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March 26, 2023

Sri Lanka’s obsession with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler

Last Updated on January 1, 2023 by Lankae Cast

Some in Sri Lanka seems to have an obsession with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

Several years ago, a senior Buddhist monk, Wedaruve Upali, urged Gotabaya Rajapaksa to take over the country and “act like Hitler.” The Anunayake Thero of Asgiriya Chapter also wanted Rajapaksa to develop the country and re-establish rule of law.

At that time Rajapaksa was contemplating contesting the presidential elections.

When I asked on behalf of the BBC Sinhala service whether he understood the gravity of his statement and apologise or retract it (, the Anunayake Thero simply hung up the phone.

We all know what happened when Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over the presidency.

Despite unprecedented hardships faced by people mainly as a result of two Rajapaksa presidencies (yes there are many other reasons, too), not a single apology from any of the Buddhist monks who went beyond their religious duties to launch a massive election campaign for Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Several years later, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who became the island nation’s head of state thanks to Argalaya, dropped a bombshell.

Saying he’d launch a crackdown if people stage a similar protest against his rule, Wickremesinghe smilingly said some even compare himself to the German dictator.

Joining the budget debate in November, last year, the president made the remarks over the continuous protests around the country, warned independent human rights commission not to intervene in police matters and criticised human rights defenders.

(They say) “There’s no dictator like me anywhere else,” he said.

“I’m now like Hitler. Al Jazeera says I’m a tyrant. (laughing) Now what has happened to Al Jazeera? I have to be a good democrat like Qatar. Ok. I can’t be that.”

Warning the pro-democracy activists, President Wickremesinghe said: “Shout as much as I’m a dictator like Hitler. It’s ok.”

Wickremesinghe referred to Hitler a several times during his speeches over two days in the parliament.

Human rights activists, political analysts and concerned citizens expressed anger and serious concerns over his remarks.

Though he did not directly compare himself with the late German dictator, throughout his speech the president sounded like a dictator, according to German based Sri Lankan human rights activist Tikiri Subhashini Wipfler.

“I listened to both the speeches carefully. When you take the speeches in context, it sounded like a dictator speaking,” she said.

“It will have an adverse impact on Sri Lanka.”

Wickremesinghe, the leader of the then opposition United National Party (UNP) lost his own seat at the August 2020 parliamentary elections but entered the parliament using the single seat allocated based on the national accumulated votes for the UNP. 

In May, this year, he was appointed Prime Minister by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa following the resignation of president’s elder brother, Mahinda, due to massive protests amidst unprecedented economic hardships. Wickremesinghe soon (in July, this year) became the island nation’s head of state after the protesters forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.

But Wickremesinghe, who denies the fact that he rose to the presidency as a result of the mass protests (Aragalaya), warned those who are planning another round of massive protests against his rule.

(They say) “another Aragalaya would be staged to change the government. I won’t let it happen. (I will) deploy military, declare state of emergency; (I) won’t let it happen,” he told the parliament while debating the budget allocations for the Ministry of Defence.

In addition to being the head of state, the president holds Defence and Finance portfolios among others.

The president, widely regarded by international partners as a liberal democrat, had very strong words against human rights defenders and the national human rights commission, too.  

Jayani Abeysekara, a young human rights defender in Sri Lanka, strongly condemned comments by Wickremesinghe.

“It looks like he is intoxicated with power and works with a never-ending anger because his private house was set on fire,” Abeysekara, a former editor of “Samabima” monthly newspaper said.

His private residency was set on fire by some unruly elements on 09 July, after he refused to resign from the post of PM as demanded by the protesters.

Jayani Abeysekara recalls that Sri Lanka co-sponsored a resolution 30/1 at United Nations Human Rights Council when Ranil Wickremesinghe was the prime minister under Maithripala Sirisena presidency.

“While portraying himself as a human rights defender in front of the UN and the international community, changes to a frenzy dictator inside the country. This is a dangerous joke. We now fear about a Hitler-like dangerous dictatorship in Sri Lanka,” she added.

It is regrettable, though, certain civil society activists who portrayed themselves as human rights defenders are currently ridiculing the threats to human rights, democracy and rule of law under Wickremesinghe presidency, says the young activist.  

In fact, Nimalka Fernando, a prominent human rights activist, has defended Wickremesinghe’s behaviour and remarks.

Commenting on social media, Fernando said: “We have been telling the whole world that Mr Gota (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) would become a Hitler. He set a protesting site in Galle Face and he was chased away. Now the man who faces the anarchy (following Gotabaya’s departure) is being put Hitler’s hat on … If he (Wickremesinghe) goes, we’d call ‘Hitler’ the next one, too …”

But many activists have strongly criticised Nimalka Fernando’s comments.

Asking Fernando to “wake up” Caryll Tozer, a women’s rights activist and environmentalist, said: “Even if 10 Hitlers come, we will still be here until a leader who loves the country arrives.”

Wickremesinghe’s remarks will also have a very serious negative impact internationally, according to Tikiri Subhashini Wipfler.

“Many in Sri Lanka aren’t fully aware of Hitler’s cruel actions. Ranil Wickremsinghe is the first person in Sri Lanka. His comments will be reported worldwide and it will create an impression that Sri Lanka is a nation that regularly talks about Hitler in the parliament. That image, in my opinion, is very adverse for Sri Lanka internationally,” she added.

Saroj Pathirana, Colombo