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Days I Spent at the RFK Centre, With Those who Desired Personal Liberty and Freedom
The Cost of Freedom
by NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA

Change cannot be achieved by forcing others to accept the world that you have conceptualized as per your will, desire and imagination, but it happens through the attitudes that you improved throughout the work which you engaged in and created a space where others can observe your work without hesitation or burden.  The legacy of the late Robert F. Kennedy is before us to understand the shift of paradigm of personal liberty and anxiety of society where violence is playing a major role in decision making.  His logic on freedom is inspiring not only in the United States but throughout the world. His understanding of the reality of human being is informative and prophetically enthusiastic.

I felt like screaming when I was returning to the place where I was staying, after spending hours watching a documentary on homophobia in Uganda. Uganda is one of the countries in the world, which continuously contributes to nightmares of human in the pages of world’s history. The movie was screened by the Robert F. Kennedy, Centre for Justice and Human Rights, Europe, (RFK Centre) based in Florence. My aim in this article is not to talk about the homophobia in Uganda or reviewing the documentary but to try to understand the common realities that most violence based societies are facing Idi Amin Dada had to run away after he cleaved the human flesh by his tiger teeth; Joshep Koni , the man who destroyed thousands of children’s future has gone hiding somewhere in the hideout in a neighboring  country after contributing the worst of bloody sins to history. Do these make real change? No.

Decrease in the number of killings doesn’t make any difference if the society has to sleep with the ghosts of the old devil. It is an illusion if someone thinks that society will be changed when the enemy has lost his ground. The devil is non-other than the production of the slippery slope which has taken by the current-generation. It is a smokescreen if someone believes that they can make change without identifying root causes which influence social disorder. Like in many countries from Latin America to Asia, Africa and Central Europe, Idi Amin as well as Koni were products of the system.

It was last weekend that media reported that former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla died in prison. Videla was the man responsible for 30,000 killings in the country after he grabbed power in a military coup in which he overthrew Isabel Martinez De Peron.  Over five years of his rule, his ambition was none other than an elimination of the authentic political critiques and those who opposed the dictatorship.  What we are seeing today is how the same scenarios are repeating albeit in different forms.

Blood has flown on and on and on, respect and loyalty of humanity has constantly gone down; personal liberty has been on decline. Killing of an enemy has become common habit of man. Difference between Animal and Human is vanishing. The social disorder which cost us our loved ones lives while gifting us trauma has not changed and perhaps political egoism has risen over everything.

What we can see in most of societies is the gravity of suffering, tears of sorrow, nightmares of hopelessness. When man lost touch with his humanity, he had no reason to walk along the higher path. Thus he turns into the status of loopy in the middle and looks around to see where his fellow citizens are. When man lost his meaning of life he can do nothing but scream till his last breath. Victor Frank’s Man Search for Meaning was addressed as follows.  “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible,” Frankl noted.

What we are seeing in many countries categorized as “developing nations”, is the common reality of suffering! Institutional collapse! Loss of hope of life while accepting that “social change” is impossible. This is the most common tragedy that we can observer in our motherlands. In our society, desire to fight against absolute power has been opposed by the culture of silence.

In the few hours before I departed the RFK centre I had quick but rational discussions with my colleagues from Zimbabwe, Burma (Myanmar) and our trainer who from Iran, who lives in Germany. For security reasons I doubt that I can disclose their identities but their thoughts and ground experiences gave me a clearer picture about those countries.  “Problem is not only the regime or the particular party that rules the country, but also the fake dissents who are always sitting in front of the computer and distorting public will, and creating false assumptions of the crisis,” said one participant. “During the referendum in Zimbabwe, there was a man who was an appointed journalist by the BBC. He wanted to tell the world that there is election violence going on; what he did was, to take a few posters from oppositions and burnt them, and filmed it. So couple of minutes later he reported that there is election violence going on in the particular area”, went on to add.  We see similar pattern with   most of the non-governmental organizations.

It is very sad to say, “most of the NGOs, are neither based on freedom nor justice, but contributing to the mafia,” one of my friends from Cuba who is currently based in Serbia said.  We must understand that we need proper discussion on the present trends of NGOs; therefore it’s time to change bad reputation that they have earned in the last decades. It is pretty clear that the person who is engaged in NGO activities is an easy target in most developing countries. “No one called or enquire about me when the police arrested me and kept me in custody for many hours. But if the police arrested top level NGO person it will become a lead story in the country. I do not expect anything but at least there must be a common understanding and respect between those who are engaging in grass root activities”, a colleague from Zimbabwe said.

Enemies within enemies, crisis within crisis, chaos within chaos has been emerging in many countries. We are trying to understand strength of personalities, strength of adversaries and our allies among communities while caged in our own world. Do we really desire to solve the problem? I doubt. It seems that most “activists” want to keep these chaotic problems alive, therefore they fear that they will lose something if the problems were solved.  It is very hard to think about future unless we engage in clinical exercises and deep discussions in the field and its future.

In my interview with Martini Gabriele, a courageous journalist who works for the Lastampa, one of bestselling national dailies in Florence, I touched briefly, about social disorder in Sri Lanka. It was late 80s when the Government of Sri Lanka brutally eliminated the Sinhalese youth rebellion (also known as the JVP second uprising) in which more than 30,000 people disappeared.  It was my childhood experience to see half burnt dead bodies lying down on the roadside while scattering the bad smell of carrions into the air. Later, during the conflict between the State and the Tamil Tigers surfaced the same bitterness of inhuman – uncivilized habits of mankind. Neither the government nor the Tigers can justify their violence through the cause of restoring the country’s peace or achieving dream of homeland  respectively.

On May 19 the Rajapaksa government celebrated the fourth year anniversary of the victory against the Tamil Tigers. During the last four years nothing we earned but few roads and wetland parks from China, and at the same time the president has managed to destroy sovereignty of all the institutions of the state while dragging all forms of power into the folds of his family. Putting in jail former Army general, just because of he was contesting the election from the opposition party, and sacking a first lady Chief Justice from her office just because the lady exercised her judicial powers against injustice are prime examples of that  looter’s desire for power.

When the worm has mud of slum to crawl and hide from enemies, it will be safe as long as it lives. But at certain time hungry kingfisher will understand where worm is. The hungry worm can eat everything around it but will be trapped when the kingfisher sees it. In a same way, the tyrant has power to play as long as he is the master in his surroundings. He will be the tyrant as long as people around him are blindfolded.  As they say in Chinese traditional wisdom, “the water can stabilize or destabilize the ship”.

The days I share with colleagues who honestly reveal themselves and their activities, allow me to think twice about the work that we are engaged in. The RFK centre, a newly born knowledge hub, makes it possible for us to think beyond the boundaries. It has given an opportunity to think, and expand our network globally. The RFK is well respected institution in the country, and it has powerful network to spread their vision globally.

I could do no better than quote serge words of Fredrick Douglas; “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” The RFK has fulfilled the dream of people who desire to earn knowledge. Those who have knowledge will strengthen the desire that community has for freedom. That is how personal liberty originates while giving red alarm to the “unjust” to find its way out.

Who are we? What are we up to?  As late Robert F. Kennady said:  “our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.”

Let us unite, as Gloria Reuben, a well-known Hollywood actress pointed out; to make the world for the people who have no space to raise their voice, whose rights have been buried in the slum of absolute power and injustice. Let us sing our song of rights among the communities where people can come up with fresh ideas to change the society currently controlled by the tyrant. It will wipe out our sorrows, and tears of sadness while generating a hope in hapless souls.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa is journalist and editor of the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily news paper based in Colombo Sri Lanka. He can be reached atilangamuwa@gmail.com or editor@srilankaguardian.org