By S. Sivathasan –
After devastations of war, restitution and redevelopment are what a nation requires. For a brief period of five years following the Ceasefire of 2002, the process of restoration made life tolerable to the war affected. Parties to the ceasefire became partners in the process. The year 2009 saw a victor and the vanquished. Regrettably enough the distinction far from receding is getting increasingly pronounced. It is for statesmanship to erase the difference and to build a platform of harmony with dignity assured equally to all.
For Sri Lanka a leaf from recent German history waits to be picked up. The Nazi regime mapped out the ‘final solution to the Jewish problem’ and executed it heartlessly. The end of the war put paid to any continuation. More remarkably a sea change in German attitude developed. For all the injustices visited upon the Jews, Germans admitted to collective complicity and set out on correctives for the long term.
The demand for reparations, restitution and indemnification from Germany, was made first in September 1945 by Chaim Weizman on behalf of Jewish Agency. He later became the first President of Israel. Negotiations commenced only in 1950 and the Reparations Agreement was signed in 1952. Adenauer the Chancellor speaking in Parliament acknowledged that “unspeakable crimes have been committed in the name of the German people, calling for moral and material indemnity”. Steps were needed he said “To bring about a solution of the material problems, thus easing the way to the spiritual settlement of infinite suffering”. What nobility of thought!
The payment of reparations by Germany to Israel and to Jews elsewhere stood at 25 billion Euros as of 2007. Payment commenced in 1953 and has gone on without a break. In 1990 a year after unification, East Germany too accepted responsibility for the persecution and agreed to pay reparations. Mid – course inclusions have been many and successful claimants exceed 4.5 million. Of the claimants 40% were in Israel, 20% in West Germany and 40% in other countries. The scheme encompassed both one off as well as annual pensions. It is estimated that pay off by 2020 will total 38 billion euros. It is said that German reparations contributed to nearly half of Israel’s infrastructure. More than what Marshall Plan did to Germany, German assistance did to Israel.
The lives of the Tamils were battered from 1956 through successive pogroms. War of 26 years shattered their very existence and ruined their economy. The social fabric is in tatters. Political process is yet to be restored. The strands of life are just being gathered against all attempts at tangling them. “This world is not for those without means”, a Tamil poet put it very tersely 1900 years ago. “The first duty of the indigent is to secure the means”, asserted another famous poet of modern times. A whole ethnic entity of Tamils who have slid so low, so fast are placed uneasily at this confluence. With the acquisitions of two generations or more irretrievably gone, the challenge they face is to catch up on lost time.
Material assistance carefully calculated, clearly spelt out and communicated to the recipients should flow steadily. The programme of assistance may extend to a few decades. May it be noted that Germany has continued it for over six decades and the process is yet on. The magnitude of the problem is huge. Death and incapacitation have affected many. Loss of employment has been continuous for vast numbers. Restitution of property is in enormous proportions. Just a few are mentioned to show the magnitude of the tasks. Also to be highlighted is the need for specialized hands to assess the problem and to formulate time specific implementable programmes. Institutions of the UN together with World Bank and Asian Development Bank can handle such an assignment. The quantum of funds needed for reparations has to be realistically determined and sources of financing identified. The implementation effort would require professional monitoring by credible international institutions.
For forms of government there are many to contend. Let there be parallel rails. What is of imminent import is for the fallen to be lifted. Nutrition for the impoverished, land ownership for the displaced and the expropriated, houses for the shelter less, education for the neglected and above all income through employment are of paramount importance. Other issues to be resolved are legion. Restoring the status quo ante 1983 to the level of 1982 is the beginning point. Just one sentence, but it requires a few billion dollars and Himalayan organization.
The unofficial leadership of the Jews set about their business for economic rehabilitation through reparations in September 1945, just four months after World War II. Operations took off in three years after negotiations commenced. Sri Lank has taken over three years to learn lessons and to reconcile the Tamils. Without losing time, reparations have to be identified as the potent instrument for onward movement. Reconciliation can come about after both ethnic entities cease to wish the other away and begin to evolve a modus vivendi as a pragmatic imperative. Redemption for the Tamils lies in the pro- active initiatives of the majority community.