10:49


By Vickramabahu Karunarathne (``Bahu''), general secretary of the Nava Sama Samaaja Party (NSSP, New Socialist Party)

May 24, 2009 -- The government has announced that the LTTE is completely destroyed and all the important leaders were killed. This was accepted by Sinhala society with enthusiasm but in smaller communities, in particular in Tamil society, there was concern, or worse, fear.

The question that was in the latter’s mind was whether the enthusiastic crowd will resort to any violence, but nothing of import happened. It appears that the government is now under the belief that the Tamil national problem is over and normalcy is established in the country.

Ceremonies and the festive mood take one back to the early chapters of the Mahavansa with King Dutugemunu replaced by Maha Rajinda, great king Mahinda. But in reality the national problem is a specific problem in Image removed.bourgeois society.

We explained in this column that as Tamil freedom is in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, unless there is a solution, based on the right of self-determination, there will be no normalcy in the country.

Of course Tamils may not resort to an armed insurrection but the agitation will continue, both locally and internationally. In fact the war has made it an international problem, something akin to the Palestinian issue.

Armed insurrection detached from the people or negating people’s participation could be counterproductive, we explained over and over again. It is true that there was mass participation towards the end in the form of Pongu Tamil mass actions, but it was not broadbased so as to attract all trends within Tamil society. On the other hand, there was a continued belief that global capitalist liberals will intervene to resolve this problem in favour of Tamil nationalism.

In fact there was reluctance to take this issue to the local and international working class or to Left liberation organisations, as it could offend international capitalist leaders. In the end, all global leaders followed the Indian bourgeois to support the suppression of the Tigers.

Again it was proved that the oppressor could be ten times more ruthless than the oppressed and in this case the oppressor’s terror surpassed anything of the kind witnessed so far. It was quite evident what was happening, but there was no liberal bourgeoisie global force to intervene to save the Tamils from defeat and a bloodbath.

Languishing in tears

It is a terrible defeat and is a human disaster with 350,000 people miserably displaced. On the other hand, there are thousands of families of Sinhala soldiers killed or wounded, languishing in tears. No amount of compensation could erase their grief. There are thousands of young wives of Sinhala soldiers killed in combat, who will loose their income if they get married again, and there is no way out for them. All this could have been avoided and the Tamil national problem solved conclusively, if the peace talks were continued and autonomy was granted to the Tamil homeland while the Tamil armed forces was integrated with the Sinhala forces to create a true national army.

Now while the Sinhalese are jubilant, the Tamils are suffering in humiliation and surrender. There is a terrible gulf in between and all attempts for talks will be influenced by the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu activists. Above everything they will go at the new Indian government. It was India that orchestrated the war in Lanka. Indian intelligence agents and military experts were working closely with the Lankan forces in the war zone. They simply hid the truth.

Foreign journalists and aid workers were barred from the war zone and IDP camps. Those who tried to enter and report about the war were kicked out of the country.

Now India may change the tune and call for devolution to the Tamil homeland. It may also demand changes in the armed forces to include a Tamil speaking regiment.

That will be a challenge to the government. At the same time the masses will demand more relief, workers will demand higher salaries and the removal of anti worker regulations.

Maha Rajinda may have to change his friends.