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Let’s welcome Jörg Frieden, the Damage-Controller


A senior Swiss diplomat and former Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jörg Frieden is on his way to help clarify to Swiss authorities what Switzerland describes as a ‘current crisis’. 

The Swiss are perturbed, we are told. ‘Confused’ would be a better descriptive though. They call it a ‘security incident’. The knowledge of the Swiss on ‘security’ is amply demonstrated by the fact that they see nothing wrong in their citizens collecting money to fund terrorism.  

The Swiss has issued a statement. Apparently Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, who is the Swiss equivalent of ‘Foreign Minister’ believes that Frieden will look for ways of ‘clarifying the “security incident”.’  That sounds like Diplospeak for ‘damage control’.  

What’s interesting is that in this long missive, the Swiss have not talked about the incident itself. That ‘incident’ was about an abduction claim by a woman employed by the Swiss Embassy. A former Sri Lankan minister is on record saying that a gun had been shoved into the lady’s mouth. ‘White van abduction’ was what it was called by dubious websites which were operating as though they were outfits to which the United National Party and the now defeated Yahapalana Government had outsourced propaganda operations. 

Originally, the Swiss Embassy spoke about people having seen this ‘abduction’. Well, it look like the Swiss are now on the back foot. No talk of abduction. No witnesses. No white vans. Instead it’s a ‘security incident’. Whose security, though? The Swiss Embassy is not under a security threat. The Swiss Ambassador is not at risk. The woman concerned, then?

Well, the Swiss are now talking about the health and safety of the Embassy staff; essentially the woman’s one assumes. They’ve expressed disappointment over ‘the high level of media coverage, lack of privacy safeguards and public condemnation in this case’ and believe that this has ‘not only endangered Swiss embassy staff but also eroded the trust and confidence required to jointly clarify the incident.’

Yes, there’s a high level of media coverage. Who is to blame for this? Who made it a ‘high profile case’? Who sold a dubious story to shady websites? Whose interests have these websites defended and promoted? A political party! Who picked up these bits and pieces and made a fun story out of it?  Well, the New York Times! 

Has Switzerland taken issue with the New York Times or that outfit’s local correspondents? We don’t know. Anyway, when a mission of a foreign government plays judge, jury and complainant, it is certainly newsworthy. When that mission’s missives verge on fantasy and when the fantasy can have a direct impact on the image of a government and a nation, that too is newsworthy. 

As for the Swiss Embassy staff being at risk, the best antidote would be to come clean. Just say it as it is and not regurgitate a shoddy story and make tall claims and paint darker extrapolations. The worst enemy of the Swiss Embassy at this point, in fact, is the Swiss Embassy itself. And now, having spilled things all over the place carelessly, the Swiss are upset about a ‘high level of media coverage’. 

Privacy safeguards. Yes, that’s an issue. It’s not easily obtained when people go out of their way to make things ‘high profile’. The Swiss Embassy made some grand proclamations but refused to cooperate with the investigators. So much for a need to get to the bottom of things! The lady’s identity was not revealed. No information whatsoever about the person was revealed. And they now worry about due process, they worry about risks, they worry about security and privacy! 

The police had to sweat to obtain information that the Swiss Embassy could have furnished within a few seconds. Is it that the Swiss are not interested in the truth but are looking for part-truth where uncomfortable elements are footnoted or left out altogether? Is that what ‘justice’ is as far as the Swiss are concerned? 

The statement from Switzerland mentions the principle of the presumption of innocence. Well, they went to town pointing fingers before things went South, didn’t they? So did the New York Times. So did people like Rajitha Senaratne, that great fantasist whose prowess at fiction was abundantly evident when he conjured a ‘White Van Driver,’ beard and all. 

We don’t know what kind of relationship the Swiss Embassy folk have with the likes of Rajitha Senaratne or certain ‘journalists’ feeding misinformation to media outfits which seem inept at separating fact from fiction [Yes, that’s the New York Times we are talking about].  Officially, of course, the Swiss Embassy has to deal with the Government and is not answerable to would-be do-gooders operating as lackeys. And they’ve been way too shy for their own good. 

So there’s public condemnation. Of course there is public condemnation. There’s no point whining about it, especially when you’ve tried to slip in a deuce and wanted people to think it was an ace. Surely the Swiss can’t expect the public to cheer them? What did they expect, wild applause for their highly unprofessional behavior?  

Ah yes, the health of the lady. The Swiss Embassy didn’t want any doctor to check her out. Initially. It took a court order to get her to give a statement. It took a court order to have her examined by medical professionals. If her health is important, well then, she is now in the right hands — doctors, not diplomats. 

So this decision to send Frieden to Sri Lanka is good. Maybe he will teach his less experienced colleagues what diplomacy is about, what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do. Maybe, in that manner, he can do justice to the stated intention of ‘strengthening the basis of trust between Switzerland and Sri Lanka.’

There’s a kata boru kiwwath diwa boru kiyanne nae (the tongue doesn’t lie, even if the mouth is untruthful) part at the end of the Swiss statement: ‘Switzerland wishes to maintain close relations with Sri Lanka and support the country as it moves forward.’ The Swiss see Sri Lanka as ‘moving forward’. Forward from what, though? From the mess left behind by the previous regime’s masochistic urges, yes indeed. 

I would think the Swiss owe all Sri Lankans an apology for the way its representatives in Sri Lanka have behaved over this incident, but if hush-hush is the way to ‘move forward’ by way of allowing for saving-of-face, so be it.  Just retire the condescension. It’s patently insufferable. 

On that note, let me extend Mr Jörg Frieden a warm welcome back to Sri Lanka. There’s a bit of rain, but let that not dampen a visit that’s being made in a season whose festive spirit has been quashed somewhat by incompetence and arrogance. You’ll find that if people come clean, they are applauded. We are a forgive-and-forget kind of nation, as you probably know by now.

This article was first published in the SUNDAY OBSERVER [December 22, 2019]
malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

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