Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for March 2022

Several followers of this Blog have asked me why I have not commented on the horrendous tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.

There are two principal reasons for my silence. The first is resistance to the seductive social media temptation to rush to comment on situations of which one is largely ignorant, let alone unable to change. Others closer to the ground realities, or far more knowledgeable than I am on Putin’s imperial ambitions, have flooded the news media with their “expert” analyses. Why add to the noise, unless one has something (fairly) fresh to say?

But, secondly, regular readers of this Blog would have observed that several of my repeated themes converge on what is happening in Europe today. For instance, there is the perennial double standard and selective outrage of global news media, Western governments (and, sadly, even Western Churches) when it comes to reporting on wars, conflicts and the plight of refugees. My last post was on the challenge that non-White theologies and perspectives pose to the racist underpinning of so much cultural and political life in North America and Europe.

Why does the war in Myanmar, for example, not register the same “news-worthiness” as Ukraine, despite the army there being as brutal as the Russians and guilty of so many war crimes? Why has Palestine, a country occupied by a foreign military power since 1967 (if not 1948), been forgotten- only to resurface in the media whenever a Jewish settler or soldier is killed? If Ukrainians were not blonde and blue-eyed, would their plight have occasioned the outpouring of compassion across Europe that is being celebrated in parts of the global media? And was there any political criticism, before the current war, of NATO’s military expansion and the short-sightedness of Western governments in relation to what may have been valid Russian fears?

It may be awkward, even offensive to many, to raise such questions. And the polarizing propensity of social media deter people further. Will what they say be used to belittle the suffering of Ukrainians, and even to blame it all on the West? Or, if I openly express my admiration for the courage of ordinary Russians, like the news editor Marina Ovsyannikova, who are standing up to the Russian propaganda machine at great risk to their lives, will this endanger the lives of the Russians whom I know?

Then there is the targeting of the assets of Russian oligarchs, companies and Putin’s henchmen. While this attracts huge media attention, it is unlikely to make much of a dent in their fortunes for the simple reason that much of the latter are hidden in the murky world of the “offshore” global financial system (of which I have had much to say on this Blog over the years). Russia has the world’s largest volume of dark money hidden abroad, about $1 trillion, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of its national GDP.

The Panama papers, followed by the Pandora Papers, exposed the staggering levels of wealth secreted away in tax havens and money laundering centres in the Caribbean (several of which are US or British protectorates) and the United Arab Emirates, not to mention anonymous, numbered bank accounts in other jurisdictions, including Europe and Southeast Asia. It is because Western corporations, politicians and the “super-rich”- and their equivalents in the rest of the world- benefit from this corrupt financial system that little or no action has been taken to clean it up and return wealth that has been siphoned away from poorer nations.

I live in a country that is experiencing its worst economic crisis in living memory. It stems from a combination of factors: economic mismanagement and incompetence, the collapse of tourism because of the Covid pandemic, corruption and a poor tax regime, heavy dependence on China which lends at excessive interest rates. The crisis is now exacerbated by the Ukrainian war, as fuel prices soar and trade with Ukraine and Russia (which, together, account for twenty per cent of all our tea exports) grinds to a halt. I am sure there are many other small countries facing similar plights, but which are rarely reported in the Western media which claim to be global media. Which international agency will track and freeze the illicit fortunes of the Sri Lankan politicians and businessmen that have been salted away in “offshore” tax havens? Will the Ukraine war be a wake-up call to the UN or the IMF to overhaul the banking system, strengthening transparency laws and closing all the existing loopholes? I doubt it.



March 2022