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Thursday September 21st, 2023

Cardinal Goma, Upali thero and Sri Lanka’s fascist nationalism: Bellwether

ECONOMYNEXT – Ethno-religious fascist forces are again in the ascendancy in Sri Lanka helped by an economic downturn triggered by money printing, inflation and socialist policies like price controls, in the first two years of the current administration cemented by un-ending currency depreciation.

Though a recovery is under-way – as it usually happens after a credit bubble bursts – most of the damage has already been done.

The new finance team is fixing some of the problems, despite some obstruction by President Maithripala Sirisena.

In the North Vijayakala Maheswaran has said that rule by Tamil Tigers was preferable, after a little girl was brutally raped and murdered.

In the South, Venduruwe Upali Thero, a senior Buddhist monk, said there was a wish among the people for a military-religious dictatorship in the style of Hitler. He also cited a rise in crime.

"We want a leadership with Buddhism. A leadership linked with Buddhism and Sinhala is needed (Baudhakamath, Sinhalath ekka bandunu nayakathwayak).

He said Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has been called a Hitler. Even by becoming a Hitler or even through military rule, he wanted a strong Sinhalese -Buddhist rule.

It seems that there is little understanding about who Hitler is. Nobody who has gone through Sri Lanka’s education system has any clear idea what fascism is. Students hear about fascism only from their Marxist friends.

European Ideology

Post independence Sri Lanka is a European style nation-state with the same tools and the same ideologies that emerged in Europe. There is nothing particularly Sri Lankan about any of the warring philosophies, since the island was a monarchy until the Europeans came.

The same ideologies that emerged in Europe came to Sri Lanka during British rule and are still at play.

The overwhelming ideology in this country after independence had been nationalism with some socialism thrown in, after liberals set in motion universal franchise and ended slavery with no real domestic struggle.

In any country there are nationalists who value some glorious past based on some (usually imported) religion and a majority ethno-religious polity, while denigrating and dehumanizing others. The nationalists’ utopia does not correspond to the actual demographics of the country in the present, and may not have done in the past also.

As a result internal and external conflicts are the usual outcome.

Liberalism was based on ideas like individual freedom, rule of law over rule of man, free trade, giving equal status to women and ending slavery especially of black people with NGOs like the Abolition Society and Africa Society actively campaigning.

The latter two particularly infuriated nationalists (especially in Eastern Europe) who said that Western civilization was becoming ‘decadent’ as a consequence.

There are also socialists who do not care about religion or ethnicity but have impractical ideas about the economy and through their (often well-meaning) interventions like price controls and nationalization, drive a country to economic ruin.

When state interventions lead to economic collapses people will listen to the nationalists. It is happening in Europe now and it happened during the Great Depression when Hitler came to power after the hopeless mess of hyper inflating socialist Weimar Republic Germany.

Linguistic Nation States and Fascist-Nationalism

In Europe in the mid 19th century several linguistic nation-states were built out of mainly former city states, where ethno religious fascist nationalism took root. Prominent among these are Italy (Italian-Florentine), Germany (German-Prussian) and Spain (Spanish-Castillian), which later led to some of the most visible cases of fascist rule.

In other areas of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (Hungary and Romania in particular later sided with Hitler), anti-minority nationalist hate was strong and liberal philosophy lost out. The violence in Yugoslavia after communism broke down is a case in point.

Liberal philosophy is extremely fragile and can be easily outdone by unreason and religious bigotry and state intervention, leading to dehumanizing of all citizens in the end.

Fascism, like Marxism was imported to countries like Sri Lanka along with the popular vote and freedom of speech. Fascist-nationalism, which speaks to the tribalism of a majority, is the easiest path to power in a popular vote.

Backed by tribalism or religions, a leader courting nationalism can do no wrong in the eyes of the base. It can now be seen in the US how Donald Trump came to power. His base, fired by white nationalism and evangelists are prepared to support any action that undermines freedom and ignore corruption.

However a leader backed by liberals will not be able to keep their support when they engage in corruption or other arbitrary actions.

In Sri Lanka activists like Anagarika Dharmapala spread many nationalist ideas. Spreading nationalism against minorities is not the same as preaching Buddhism or bringing to the people who did not know about it before, the philosophy of the Buddha, and converting them.

Ethno-religious fascism which blossomed in Europe has always been associated with Christianity and Catholicism in particular.

Italy’s Mussolini was a Catholic.

"The Fascist State is not indifferent to religious phenomena in general nor does it maintain an attitude of indifference to Roman Catholicism, the special, positive religion of Italians," says Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism.

"The Fascist State sees in religion one of the deepest of spiritual manifestations and for this reason it not only respects religion but defends and protects it."

Anti-Semitism existed in Europe long before Hitler.

It is quite obvious that the ideas spread by political or religious activists and the clergy that leads to hate and dehumanization of minorities is incompatible with both Christianity and Buddhism.

As a result, some followers of the original philosophy disagreed. But in countries where nationalism triumphed over other ideas, they were either unsuccessful or there were not enough of them to speak out.

While Hitler was a Catholic, the Catholic Church in Germany was not supportive of him and later opposed his killings. But the Lutheran and some other protestant churches backed the Nazi party. In Germany, the Centre Party, which was aligned to the Catholic Church, was banned.

The Catholic Church and the Vatican authorities were later instrumental in building escape lines for the Jews. On the other hand some priests in Europe also built ratlines.

The so-called protestant Confession Churches in Germany were openly against Nazism. Eventually many priests especially in countries like Poland ended up in concentration camps, and were exterminated.

Obviously Nazism and fascism in general is against the teachings of Jesus, who was himself a Jew.

However these matters are apparently of little import to the nationalist.

The Nazis promoted a ‘positive Christianity’, which sought to say that that Jesus was not a Jew and was an Aryan.

"The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession," noted article 24 of the 1920 Nazi party platform.

Hitler did not come to power through a military take-over but through the vote which he then consolidated through force.

But one country where the Catholic Church openly supported a fascist military dictatorship was in Spain, where perhaps, more similarities can be drawn.

Cardinal Goma and Upali Thero

In Sri Lanka there has long been an idea that the island has been entrusted with safeguarding Buddhism and that it is under attack and in decline due to minorities and foreign action.

All over the world with the spread of science, there was a movement towards secularism, over the last century.

There were also attempts to reconcile religion with science, which also ended up re-inforcing nationalist hate.

It must be noted that nationalists widely twisted science with pseudo-science in various disciplines to scapegoat and target ‘foreigners’ and minorities. They also misrepresented history through nationalist revisionism.

Aryanism is one example. ‘Aryan’, an Eastern term which was used by linguists as a label to describe a language group, became a description for a supreme race.

The Secret Doctrine written by Helena Blavatsky of the Theophysical Society, is thought to have influenced (Ariosophy) the original ideologues who eventually gave rise to the National Socialist party according to some writers. The Thule Society was also another related occultist influence on Nazism and Aryanism.

In Spain due to the spread of secular ideas, the Church was feeling threatened. The Spanish Church felt that ‘Christendom’ was under threat and a new leadership was needed, just like Buddhist monks like Upali Thero are now saying that Buddhist value based leaders are needed.

A Republican (non-Monarchist) administration came to power in Spain the 1930s and a secular constitution was established. The administration was also backed by leftists, and there was land reform and other interventions. Unfortunately socialist experiments do not help get a country out of depression.

Eventually a military uprising was launched, backed by nationalists like the far right Falangists, against the Second Spanish Republic, which had the support of secular activists and also leftists.

Both Hitler and Mussolini backed the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. After the death of the original generals who launched the military uprising, Francisco Franco became dictator.

The leaders of the Spanish Church openly supported the military rebellion, and spoke out against the criticism by foreign Western media that war crimes were taking place.

The leftists or ‘Reds’, apparently backed by the Soviet Union, also attacked Churches, priests and nuns, as well as other civilians, in the mayhem of the civil war, making it difficult for Republicans to get wider support.

The Spanish Catholic Bishops released a formal letter (The Collective Letter of the Spanish Bishops, 1937), led by Bishop Isidro Goma y Tomas which is illuminating. Only a few Bishops refused to sign it.

Among ideas expressed by the clergy were: The natural organ of this spiritual interchange is formed by the Bishops, who were put by the Holy Ghost to rule over the Church of God.

Amongst the causes of this aberration are perhaps the anti-Christian spirit which has seen in the Spanish struggle a decisive struggle for or against the religion of Christ and Christian civilization; the opposing currents of political doctrines which aspire to supremacy in the world; the tendentious work of hidden international forces; the anti-patriotic force which has had recourse to misguided Spaniards who, shielding themselves behind the name of Catholics, have caused an enormous harm to the genuine Spain.

And what hurts us most is that an important part of the foreign Catholic Press should have contributed to this mental deviation, which might prove fatal to the most sacred interests which are being contested in our country.

…we affirm that the civic-military rising has taken a double grip on the depths of the popular conscience: that of the patriotic sense which has seen in it the only means of raising up Spain and of avoiding her definite ruin; and of the religious sense, which considered it as the force necessary to reduce to impotence the enemies of God, and as the warrant of continuity for her faith and the practice of her religion.

In the Second World War, Franco did not become part of Hitler’s Axis powers amid diplomatic moves by the West. As a result he was able to rule till 1975 while other fascist leaders ended up being prosecuted for War crimes.

Unlike the rest of Europe which was destroyed, Spain did not get Marshall Plan aid and followed self-sufficiency as nationalists usually do, leading to economic stagnation.

After World War II, West Germany promptly abandoned it’s Nazi-autarky (self-sufficiency) and strengthened the currency with the sound monetary policy during Bretton Woods, eliminating labour unrest, becoming an export powerhouse and engaged in free trade, and even paid reparations.

This was called the German Economic Miracle.

Later, helped by his opposition to communism, Franco was able to get US and IMF support. Franco also abandoned its autarky and re-opened the economy, initially in fits and starts. The country even earned the accolade the ‘Spanish Miracle’ for its boom in the 1960s, which ended with the break-up of the Bretton Woods in 1974.

Socialist-Statist Failures will lead to Hitler

It has been well-demonstrated that central banking and socialist economic interventions, which cause currency depreciation and economic problems will lead to calls for dictatorship. If economic conditions are bad enough, people will listen.

This was seen in Weimar Republic Germany and was well-documented by Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek, in his work, The Road to Serfdom.

The Road to Serfdom was graphically condensed into cartoon form in a magazine called ‘Look’.

The key takeaways are as follows:

In a post war era there is a fascination with planning and force. Many think that there is an ‘economic war’ that can be won by planning.


While a war of destruction can be won by planning and coercion, it is not possible to have economic prosperity without free exchange. That is why 5-year plans failed in both the USSR and India.

After the war in Sri Lanka, investments failed to come with expropriation and socialist measures putting investors off.

In the 2015 administration, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake also proposed several damaging state interventions, including retrospective taxes, expropriationary taxes, minimum wages and threats of further land reforms. Ironically these measures were against the past ideology of the United National Party and they undermined investor confidence.

There were sweeping price controls, licenses to even import cars.

There was a 100-day plan, which was largely financed by money printing. Money printing led to balance of payments pressure, which then led to credit controls on vehicles like three wheelers, and led to a general slowdown as the bubble ended.

Planners wanted people to work in factories and export hard goods, but many people wanted to work in services instead.

This is captured graphically in the Road to Serfdom in Cartoons.

President Maithripala Sirisena objected to some of the measures of the first two years. People inside Karunanayake’s own party could not agree to some others.

Now, President Maithripala Sirisena is objecting even when bad policies are being corrected, creating confusion.

There were many mis-steps. Taxes on beer are one example.

The glyphosate ban, the asbestos ban, the tea insect, the kerosene fiasco are all examples.

The ‘War on Sugar’ in a country with malnutrition is another.

There are more plans to impose carbon taxes, disrupt people’s lives and engage in social engineering.

A 35-year age limit proposed for three wheeler drivers is a sign of planning.

The failure to fix Sri Lanka’s soft-dollar peg, which has led to import controls is also a sign of planning.

These disruptions make people tired and force businesses to engage in firefighting.

"The more that planners improvise, the greater the disturbance to normal business," notes Road to Serfdom in Cartoons.

"People now feel rightly that ‘planners’ can’t get things done.

Then there are calls to a strong man.

The Strong Man

Upali Thero was not the first person to call for a Hitler.

After the disastrous socialist and self-sufficient experiment of the 1970s, JR Jayewardene also set up a constitution to get near dictatorial powers.

People welcomed the idea thinking that strong leadership was needed fix the economy.

Though some progress was achieved, and employment increased, the currency depreciation and high inflation of the 1980s undermined stability, and institutions of liberty were broken and rule of law deteriorated.

In Sri Lanka liberalism is derided and fascism is glorified by vocal urban intellectuals.

People may not know how to use freedom for their benefit. Urban intellectuals use this phenomenon to rob freedoms.

Hitler also recognized and played on this psychology.

"The psyche of the broad masses is accessible only to what is strong and uncompromising," he wrote.

"…the masses of the people prefer the ruler to the suppliant and are filled with a stronger sense of mental security by a teaching that brooks no rival than by a teaching which offers them a liberal choice.

"They have very little idea of how to make such a choice and thus they are prone to feel that they have been abandoned.

"They feel very little shame at being terrorized intellectually and they are scarcely conscious of the fact that their freedom as human beings is impudently abused; and thus they have not the slightest suspicion of the intrinsic fallacy of the whole doctrine.

"They see only the ruthless force and brutality of its determined utterances, to which they always submit."

This column is based on ‘The Price Signal by Bellwetherpublished in the August 2018 issue of the Echelon Magazine. To read Bellwether columns as soon as they are published, subscribe to Echelon Magazine at this link. The i-tunes app can be downloaded from here

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Sri Lanka’s 2022 EPF returns falls to lowest, single digit in near two decades – CB data

ECONOMYNEXT – The 2022 annual average return on Sri Lanka’s largest contributory pension scheme, the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), has fallen to its lowest in nearly two decades, Central Bank data showed.

The annual average return in the last year fell to 9.52 percent from the previous year’s 11.40 percent, a central bank response to a Right to Information (RTI) request showed.

Returns on EPF has raised concerns among contributors after the government decided to include EPF investments in the government treasury bonds under the domestic debt optimization (DDO) process.

Last year’s lower return has been recorded despite market interest rates being more than 30 percent towards the end of the year. In contrast, the fund has given a double digit return in 2020 when the market interest rates hovered in single digits.

Analysts have predicted the returns to be further low with the central bank opting for the government’s DDO option.

A central bank analysis on DDO showed the return on EPF could fall to as low as 6.79 percent if the DDO option was not chosen within the next 12 years as against 8.02 percent if opted for DDO.

Trade unions and some politically motivated fractions opposed the government move to include the EPF investments under the DDO. However, parliament approved the move early this month.

According to the data made available from 2005, the central bank, which is the custodian of the EPF, has given the highest return of 16.03 percent in 2009.

The island nation’s largest pension fund has almost 21-million member accounts including 18.3 million non-contributing accounts due to some members having multiple number of accounts.

The 3.38 trillion-rupee ($10.6 billion) worth fund as of end 2022 is managed by the central bank, including its investment decisions.

As of end 2022, the central bank has invested 3.23 trillion rupees or 95.7 percent of the total EPF in government securities, while 84.1 billion rupees has been invested in listed companies in the Colombo Stock Exchange, the central bank said quoting the EPF audited financial statement. (Colombo/September 21/2023)

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Malaysia to support Sri Lanka’s bid to join RCEP

ECONOMYNEXT – Malaysia has agreed to support Sri Lanka’s application to become a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a major regional trade agreement.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement among the Asia-Pacific nations of Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe met the Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim during bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday (20).

During the meeting, the Malaysian Prime Minister expressed a strong desire to bolster economic ties between the two nations, according to a president’s media division statement.

He emphasized Malaysia’s eagerness to facilitate increased investments from Malaysian companies in Sri Lanka.

Ibrahim also expressed positivity towards Sri Lanka’s request to commence negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries, which could potentially open up new avenues for trade and economic cooperation.

Wickremesinghe is in a drive to bolster international ties and integrate the country with the global economy.

So far this week he met with the leaders of Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, Iran, South Korea, as well as representatives from global bodies such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, USAID, Meta, the Commonwealth, and attended other forums.

Sri Lanka aims to expand its economic reach first within South Asia and then extend further.
Data shows that Sri Lanka has been able to boost exports with FTAs.

Over the past two decades Sri Lanka’s exports have not grown as much as competitors.

Economists involved in trade have pointed out that Sri Lanka should make joining the RCEP a priority instead of trying to negotiate multiple smaller deals for which it does not have the bandwidth in government, or the technical resources to do multiple trade agreements. (Colombo/Sep21/2023)

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Is Tibet Prepared for a Post-Dalai Lama Era?

ECONOMYNEXT – Tibetans have shaped and sustained their lives for more than 60 years under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader turned 88 in July, and as his longevity is discussed amongst his followers, there is also concern about Tibet’s future without his physical presence.

In 2011, the Dalai Lama divested himself of all political authority, yet, as the architect of democratic governance, he continues to remain a larger-than-life figure for Tibetans.

Along with that come other challenges; safeguarding the democratic system he initiated, engaging younger generations in the cause for Tibet’s freedom, protecting the country’s environment, the influence of external forces and the possible geopolitical fallout of India’s continued support of the Tibetan cause.
Ever since the Lhasa uprising of 1959, and the setting up of a government in exile in Dharamsala, India, the first Tibetan Constitution introduced by the Dalai Lama in 1963 has undergone many changes.

In 1991 the Supreme Justice Commission was added to the other two pillars of democracy, the Legislature and the Executive. Along with that, an Independent Audit Commission, an Independent Public Service Commission and an Independent Election Commission were set up, and women were assigned two seats in the Legislature. The current operational body of the Tibetan government in exile is known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

The debate on Tibet’s sovereignty, which fell under the control of the Chinese in 1951, is ongoing, with the Chinese government terming it the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ and the CTA and Tibetan diaspora referring to it as the “Chinese invasion of Tibet.”

Despite the reforms and the Dalai Lama divesting himself of all political power the spiritual leader exerts considerable influence and therefore there is still, a heavy dependence on him, notes MP Youdon Aukatsang. Speaking at a webinar titled “Tibetan Democracy in Exile’ organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, South Asia, on September 15, Ms Aukatsang pointed to a recent constitutional crisis which was finally resolved following the Dalai Lama’s intervention. “Tibetans must take full responsibility for political matters as envisaged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” she said.

There is also the challenge of dealing with the internal dissent amongst Tibetans, which she claimed is spearheaded by China.

The webinar moderated by Ms Tenzin Peldon, the Director and Editor-in-Chief of Voice of Tibet, included Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Director, Tibetan Library and Archives and honorary Professor, University of British Columbia, Gondo Dhondup, President of the Tibetan Youth Congress and Sujeet Kumar, an Indian parliamentarian and the Convenor of the All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet.

The current Sikyong, Tibet’s political leader Penpa Tsering and Dr Jurgen Murtens, a member of the German Bundestag also addressed the webinar.

The democratic model, Aukatsang states is successful, yet it is a work in progress. The current make up of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has 45 members representing the three provinces of U-Tsang, Do-med and Do-tod, the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the traditional Bon faith, Europe, North America and Australasia. It is headed by the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aukatsang would like to see a modification in the composition with more representation from the diaspora, and less from the provinces to better reflect the changing demography. She also proposes an increase in the number of members of the Standing Committee from 11 to 15 and calls for the establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism rather than the direct impeachment process, which is the current practice.

Though the 1991 reforms made way for women’s representation in the TPiE, (currently 10 ministers and the Deputy Speaker are women), Aukatsang is hopeful there would be “more meaningful engagement of women in leadership roles,” for, as she points out, they are the custodians of Tibetan culture and language. Women have also distinguished themselves as founders of several non-governmental organisations and in the field of education.

Her sentiments were reflected by the Sikyong, Penpa Tsering when he said that unless the administration is ready to adapt to demographic and social realities, its relevancy will be challenged.

When the Buddha was on his deathbed, and his followers were fearful of being on their own, the Buddha had advised that the focus should be on his teachings and not his physical presence. Likewise, says Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Tibetans must continue to abide by the teachings of the Dalai Lama, and not worry about his absence. When Tibetans were prohibited from displaying photos of the Dalai Lama, they hung up empty picture frames, he said, aware that the Dalai Lama remains within them.

Ven Geshe Lhakdor also advocates a separation of Church and State, pointing out that clergy must involve themselves in the spiritual upliftment of society, rather than in politics. The idea of the religious ruling a country is outdated, he points out, adding that once clergy get into a “political mindset” they are unable to send out good signals to the people. He adds that their responsibility is to safeguard culture and harmony and be role models.

The principles of democracy are a reflection of Buddhist teaching the Venerable noted, pointing out its time to extricate oneself from a tribal mentality. The focus must be on a long-term, robust vision, rather than quick fixes. He also believes that Tibetans must safeguard themselves from internal fragmentation, even more than external threats.

One unique feature of the administration is that it is free of corruption, the Venerable notes, despite being surrounded by corrupt systems.

Even though Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, sought and had the cooperation of all Chief Ministers to offer refuge to Tibetans in 1959, MP Sujeet Kumar is of the opinion that the current Indian Parliament is rather diffident in openly rooting for Tibet against China.

While acknowledging that Indian parliamentarians have huge constituencies and are busy, he is hopeful his colleagues would take more interest in Tibet and her issues.

Tibetans alone have the right to decide on the Dalai Lama’s successor, says Kumar, and India must back that. India should also rally the support of other nations to help Tibet charter her own course in a post-Dalai Lama scenario.

Kumar would like to see more Tibetan youth become part of India’s trillion-dollar digital industry.
He is concerned, however, at the lack of enthusiasm amongst the youth to use social media to fight disinformation being circulated about Tibet.

Acknowledging that youth could be more engaged in social media to fight disinformation, Gondo Dhondup says all Tibetans are “born to be activists” and to the cause, even though it is difficult to envisage a freedom movement without the Dalai Lama.

Youth are the agents of change, and Tibet’s future citizens, therefore they must stay informed. The TYC organises leadership training, and Tibetans, even those scattered around the globe must take advantage of the programmes, Dhondup says.

While calling on India to introduce a national policy on Tibet, Dhondup cautions that India’s waterways that originate in Tibet are under threat. The rivers are either “diverted or polluted” affecting downstream villagers, and India must ensure her water security, Dhondup explains.

The recently concluded G20 summit was themed “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, and that gives India an opportunity to be more vocal about the environment, he says.

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