The years of 1988 and 1989 loom large over Lanka’s short history of independence. Never before did the Lankan capitalist class go to such brutal lengths to ensure its own survival. Since that time, successive governments in Lanka have proceeded to systematically distort and cover up the true history of 1988-1989. Even now, twenty four years since the ‘disappearance’ of around 40,000 JVP cadres and sympathisers, not one member of the security forces has stood trial. When considered in this wider historical context, President Rajapaksa’s recent interference with the investigation of the Matale mass grave comes as no surprise. Although many will have you believe that President Rajapaksa is impeding this investigation in order to protect his brother and Minister of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa – who was the Military Coordinating Officer for Matale during 1988-1989 – this explanation completely ignores the wider historical picture. No, President Rajapaksa’s cover up of the Matale mass grave is not an isolated event, on the contrary, it is part of a highly organised campaign undertaken by successive capitalist governments in Lanka to distort, cover up and deny the true nature of what happened in 1988-1989.
Since 156 skeletons were accidentally discovered opposite the Matale hospital in late 2012 – the largest mass grave Lanka has ever seen – the Rajapaksa government has done nothing but try to cover its true historical significance. Smallpox, landslides and even Weera Puranappu’s 1848 uprising were put forward by the Rajapaksa government as likely explanations for the mass grave. Even after the forensic and archeological experts traced the bodies back to a period between 1986 and 1990, the Rajapaksa government still refused to act. It wasn’t until the 7th of April 2013 – five full months after the mass grave was initially discovered – that the Rajapaksa government finally took action and appointed a special commission into the Matale mass grave. However, the memory of President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s botched investigations into 1988-1989 – which ultimately lacked the legal authority necessary to prosecute those it found responsible – left many in Lanka doubting the sincerity of Rajapaksa’s investigation. In late May, these doubts were confirmed when both the Matale magistrate and the head doctor responsible for the skeletal remains were transferred off the case.
In the absence of any meaningful government investigation, the Lankan socialist movement has picked up the slack. It is particularly fitting that the JVP themselves have taken it upon themselves to search for the family members of the Matale victims. After locating eleven relatives, the JVP submitted thirteen affidavits into the Matale Magistrate court, resulting in the Matale magistrate ordering the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Division (CID) to launch a full investigation on the 10th of May. Needless to say, not long after this ruling the Matale Magistrate, Chathurika de Silva, was transferred off the case. Although at the time of writing, the results of the CID investigation into the Matale mass grave are yet to be known, considering the sacking of Chathurika de Silva, it seems that the Rajapaksa government will take every precaution to ensure the truth of 1988-1989 does not get out.
Now we arrive at the heart of the matter – why is the Rajapaksa government deliberately impeding the investigation in the Matale mass grave? Whose interest does it really serve?
In the absence of any attempt by the Rajapaksa government to justify its blatant interference with Lanka’s judicial process, many believe that the Rajapaksa government is covering up the Matale mass grave to avoid being publicly connected to the brutalities of 1988 and 1989. This theory is supported by the fact that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, as well as his top military officers Kamal Gunaratne and Shavendra Silva, all have ties to 1988-1989. Additionally, the controversy surrounding President Rajapaksa’s handling of the closing stages of the war with the LTTE in 2009 – which has led to increasing diplomatic pressure from the United Nations – is seen as another reason why the Rajapaksa government is desperate to distance itself from Matale. While this explanation may seem convincing on the surface, it falls into the all-to-common trap of viewing the Rajapaksa government as an independent political force that acts exclusively for its own benefit. No, even President Rajapaksa is only part of a vast capitalist machine that is interested not in the fate of individuals, but in the survival of the entire capitalist class as a whole.
For capitalists all round Lanka, a truthful and methodical investigation into the Matale mass grave spells trouble for two reasons. Firstly, it would expose the inherent brutality that exists under the surface of all capitalist societies. Faced with the socialist threat of the JVP in 1988-1989, any capitalist government – be it under Simirivo Bandaranaike, J.R Jayweardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa or Mahinda Rajapaksa – would act with similar ferocity to ensure its own survival. This is a secret the capitalist ruling class wants to keep to itself. Secondly, and most importantly, any acknowledgement of government wrong-doing in 1988-1989 would hand a distinct moral advantage to socialists all across Lanka. Considering the Lankan capitalist class knows all to well what an organised socialist movement is capable of, under no circumstances will they carry out a policy that could be used to benefit the struggle for socialism. It is for these reasons that every Lankan government since 1989 has undertaken a systematic campaign to bury the truth about what happened during 1988-1989.
And yet, despite these government cover ups, the memory of 1988-1989 lives on. Indeed, as long as the tragedy of 1989-1989 lingers on in the minds and hearts of Lankans, evidence of the true nature of Lankan capitalism will always remain. No government can cover this up. It is now the responsibility of every socialist around the world to fight against Rajapaksa’s attempts to sweep away the memories of those who sacrificed their lives for a socialist Lanka. It is up to us to prove true Wijeweera’s immortal phrase – “We may be killed but our voice will never die”