During the height of the Cold War, Soviet Communist Party chief (Leonid) Brezhnev and his deputy were having a one-on-one meeting.
Brezhnev says, “Maybe it’s time we opened our borders and allowed free emigration?”
The deputy retorts: “Don’t be ridiculous. If we did that, no one would be left in the country except you and me!”
To which Brezhnev replies, “Speak for yourself!”
That was a joke, of course — one of many examples of dark humour that helped communism’s oppressed millions to stay sane.
What might happen if we suddenly found ourselves in a borderless world? Or at least in a world where free movement across political borders was allowed? Which places would see a mass exodus, and to where might people be attracted the most?
I very nearly included the old Soviet joke in my latest op-ed essay titled ‘Bridging Sri Lanka’s Deficit of Hope’ that is published today by Groundviews.org.
It asks WHY many thousands of young men and women of Sri Lanka have been leaving their land — by hook or crook – for completely strange lands. This has been going on for over a generation.
Here’s an excerpt:
For three decades, such action was attributed to the long-drawn Lankan civil war. That certainly was one reason, but not the only one.
It doesn’t explain why, three and a half years after the war ended, the exodus continues. Every month, hordes of unskilled, semi-skilled and professionally qualified Lankans depart. Some risk life and limb and break the law in their haste.
It isn’t reckless adventurism or foolhardiness that sustains large scale human smuggling. That illicit trade caters to a massive demand.
Most people chasing their dreams on rickety old fishing boats are not criminals or terrorists, as some government officials contend. Nor are they ‘traitors’ or ‘ingrates’ as labelled by sections of our media.
These sons and daughters of the land are scrambling to get out because they have lost hope of achieving a better tomorrow in their own country.
I call it the Deficit of Hope. A nation ignores this gap at its peril.
As usual, I ask more questions than I can answer on my own. But I believe it’s important to raise these uncomfortable questions.
Towards the end, I ask: What can be done to enhance our nation’s Hope Quotient?
“Governments can’t legislate hope, nor can their spin doctors manufacture it. Just as well. Hope stems from a contented people — not those in denial or delusion — and in a society that is at ease with itself. We have a long way to go.”
Read the full essay and join the discussion on Groundviews.org:
Bridging Sri Lanka’s Deficit of Hope
Or read the compact version of the essay that appears in Ceylon Today newspaper: