Thursday, November 22, 2007

Explaining Violence: LTTE and ETA

The Conflict in the Basque Region of Spain has been categorized as an ethnic conflict. The conflict in Sri Lanka is certainly more violent that that of the Basques but it too has been termed an ethnic conflict. The difference in violence is attributed by many to the existence of democratic institutions in Spain and the Spanish Government's willingness to explore a 'democratic solution' to the problem. Our hypothesis is that democracy has nothing to do with violence. In fact, no theory can explain why small groups of people are motivated to commit terrorist acts against others. For the lack of a better explanation, frames like 'ethnic conflict' or 'freedom struggle' may be superimposed on a particular phenomenon to explain the reasons for violence. The following comparison between LTTE and the Basques Separatist Movement (ETA) will demonstrate this disconnection between theory and practice.

The Basques is an autonomous region of Spain with wide regional powers delegated to it by the Spanish Government. In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga offered a Ten Year Devolution Package to the LTTE in 1994, which was rejected by the organization. Nor was it a solution to end the violence. It is said that the ETA emerged as a response to suspicion, deep resentment and fear between the Spanish and the people of Basque. Economic and cultural marginalization and conquest of the indigenous Basques people is said to have exacerbated these fears and resentments. Economic and cultural suppressions were never that severe in Sri Lanka, Pongu Thamil and many successful Tamil businesses being a case in point. Some have understood the grievances of the Tamils as a discrimination against Tamil Language. However Tamil language is now an official language although certain sections of the state administration may still use only Sinhala. These grievances can easily be rectified without resorting to violence.

In both conflicts Nationalists managed to grab the opportunity to mobilize fears and suspicions. An imaginary homeland was created in the minds of the Basque people and the Tamils by their respective elites. In both cases the elites convinced the masses that the non-violent nationalistic struggle did not bear ‘fruit’. Small bands of disillusioned youth formed radical, potentially more violent outfits; the ETA of the Basques, and the LTTE of the Tamils first engaged in petty skirmishes with law enforcement. Later, these skirmishes were more organized and directed at perceived suppressors of the respective movement. Neither movement has achieved a piece of mind for its group todate!

The comparison between ETA and the LTTE leads to more revelations. For example, ETA established a base and recluse in France; the LTTE did the same in South India. The Basque Imaginary Homeland consisted of three regions now in French soil. The remaining four are in Spanish soil. The LTTE’s Tamil Eelam remains confined to the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka, although a large Tamil population lives in neighboring India.

The Spanish government used a small band of commandos to hunt and kill radical ETA elements and its leadership. They were able to neutralize the radical elements earlier on. In Sri Lanka, the armed Tamil groups were unleashed on the state in the 1980s. They were initially trained and funded by India. Since then the group has gained financial independence thanks to its mini-bases and support groups in western states. The initial crackdown on the LTTE by the Sri Lankan defence establishment failed due to inadequate training, politicization of the armed forces, intervention by a powerful regional government (India) and the inability to win over the Tamil community. The Armed Forces were unable to match the LTTE's capacity for violence until the assassination of Thamil Chelvan.

ETA did not tolerate or seriously pursue Political rapprochement to the conflict. It has no political wing. The LTTE has held talks with the government on a political solution and has a Political Wing. However no concrete proposals have been reached despite several approaches for devolution of power in 1994 onwards. The burden of achieving a political solution falls on both parties but what type of a solution? who should offer it? and what problem the solution may address? are questions that are unanswered. There is also no guarantee that the solution could address the violence, through it might address the so-called grievance.

Conclusion

Democracy is a western ideal. It is not a solution but a prerequisite to violence. The term ‘ethnic conflict’ is also an abstract that does not explain why certain groups may engage or continue to engage in violence even when many of the underlying root-causes have changed or disappeared. These frames can explain social, political and economic root-causes of conflict but they cannot explain violence as a phenomenon. Any solutions that use these frames may fall short of addressing the real issue, which is violence.

7 comments:

Panhinda said...

/*Democracy is a western ideal. It is not a solution but a prerequisite to violence.*/

Democracy may be a western ideal. However, its the only system that can be fair to every individual in a society if properly adhered to. Just like the proverbial grape loving fox who keep blaming the earth, we keep blaming the 'sudda' and his mother for all our faults. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we need to take the system whiteman left and make it work for us.

Although I agree with your view on this day and age, violence can be an excuse for any kind of grievance.

defenceAnalyst said...

panhinda,
Democracy is a process. Not an end result. It relies on citizen voters making decisions (for the people, by the people). This is idealistic. As James Madison, a founding father of the US constitution in the Federalist Number 10 observed, aggregated voting leaves out groups of people and takes into account the views of only a selected group of people. Now the question that democratic principles face is whether this is true decision-making? for example, if 60% said yes in a referendum to give Eelam, should Eelam be given? what about the remaining 40% who say No? The other problem is, in deeply divided societies like Iraq for instance, US tried to have democracy through democratic elections to end the violence. Is it working? No. Why? because democracy is not a solution to ending violence. Democracy can end violence only if its pre-established and has mature democratic institutions (like Canada). The Quebec independence movement cannot compel its people to turn towards violence because the quebecois have democratic institutions to seek redress to their grievances.

Panhinda said...

defense_analyst,

/*if 60% said yes in a referendum to give Eelam, should Eelam be given?*/

Technically yes. You cannot pick and chose when to accept the rules and when not to. Sri Lanka as an island is a SHARED RESOURCE that belong to its inhabitants. Every citizen has an equal ownership of the wealth the land, sea and air space above land offers to them. If a referendum to give Eelam must be held, then you have to ask all stakeholders the question, which means all citizens must have a say whether Eelam is declared or otherwise.

/* aggregated voting leaves out groups of people and takes into account the views of only a selected group of people. */

It depends what system you use. For example, there are "past the post", and "proportional representation" etc. The one we have been using all along has many flaws. One such flaw is the ruling party cannot come to power without forming a rainbow coalition and preferential votes. The issue has been identified and the APRC with political reforms that are due out has provisions to tackle this issue.

When there is a chance minority groups will be isolated, then there are other mechanisms such as an upper house (Senate or House of Lords) that can step in to address issues. Again, political reforms due out from APRC recommends an upper house.

The underlying system, i.e. everyone has a right to vote is sound. After all, what is the alternative? Dictatorship, Junta or Communism?

defenceAnalyst said...

panhinda,
first past the post and proportional representation are voting systems. the principle is still aggregation of votes. aggregation means that the decision of the majority voters is upheld. so if 60% say give eelam or don't give eelam, that will be upheld. but the inherent problem with this system, which i am trying to explain to you AGAIN is the problem of leaving out a group of people who have a different opinion. voter aggregation fails in this connection. this is the main problem with democracy's 'For the people, by the people' theory. for example, if 60% say give eelam, what happens to the remaining 40%? what about their opinion? is the decision to give eelam, in a circumstance like this truly representative of the country's entire population or is it just the majority decision over the minority decision? Now this does not mean that democracy should be discarded. what it means that democracy is still 'under construction'. we in sri lanka must construct a democracy that can best address the deep divisions in our community. it is THEN and ONLY THEN that democracy will be able to address the violence in our country. but this is another democratic hypothesis. why? because LTTE's violence cannot be stopped through the establishment of a democracy.

"all citizens must have a say whether Eelam is declared or otherwise"

what do you mean by sharing Sri Lanka's land etc? you sound like a devolution theorist. devolution theorists or federalist thinkers say the same thing..share. but share what? share power? if so how much? share land? if so what extent of land? what geographic areas? this is a difficult bargaining process and negotiations fail because parties cannot agree on what to share and how much to share. This is my second point, that theories of devolution, power-sharing etc are all abstracts, like democracy. They can neither explain nor resolve violence in Sri Lanka. This is maybe why leaders turn to war to resolve these issues. that's why some theorists state 'Give War a Chance'. But war is also tricky if the cost of war becomes greater than the cost for peace. If the government of Sri Lanka can finish off the LTTE through military means, none of these issues would ever come up. no theorist would suggest power-sharing or devolution for Sri Lanka. THEN, we can address the Tamil grievances and all other so-called grievances through a democracy catered to the needs of our country!

NOLTTE=Peace said...

If the Tamils can live in other countries as minorities accepting their systems (even under discrimination from the majority) i.e. UK, Sweden, Norway, Canada why can not they live in Sri Lanka under the same or better democratic conditions?

In East Toronto, East London or La Schale, the majority is Tamil and they do not ask for EELAM from those countries. They live with the laws of the land and follow the system (but they are the biggest law breakers and criminals who illegally siphone millions of $s from the governments' social services budgets through illegal means, but still they do not ask for EELAM).

Because of Sri Lanka's lenience towards terrorism has caused all the mayhem.

The Official Language Act and the Provincial Council system provides more than enough framework for Tamils to develop their areas if they have a genuine intention to do so. However, they are asking more (own forces and diplomatic offices) just to further their fake struggle.

LTTE never want to come into a democratic process. They know that they can not survive in such process either. That's why they keep unleashing violence.

Some clever parties always try to mix LTTE with democracy. But the truth is, LTTE has no place in democracy, and they are a selfish lunatic terrorist organisation who has no interest whatsoever about democracy.

They should be dealt exclusively as terrorists and wiped out for the good of all the peoples.

Panhinda said...

defence_analyst,

/*this is the main problem with democracy's 'For the people, by the people' theory. for example, if 60% say give eelam, what happens to the remaining 40%? what about their opinion? */

How can everyone win? The 40% usually accepts majority choice. What you forget is the voter more or less has accepted and have understood the rules BEFORE they vote. If most didn’t, no one will vote and the system will fall apart anyway. They vote KNOWING there is a fair chance of losing. Does this mean the 40% just cannot get on with their lives? A referendum is never about life/death choices. In any mature democracy, if opinions are evenly divided, the winner always addresses the major concerns of the other side for smooth functioning. Democracy itself never solves all problems. Some common sense is also required whatever system you run.

/* is the decision to give eelam, in a circumstance like this truly representative of the country's entire population or is it just the majority decision over the minority decision? Now this does not mean that democracy should be discarded. what it means that democracy is still 'under construction'. we in sri lanka must construct a democracy that can best address the deep divisions in our community. */

Hang on a minute here. Did you say, “Construct a democracy”? But I thought you were arguing against democracy.

/* what do you mean by sharing Sri Lanka's land etc? you sound like a devolution theorist. devolution theorists or federalist thinkers say the same thing..share. but share what? share power? if so how much? share land? if so what extent of land? what geographic areas? this is a difficult bargaining process and negotiations fail because parties cannot agree on what to share and how much to share. */

I wasn’t referring to communal sharing of resources. Eelamist wants you to think in terms of communal sharing. i.e. “Tamil Homeland” etc. The sharing I am referring to is the individual’s right to enjoy and benefit from the common wealth of the island. Think of it this way; every individual unit of crown land, forest, marine and mineral resources are divided into 20 million shares matching the population of SL. Each citizen owns one share.

/* This is my second point, that theories of devolution, power-sharing etc are all abstracts, like democracy. They can neither explain nor resolve violence in Sri Lanka. This is maybe why leaders turn to war to resolve these issues. */

The leaders turn to war due to their sheer incompetence. It’s never really about failing systems but, people who are responsible for them. Lets face it; even a dictatorship can work sometimes under a good leader. What you are doing with a democracy is essentially spreading the risk among many leaders hoping a majority makes the correct decisions.

defenceAnalyst said...

Panhinda,

"How can everyone win? The 40% usually accepts majority choice".

This is the problem with voter aggregation. Its a Win-Lose system. Do the losing 40% REALLY accept the majority choice? Do you honestly believe that? What if 40% say no to give Eelam but 60% say yes and then Eelam is established? Do you still think the 40% would remain happy and content and accept majority choice as right? These are the questions that democracy Theorists are studying. and they don't have any solutions yet.

"What you forget is the voter more or less has accepted and have understood the rules BEFORE they vote".

Voters vote based on their interest. Not necessarily based on complete trust in the voting system.

"If most didn’t, no one will vote and the system will fall apart anyway".

Voting systems cannot take into consideration the floating vote. In most developed countries, the floating vote is high and so is the voter turnover. Less than 50% of the population may vote at an election. This is because many have lost faith in the system.

"Does this mean the 40% just cannot get on with their lives? A referendum is never about life/death choices".

What about a referendum on sharing power with LTTE? What would the sinhalese consider that to be? Doesn't this mean that through such a system we share power with an element which is threatening our lives and leaders through a referendum? Isn't this life and death?

"In any mature democracy, if opinions are evenly divided, the winner always addresses the major concerns of the other side for smooth functioning".

Does this happen the way it should happen in real life? What is a good model of a 'mature democracy'? To me these are all abstract concepts.

"Democracy itself never solves all problems. Some common sense is also required whatever system you run".
"Hang on a minute here. Did you say, “Construct a democracy”? But I thought you were arguing against democracy".

We need to custom-build a system of governance best suited to Sri Lanka within the broader democraic principles. democracy is an ideal. But for theoretical understanding, we call it Democracy. in actual fact, its a system of governance that has inclusive decision-making where people make decisions which get implemented by elites in ways beneficial to the citizens. This is the Theory of Democratic. But it has practical limitations and problems. For instance why do people engage in decision-making? Many democratic theorists argue that its' not always for the common good. It can be based on a person's individual interest. The other point that James Madison and even Socrates stated was the capacity of each citizen to make the best decision/choice. Another problem is in appointing representatives (Senators, MPs etc) to implemented the decisions arrived at. Some theorists question whether these representatives are only motivated by their own personal interest of gaining and manipulating power. They argue that such elites can manipulate opinion and use it for their own benefit (look at political game theories)

"Think of it this way; every individual unit of crown land, forest, marine and mineral resources are divided into 20 million shares matching the population of SL. Each citizen owns one share".

This is what the Communists did but they failed miserably. It was impracticable.

"Lets face it; even a dictatorship can work sometimes under a good leader".

In some countries, this can be the most cost-effective system of governance.

"What you are doing with a democracy is essentially spreading the risk among many leaders hoping a majority makes the correct decisions".

This is what is called Gambling for Resurrection (Figueiredo and Weingast). Its a dangerous phenomenon leading to political outbidding and outflanking by leaders to gain power. Very destructive outcome of the democratic model!

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