Some years ago it was politically correct to start a presentation of the LTTE by characterising it as a “ruthless” organisation. Many intellectuals have fallen in line with this trend, including myself. It was a kind of entry ticket to sober academic and human rights’ circles. Today, under American influence, “ruthless” has been replaced by “terrorist”. There is of course money available for funding research on terrorism.
Especially European politicians and diplomats are focussed here. Some of them are co-responsible for having prepared the decision within the EU that travelling of the LTTE to Europe shall be restricted. Official visits to state organisations by the LTTE are suspended. They are also co-responsible for preparing a final decision to list the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in the near future. The few politicians and diplomats that have an independent mind have been overruled. I have met diplomats and politicians who are deeply embarrassed by this terrorist hysteria applied to the LTTE. They feel cornered by the present policy of the EU.
The views of leading EU politicians are in part a result of this preparatory work by administrative officials in the European Ministries of Foreign Affairs. The working situation of these administrators is not good. They have to go from one desk to another in their Ministries or they have to watch of the whole of Asia. They do not learn Tamil and/or Sinhala but are in part dependent of partisan Lankan propaganda in English. They believe also in EU “dynamics”. This is an anonymous and unidentifiable force that allegedly compels these politicians to vote for a proposal in the EU, even against their conviction. Based on this Lankan governmental image of the LTTE, the diplomats recommend their politicians, foremost their Ministers, to restrict travelling for the LTTE and to ban the LTTE from Europe. The consequences of these decisions are discussed elsewhere on this homepage.
I have had several opportunities to learn about these diplomats’ and politicians’ image about the LTTE. It says that the LTTE does not represent the Tamils, but is a separate terrorist organisation terrorising the Tamils also. Some diplomats are convinced that there is a legal definition of terrorism beyond politics, a “pure” definition that can be applied to the LTTE. I was baffled about such a naïveté, but I shall proceed to another statement that was repeated like a formula by some European diplomats and politicians. It states that the LTTE has never changed in the past and therefore it will never change in the future. It will continue with child recruiting, assassinations, terrorising the population under its control, violating cease fire agreements, etc. On criticism the LTTE answers allegedly only with stereotypes. A shocking critical remark by two diplomats was that the LTTE depicts the Tamils always as victims. This remark was shocking to me not only because I am convinced that the Tamils have been victims under state suppression, but because of the bereavement of their subjective feeling of being a victim. They are not even allowed to feel like victims. These diplomats not only pretend to be professional historians, but also diviners who can look in the future based on their evaluation of the past. They are determinists. Historical determinism legitimises their recommendations. In reality, they have a historical perspective of only some months or years and therefore no arguments for their determinism.
By applying a long historical perspective my ambition is to show that the LTTE has a leadership that is guided by pragmatic principles that have resulted in structural changes within the (LTTE) organisation. It is possible to talk to and with the LTTE leadership. Normally such a statement would be a truism, but in the present situation of terrorist hysteria it is not. There is in fact a non-acknowledged flexibility in the LTTE mindset that can be increased, if there is a gain for the LTTE. True, it is a conditioned flexibility. The LTTE is extremely goal and gain oriented.
Let us go back to the 1970s. Among the oldest written, preserved and published documents by the LTTE from 1978, we find a statement that only armed struggle leads to the establishment of Tamililam, and Tamililam, nothing less, is aspired. Tamililam stands for a separate state. In 1978, there was no flexibility at all regarding methods and ultimate political aim. The LTTE spoke then even of the “holy” aim, which is Tamililam.
Let us advance to 1987. It was the period of the Indian intervention. About the choice of methods and the ultimate aim, there is a famous saying by Veluppillai Pirapakaran, when he was confronted with the Indian military super power that urged him to surrender. He said (in Tamil), severely pushed by the IPKF and having surrendered, on 4 th August 1987 at Cutumalai Amman Kovil, Yalppanam (Jaffna): “The methods of war may change (but) the aim (of our war) cannot not change.”(My translation).
An official translation by the LTTE is: “The forms of struggle may change, but the objective or goal of our struggle is not going to change”. This is popularised to “Methods of War May Vary, the Aim not”. The use of violence may transform into negotiations, which in his situation lead to a tactical surrender that again transformed into fatal attacks on the IPKF. It had to leave the island in 1990.
This saying implies that politics is an extension of war. LTTE history like the modern history of the Lankan Government is an illustrative example of the sentence that politics is an extension of war. In a situation of cease fire, having experienced a bloody war, facing a new war, politics usually becomes an extension of war on all involved sides. There is no place for ethics, which is suspended and replaced on both sides by pragmatism. This is not counteracting peace; it is a unique chance for the EU to increase the flexibility of the LTTE. Both sides have learned that peace pays and are therefore prepared to make concessions.
Still to-day, many fighters in the LTTE know in Tamil by heart this famous quotation. The saying is even printed as a bon mot on a calendar. If anything can explain LTTE victories in the battlefield and in politics, it is this principle of assimilation of different methods of strategies at the right time and place. The LTTE could start negotiations with President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1990, and with the new Prime Minister (or President) after elections in August 1994, with Chandrika Kumaranatunga-Bandaranayaka. Negotiations may be more conducive than armed struggle for the realisation of the ultimate aim. One violent method used in armed struggle is martyrdom that is expected to bring the ultimate aim closer. In a LTTE text we read that “immeasurable martyrdom” will lead to the “aim”, which is the “liberation of the motherland”.
This flexible strategy, guided by pragmatic considerations, reveals something important about the LTTE, to focus the aim only and then chose methods, even peaceful ones, to reach this aim, but the LTTE is of course still very far from Gandhism. Some supporters of the LTTE want to see the LTTE as movement influenced by Gandhism. For Gandhi non-violence as method was not only a method; it was Truth itself, a holy principle that could not be replaced by violence. The practice of non-violence as method was at the same time a manifestation of the ultimate aim called Truth. Gandhi’s point was to let the method itself anticipate the ultimate aim. The method itself already expressed Truth and was at the same way on the way to Truth.
The LTTE is not selective and exclusive about methods. That is the point: it does not exclude armed struggle from the beginning like the Gandhians. Non-violence is not a holy principle, is not Truth itself as Gandhi would say, but a strategy in the politisation of the masses.
The Tamil United Liberation Front’s (TULF) manifesto from 1977 was also flexible in the choice of methods, exactly like the LTTE, by speaking for peaceful methods, agitation and struggle to reach Tamililam. This is the exact wording of the TULF manifesto originally written in English for which a majority of Tamils voted in general election making the TULF the second party in Parliament and leader of the opposition. They voted for Tamililam accepting different methods. A difference in relation to the LTTE is that the TULF only spoke for struggle, but “struggled” anonymously and secretly. Only the LTTE “struggled” openly. Then, from about 1979, the TULF also stopped talking about struggle and started talking against struggle, which created a dissent between the TULF and the LTTE.
The LTTE has in 1988 pledged to abide by the Geneva Conventions relating to armed conflict. We learn from a retrospective Press Release by the LTTE in 1992, using the technical language of Amnesty International, that
“in 1988, the LTTE pledged to abide by the Geneva Conventions relating to armed conflict, and its Additional protocols. The LTTE is mindful of its obligations relating to armed conflict which has won recognition in international law and the LTTE does recognise the importance of acting, at all times, in accordance with humanitarian law of armed conflict. It has taken care to instruct its cadres accordingly and breakes in this regard are inquired into and suitable punishment meted out.”
The LTTE has also practised non-violent methods, like in the case of the fighter Tilipan and the lady Pupati, called “mother”, who fasted to death in 1987 and 1988 respectively, opposing IPKF occupation. They are commemorated yearly on 26th September and 19th April respectively, on their death day.
The LTTE has also accepted negotiations with the IPKF in August 1987 (for a few days), with the Sri Lankan Government between 1989-1990, in 1994 from October onwards to April 19th 1995, and in 2001-2005.
The LTTE is flexible with regards to methods, but of course only conditionally within certain boundary conditions. The method must lead step by step to the ultimate aim, which is Tamililam. During the latest period of negotiations no such progress was achieved. Therefore the LTTE recommended the Tamils not to participate in the presidential elections in 2005. The LTTE had reached the point when it realised that no progress could be made with any party, may it be the SLFP or the UNP. The Government, represented by the presidential candidate, showed no interest at all and even fell back on section 2 of its Constitution from 1978: “Sri Lanka is a unitary state”. This brought the whole peace process back to 1978. We saw a regress of the peace process at the time of election of President Raksapakse. The UNP, the alleged supporter of LTTE aspirations, sabotaged the LTTE by trying to divide the LTTE with the help of a defector known as “Compassion” (Karuna). What else could the LTTE do than to boycott the elections? We have to add the experience of several decades of fruitless negotiations with shifting Governments that always have been caught by the lion’s tail. The present situation is not new.
During the latest period of negotiations, the LTTE even questioned two of its own holy cows. One was the self-image of the civil war as an ethnic war directed against the Tamils. Shortly after the tsunami, when the hope for creating a joint mechanism for sharing aid with the Lankan government was still living, a LTTE statement was issued that it was time to de-ethnisise the conflict. To facilitate co-operation, a de-ethnisation was needful. The idea came from the LTTE, but there was no indication that the Government was interested. As the joint mechanism was finally rejected by the government the situation went back to square one, to a re-ethnisation of the conflict.
The other holy cow of the LTTE is to make Tamililam, nothing less, a reality as soon as possible. During the latest period of negotiations, however, the LTTE launched in 2003 a document known as ISGA (Interim Self Governing Authority). In this document it interpolated an interim stage of autonomy for the Tamils. This was difficult to do for the LTTE internally, because more than 17000 fighters had died for independence, not for an unstable autonomy in the framework of a unitary state. These fighters’ sacrifice is made visible daily in 17 war cemeteries and are commemorated in annual rituals. There is also the exile Tamil community in which extremism is visible, but which is also balanced by moderates. This extremism strives for an immediate realisation of Tamililam through armed struggle as a separate state without compromise or interim stations. The exile Tamil community, that in part finances the LTTE, has expectations on the LTTE. Things became more difficult internally for the LTTE, when foreigners forgot about “interim” and started writing about the LTTE having allegedly abandoned its original ultimate aim. When additionally the Government did not respond to the compromise by the LTTE, I can imagine that the LTTE became bitter and regretted its evaluation of the Government as partner in negotiations. The LTTE had accepted a gradual time consuming process of passing through intermediate stages to the ultimate aim. It had risked its status within its own movement for the sake of peace, but was treated like an out-caste by the Government. It had shown a flexibility that was not rewarded, and still worse, it was not noticed, still less respected by uncritically educated European diplomats and politicians.
Some of the European diplomats transmit a Lankan image of the LTTE being an unchanging undemocratic movement. This is based on the statement by the LTTE that only the LTTE represents the Tamils. True, the LTTE is no democratic movement. It is an armed resistance movement in a situation of war. It hits right and left, wherever a threat appears, much like the French resistance during World war II. The internecine fights between groups within the French resistance cost many lives. There have been and still are many such resistance movements in the world and I have not a found a single one that is not involved in internecine conflict, including the friendly Zapatistas. A resistance movement in war cannot afford pluralism. Pluralism is historically a democratic achievement in a situation of peace.
The LTTE has nevertheless twice tried to involve itself in a party-pluralistic context. The first attempt was made in 1989 when the PLFT (People’s Front of Liberation Tigers) was founded as a political party of the LTTE that should establish connections with other parties and work within a Lankan party set up. One concern was to create a good relation to the Muslims. The attempt failed because the PLFT was completely undermined by the Indian intelligence with the aim to eliminate the leadership of the LTTE. The same is valid for TELO, EPRLF, PLOTE, EPDP and other Tamil “parties”. They were not only political parties but also paramilitary groups working in the interest of the Indian or Lankan Government. We cannot expect the LTTE to show tolerance for these “parties” that threaten the very existence of the LTTE. Moreover, the LTTE has a widened concept of combatant: it includes also politicians that incite the elimination of the LTTE.
The second attempt was made by the affiliation of the LTTE with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) issuing its manifesto in 2004. The four involved parties in the TNA are TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front), ACTC (All Ceylon Tamil Congress), a wing of the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front), and a wing of TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation). Old controversies with the LTTE were suspended, albeit for example the ACTC in its program still yearns for an integrated Sri Lanka. Furthermore, a joint statement was issued by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), Upcountry Peoples’ Front (UPF) and Western Province Peoples’ Front (WPPF). They staged in January 2006 a protest campaign within the Parliament: Sri Lanka continues to violate state obligations towards Tamils. These joint actions point at the creation of a Tamil united front, including the LTTE, against state suppression.
The TNA has a stand on the Muslim question developed in agreement with the LTTE. An acceptable solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka should necessarily ensure the distinct identity of the Muslim people, their security, the culture and their economy. The TNA has a vision of the future also. It is said to be in agreement with the LTTE. If the Sri Lankan state continues to reject the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people and continues to deny them an acceptable political solution; and if military occupation and state oppression continue instead, then establishing the sovereignty and independence of the Tamil nation on the basis of its right to self determination would become an inexorable reality, the manifesto of the TNA states.
Now let us look at the historical background for the LTTE to state that it is the only representative of the Tamils. The official formula launched by the LTTE is: “LTTE is the only sole and authentic representative of the Tamililam people” (my translation from Tamil). The combination of “only” and “sole” is only emphatic and indicates no semantic difference. “Authentic” can be explained by reference to the LTTE conviction that the LTTE is now the only movement that represents the will of the Tamil people from the 1977 election, when a majority of them elected the TULF. As mentioned above, it had on its programme the achievement of Tamililam by peaceful methods, agitation and struggle. The LTTE acted completely in accordance with the mandate that was given to the TULF, but which the TULF did not follow up. The LTTE chose agitation and struggle first, then a combination of peaceful means, agitation and struggle, and during the last five years it has given priority to agitations and peaceful means (negotiations). It is a historical fact that the LTTE today is the only representative of the mandate to achieve Tamililam given in 1977 by a majority of Tamil voters. Its shift from giving priority of armed struggle to priority of negotiations brings them in line with the mind set of many of moderate voters.
The LTTE has pushed to get the Government to accept a meeting for a renewal of the Cease Fire Agreement. Therefore it seems odd that the EU in January 2006 urges exclusively the LTTE to agree to meet representatives of the Government without delay to discuss the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement. It seems that the EU has fallen in line again with Lankan propaganda.
A demonised caricature of Veluppillai Pirapakaran is ever present in the image that these EU politicians and diplomats have of him. I do not know him personally, but I can see from his speeches that his alleged evilness is balanced by his pragmatism, which should be exploited, not neglected, by the EU. He has evaluated negotiations as viable alternatives to armed struggle. I highlight some passages of his speech at Great Heroes Day on 27th November 1996. He said that the LTTE is not opposed to peace, nor is it opposed to a resolution of the conflict by peaceful means. The peace talks should be held in a congenial environment free from the pressure of military aggression, he said. He mentioned that the LTTE in 1995 called for international mediation. The LTTE’s position is that political negotiations should be preceded by creating conditions for de-escalation, withdrawal of troops and normalcy, he added. If we look back from 2006, the LTTE has acted accordingly. In areas controlled by the LTTE like the Vanni, the armed forces of the LTTE are invisible and a civil society is coming forth. Law and order prevails. The surplus of production is redistributed among the poor. The international intervention has become true through the facilitation by Norway. The exile Tamil community offers its professional competence to develop the Vanni.
Let me end by referring to a vision by Veluppillai Pirapakaran verbalised on November 27th 1996 about a future Tamil homeland in peace. He said that he wants a condition in which the Tamil people can live with freedom and dignity in their own land and without external coercion determining their own political life. He is implicitly demanding the recognition of the right of self-determination of the Tamils, a recognition that certainly will open many doors to peace. My comment: I thought that the international community has understood the content of this vision and is backing it against extremist forces in the South. Now I see that the EU is backing a government that is in the hands of these forces (JVP, JHU, the Sinhalatva benches within the SLFP and UNP).
To sum up, the EU decision to restrict its contacts in Europe makes it impossible for the LTTE to select the method of official dialogue. The EU closed this door. The LTTE had intensive periods of dialogue in Europe, which gave impulses to strengthen the flexibility within the LTTE. If the LTTE is banned, the LTTE is confronted with a situation that leaves room for only one method, for armed struggle. The EU has a heavy burden of guilt by falling in line with American interests which are co-ordinated with the interests of the Lankan Government. Diplomats and politicians should inform themselves about the ground situation on both sides, study cross culturally, and apply a historical perspective of at least a century.
For more changes within the LTTE see:
Schalk, Peter. “War of Words – An Obstacle to Peace”. In: Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka. International Seminar 7-9 April 2006, Zurich, Switzerland. Zurich: Centre for Just Peace and Democracy, 2006. Pp. 163-170.
Stokke, Kristian. “State Formation and Political Change in LTTE-Controlled Areas in Sri Lanka”. In: Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka. International Seminar 7-9 April 2006, Zurich, Switzerland. Zurich: Centre for Just Peace and Democracy, 2006. Pp. 139-146.
Rudrakumaran, Viswanathan. “LTTE’s Flexilibility in the Current Peace Process”. In: Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka. International Seminar 7-9 April 2006, Zurich, Switzerland. Zurich: Centre for Just Peace and Democracy, 2006.