That there is mass dissatisfaction and frustration about the way the country has been ruled is today a commonly accepted proposition. However, this mass dissatisfaction has not given rise to more articulate expression within the country, is also an obvious truth. The result is that there is no general enthusiasm for seeking change. As is known, the large number of Jews who were brought and imprisoned in various camps during Hitler’s time, knew that they were merely awaiting their death. They did not accept, on a few rare occasions, the kind of thought and action which would have been natural to manifest itself when human beings are placed under such circumstances. In The Gulag Archipelago, written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he speaks of similar experiences under the Stalinist Regime. When someone came to arrest a person, the person knows that he will either be taken to prison from which he is most likely never to return, or he will be killed directly. Yet, people obeyed such officials. Solzhenitsyn argued that the person who tried to escape had at least a 50% chance of success but if you obeyed, as they did, there was NO chance of regaining their freedom.
The situation now in Sri Lanka is of a similar sort, despite the fact that the circumstances which have produced it are quite different. It is worth asking WHY is there this situation?
There are many who will answer that it is due to a slave mentality that prevailed among the general population, particularly those who lived in areas more remote from Colombo. And that this irrational mentality, which was reasoned out of a slave-like mental framework, remains today a major abstract impeding change.
While this cannot be denied completely, there are reasons to doubt this situation purely on the basis of mass movements, which arose in Sri Lanka in the latter part of the 19th century and the better part of the 20th century. Defeats suffered by people in these struggles, especially those after the 1971 JVP insurrection and the insurrections of the LTTE, together with other groups in the North and East, were both crushed in a most cruel manner. There has developed a mental conditioning which doubts the possibility of successful outcomes from similar types of protests. Lacking a sense of hope of successful mass movements, which may bring about certain alleviations of the harsh conditions under which they live, people rather lack motivation to believe or to pursue possible changes in their conditions. The same can be said about mass enthusiasm. There has been in the past, for example, the elections in 1956 where the rural masses believed that there would be significant changes in their situations, previously neglected over a long period of time. Instead, what resulted was a chaotic situation. It intensified racial conflicts, brought no solutions to problems such as unemployment, sub-standard education, poor health facilities et al.
Mass dissatisfaction today is directed towards leading politicians themselves and their parties. All parties have used betrayal as a tool. The common sentiment in the country, expressed by citizens in all quarters, is that there is NOTHING to be enthusiastic about…. People do not see any ray of hope from any one person in the existing political leadership.
On the other hand, it is obvious that very little has been done, even by intellectuals, in an attempt to educate the masses on matters such as democracy, Rule of Law, justice, and similar matters. As in the past, discussion takes place mostly in urban areas, talking to the mostly converted. And the idea that the people themselves need education on these matters has been ignored by the majority. Even in the literature, freely available translations of great writings are not available for the general public. However, there are valuable translations of some works, which are available only in a few large bookshops in Colombo. This issue has been noted in valuable articles written by Victor Ivan in recent times.
Either due to reasons which are natural or a by-product of efforts by thinking individuals, the lack of education of the masses remains. It is one of the pre-conditions for generating non-fanatical, sober thinking among people. On their own they need to come up with thousands of suggestions as to how things could be changed for the better in the country. Thus, the absence of thoughtful education on matters of importance remains a major cause for demoralization and lack of enthusiasm for change and to work towards change from among the people.
This lack of enthusiasm is to the greatest advantage of fanatical political leaders who are eager to come to power mainly for self-enrichment. And this situation could also surface leaders who will use coercive methods in a ruthless manner on anyone who would work towards improvements of things in the country. This is an extreme situation. We are judging by the experiences of other countries such as Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and many military leaders throughout the world. This includes many Asian countries. It is not difficult to fathom the possibility that an extremely ruthless form of violence could develop through the initiative of some person who in the future may become a ruler in Sri Lanka. And the kinds of coercive methods, both in quality and quantity, may become far worse than what we have seen in the East, North and South from the 1970s up to 2019.
The problem lies not in a great belief that may arise from a mass movement but from the LACK of belief in a better future for themselves to come.
Dostoevsky’s writings, in the later part of the 19th century, predicted the emergence of a ruthless political leadership in Russia that had never been experienced before. This came about by adjudging both the mentalities of upper class people and those of the masses. Both, for different reasons, lacked any sort of views about an improved way of life for themselves. Just not in Sri Lanka, but similar situations have developed now in other places world-wise. One can see the possibility of the emergence of ruthless violence that may be exercised by rulers themselves who want to expunge the development of knowledge among their people.