Sri Lanka’s rocky road to recovery – The Island –

Kalinga, Dilhani, Randi, and Puvitharan excel at Athletics Trials
Barcelona cruises past Elche as Lewandowski’s scoring spree continues
Cricket-nomics: Can sports support economic recovery in Sri Lanka?
Ashen, Rukshika’s new national singles champions
Ratnayake Central, Lyceum International crowned champions
USAID signs new five-year agreement with Sri Lanka
World Bank: Global rate hikes could trigger 2023 recession
Lanka Hospitals unveils all-new ‘Maapiya’ mother and baby care brand and service range
LOLC Divi Saviya reaches 100 days of humanitarian efforts
Sysco LABS completes Phase 5 of ‘Share a Meal, Share a Moment

Ever since his election through parliament on July 20, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s President, has been busy consolidating his power. Two days after his appointment, he directed the military to forcibly eject protesters occupying the Presidential Secretariat at Galle Face in Colombo, the site of anti-government demonstrations since April. Through various legal and political maneuvers, Wickremesinghe disbanded the crowds: by August 13, the protesters had voluntarily vacated from the protest zone. The road ahead will be tough. Sri Lanka’s challenges lie not just with its economy, but in its foreign relations as well. Largely because of the crisis, it has been forced to make choices, shift to different allies, and seek assistance from every other corner. With one country and institution after another declaring that they will assist only after negotiations with the IMF conclude successfully, the ball remains in the government’s court. So far, the biggest stumbling block in Sri Lanka’s negotiations with the IMF has been China’s reluctance to restructure its debts. As one of Sri Lanka’s largest creditors, Beijing stands to lose a lot in the process. Debt restructuring can, for instance, set off negotiations elsewhere in the region. If China offers relief to Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, both recipients of Chinese debt, might demand the same, resulting in a cascade that might not be in Beijing’s interests, particularly in light of growing tensions with Taiwan. This is not to say that there hasn’t been progressed. On September 1, the IMF announced that it had reached a staff-level agreement with the government, something that the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, had announced two weeks earlier. To be sure, the agreement, which includes an Extended Fund Facility disbursement of USD 2.9 billion, is subject to approval from the IMF Executive Board and depends on negotiations with creditors. Yet as Opposition MP Patali Champika Ranawaka pointed out on Twitter, it marks “the successful completion of the first concrete step in the process.”There are also signs that Beijing is wavering. On September 2, one day after the staff-level agreement was announced, the Chinese Embassy in Colombo reiterated its support for the island, declaring that Chinese financial institutions had “reached out to the Sri Lankan side” after the government announced its default in April. As one of its stakeholders, Beijing isn’t exactly cut off from the IMF. It is not a part of the Paris Club, but for that matter is India, which is presently playing prominent, if thankless, part in Sri Lanka’s recovery. And yet, with the unraveling of a number of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects across Africa and Asia, and the withdrawal of several member states from the 17+1 initiative in Europe, China is hardly in a mood for a total restructuring of Colombo’s debts. Maintaining political stability while overseeing IMF negotiations will be Sri Lanka’s biggest challenge. The country is still headed by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is associated with the Rajapaksas, the family dynasty that has been dominating politics here for 17 years. The SLPP is widely seen as corrupt, inefficient, and ineffective. It has not been able to appease protesters. To save face, it extended support for Ranil Wickremesinghe in his bid for the presidency. Owing to this, Wickremesinghe is seen as lacking a mandate. How he handles these dilemmas will be crucial to his very survival. The protests that erupted in March showed that Sri Lankans were capable of organizing a mass resistance movement. In response, the then government resorted to strategies like social media bans and curfews. Since assuming office, Wickremesinghe has shifted gears, addressing the country’s more acute problems, like fuel shortages. The Power and Energy Ministry, to give one example, has opted for a digital solution: a QR code-based Fuel Pass. The system has worked so far, cutting the island’s monthly fuel bill by half while reducing or eliminating the queues that had become a way of life at filling stations. Despite this, though, the government will find it difficult to implement IMF reforms. It has increased electricity tariffs by an average of 75%. More hikes could follow. State-owned enterprises will probably be restructured: the Energy Minister has admitted that the public sector is overstaffed, pointing to the need for a complete overhaul of the bureaucracy. This will in all probability lead to unemployment and mounting inflation.Welcomed by Colombo’s ubiquitous neoliberal free market circuits, such measures have been vehemently criticized by sections of the working class, peasantry, and even middle class. Middle-class opposition to neoliberal austerity is nothing new, but what is intriguing is that only a few months ago, many protesters from this milieu were taking the government to task for not engaging with the IMF. With the slow and painful hardships they have had to endure since the regime heeded their call, they have changed their tune. This has opened up opportunities for the New Left, led by the JVP and the FSP, to capitalize on their anger at austerity measures, even if such opposition is couched more in the rhetoric of resistance to political corruption, rather than to the IMF-imposed reforms themselves.The electricity tariff hikes have been bitterly opposed. Such measures have thrown up their own bundle of contradictions. The SLPP, and the Rajapaksas, have for long been identified with the Buddhist clergy. It was this clergy that helped prop up Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the 2019 elections. Yet with mounting inflation and public utility tariff revisions, even sections of this clergy have wavered in their support. The latest development in this regard has been a series of protests led by monks, against the 500-plus percent electricity rate hike imposed by the government. In response to the protests, the Energy Minister, Kanchana Wijesekera, has declared that Buddhist monks will not be given favorable treatment, implying that if temples do not pay on time, power will be disconnected. This marks a significant rupture with an institution widely seen as a pillar of support within the government.
The government’s strategy has been two-pronged. While ordering arrests of activists and protesters, it has also been co-opting sections of the Opposition, even those which refused to accept Ministries earlier. It has appointed critics of the regime as officials and heads of committees. Through such gestures, Wickremesinghe has both promoted the need for an all-party government and sleekly legitimized his presidency, an ambitious undertaking at a time when his much-reviled predecessor has returned to the country.
Whether these strategies will work in the long run remains to be seen. Seen as pragmatic by his supporters and authoritarian by his critics, Wickremesinghe has, thus far, avoided the fallout which befell the Rajapaksas. He depends for his survival on the support of the ruling party, the SLPP. The SLPP, conversely, depends for its survival on him. This is a marriage of convenience, and it has not deteriorated so far, even though a section of the SLPP distanced itself from the alliance early on and now sits in the Opposition. The consensus is that as long as this marriage lasts, the President can and will tighten his grip.
Undergirding these issues have been Sri Lanka’s complicated foreign relations. China has not only been ambivalent on IMF negotiations but has also authored statements targeting some of the key negotiating partners, including the US. A recent communique, written by Beijing’s Ambassador to Colombo and published in a leading newspaper, criticized India’s and the West’s attempts at “colonizing” Sri Lanka. In response, the Indian High Commission accused the Ambassador of violating diplomatic etiquette.
An array of domestic and external factors will thus complicate Sri Lanka’s negotiations with the IMF. The country cannot avoid the contestations which are sure to accompany these negotiations. This includes China’s ambivalence regarding debt restructuring. To be sure, the region’s dynamics have changed considerably from what they used to be. The crisis in Sri Lanka has contributed to these shifts. It will have to be mindful of such developments if it is to recover. For that, it will need the support of no less than the world. Uditha Devapriya is the Chief International Relations Analyst at Factum, an Asia-focused think tank on international relations, tech cooperation, and strategic communications that can be accessed at www.factum.lk. He can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.co

Are economic crimes none of their business?
Sri Lanka’s crisis and the dilemmas of a small states.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last week said in no uncertain terms that any reference to ‘economic crimes’ was beyond the Human Rights Council’s mandate:
“It is observed that the UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights has tabled a report on Sri Lanka that makes extensive reference to economic crimes. Apart from the ambiguity of the term, it is a matter of concern that such a reference exceeds the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).”
To be fair, it is probably the new Foreign Minister’s first time at the Council. The Council has thus far been primarily concerned with matters such as the conduct of the armed forces during the last stages of Sri Lanka’s war with the LTTE.
The term ‘Economic Crimes’ was included in relation to Sri Lanka at the Council for the first time, and introduced in the report of the High Commissioner on the Human Rights Situation in Sri Lanka on the first day of the ongoing sessions. It was an unfamiliar allegation, and rightly so, up until now.
Equal Rights
The UNHRC Mandate which was challenged by Foreign Minister Sabry was decided by the well-known United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/251. The Preamble of the Resolution recalls in addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other human rights instruments and reaffirms that all human rights are indivisible, interrelated, interdependent, and mutually reinforcing.” It also states that they should be treated in an “equal manner”, “on the same footing” and “with the same emphasis”.
In the Operative paragraphs, UN Resolution 60/251 emphasizes the point further by stating that the Council is responsible for all human rights “without distinction of any kind“.
It was clearly established at the very inception of the Council that Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were human rights and it had the responsibility to review any violations of those rights with equal concern as that of other human rights. Sri Lanka is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. The Covenant recognizes that:
“In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights…”
I’d say the UNHRC and the OHCHR added two and two together and came up with an accurate four, in deciding that economic rights are definitely within their purview and indeed that they were obliged to review any violations of the said rights.
If it looks like a crime…
But as a violation of that right occurred? The bulk of the Sri Lankan public would give a resounding, yes, never mind the technicalities. If things don’t improve, they are likely to do so louder and clearer in the form of an ‘Aragalaya’ before long. Regular repression and arrests of protesters have done little to discourage people who have seen their livelihoods disappear together with their rice and vegetables due to government policies. No legalistic quibble will prevent starving people from holding their leaders accountable for the polarization of the country (not to mention bankrupting its Central Bank) in the midst of regular warnings by economic experts.
The Sri Lankan state knew of its commitment internationally to ensure the welfare of the people and the upholding of all their human rights when it signed up to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Article 11 of the Covenant starts with the recognition of the citizens’ economic rights, especially the right to food:
“1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programs, which are needed:
(a) To improve methods of production, conservation, and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources;
(b) Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.”
However, under the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, production methods were not improved but destroyed. An extremely consequential decision such as the overnight and complete banning of chemical fertilizer in a country that had farmed with chemical fertilizer for decades, whose farmers had been encouraged to do so by successive governments, whose soil was long oriented for farming in that manner, surely counts as an economic crime especially when the effects of this and other policy decisions have resulted in malnutrition among a large segment of the children of the country while a large percentage of the adult population are unable to afford three meals a day.
Speaking to ABC Australia, a UNICEF representative said of Sri Lanka that “seven out of 10 families are cutting down their food intake to mitigate the crisis… Accordingly, those who were having three meals had decreased to two, while those who were eating two meals had declined to one. “
UNICEF had further stated that “1.7 million children in Sri Lanka…are at risk of dying from malnutrition-related causes…While Sri Lanka has the second-highest rate of acute malnutrition among children under five years in South Asia, at least 17% of children are suffering from chronic wasting, a disease that carries the highest risk of death.”
There’s a hole in the Budget
This sudden plunge wasn’t due to a great flood, a drought, a war, or a freak accident like a meteor hitting us dead center. We were a middle-income country, until several policy decisions, now internationally described as economic crimes, were perpetrated on the people. This is certainly no international conspiracy to discredit Sri Lanka. If only the allegation had no basis in fact! All we would have had to do then is summarily deal with the Office of the High Commissioner and the Council in the strongest terms and go back to our middle-income lives.
Lived experience currently dictates otherwise. A once thriving country is now avowedly bankrupt. One has only to review the Auditor General’s report on Public Debt control 2018-2022 to confirm that the government was in dereliction of its financial responsibilities in addition to other misdeeds, such as corruption.
For a while, the government didn’t even know how much they owed their international creditors, according to the international press. The Auditor General’s report tabulates several million in hidden debts which were not properly recorded in the accounts of the Ministry of Finance. The Auditor General recommends that the “Central Bank of Sri Lanka should take steps to verify the accuracy of the information on foreign debts other than international sovereign bonds contained in the reports obtained through the Commonwealth Debt Reporting and Management System …maintained by the Ministry of Finance.”
How big and deep is the hole we are in? Apparently, we have no way of knowing!
The Auditor General felt the need to include the following in his recommendations:
“Borrowings should be made within the maximum borrowing limits set under the Appropriation Act and the Active Liability Act (Reference: Paragraph 2.2.3) …”
“Adequate and necessary disclosures should be made in compliance with the Accounting Standards so that an accurate understanding of the overall debt liability of the Government can be obtained through the use of Financial Statements of the Government.”
“In obtaining commercial loans at higher interest rates from the foreign financial institutions or market by the government or on government guarantees, limiting of taking those loans only to projects which will generate income in future by investing those funds and decide to take those loans after carrying out a formal cost-benefit analysis.”
The general public would be under the impression that this sort of basic advice would have been given in 1949 when the Central Bank was first established, not in the 21st century to a middle-income country with no dearth of qualified accountants. Now in receipt of some assurance of IMF assistance, this system which operated in the dark, hurtling towards disaster, isn’t sure if it should reveal the details of its agreed program for any kind of review.
Throwing more light on the state of financial mismanagement, the Auditor General recommended that action should be taken to include “all information that should be contained in the budget, the economy and the financial position report to be presented to Parliament in terms of the Fiscal Management (Responsibility) Act, No.3 of 2003”.
What does this mean? Parliament, which ought to bear responsibility for financial decisions, had less than complete information when they voted for the various decisions. It also recommends to the Finance Ministry that it identifies “the significant variations in certain information in the annual report of the Ministry of Finance and the public financial information contained in the Financial statements of the Government” and correct them accordingly.
The primary Ministry responsible for handling the country’s finances had huge holes in its accounts but had no idea they were there, nor what they might be. Wagging his finger right in its face, the Auditor General admonishes the Ministry of Finance that realism should play a role in its estimates of Revenue and also its expenditure.
The Ministry seems to have bypassed parliament altogether when they realized their mistakes and made adjustments, without the approval of parliament, which was blissfully unaware that they would be held responsible for things they didn’t do. Thus perhaps, the recent chant of the people that all 225 should go! One hopes that the Auditor General’s recommendation that a mechanism is developed to obtain approval of Parliament when wrong figures previously presented are revised, has now been implemented.
Neither caring nor sharing
The OHCHR has naturally recommended that any international financial agreements should be evaluated for their impact on human rights. The IMF itself has insisted that corruption vulnerabilities should be minimized. Not a ringing endorsement of either the officials or the politicians involved. All in all, none of these paints a reassuring picture of a government that knows what it’s doing, or is apologetic for past mistakes. It just helped itself to a massive cabinet that is reportedly scheduled to expand amidst an unprecedented cash crunch.
The people of this country, especially its youth who have the most to lose, either ran for the door or toughed it out at the Aragalaya and threw an administration out, armed only with desperation. There’s evidently more suffering to come, and the new President is determined that people shouldn’t protest about it.

Sri Lanka’s economic woes have not cast a shadow over its complex foreign relations. On August 16, the southern port of Hambantota welcomed the Yuan Wang 5, a research vessel from China. While Colombo had asked for a deferral of the visit, it eventually relented and allowed the ship to dock until August 22. India, which denied pressurizing the country over the issue, nevertheless registered its unease about the visit.
Beijing contends that the vessel was used for research purposes. The Indian media, on the other hand, has described it as a “dual-use spy ship.” The sequel to the drama unfolded a few days after it left the Port, when China’s Ambassador to Colombo, Qi Zhenzong, wrote a rather frank op-ed about the matter. The article accused India and the West of continuing to colonize Sri Lanka. Arguing that Sri Lanka had the right to permit the docking of the vessel, it noted that the Yuan Wang 5 had complied with “international practice.”
The article sparked outrage. The Indian High Commission registered its displeasure, accusing the Ambassador of “violating basic diplomatic etiquette.” Western embassies, by contrast, remained silent. Political analysts have observed that the episode may dampen Sri Lanka’s relations with India. Since January, New Delhi has dispensed assistance to the tune of USD 3.8 billion. Colombo’s decision to permit the docking of the Chinese vessel might leave India wondering whether the island is pitting the two countries against each other.
Sri Lanka cannot afford to engage in such balancing, yet it cannot avoid it either. Reeling from its worst financial crisis since independence, the USD 84 billion economy is down to its last few million dollars. Although rationing and restrictions on imports have eased the pain somewhat, such policies are not sustainable. The latest spate of import restrictions, which even the Governor of the country’s Central Bank has questioned, bans intermediate capital goods that local industries desperately need. The only tenable solution is a bailout from the IMF, which experts say may take as much as six months.
India has emerged as Sri Lanka’s saviour. To put it in perspective, without Indian aid, the economy would have collapsed to the ground. Though commentators compare the situation to the crisis in Lebanon, such comparisons miss the geopolitical angle. Colombo is flanked by two powerful neighbours, one a regional hegemon, the other a rising superpower. Despite the country’s best efforts, these two continue to confront other in the neighbourhood. Such confrontations have played out more to its disadvantage than advantage.
Sri Lanka’s position is also not comparable to Taiwan’s or Ukraine’s. While these are states flanked on one side by a regional powerhouse, rival powers vying for dominance over the region through them, like the United States, the European Union, and NATO, are not located within that powerhouse’s immediate sphere of influence. The situation is different in Sri Lanka, and more complex: so complex, in fact, that the island has no choice but to watch as it gets entangled in one showdown after another between Delhi and Beijing.
Much has been written about Sri Lanka’s dependence on Beijing, India’s assistance to its ailing neighbour, and Colombo’s reticence in siding with what commentators portray as its saviour. Beijing’s reluctance to renegotiate Sri Lanka’s debts has reinforced these narratives. According to this reading, Sri Lanka needs to be more upfront about its foreign policy, which means abandoning its decades-long dalliance with Beijing. This line has been touted with relentless vigour over the last few weeks and months by certain think-tanks, institutions, and other establishments, both regional (Indian) and Western (US).
The reality is that its location and economic situation make this an untenable strategy for the island. Sri Lanka can ill-afford antagonising any of its powerful allies, something it found to its cost in early June when the Commercial High Court in Colombo detained a flight over a transaction between a Russian airline and a Irish leasing company.
While the Russian Foreign Ministry immediately condemned the incident, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry replied that the government had nothing to do with the detention order. It was a classic Catch-22 situation: the government could not interfere with the order, since it would be seen as an infringement on the judiciary, yet it could not detach itself either, since Russian tourists made up the bulk of arrivals in the country. This point is important, since all if not most analyses of the controversy ignore the fact that Sri Lanka’s link with the IMF has made it susceptible to Western discourses of human rights and transparency, which explains its seeming reluctance to forge closer economic ties with Russia.
The reason for small states like Sri Lanka becoming embroiled in these quagmires isn’t just that they recklessly borrowed money, but that they haven’t been properly encouraged, or directed, to shift to long term development strategies, which can enable them to pursue a self-reliant foreign policy. This does not excuse the vanity projects and white elephants that governments in these states have lavished in the name of development. And yet, as Umesh Moramudali has noted more than once, while China was the only lender willing to cough up bucks for Sri Lanka’s post-war development, the Rajapaksa administration also pursued capital markets, issuing its first ISB in 2007, the same year Beijing stepped in with a USD 307 million loan for Phase I of the Hambantota Port. Instead of prioritising sustainable industrial growth, successive regimes went on issuing bonds and racking up external debts.
In focusing attention on China, or for that matter India, foreign policy experts have thus missed the bigger picture. The role of international sovereign bonds in economic fallouts has been sidelined. China’s reluctance to forgive Sri Lanka’s debts may stall IMF negotiations, but a more serious setback has been Hamilton Reserve’s decision to sue the country in a US court and Sri Lanka’s stock of market borrowings, which make up 47 percent of the total. Moreover, “following the global financial crisis,” observes C. P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh, “easy access to foreign liquidity encouraged governments to prime the economy with support from foreign capital, resulting in the stock of external debt rising to exceed $56 billion in 2020.” Yet these aspects to the crisis have received little attention.
In a subtle critique of the aragalaya, Asoka Bandarage observes that the protesters did not transform their calls for regime change into a cohesive discussion, and debate, about debt justice and IMF austerity. This is true. But what we have been seeing since April is the gradual but painful impoverishment of the middle-classes: the social group that had been most vocal in and throughout the three-month struggle against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s regime. Given their changing fortunes, it may yet be possible to turn what was essentially a call for system and regime change into a comprehensive discussion on economic and foreign policy. If properly seen through, this could transform into a debate about the external dimensions of the crisis: one which commentators have either glossed over or ignored.
Sri Lanka is the best, and possibly the only, example of a small state flanked by a regional hegemon that in turn courts its most powerful rival as its immediate neighbour. This is a unique position, and the country hasn’t exactly benefited from it. Indeed, in a big way, its crisis is tied to such complexities. A more cohesive analysis of the situation on the ground requires that we consider these complexities heads down. Instead of blaming one side or the other, it is more appropriate to view the problems of small states from the standpoint of those states themselves. A 360-degree perspective is needed. And yet, as far as states like Sri Lanka go, such a perspective remains conspicuously missing.

Uditha Devapriya is researcher and columnist from Sri Lanka. He is the Chief International Relations Analyst at Factum, an Asia-focused think-tank on International Relations, Tech Cooperation, and Strategic Communications based in Sri Lanka.
Published
on
By
by Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD
Watching Mikhail Gorbachev who died last week at the World Festival of Youth and Students in the Summer of 1985, I had a thought which I later recorded in an article in the Sri Lankan newspapers. I felt, and wrote, that “at last we have a Soviet leader we do not have to be embarrassed about”.
I was born in the year of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), 1956. For my generation of the global community represented at the World Festival of Youth and Students, the only Soviet leader of our lifetime who could be admired was Yuri Andropov, and his tenure at the top was a tragically short episode.
Two years after the 1985 World Festival, at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution, Fidel Castro was prophetically warning in Moscow that “one day we may awake and find that the Soviet Union has disappeared”. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised. Something had begun to go very wrong. By 1991, Fidel’s prophecy had come true.
So much has been said about Gorbachev and so much can be said, but I wish to focus on only one point, one question. Why did he and his team take one road at the crossroads, when there was clearly another to take; another one that may not, would probably not, have wound up at the same destructive place?
For a while Gorbachev gave the global left the moral high ground. Leftists were pointing to the USSR and contrasting the dramatic, peaceful change with the rigidity and coup-making tradition of the part of the world under the hegemony of the West.
Furthermore, Gorbachev broke down all the walls on the global Left, permitting the free interplay of all traditions which had been at civil war with each other. Bukharin was rehabilitated, social democracy and Communist parties were embracing each other. The World Festival of 1985 was a rainbow of the left.
With this thaw, this Moscow Spring, the reform process in the USSR had a rich storehouse of ideas and concepts to draw on, which had been locked in separate vaults, inaccessible for decades. These were the ideas of ‘market socialism’ from the USSR itself but even more so from Eastern Europe.
Within the tradition of dissent in the USSR there were three trends. One was the frankly pro-western (e.g., Sakharov), the second was anti-Soviet traditionalist (Solzhenitsyn) and the third was socialist (the Medvedevs). For a brief period, there was a surfacing of the third trend and a flourishing of interpretations of Lenin which focused on post-1920, his last years. In short, the ethos seemed to be an ‘open socialism’ in an ‘open Soviet Union’.
This was summed-up in the very wording of the proposition put to the Soviet people in early 1991 at a referendum. It was carried by a handsome majority.
How then did that endorsement by the people turn into ashes by the end of that very year 1991? I wish to point to a factor other than the farcical coup attempt. I wish to point to a paradoxical choice that Gorbachev and his team made.I cannot pin down a date or even a year but somewhere along the line, two interconnected changes of track were made, amounting to what would be called a ‘deviation’ in the old lexicon.
The first was ideological and domestic. There was a permeation between ideas of a reformed socialism and a political identity of an open, democratic left, on the one hand, and on the other, ideas of capitalism liberal democracy and worse, Western rightwing ideology. To put it bluntly, the goals and ideas of a reformed socialism in the realm of economics, were increasingly subverted and displaced by ideas of free-market capitalism and nihilism towards the state.
The counter to this rightwing deviation came from conservative Soviet Marxists like Nina Andreyeva and Yegor Ligachev, whose time had come and gone. There was no one who fought back on the basis of the original program and promise of socialist modernity of 1985-1987.
The second paradoxical choice was in the realm of foreign policy and external relations. In the 1980s the USSR had the option of reaching out to the Social Democrats in the west and elsewhere as the primary allies of the reform Communists who were also strong in parts of Europe. Even in eastern Europe, there were renovated, reformist socialist trends that had arisen, though they were not preponderant. The USSR under Gorbachev also had the sympathy of a strong peace movement in the West.
In what was probably the biggest blunder made by Gorbachev, he bypassed or downgraded this proximate option of an alliance with the social democrats, the Communists and the peace movements, and instead flung himself into an embrace with Reagan and Thatcher, who were hardly sympathetic to his project of a reformed socialism.
The Mikhail Gorbachev I saw and applauded in July 1985 in Moscow at the World Festival of Youth and Students had disappeared, only to be replaced by a Mikhail Gorbachev who was the naïve fellow-traveler of the most hawkish, anti-Soviet leaderships of the West. That latter Gorbachev who had become a convert to the theory of convergence, was, historically a transition to Yeltsin, a champion of capitulation.

source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.