Hitler Reincarnate – And Sri Lanka’s Presidential Stakes


By Susirith Mendis


The common story on the death of Hitler is that, on 30 April 1945, he killed himself with his own gun while biting on a cyanide capsule, in his Führerbunker in Berlin. In accordance with Hitler's prior written and verbal instructions, that afternoon his remains and those of Eva Braun were carried through the bunker's emergency exit, doused in petrol, and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside the bunker. Records in the Soviet archives show that their burnt remains were recovered and interred in successive locations until 1970, when they were again exhumed, cremated, and the ashes scattered.

But doubts remained. The chief of the U.S. trial counsel at Nuremberg, Thomas J. Dodd had said that "No one can say he is dead". The theory that Hitler did not commit suicide, but instead escaped with his wife was announced by Marshall Georgy Zhukov at a press conference on 9 June 1945 - said to be on orders from Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. When US President Harry Truman asked Stalin at the Potsdam Conference in August 1945 whether or not Hitler was dead, Stalin had replied bluntly, "No". Declassified FBI documents contain a number of alleged sightings of Hitler to give substance to ‘Hitler-survival stories’. The book ‘Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler’ by British authors Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams, suggest that Hitler and Braun did not commit suicide, but actually escaped to Argentina. Having lived there in a comfortable Bavarian-styled mansion, says the book, Hitler died only in 1962.

With Hitler’s death in 1945 in doubt, and the myths circulating thereof, is it all that surprising that Hitler has been reincarnated in Sri Lanka in 2018?

This great revival of Hitler was triggered after the Anunayake of the Asgiriya Chapter, Venduruwe Upali sermonising Gotabhaya Rajapakse (GR) says: "As the clergy, we feel the country needs a religious leader… Some people have described you as a Hitler. Be a Hitler. Go with the military and take the leadership of this country" - or something to that effect.

This kind of politically explosive profanity is usually uttered by politicians themselves – the not uncommon ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease amongst their kind. Not by erudite Buddhist priests during sermons to would-be leaders of the nation – even in the privacy of their homes.

We found even Sri Lanka’s pre-eminent political scientist and commentator going unusually emotive and extreme by saying "Asking Gotabhaya to ‘be a Hitler’ is the most dangerous and morally debased public statement I have ever heard uttered in this country".

We also found an eminent social scientist training his ‘big guns’ on the Anunayake in an elaborate article titled ‘Pining for Hitler’.

These two formidable Sri Lankan intellectuals have felt the need to hastily jump into the fray – more like the foolhardy Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) men who rounded up and mauled a prowling leopard in Kilinochchi – to intellectually club the Anunayake to pitiful incoherence and silence.

Not surprisingly, someone exclaimed that it was an attempt at "killing a mosquito with a canon". Nay, it is more like "trying to kill a fly with multi-barrelled rocket launcher"! Poor Anunayake! He has had his day in the sun and on prime-time news for the worst of possible reasons!

On a more serious note, another ‘Yahapalana’ Sunday commentator warns of an impending "threat of a religio-fascist state". This indicates that the ‘battle of 2019-20’ has begun in earnest. The barricades are up. The battlements are being set. The intellectual big guns are already being tested out. It is going to be a bloody one – metaphorically speaking.

The government politicians including MS, RW and Mangala did not want to be left far behind. They are having a field day. A wonderful aperitif, a rare gift offered on a platter, from Asgiriya to whet their political appetites - in the hope of a banquet come Nov-Dec 2019.

But if we try and dissect the contexts within which the Anunayake made the offensive statement, we may get to a reasonable explanation – the factors that led to this foetid emanation. They are manifold:

The Anunayake is a political novice who hasn’t read much about modern European history. He seems to know vaguely that Hitler was a dictator and GR has been called an aspirant dictator;

Obviously, he knows next to nothing about Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, or Treblinka; nor of attempts at Jewish extermination and the ‘final solution’;

But he knows of the public demand for a strong effective leader to stem the existential threat to the Sri Lankan Republic and its sovereignty which has been extended to be identified as a threat to Buddhism as well;

He knows that a vast swathe of citizens feel that the government is weak and vacillating - unsure of its present or the future;

He knows that a vast swathe of citizens is disappointed with the government’s official stand at the UNHRC and the consequence to our national pride and the betrayal of our armed forces;

He knows that there is much talk in the air of the need for a ‘benevolent dictator’ – a contradiction in terms – that is being voiced even by the educated and cognoscenti;

He knows that the people are disillusioned about promises of ‘democracy’ – "can we eat democracy? is the moan of the unempowered.

The gross failures of ‘Yahapalanaya’ which is increasingly being accepted within the full spectrum of political loyalties, has created the seeming need for a ‘Diyasena Kumaraya’. The myth about Prince Diyasena surfaces at various times. Whenever there is political instability and uncertainty in the nation state that affects the wellbeing of the Sri Lankan people, they appeal to Prince Diyasena to deliver them from disaster. GR and Diyasena are now being spoken in the same breath.

MR and GR are still being praised for bringing victory over LTTE terrorism and the regaining of peace. With no strong political leader in sight for people to look up to, other than MR, GR is being anointed as the rightful successor; the ‘saviour’ in the national psyche.

The Anunayake epitomised this collective aspiration of a significant section of the Sinhala mindset; and verbalised in an extreme unacceptable form, this yearning for stability, order and progress. Whilst there is a lumpen stratum within this mindset who are ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists bent on anti-minority violence, it would be a gross misreading of the public sentiment touted by some Colombo-based political elitist commentators to ignore the much more moderate and sensible citizenry who back a GR presidential bid for far more sober reasons. If not for anything else, for want of a better alternative to get us out of the politico-economic morass that we presently find ourselves in.

I doubt that even the extreme detractors of GR or of the Anunayake, would interpret the call for a reincarnate Hitler to be a call for pogroms, death, extermination or systematic genocide. The call was for "rebuilding the nation". The Anunayake’s unfortunate choice of historically evil personality came from a poor reading or understanding of modern European history. Surely not from a moral decadence of the Anunayake himself or the Asgiriya Chapter or for that matter, the Buddhist clergy in general.

But why do we think that the ‘GR-Hitler’ analogy hit off as an ideal slogan for those who were waiting for the proverbial straw to hang on to? Was not such an item needed to stem the tide of pro-GR wave of popularity and euphoria? Would it not have been politically necessary for the anti-GR camp to invent one, if this opportunity did not come to pass?

It did ring a strong bell. Why? The bell was stronger than that which triggered Pavlov’s dogs to salivate. GR was already being accused of ‘death squads and white vans’ and elimination of journalists in the heat and height of war. The Anunayake knew that GR was being called a ruthless, single-minded man, even a killer.

When he purportedly beseeched GR to be a Hitler, in a serious lapse of logical thinking, he used the worst leader that one could think of in modern times for emulation. He surely did not realise that he did great disservice to the man he had ‘consecrated’ and chosen to ‘rescue and rebuild the country’ - a country which seemed to be currently going nowhere. He surely did not know that he had thereby, caused serious damage to the cause of GR that he strongly espoused. It is proof enough to indicate the enormity of the Anunayake’s political ignorance.

The damage was done. It will continue to become a predominent theme for the rest of the presidential campaign. If GR becomes the ‘chosen one’, it will keep cropping up frequently on the campaign trail. It may even lead to a rethink on presidential aspirants from the SLPP. Vasu et al have already voiced their alternate choice.

It has been mentioned that close associates of GR have admitted in private that the Anunayake’s remarks have hurt GRs presidential campaign badly. As the pithy Sinhala saying goes, the Anunayake "placed ladders for jumping monkeys".

Why only in private? Why not clearly dissociate GR from that inapt and inept statement? Has there been any attempt on the part of GR or his ‘campaign staff’ for damage control. I find a surprising absence of anything significant. Most attempts are either too no-committal or are those that blatantly add fuel to fire. GR saying that the sermon was a private one and he understood its meaning correctly is neither here nor there. It indicates a reluctance to confront the issue directly – to take the bull by the horns.

It obviously comes from a lack of trust of those who support GR. An expression of uncertainty on their dependability. Such issues cannot be easily put aside as unimportant or swept under the carpet. This, I believe, is not the way to go. There should be an unequivocal statement from the GR camp that the Anunayake seriously erred.

There are likely to be more such gaffes – though hopefully, not as serious - on the campaign trail in the coming months. Even from unlikely sources. Remember the classic one from RW about ‘pas dun korale’? GR will have to have his team primed to meet such situations with greater mental agility and professionalism than was seen in this instance. There are erudite ‘liberal’ political analysts keeping constant vigil for the GR camp to drop their guard so that they can use their scholarship to try and thwart the seemingly inevitable.

If the general story is true, Hitler has no grave to roll in. But wherever his avatar roams, he must indeed have been taken by surprised that his name has been invoked, for political expediency on all sides, in a small island far away from home.

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