Why Kalignar Karunanidhi proposed the Czechoslovakian model for ending Sri Lankan crisis and some Indian print media criticised him for this.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Kalignar Dr. Muthuvel Karunanidhi has recently cited the Czechoslovakian model to end the ethnic strife in his neighbouring Sri Lanka. “The world hates bloodshed these days, and Czechoslovakia separated without bloodshed”, he said at a public meeting held in Madras on June 4th, to celebrate his 77th birthday. “If a peaceful settlement is not found, the Czechoslovakian model is the only way out for a bloodless resolution to the Sri Lankan crisis”, the Chief Minister added. Soon after the Chief Minister made this suggestion, some of the Indian print media that usually get agitated when someone talks in favour of a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka commented critically on his suggestion.

If one goes through the history and the political changes that took place in the former federal state of Czechoslovakia, that resulted in the two independent Czech and Slovak Republics, and compare this with the history and the political crisis the Republic of Sri Lanka is facing now, then he or she will appreciate the political wisdom of the Chief Minister and the ignorance of these print media personnel.

Early History
Traces of human settlement in the territories of Czechoslovakia date back to 4000 years BC.

Sri Lanka: There are extensive traces of Stone Age settlements dating from 10,000 BC throughout Sri Lanka.

Czechoslovakia: The Slav ancestors of the Czechs and Slovaks arrived between the 5th and 7th centuries AD.

Sri Lanka: A complex, irrigation-based civilisation flourished on the island from the 1st century BC to the 13th century AD. The island has long been peopled by two cultural groups: the Hindu Tamils of the North and East and the Buddhist Singhalese of the south. The 6th century Singhalese chronicle, the Mahavamsa, traces the origin of the Singhalese to the migration of a north Indian prince, Vijaya, to the island in about 500 BC. But it is more likely that the two communities evolved gradually in response to diverse cultural influences from the mainland.

Czechoslovakia: Slovakia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary at the end of the 9th century and this condition lasted until 1918. A cohesive Czech state emerged in Bohemia and Moravia between the 10th and 12th centuries. The Austrian Catholic Habsburg dynasty acceded to the throne of the Czech lands (present Czech Republic) and Hungary (which included present Slovak Republic) in 1526.

Sri Lanka: According to Mahavamsa Prince Vijaja took control of the whole island. In 1017 AD, the entire island of Sri Lanka (then called either Lanka or Ilankai) came under the Indian Chola rule. By 1070 the Singhala King Vijaya Bahu regained power in South Lanka and established the Singhala Kingdom in Pllonaruwa. In 1200 Prince Singai Aryan arrived in Jaffna (provincial capital of the north) and founded the Arya Chakravarthi dynasty, which lasted for 403 years. By 1400, Jaffna Kingdom was well established with Nallur as its capital and it included north, east and the west down to Puttalam. Except for a brief period of 15 years (1450-1467), during which time the Jaffna Kingdom came under the Singhala king Parakrama Bahu IV, the Jaffna Kingdom existed as an independent Kingdom alongside two other independent Singhala Kingdoms namely Kandy and Kotte. Portuguese army with the help of 2000 Singhala mercenaries took over the Jaffna Kingdom and ruled it from 1619-1658. Dutch captured Colombo (Kotte), Trincomalee and Jaffna but ruled Jaffna as a separate entity between 1658-1796. British completed capturing the whole island by capturing the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 and amalgamated the three Kingdoms (states) for the first time into a single administrative unit in 1831.

Recent History
With the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918, an independent Czechoslovak Republic (CR) was founded with Thomas Masaryk as the first President. Coalition governments comprising most or all of the main Czech and Slovak parties ruled the First Republic. The First Republic guaranteed equal rights to all its nationalities, though many Slovaks and the German minority resented what they saw as Czech domination. The depression after 1929 affected the German areas (the Sudetenland) especially hard and fomented extreme nationalist and separatist sentiments, encouraged by the Nazis. To appease the Nazis, Czechoslovakia was forced (with the acquiescence of Britain and France under the Munich agreement of 29 Sept. 1938) to cede the Sudetenland to Germany. An independent Slovak state was declared on 14 Mar. 1939 under an extreme right wing and pro-German regime. On 15 Mar. Germany occupied the Czech lands, which were turned into the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia. Mr. Edward Benes who was the President of the CR at the time of German invasion headed a London-based Czechoslovak National Committee during World War II, which was officially recognised as the country's government by the allies in 1941. Resistance to the Germans in the Protectorate began and the Protector was assassinated in 1942. Slovaks began a national uprising at the end of 1944 against the German occupiers. In 1945 Mr. Benes visited Moscow and reached an agreement with the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) on forming a National Front Government with all parties participating in the government. The announced program of this government included nationalisation of key industries and finance, equality of Czechs and Slovaks and the expulsion of the German and Hungarian minorities (only the Germans were expelled later). After the Prague City having been effectively liberated from Nazi control by an uprising, which lasted only 5 days, this government arrived in Prague in the same year. After the general elections in 1946 the communists emerged as the strongest political grouping within the National Front and the leader of the CPCz, Mr. Gottwald became the Prime Minister under the Presidency of Mr. Benes. In 1948 when the non-socialist ministers in the National Front government resigned, a communist dominated government took over power. A new constitution, modelled on that of the Soviet Union, was introduced in 1960. This changed the state's title to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSR). There was growing pressure for reforms in 1960s. In 1968 there was an eight-month period of radical reform (the “Prague Spring”) and democratisation that included guarantees of basic freedom and autonomy for Slovakia. This process provoked concern among the leaders of Czechoslovakia's communist allies, and in the same year troops of the Soviet Union and 4 other Warsaw Pact countries invaded. The only significant reform that survived was the introduction in 1969 of a Federal system of government with autonomous Czech and Slovak governments. Under this system existed a 300 seats bicameral parliament at the centre elected by the two autonomous regions and two separate legislatures for the country's two constituent republics. The gradual decay of the Communist regime and the Soviet empire, and the mass protests and demonstrations of the Czechoslovak people culminated in the overthrow of the Communist regime in Nov. 1989. In Dec. 1990 the country's leading dissident, playwright and the enormously popular leader of the bloodless “Velvet Revolution”, Mr. Vaclav Havel was elected the new president of the CSR.

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka's (called Ceylon then) constitutional development took place with very little conflict. The Ceylon National Congress was formed in 1919 and the Tamil Congress was formed in 1921 but they remained moderate, elite organisations. The first election to a Legislative Council was held, on a restricted franchise, in 1924. The colonial office introduced universal suffrage into the political system in the Donoughmore constitution of 1931. In 1947 Britain introduced a new constitution in anticipation of independence and the ensuing elections were won by the Singhalese dominated United National Party (UNP) of D.S. Senanayake, an offshoot of the Ceylon National Congress. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) became an independent state on 4 Feb. 1948.

Czechoslovakia: The return of democracy also renewed separatist sentiments among Slovak nationalists, who have agitated for a referendum on the issue. In 1991 Pres. Havel, commenting on the violence that was sweeping Yugoslavia at that time, said Czechs would not hinder Slovaks if they wanted to secede. But he said he believed Slovaks would opt to remain in the federation if a referendum were held. Still, the Slovaks persisted with their demand to secede. On January 1, 1993, the CSR was peacefully divided into two independent Czech and Slovak Republics by simply taking a vote in the bicameral parliament.

Sri Lanka: In the first year of the independent Sri Lanka, the Singhala majority parliament legislated to disenfranchise Tamils of recent Indian origin, and began colonisation of Tamil's homeland with singhala settlers. Tamil resistance to Singhala rule began in 1957 with a peaceful protest in Colombo that was broken up by organised thugs with the connivance of the Prime Minister Bandaranayake. Several pacts were made between the Federal Party of the Tamils and the Singhala governments to bring about a peaceful settlement, but were abrogated by the respective governments. In 1976 all the Tamil parties united under the leadership of S J V Chelvanayakam QC, to form the Tamil United Federation (TUF). This TUF declared in its first National Convention: “ The convention resolves that the restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist state of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self-determination inherent to every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation in this country”. The resolution also called up on “The Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully in the sacred fight for freedom and flinch not till the goal of a sovereign socialist state of Tamil Eelam is reached”. In 1977 the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) went to polls asking for Tamil people's mandate, to become the members of the National State Assembly of Tamil Eelam (a separate state for Tamils) which will draft a constitution for the state of Tamil Eelam and establish the independence of Tamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle. Tamil people gave that mandate to TULF by overwhelmingly voting in its candidates to the parliament. These parliamentarians were barred from participating in parliamentary sessions for the reason that they espoused separatism. In 1983 a large scale, organised anti-Tamil pogrom was carried out by Singhalese gangs in which 1000s of innocent Tamils were murdered in cold blood, some were even burnt alive with their vehicles in which they were travelling. This led to the war for independence by the Tamils under the leadership of Mr. Velupillai Pirabakaran of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In 1987 an Indian PeaceKeeping Force (IPKF) was sent to the island to bring about a settlement, but they were sent back in 1990 before they achieved anything. The blood shed continues.

An Analysis
By looking at the above comparison, it is clear that Tamils and Singhalese of Sri Lanka, like the Czechs and Slovaks, have distinct origin and culture, have a long history and had their separate kingdoms before the outsiders invaded their respective lands. Austrians and Hungarians first and Germans and Soviets much later invaded Czechoslovakia while Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and English invaded Sri Lanka. These invasions have contributed, to varying extents, to the destiny of the people in these two countries. Because of the landlocked nature of Czechoslovakia, and the presence of Germans and Hungarians within the country, Germany and Hungary have meddled in the affairs of Czechoslovakia in the recent past. Although there are Indian Tamils living in the island of Sri Lanka, India has not used that to interfere to the same extent as Germany and Hungary did in Czechoslovakia, in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka until 1987. The invasions by Germany, Hungary and USSR have helped the Slovak minority from getting affected by the dominance of the majority Czechs. But in Sri Lanka, in the absence of such checks, the Singhalese majority was able to further weaken the Tamil minority by their discriminatory policies. Still, Slovaks felt the dominance of Czechs and demanded separation. Therefore there is nothing wrong in Tamils demanding to secede from Sri Lanka. Czechoslovakia had a statesman in Pres. Havel, who had seen Yugoslavia and USSR disintegrating into several nations, not to use force to quell the demand of the Slovak nation to secede. Bandaranayakes, Senanayakas and Jeyawardana have failed to rise to the level of Pres. Havel in statesmanship, either to understand beforehand the consequences of quelling the demand of a nation to secede or to let the Tamil people go in their own way. If these Sri Lankan leaders have listened to the Tamil Gandhi, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam's prophetic prescriptions to the Tamil problem, Sri Lanka could have stayed like the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic with both the nations (Singhalese & Tamil) living together under a federal arrangement with full autonomy. Situation in Sri Lanka has reached a stage now that it is very difficult to prevent what has happened in 1993 in Czechoslovakia to happen in Sri Lanka sooner or later.

If I could think and understand all this, when Kalignar Karunanidhi who has been watching the events in Sri Lanka for at least 25 years more than I have and with his experience in politics said that, “the Czechoslovakian model is the only way out ….”, he meant what he said. But the irony is that, the Indian journalists who in the last few months have been busy preaching the Indian government and the people what should and should not be done in Sri Lanka, seems either not to have understood all this or pretending to be unaware of.


Dr. Victor Rajakulendran