An unhealthy obsession with Hitler

Monday, 28 November 2022 00:52 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lankan political leaders seem to have an unhealthy obsession for invoking one of the worst megalomaniacs in human history. In any other country a reference to Adolf Hitler would be considered the worst insult any opponent can cast at an individual. In this country however, the name of Hitler is invoked as an aspiration or threat, both in very bad taste and demonstrative of the sheer lack of compassion, understanding or civility required in political discourse. 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe became the latest leader to refer to the man who started the Second World War and brought his country to absolute ruin. Addressing Parliament last week, he threatened to take action to suppress anti-Government protests. Speaking during the budget debate, he declared: “There are plans to initiate another ‘Aragalaya’ (struggle) to change the government. But I won’t give space for that. I will get the military and the forces, and I will impose a state of emergency...Go to the police to take permission and then walk on the roads, shout that I am a dictator or I am like Hitler” but “don’t obstruct traffic,” he declared.

Recently deposed president Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has a well-documented history of violence was constantly called to become a Hitler. Dilum Amunugama, the transport minister under the previous regime once claimed that “6.9 million people who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa wanted him to be a Hitler.” A prominent monk, Vendaruwe Upali the Anunayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter on the occasion of an almsgiving marking the 69th birthday of Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that he should opt for military rule if this is what is necessary to build the country. “What we need is a leadership that has the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa and is linked with Buddhism, the Buddhist Order and the Sinhalese. We can see that the law has completely broken down. We need a leader who shows fidelity to the doctrine,” the senior monk added.

There are many lessons to learn from the rise of Adolf Hitler and the ruin he brought about to Europe and his own country. Unlike the current administration of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Nazi party had a mandate from the people before it usurped all power to itself and turned Germany into a single-party dictatorship. The 1932 elections established the Nazi Party as the largest parliamentary faction of the Weimar Republic government. Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Shortly after, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933 which began the process of transforming the Republic into Nazi Germany, a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism. These policies aimed to eliminate Jews from Germany and establish a new order to counter what Hitler saw as the injustice of the post-World War I international order dominated by Britain and France.

The war that was started by Hitler in 1939 killed over 40 million people in Europe including 4.2 million Germans. Among the massacred were six million Jews and many other groups that the Nazis considered to be a socio-racial “problem.” Victims included Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the disabled, some 200,000 of whom were murdered as part of the euthanasia program. 

President Wickremesinghe, unlike those intellectually challenged individuals of the calibre of Dilum Amunugama or Vendaruwa Upali, is fully aware of the context, history, nuance and symbolism of invoking the 20th century’s worst mass murderer. It makes such statements from the head of state even more irresponsible and frankly despicable.

President Wickremesinghe when threatening protesters with ‘becoming a Hitler’ should also recall how that dictatorship ended. After bringing total destruction to Germany, economic ruin and foreign occupation that divided the country into four, Hitler killed himself inside a bunker. That is the fate that awaits all Hitlers and countries that aspire for their leaders to become Hitlers.