By Amali Wedagedara –
History is made by people and therefore it is a collective action. However, the spotlight is greater on the role of certain individuals who have excelled in their respective fields, thereby contributing to the development and shaping of the contours and the trajectories of human history. Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, is one such individual whose presence lingers on, even after his demise. He presided as foreign minister in 1994 at a moment when Sri Lanka was severely challenged in the international sphere due to the negative propaganda disseminated by the LTTE against the Government of Sri Lanka. The charismatic Lakshman Kadiragamer, made a continuing impact through the international campaign he spearheaded against the LTTE’s terror. Within a few years he was successful in containing the role of the LTTE internationally in terms of banning the LTTE in Europe, the US, Australia and Canada, distilling and suppressing means of fund raising. Restricting the outreach of the LTTE proved highly significant in the final war against the LTTE which came to an end in May 2009. Today, three years after the end of war, seven years after the assassination of Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka is facing challenges of the same nature which existed when Kadirgamar took over the foreign office. Anti-Sri Lanka propaganda fabricated by pro-LTTE factions is affecting the country with a new vigour. Sri Lanka also faces the challenge of reaching out to the moderate Tamil community. How would Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar have confronted such challenges? How do we make use of the precedence and processes which have been set by him in securing our sense of autonomy in the international sphere? How do we contextualise the ideas of Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar to overcome the challenges of today: reconciliation among different ethnic groups to achieve long lasting peace and promoting dialogue and participation of Diaspora communities through a comprehensive communication plan?
Answers to these questions are embedded in the writing, speeches and interviews of late Mr. Kadirgamar which bring to light his values, norms and culture which guided his behaviour. Such sources constitute the strategic culture of a nation inevitably becoming the guiding stone of the actions of the current and future leaders. Therefore, one should not treat enunciations of individuals of such stature in isolation. This article presents a preliminary analysis of this endeavour. It focuses on one of Mr. Kadirgamar’s speeches: A Path for Peace which was delivered on April 10, 1997. It was articulated to a different audience and in a different context. However, the content is very much applicable to today.
It should be noted that his contribution is not limited to the role he played and to the position he held. Kadirgamar with his enlightened sense of identity managed to transcend his primordial identity in terms of race, religion and ethnicity. Instead, he endorsed a broader identity – that of being Sri Lankan, thus rendering himself as a valuable national symbol that Sri Lanka needs to disseminate ethnic-harmony and the notion of the ‘Sri Lankan-ness’. There is no question that it was beneficial to have the support of individuals from the Tamil community such as Kadirgamar, Neelan Thiruchelvam and Ketheshwaran Loganathan who made a conscious decision to support the Sri Lankan state in their efforts to secure cooperation from the Tamils as well as to minimise their alienation. The impact they made on the local as well as international reconciliation was greater since they were the quintessential diplomats in conveying the message of peace when the country was plagued with a conflict of an ethnic character.
A path for peace essentially communicates a strategy to reconciliation. While placing his primary argument for reconciliation in rekindling the innate goodness which is embodied in the human condition, Mr. Kadirgamar observes that “the battle for peace [has to be fought] in the hearts and minds of people”. On that very premise, he states that the challenge to reconciliation is placed on overcoming the mortal quality which is “the ability to remember, not to forget, to nurse long memories” whereas forgive and forget would expedite reconciliation processes. Therefore, Sri Lanka has to address the concerns of the Tamils who have left the country with a feeling that there would never be “justice and dignity for the Tamil people”. It is also important to triumph over “confrontational democracy”, a political practice in Sri Lanka ever since the Independence and harness the reconciliation process with a collective effort to ensure that “a minority shall never again be bullied and humiliated”. According to Mr. Kadirgamar, strengthening the feeling of being Sri Lankan can be achieved through improving awareness, recalling and reviving memories associated with episodes in the past when people like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan fought for the rights of all Sri Lankans. In addition, he draws attention to the political courage of the leaders of the country – to disengage themselves from reactive politics and have the courage to say no, especially when the leader enjoys a significant popular mandate, and to renounce “the prospect of extracting short-term gains from an issue which so vitally affects the future of the country”.
The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, named in honour of late Mr. Kadirgamar has done some work in a similar line. A living memory of late Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Kadirgamar Institute has been engaged in a series of activities which facilitate the national reconciliation process. The four national conferences the institute held created a constructive platform for multiple groups comprising of policy makers, implementers, civil society members and other stakeholders to engage, to debate, to broaden their awareness with the ultimate objective of creating a filter effect to the policy making in the country. In order to be consistent with the visionary that late Kadirgamar was, the institute is conducting in depth research on crucial issues associated with Sri Lanka’s foreign policy which will assist the relevant establishments in taking informed decisions.
When we are getting ready to commemorate late Mr. Kadirgamar, an ideal way to pay our tribute will be to strengthen the institute which bears his name, which revive his legacy and sustain the processes in foreign policy which he crafted.
*Amali Wedagedara holds a masters degree in International Politics from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has majored in Economics and Statistics from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. She was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi.