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Tiny nations with huge dreams

August 25, 2011

Wikileaks released some cables today on Sri-Lanka, sent from Colombo.  I glanced at them quickly, in the middle of a bath/dinner/bedtime routine. IT was full of details of bureaucracy. Diplomats spoke of how, in the war years,  the LTTE in the north had established their own mini-state complete with a kind of VAT (2 % for most traders, 4% for gold merchants), civil service and border checks. I remember being struck myself, at how eager these fighters and revolutionaries were to set up a bureaucratic, paper-filled utopia. If you live in interesting times, mundane, rhythmic , predictable daily life is the stuff of dreams.

There was one other line that made my heart stop. Anton Balasingham, the LTTE’s respected, erudite, now dead spokesman said his organisation modelled itself on Eritrea, the small east African country that fought a bitter, vicious war of independence against Ethiopia after the Derg dictatorship collapsed. It won, and with the goodwill of the international community , it set forth with high aspirations to become Africa’s intellectual and economic powerhouse. But years of living near a larger, bellicose, hostile Ethiopia, which has itself persuaded the international community that it is a stable, almost-liberal benign state,has made Eritrea fearful, insular, authoritarian and closed. Did Anton Balasingham fully know what following the Eritrean model would involve?

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