30 June, 2022


No Ceasefire In The Battle Over Meaning

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Thrishantha Nanayakkara once said ‘All wars have been fought twice; once in the battlefield and once down the alleys of memory’. This is true. The battle today is about remembrance. It’s not just about commemoration but about meaning. It’s about definitions. It is about post-war language.

The National Peace Council (NPC) issued a statement in 2014 with a nice line: ‘No wise country celebrates war victory after a civil war’. Civil war, did they say? Well, Pabalu Wijegoonawardane is not really responding to the NPC but he offers a valid observation: ‘ආ… දැන් අපේ එක සිවිල් වෝ එකක් ලු…. ඔසාමා බින් ලාර්ඩන් ට ගහපු එක ‘වෝ ඔන් ටෙරර්’ ලු… නඩුත් හාමුදුරුවන් ගෙ බඩුත් හාමුදුරුවන් ගෙ ලු…” (Alright, it seems that ours was a civil war…attacking Osama bin Laden was [part of] ‘the war on terror’… what this means is that things are defined as pleases the definer).

Whether the NPC likes it or not, whether the other NPC (Northern Provincial Council) likes it or not, whether those whose outcome preferences did not materialize like it or not, the 18th day of May, 2009 was historic.War

It was a landmark moment in the history of the country and indeed the history of this century. You can call what preceded a ‘civil war’ and that is up for debate mind you, but it would be hard to deny that what was defeated was terrorism and a terrorist organization.

Now we can argue whether or not it is appropriate to mark that day with a show of military strength. I, for one, believe that is silly. However, in the politics of war-related language and literature, dismissing any celebration as a ‘celebration of war’ or a ‘celebration of killing’ or as ‘triumphalism’ is just that: political. It is political and politically pernicious, because what that day signifies is not just the defeat of terrorism (a legitimate reason to celebrate, one can argue).

Sri Lanka did not suddenly transform into Paradise on the 18th of May, 2009, this is true. A lot of ugliness that ‘war’ had helped push to the margins of civic consciousness surfaced (naturally) once the blanket called battle was removed. That too is a cause for celebration. And how was the right and space to celebrate such things was obtained? Why, by defeating the LTTE! Celebrate that!

Of course there was much that was recovered that warrants celebration. No more bombs. Shouldn’t we cheer that? No more fear for the fate of loved ones we say ‘bye’ to in the morning. Cause for cheer? No more wondering all day if when you get home you’ll received some bad news about a child or a parent or a friend. Shouldn’t we be happy? No more checkpoints, no more tension when traveling or when in crowded places. No more having to wonder if every bag, briefcase, school satchel or even what looks like a lunch packet contains or is a bomb. No more wondering if anyone around you is a suicide bomber. The list goes on.

But what of those who are crying foul over people remembering and being glad about the military and political drive that gave us that day of relief? And what of the people they claim to represent?

Well, the likes of Wigneswaran, Sampanthan and the rest of the separatist core of the Tamil National Alliance, got their tongues unfettered did they not? The democratic Tamil nationalist voice even if it prefers to utter chauvinistic and land-grabbing rhetoric have recovered voice. How? Well, thanks to certain things that happened and which brought about ‘The 18th of May, 2009’. They can be glad that their Tamil brethren are not being dragged hundreds of miles to provide a human shield for a bunch of thugs, can’t they? And the children! They aren’t being abducted and forcibly conscripted to kill and to die, are they? They can be pleased that it is now possible for people to walk around without wondering if they would fall victim to a landmine. The Tamil Nadu fishermen notwithstanding, the livelihoods of fisherfolk are now secured.

There was none of this before May 18, 2009. Thus there is cause for celebration, with or without caveat as dictated by political preferences.

Of course if it were only about celebration and doing nothing about grievances (real) and aspirations (reasonable) or about real (as opposed to heavily politicized and therefore people-less) reconciliation, then it would certainly be a hollow exercise. The hollowness notwithstanding, though, celebration is a right of those who believe there is just cause. It can be belittled or vilified, as the NPC and the TNA and fellow travelers of politics that talked of talking to terrorists (read: submitting to terrorism) do, respectively, but commemoration there will be. There’s thanksgiving that has little to do with political colors or personalities, some of it out of the limelight.

Denying voice does not help. The Tamils who wish to grieve or call for mourning have the right to do so. By the same token anyone who believes that the 18th of May, 2009 brought relief, opened the space for democratization, greater freedoms and most of all allowed us to stop worrying about bombs and bullets, has every right to celebrate, one way or another.

The children of this country are sleeping better now than they did before the 18th of May, 2009. Parents are worrying less. Sure, other nightmares and worries will trouble. Sure, we cannot guarantee that there will be no more wars. However, we do know that the 18th day of May in the year 2009 made a difference to all our lives. A positive difference, even if we may not have liked those who actually brought about that difference.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    All right Malinda. Forget the traitorous, treacherous and power hungry Fonseka. Then forget those, Rajitha, Champika, Arjuna and others in the ilk of Fonny who plotted against squeaky clean Rajapaksa clan and those who call themselves JO, screaming from roof tops that the war victory has been betrayed. Five long years of plunder, if you wouldn’t agree with, then that’s your karma.

    No person with common sense would ever agree with Ranil and the new set of brigands who have embarked on the fine tuned culture of looting of national coffers introduced by Rajapaksa brigand under the cover of patriotism.

    Nonetheless, what we are unable to comprehend is, you of all, not contributing to the movement of honest citizens who are against both these camps comprising notorious rouges under the guise of politicians.

  • 9

    Do you want a war victory celebration as did by the previous regime. A celebration that erase the distance between racism and victory. A celebration further distances Tamils from the south even prohibiting commemoration the demised Tamils during the war.

    What previous regime did was using this celebration to take political advantage in the south further distancing the Tamils. I mean if we want a “Sri Lankan ” nation we have to be more inclusive. Simply there should be a distance between state celebrations and crowd’s mindset of victory over Tamils in the south.

    There is a considerable number of people in South as well as in North who believe GOSL fought a war against Tamils. And we should not hold our Victory Day celebrations in a way that those beliefs are made true.

    • 7

      ” There is a considerable number of people in South as well as in North who believe GOSL fought a war against Tamils. And we should not hold our Victory Day celebrations in a way that those beliefs are made true.”
      Yes, Buddhika, a very perceptive comment.
      The State should not buy into the three-wheeler mentality.

      • 4

        Have a look at the solider from top to toe is borrowed from other cultures like the lion on the flag the writing on the wall. So what is Sinhalese and what is Tamil. The pillar is Hindu.
        What a stupid fight- did they know that they all come from the same place and hide in the same place like foxes do??

        Look at Linda afraid to have a walk in the park where he studied at the end and casting doubt at Lanka than at Harvard- suppose he is not capable enough as some other immigrants. So he calls out at Thrishantha Nanayakkara who went silent after the Gota MIG India that he knew nothing about.He does not respond to CT either- run robin run…

  • 1

    Granted that it is the right of the people to grieve and the right of the people to celebrate, there are those like the NPC that thrive(economically) by creating confusion. For example ‘Reconciliation’ after conflict seems a blatant misnormer considering it is hard to find any Sinhalese who believed that the ‘war’ was against the Tamils, and thus it was a civil-war. LTTE was totally vanquished, remnant rehabilitated. Would someone define the partners to this so called ‘reconciliation’. Reassessment of the cause of conflict is ok. It is embarassingly very odd that the likes of Vigneswaran and Sambandhan strive to revive old hegemonic Jaffna politics that contributed no less to the pitiful plight of Jaffna people during the conflict.

    • 3

      Go hug a mulla and feel ecstasy which is coming soon and watch how your siblings grow and sing buddha geeta watching an idiot in complete foreign attire and foreign gun because you can never make none – except beg, beg beg from foreign nationals.Tsunami Horu!!

  • 3


    Which side are you now?

    Have you crossed over to yahapalanaya?

    Hope you are not typing your write ups using the computer given by MR!!!

  • 3

    I like the ” We may not like ” part. Last time i read your article you were ozing with love for MR. What happened ?

    • 5

      Nothing “happened.”

      This man (?) continues running with the hare and hunting with the hounds: he was Rajpal Abeynayake’s best buddy at Bookiepala’s Sunday English scandal sheet, one half of the organ-grinder and monkey duo and is now being paid by those media moguls who are close relations of Ranil’s to write a column to one of their papers!

      The only thing more unprincipled than this man are those who pay him for spouting more racism and xenophobia.

  • 1

    Celebrating any War victory is nothing new. From the WW1, WW2 to Gulf war has been celebrated and the fallen heroes are remembered. So why not the battle against Tiger terrorists celebrated annually so that the recurrence of that ugly and horrendous plight shall not be repeated.

    The victory against all odds on Jan 8, 2015 against the plunderes too not only be celebrated but also action taken to send the rogues to the due place where they are belonged. Unfortunately, thats not taking place and the obvious reason is that the present lot is building their castles on the foundation laid by the Rajapaksa rogues.

    • 0

      ” So why not the battle against Tiger terrorists celebrated annually”

      Why did they let you out of the zoo??

  • 3

    “Whether the NPC likes it or not, whether the other NPC (Northern Provincial Council) likes it or not, whether those whose outcome preferences did not materialize like it or not, the 18th day of May, 2009 was historic”

    Everything about the Sinhala Buddhist you is of a Pirate like the stupefied idiot standing in front of a Hindu pillar to look like a Minaret/church spire.
    Even your lion is hindu and the elephant is buddhist.
    You know very little about eastern or western philosophy but a new left like Kim Jung Un.

    If ever anyone sensible comes to power he would break every single statue and monument in the island and give it a new beginning like the Europeans did because its an island of pirates like the Caribbean. DNA has proved it as much as science has proved God does not exist.

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