Albert Camus has famously said that any mediocre person begins to put on airs and graces the moment he or she is put behind a counter. This being a personality trait common even among the ordinary folk, how pompous the artful could become when placed in a position of authority goes without saying.
EU Ambassador in Colombo Bernard Savage has got into hot water over an unnecessary statement he made recently. It is being viewed as an endorsement of Sarath Fonseka`s presidential candidacy. He is reported to have compared Fonseka with Eisenhower!
The government is making a song and dance about Savage`s statement on the grounds that it amounts to his interference with Sri Lanka`s internal affairs. Technically, the government has a point but the question is whether it would have protested in a similar manner if Savage had compared President Mahinda Rajapaksa with Eisenhower.
Never mind what the government says of Savage. One may argue that he has a right to make such a comment in keeping with the principle of freedom of expression. Yes, indeed he does, but not in public or in his official capacity as a diplomat in this country. If his right to make political utterances is to be recognised, then the Sri Lankan diplomats, or all foreign envoys for that matter, should have the same freedom to endorse candidates contesting national elections in Europe. A former Sri Lankan ambassador once revealed in this newspaper that he had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry of an EU member state and faulted for having met an Opposition politician of that country.
By making a statement favourable to a particular candidate in the presidential race, Savage has given the lie to his own claim in the aftermath of the EC decision to suspend Sri Lanka`s GSP Plus that the EU had no favourites in the presidential contest here and its policy towards Sri Lanka would remain the same whoever won. We, in these columns, disputed his claim and pointed out that the EC decision had been craftily timed for the closing of presidential nominations.
We said the GSP Plus was being used as a political tool. Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has already capitalised on the GSP Plus suspension he claims tens of thousands of workers are bound to lose their jobs and the way to avert a crisis is to defeat the incumbent president so that he (Ranil) and his chums would be able to regain that trade concession! JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, exuding conceit, declared at KIA on his return from a recent tour of the EU that some unnamed EU leaders (whom he claimed to have met) had told him that they would consider extending the GSP Plus concession in case of a change of government in Sri Lanka! Now, we have Savage endorsing Fonseka`s candidacy! When the pieces of the GSP Plus jigsaw puzzle are put together, a clear picture emerges: The EU is all out to effect a regime change in this country as the present political dispensation is perceived as anti-Western.
Whether to change a government or not is a decision that should be left entirely to the people of this country. If they are desirous of a change, so be it! If they opt for maintaining the status quo, let their verdict be respected. Diplomats like Savage or the countries that they represent have no right either to promote or to thwart popular campaigns for or against a government in power.
The late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, it may be recalled, had a British High Commissioner (David Gladstone) declared persona non grata for having protested against vote-rigging at an election in the South. He was sent back home unceremoniously.
President J. R. Jayewardene, too, took on a US diplomat for `talking out turn` at a function. He was furious about an adverse remark the diplomat concerned had made on the Referendum in 1982.
It behoves Savage and others of his ilk to remember that they are no viceroys, however small and poor this country may be. They ought to exercise control over their ambassadorial tongues without over-stepping their diplomatic limits and meddling with the international affairs of the host country.
Meanwhile, there is no reason why the government should take out a sledgehammer to deal with Savage. Let the hoity-toity, curmudgeonly, cold and prejudiced diplomatic Scrooges be forgiven on this blessed day. Merry Christmas!