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Why Flexibility Breeds Contempt

Russia's recognition this week of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and the Western recognition of the independence of Kosovo in February are important developments in the dimensions of the Tamil liberation struggle. The West has reacted angrily to Russia's moves over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, just as Moscow did earlier this year over Western support for a free Kosovo. The most strident defenders of 'territorial integrity' have thus proven ready to abandon this 'principle' the moment it suits their strategic interests. Even India, long positioned alongside the West and Russia as committed to Sri Lanka's territorial integrity, readily dismembered Pakistan to create Bangladesh in 1971.

 

Western states have this week been citing international law to justify their opposition to the freedom of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ironically, Russia is also citing international law for supporting their independence. It is therefore clear that the inconsistencies among the unenforceable (except by the powerful states against weak states) rules of international 'law' allow plenty of room for recognition of new states. Both Russia and the West cited genocide and oppression by Georgia and Serbia respectively for their pro-independence interventions of 2008. Genocide was underway in these places, but there are many other sites where Russia and the West have supported murderous regimes. Sri Lanka is a classic example.

 

There are two lessons the Tamils can draw from the successful freedom struggles of the Kosovans, Eritreans, East Timorese and, now the South Ossetians and Abkhazians. Firstly, the reasons routinely given by powerful states for not recognizing the Tamil demand for self-determination are bogus. Territorial integrity and sovereignty are, according to both the West and Russia, contingent on the states concerned behaving responsibly towards the peoples within their territories. Sri Lanka's brutality towards the Tamils is now undisguised, but the First World bastions of democracy are standing firmly with the chauvunist ethnocracy. It is also notable that for all the support they gave Georgia, the US and Europe did not persuade the Georgians to treat the South Ossetians and Abkhazians with respect and dignity. Instead, like in Sri Lanka, this year they encouraged Georgia to militarily crush these freedom struggles.

 

Western backing for a 'negotiated solution' to Sri Lanka is also equally false. This is a mantra maintained to disguise their extraordinary support for Sri Lanka's brutal military project. The West is simply waiting for the Sinhalese to crush the Tamil Tigers. Thereafter, the Tamils will be abandoned to accept whatever status the Sinhalese give them. Remember, the Western democracies are less interested in ending the oppression of the Tamils than in doing business with the Sinhala leaders when the LTTE is not around to disturb the investment atmosphere in Colombo. Western support for democracy, federalism, autonomy, human rights protection and so on are patently false. The states have not stood up for these principles in many other places. Indeed, the only places where a lasting solution has emerged is when the 'terrorism' of the oppressed people has proven impossible to destroy militarily.

 

Western confidence that the Tamils can be pacified has come about to a great extent because even when we are being brutalized, the Tamils have been looking for compromises with the Sinhalese - instead of standing up clearly for our rights as a nation. In short, it is precisely because the Tamils keep bending over backwards to show that we are flexible (and the Sinhalese are intransigent) that a belief has emerged that we are a people without dignity, ever ready to accept less than we are due. On what basis can some Western states assert 'most Tamils don't want Eelam' other than because the Tamils still keep saying they are prepared to accept devolution, autonomy, federalism, etc? Notice how those Tamils hailed by the West as 'moderates' are usually spineless collaborators of the Sri Lankan state - that is because powerful states think these individuals, not the defiant - i.e. 'fanatical' - Liberation Tigers, reflect the mentalities of the ordinary Tamil.

 

Thus, the second and most important lesson for the Tamils from the successful freedom struggles of the recent past, is to stand united behind a single goal: an independent Tamil Eelam. Being flexible on the right to self-determination does not impress powerful states and find favour with them, it only breeds contempt for us. Being 'reasonable' and prepared to compromise will count for nothing as these states, including the liberal democracies of the West will not stand up for principles of popular will, democracy, justice and so on - unless it suits their strategic interests.