10th Seminar: Kanishka Goonewardena

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Politics of Liberation

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Politics of Liberation
10 February 2023

Kanishka Goonewardena “Neoliberalism in Sri Lanka: Crisis, Protest and Left Strategy”

This presentation attempts to make sense of the economic crisis and political protest in Sri Lanka. In popular media and by the protestors themselves, the on-going Sri Lankan crisis of 2022 was mostly if not exclusively understood in terms of the corruption, ineptitude and other nefarious qualities of the country’s deposed president and his extended family. Without denying their patent deficiencies, here we begin rather with an historical perspective on Sri Lanka’s seemingly ungovernable external debt problem, which manifested itself most immediately in unprecedented power cuts, fuel shortages and inflation, bringing people from all classes into the streets in apparently spontaneous protest. Next, we examine the nature of the protest movement itself, including its multi-class character, social media orchestration, foreign relations and political demands condensed in the ultimately successful but also extremely limited slogan and hashtag #gotagohome (injunction for President Rajapaksa to resign). Finally, we compare the form and the content of what Sri Lankans call the aragalaya (the struggle) to classical revolutions such as the French and the Bolshevik, as well as Arab Spring and Occupy movements, to assess the prospects of the present conjuncture in Sri Lanka from an emancipatory perspective.

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