A recent article by Tisaranee Gunasekara published posted online by in the Asian Tribune, entitled ‘The Oxford fiasco and beyond’, brings to light how the recent efforts of the Rajapaksa regime to win -over the interstate community western powers have failed miserably, with the Oxford Union speech being the most recent event. Citing the Indian International Film Awards (IIFA) episode earlier this year in Sri Lanka and the flopped reception held by Sri Lanka in New York at the time of UN General Assembly in September as other snubs, the article is encouraging in that it highlights that Western powers, along with India are still wary of their democratic norms being questioned by close association with the Rajapaksas whilst generally seeming to be acting with implied acquiescence to the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.

However, the sad fact is that their subtle diplomatic tactics in the form of snubs have not yet succeeded in changing the tactics or the behaviour of this increasingly dictatorial regime. On the one hand, the Rajapaksa regime seems incapable of understanding the abhorrence with which it is widely viewed; in this respect, the Asian Tribune article does an excellent job in showing the culture of deceit and self-deception that characterizes the thinking and conduct of President Rajapaksa and his wide circle of advisors who cannot see clearly enough to act appropriately in the world. On the other hand, the unwillingness of key countries (whether various states in the West, India, Japan, Brazil, South Africa or other powers) to engage in public diplomacy that corresponds to these occasional snubs has its own form of legitimating effect on the Rajapaksa regime – making it possible for the regime to pretend that it is accepted in good standing in the international community. The rest of the world must start combining principled positions with taking a public stand based on those positions.

Given below are some extracts from the Gunasekera article, which was posted on 5th December 2010 by Tisaranee Gunasekara. The full article can be accessed at http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/12/05/oxford-fiasco-and-beyond

“Call it a result of hubris, blinding, stupefying hubris. The Oxford fiasco need not have happened, if President Rajapaksa did not have an insatiable appetite for such inane encomiums as ‘The Leader who Conquered the World’; or if his ministers, officials and other hangers-on were a little less inclined to lie, cheat and exaggerate in order to please their Lord and Master. Unfortunately the President needs regular ego-boosters and to fulfill this need, his acolytes are willing to go to any lengths (including into the realm of pure fantasy): The Oxford/British rebuff was the outcome.

President Rajapaksa and his administration are not popular outside of Beijing, Islamabad and Male. Several recent incidents point to this less than palatable truth. For instance, when President Rajapaksa held a lavish reception at the Waldorf Astoria this September for world leaders attending the UN General Assembly, the hall was filled with members of his jumbo delegation, Sri Lankan-Americans and only a handful of foreign dignitaries.

It was a massive and spontaneous snub, from which the correct conclusion should have been drawn. Either make yourself more acceptable to that part of the international community interested in Sri Lanka; or stop trying to play a role on the world or even the regional stage (and be content with shuttling among China, Iran, Pakistan and the Maldives, with occasional visits to India, to relieve the tedium).
One cannot scream invectives at the West, literally from rooftops, organise unruly demonstration outside Western embassies and act like a tin-pot dictator in a fit of temper or sulks and still expect to be treated as a welcome visitor in Washington, London, Paris or Berlin.

…….The Sinhala South may be willing to suspend basic commonsense and accept an obvious lie – that the Eelam War was won in a ‘humanitarian operation’ which caused ‘zero-civilian casualties’; or that our soldiers went to war with a gun in one hand and the UN Charter on Human Rights in the other, as the President once claimed.
But the rest of the world will not believe, and cannot be expected to believe, such obvious and inane untruths. Such tall tales cannot be rendered credible by even the best of propagandists – or by one of the most expensive lobbying firms in the world!
The other extravagant claims that the President insists on making about Sri Lanka, his administration and himself are equally unconvincing. The President’s personal style does not help either, such as his propensity for self-aggrandisement, his lust for praise and his ostentatious mode of living and travelling.

………The Oxford debacle was avoidable, and could have been avoided, if the Rajapaksa administration learnt from the IIFA debacle. The Indian International Film Awards was held in Sri Lanka with the intention of attracting the crème de la crème of the Indian film industry.

…..Due to pressure from Tamil Nadu in general and its powerful film industry in particular, most of the Bollywood stars (including the actor-organisers of the show) decided to stay away. Even the actors who did turn up avoided the official function organised by the President, on the flimsiest of excuses. The entire effort backfired, because the regime underestimated the cultural influence of the Tamil Nadu film industry.

…..Last month Sri Lanka was snubbed by Nepal when Kathmandu denied Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris’ boast in Parliament about Nepali leaders requesting President Rajapaksa to help them sort out their political problems. A few days later, American media exposed the claim made by a Lankan Consul about meeting and briefing President Obama to be a lie. If this is the way we interact with the world, ere long, we will become a global laughing stock.

……The only way the Rajapaksas can win-over the West and silence the Diaspora is by making a serious effort to improve the human rights climate in Sri Lanka and to find a political solution to the ethnic problem. And as the Oxford fiasco demonstrated, the President, for all his angry rhetoric, wants to be accepted by the West, to visit Western capitals, to hobnob with Western leaders and other public notables.

…..The Ruling Coalition engineered a huge reception for President Rajapaksa at the Katunayake Air Port as a salve for his bruised ego. In the meantime, the regime has accused Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene of being involved in the anti-Rajapaksa protests (despite his denials Dr. Jayawardene was manhandled in Parliament by several ministers, eager to show their fealty to the President) and wants to expel him from parliament for violating the 6th Amendment.

If this proposal is implemented, it will set a deadly precedent. That way the regime will have one more powerful weapon to be used to silence and incapacitate the opposition whenever it shows any sign of life.”