On the 19th day of May 2009, with the end of the military conflict that had divided the country for over thirty years, Sri Lanka entered a new era.
The next step that Sri Lanka has to face is also extremely sensitive due to nationalistic feelings of the various ethnic groups. A durable peace can be built only if all these groups that go to form the Sri Lankan society feel that they are a part of the same nation.
Building a nation had always been somehow a difficult task in Sri Lanka. Susil Sirivardana in his article titled “Paradigms and Foundations in Nation Building: A Way of Understanding” underlines that Sri Lankan leaderships believe in illusions that historically we were already a nation and hence, nation building as such, was not the central challenge of national politics. The articles mentioned in this paper appear in the book “Nation Building:Priorities for Sustainability and Inclusivity” edited by Gnana Moonesighe.
The post-conflict situation is the opportunity to introspect the mistakes done in the past and to undertake profound reforms. Indeed, today’s context offers new perspectives and the people of Sri Lanka who await impatiently to live in a peaceful nation seem to be ready to accept changes.
What do we want?
When we consider the nation building process of countries such as France, there were foundations that had contributed towards implanting the idea of a “nation”. Among such foundations, we can for instance underline one’s respect for the sovereignty of the people and the acknowledgement of unity in diversity arising from religious and ethnic differences.
As regard to the sovereignty of the people, it is imperative that the separation of powers that is Legislative, Executive and Judicial should not be confined to the Constitution only; it must be practiced by the leadership so that the power rests always with the people in a democratic set up.
This separation of powers was theorized by Montesquieu in his book “The Spirits of the Laws“. This model of governance structures the powers of a nation among the three branches, each branch having separate and independent powers in order to prevent the concentration of powers within one branch or one person. Therefore, the people can elect their leaders without any fear or duress. As we know, France built its foundations of good governance on those lines.
In Sri Lanka, the 1978 Constitution provides for the separation of powers to which it is necessary to give full force and effect, particularly in the context of a peace building process. This would contribute towards gaining the trust of all Sri Lankan people. It is well-known that until 1977, a Sri Lankan voter had the power to change the government and as a result the country was governed alternatively by the two main parties. It was known that at one time,Sri Lanka was the envy of countries such as Singapore.
As regard to the unity in diversity, Sri Lankans of different religious background have coexisted side by side in harmony for many centuries, enjoying the core values. One could wonder whether article 9 of the 1978 Constitution which gives special protection to Buddhism had interfered with that stability. Since religious harmony is a corner-stone for nation building, in future governance of the country, all religions and free thinkers must be given equal recognition. Much hard feeling can be avoided as mentioned by A.C. Visvalingam in his article titled “Resolution of Majority and Minority Concerns” by minimizing “references to race, religion and other divisive descriptions in all laws and official work as far as practically possible.” The aim being that Sri Lankan people are made to feel that they are first Sri Lankan and that their ethnic and religious specificities come thereafter.
The Diaspora Youth also needs to bear in mind that the economic development is also an important factor in nation building process. As mentioned by Marchal Fernando in his article titled “Sri Lankan Economy in Nation Building”, it is noteworthy that economic development helps to bring people together as it generates wealth “to satisfy the needs and aspirations of the citizens, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, or any other differentiation in society”.
How to raise awareness on such values?
Building bridges between Sri Lanka and France could contribute to such economic development. Therefore, the Diaspora Youth could support and encourage young Sri Lankan entrepreneurs in their activities for instance by awarding the best innovative initiatives or helping Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to penetrate the developed countries’ markets.
The Diaspora Youth had already started to write in papers about these subjects. We must continue to do so as media is an important change agent in public attitudes.
*Chathurika Rajapaksha is an attorney-at-law (Paris bar). She holds a Master from Assas University (Paris) and an LLM from the London Metropolitan University (UK).