28 May, 2024


Thirty Years Of War And Still On

By Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon

Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon

Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon

Wars occur first in the realm of ideas. Therefore, the elimination of physical elements of wars alone can neither bring peace nor permanent credible solutions to conflicts.  When a war is fought particularly on identity issues of people, peace and reconciliation becomes even more difficult. Sri Lanka’s ethnic war led to the physical elimination of a major party to the war, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. However, even the Government concedes that the end of the war with the removal of the LTTE has not yet brought reconciliation and argues that reconciliation will take time. In the absence of well directed conscious efforts and political will to achieve reconciliation, no matter how long a country waits for time to heal the wounds of a war, especially ethnic wars, true peace will still prove elusive. For peace should be created in the realm of ideas first, and then those ideas of peace should be made part of public’s consciousness and popular imagination. More the parties to a conflict breathe life to violent memories and ethnic hatred, the longer it takes to achieve peace. If the mainstream political practice of a Government is to perpetuate its power with a strategy of using hatred and violent memories, then the very unity of that nation becomes a far cry.

The failure of Sri Lanka’s reconciliatory attempts after 2009 maybe attributed chiefly to its lack of strategic vision to foster ideas of peace and reconciliation. Government of Sri Lanka has continued to believe in the power of material forces rather than the power of ideational forces. It is true that not only ideas, but material power as well matter a lot in attempts at state-building. However, whereas the primary focus should be given to the ideational realm, the Government has paid it very little attention. Therefore, reconciliation and positive peace have become a more distant possibility and this is costing the nation hugely in many ways. Government has failed to lead the nation(s) to think in terms of one nation because in its ‘imagined nation’ there is no scope for the imaginations of the minorities of the nation.

Though the Government believes in a policy of ‘no minorities but only Sri Lankans’, it has not focused on the issue of ethno-religious divide in the country seriously. A few from the Government’s side like Minister Vasudewa Nanayakkara (endangered remnants of old left politics) has seen the importance of ideas in bringing permanent peace to the country. But, mostly, Government’s mainstream approach for peace has been confined to economic development activities through  mega projects to create infrastructure  in order to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). This FDI targeted development has been projected to the world as an attempt to ‘rebuild and reconcile’, but its real achievement in terms of its two aims remains so unimpressive, looking from the vantage point of the real needs of the people.  People of the North have asked for a fair share in the democratic decision making process, restoration of livelihood and normalcy in their daily life without military presence, and sought cultural, economic and political autonomy within a united Sri Lanka. In the South, people have asked for more investments on education, health, housing, industries, freedom and liberty. But, none of these needs of the people, both in the South and the North-East, have been sufficiently and satisfactorily met by the Government so far.

Instead of undertaking a mega project to change people’s attitude towards each other’s ethnic and religious differences and highlighting the need to respect such differences within diversity, Sri Lankan Government has preferred and prolonged the old colonial policy of divide and rule. It is true that, at the end, Government had to bow down to international pressure and hold NPC elections. But, in reality, in the South, the Government has allowed ethnic tensions to thrive by letting its major ideological partners like National Freedom Front, Patriotic National Movement, Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Patriotic Front), Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Army of Power), Sinhala Ravaya (Voice of Sinhalese), Ravana Handa (voice of Ravana) and several other political groups to attack every possible efforts by the civil society toward ethnic reconciliation in the country. Thus, Government’s local policy has been to maintain the status quo of the ethnic conflict and not to change it positively. But, internationally it has broadcasted much about its attempts to create reconciliation through development without much positive response from the world. Therefore, both the local and international policies of the Government with respect to creating peace in the country has been unable to either stabilize the local system of governance or win it the support of the international community in facing charges of war crimes.

The failure of the UPFA Government’s strategy to create reconciliation locally and boldly face the international community in international forums like the UNHRC and maintain goodwill with its closest and most historical friend India (India has chosen not to offer visa on arrival status for Sri Lanka while granting the same for 180 other countries) has been due to its narrow and devious game for electoral politics in order to remain in power as the major local actor. The electoral strategy of the Government for long has been to win the majority’s (rural Sinhala voters) consensus by dividing the opposition and ethnic groups and thereby further harming the democratic practices and norms of the country. So far, the Government has won almost all the elections, except for the NPC, but what the country has achieved with respect to strengthening its democratic character remains questionable.  Due to the bad precedents set by its electoral strategy, surely the Government’s record of holding elections has done more damage than good with respect to restoring the character and the quality of democracy in Sri Lanka which has been in tatters for long.

In Sri Lanka, the Government in power believes that it should have absolute control over every sphere of the polity. Therefore it has practiced a policy of suppressing dissent wherever it surfaces; right from the moment such opposition gets expressed. Primarily, the Government has not believed in a central norm of democracy that it is through sound freedom of expression that a democratic nation should function and only then can it maintain its quality. Instead, the Government has preferred to exist in a desolated realm where there are no dissenting views, but its own monologue to please an uninformed citizenry. Internationally, the confused nature of the Government in facing the international community has become well evident through its attempts to counter the propaganda in some media networks in the Europe, like the Channel 4. The recent example has been to create its own monologue of ‘rebuilding and reconciliation’ with the help of an USA firm for image building in the form of a documentary video on its post-war achievements. If one carefully watches this documentary, more than boosting the image of the country it has further strengthened the critics who point out the failure of the one dimensional development approach of the Government. This documentary has not included even a single interview or a narrative on peace and reconciliation from the side of the war’s major victims, the Tamils in the North. Therefore, it has become a very partial account, in a way like the Channel 4 account, of the war and its aftermath. Government has not been genuine enough to accept the brutality of the war and the danger of further stroking the ideas which led to such brutalities. The documentary shows that the LLRC Report is well kept in a book-rack and that image speaks volumes as to what has happened to the recommendations of the report after it was published on 16 December 2011.

It is true that the Government has released most of the LTTE soldiers who were captured and subjected to a rehabilitation process in detention camps. Apart from that, the Government has been so far unable to bring in mechanisms to subject those who have perpetrated unlawful violence during the war from both sides to justice. The victims of the war expect justice for those have been killed or abducted without a trace. As a state which at least in principle has agreed to follow international democratic norms and human rights, Sri Lanka should not hesitate to start a credible process of investigation into the violence during the war. Partial depictions of violence by the parties to the war leads only to further segregation among the communities and does not help for reconciliation with a true understanding of the inhumane nature of perpetrating violence against any community on the grounds of ethnic and religious identity.

The NPC’s recently passed resolution seeking an international investigation on war crimes on the other hand has been much attacked by nationalist ideologues and hard core realists in the South. The game of power politics is one thing, but when it comes to the process of nation building what we require is a ‘discourse’ and this is not something acceptable for the ethnically biased advisors of the Government. The NPC’s resolution can also be seen as an attempt to influence the foreign policy of the state by a peripheral community. In a functioning democracy such practices should be welcomed and not attacked squarely. Not only the Tamils, but every individual of this country should have a right to contribute their ideas for the public policies of the country with foreign policy being a major and a foremost public policy.

The elite foreign policy makers, after the war, have followed a complicated policy where the local policy has been diametrically opposed to the policy structurally required at the international realm. The local policy of the Government and its advisors has been to keep the flames of the war burning for petty electoral gains, while at the international realm they have attempted to win the international community that asks Sri Lanka to be more democratic and transparent in its policy of governance. The Government’s ideological campaigners while attacking the UN, the USA, the EU, and also India at times (for 13th Amendment), using local media and protests in front of embassies, have shown that they are ready for an unremitting battle to establish the hegemony of a few who believe in a view of the world that corrupt power will enable them to run a fragmented and polarised nation for ages. Words of reconciliation and peace are used by Government agents here and there as a pretext to face the international community, but the real policy has been to continue the war (mind-set) in the domestic realm as the best available practice of politics for selfish gains without an enemy or clear target. This war has been against the idea of democracy itself and also against the core concept of a republic – that the state belongs to the people and hence a public property.  Therefore it has endangered entire nation’s future survival and autonomous existence in regional and international spheres.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    If MR Gov.can Build airport harbor, roads,and other legacy with in the short time reconciliation is not a hard thing to do but Government want to do it that is the bottom truth about this mess

  • 0

    Excellent analysis and good advice.Wars certainly begin in the real world of ideas and the these ideas are translated into actions.Once the war is won by one side,the ideas of the ruling side are also undermined.In Europe,the defeat of Nazi Germany lead also to the final defeat of the Nazi ideology.
    In Sri Lanka however some sections the winning side–political parties ,journalists– seems intent on perpetuating its quasi-Nazi ideology and contributing to the continued undermining of the nation.
    The losing side has opted also to fight,but fight on different theaters.
    Reconciliation?The emergence of a civilzed society and polity characterized by liberty,equality and fraternity,either in the short run or long run?Not bloody likely!
    One must however concede, that sober and thoughtful articles such as
    Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon’s will no doubt help in countering the poison being spread by far too many,often hysterical and ill-informed scribes.

    • 0

      Excellent analysis and good advice.
      YES. YES. YES. Thank you, Athulasiri.

      But it should be translated into Sinhala and circulated all around the South.

  • 2

    Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon,

    Your analysis is great. You say:

    “Words of reconciliation and peace are used by Government agents here and there as a pretext to face the international community, but the real policy has been to continue the war (mind-set) in the domestic realm as the best available practice of politics for selfish gains without an enemy or clear target.”

    I would add to the above: There is a perceived enemy by the rulers; Tamils of North-East who identify it as their historical homeland, Tamil Eelam.

    The regime, its henchmen and its agents are doing everything possible to erase the idea, and have taken steps to destroy the Tamil nation on physically the ground: Tamils have cataloged these to the international community.

    Means to destroy the Tamil identity include militarization, appropriation of Land, colonization with Sinhalese from the South to change demography of the Tamil Nation. There are many more steps taken which will not bring up here.

    So in this scenario the intentional community has realized the lies and deceptions of the Sinhala regime, and I hope they would take steps to do justice to the Tamil nation.

    • 3

      Further to your almost perfect analysis,

      I would add that all great inventions followed ideas to escape unsatisfactory status quo: invention of the wheel to bullock cart to cars, trains and planes.

      The Tamil nation of Sri Lanka, was under the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonizers for 450 years or so. Then under the so-called independence from Britain in 1948, they are under the Sinhalese colonizers for 66 miserable years: They were killed in pogroms, raped, property destroyed their lands usurped by the Sinhala colonizers, and they even committed genocide when Tamils fought back. In sum, Tamils have undergone, discrimination, oppression, suppression and persecution in the hands of the third world puny Sinhala colonial state.

      The then superpower colonizer, Portuguese brought civilization to us. They brought us windows, tables, chairs, and even the bread (janella, mesa, kathira, pang, almera and many more are Portuguese introduced items in our use afterwords). Let’s not brag about our 2500 year old Sinhalese civilization!

      Under the Dutch colonizers we got our Roman-Dutch law which also Incorporated our Thesavalamai law and other benefits accrued from the then Superpower.

      During the British superpower rule we got solid education, roads, railways, infrastructure and many more benefits.

      The above three superpowers though they didn’t allow us freedom advanced our civilization on par with the world.

      Now the British colonizers, despite Tamils’ protest, left all the power with the third rate colonizer that is Sri Lanka today.

      What do we befit from this colonizer, nothing but death, destruction, rape, pogroms and genocide both acute and continuing in covert and overt forms.

      Here comes the sole superpower of the world today and says this cannot go on for ever, we are the world leaders and we must bring justice to Tamils.

      Will they succeed against this puny power? That is the question now!

    • 1

      The notion of a distinctive and solely occupied homeland of Tamils in northern Sri Lanka is rife with falsified ideology propagated by the LTTE to legitimize their cultural genocide of the previous multi-racial region. Until that is acknowledged, the Eelamists will not rest, and the nation can not heal.

      • 0

        If the homeland theory was accepted by the Sinhalese Govt.s (both during the green and the blue times) That is the reason they sent the Tamils by ship, to the North and east during the STATE ORGANISED pogroms of 1958, 1977 and 1983!!! Either they were UNABLE or UNWILLING to stop the atrocities unleashed on the UN-ARMED, LAW ABIDING citizens!! To add insult to injury most of them were in the Government service!! The MONSTROUS thugs were shouting GO TO JAFFNA, while beating, burning, killing the innocent Tamils!!The police and the ARMY were aiding and abetting or turning a blind eye to the killings!! Have they prosecuted any of the culprits? Have they apologized for the TAMILS? Don’t blame LTTE for all the evils of the SINHALA MINDSET!!! LTTE is born out of frustrated youth, There was no real reconciliation up to now!! Only more and more atrocities!!!New substandard roads are for making the 10% on the contracts. It is not going to provide livelihood for the Tamil people!!

  • 4

    The country has been fighting since the independence. Every six months the world is passing new resolution on the country at the UNHRC meetings. But they are dreaming for wonder of Asia and superior country. They have failed to acknowledge their hatred towards their fellow countrymen. They must liberate themselves from their hatred. While I was visiting Sri Lanka in 2012, I wanted to visit few tourist places, but they refused to sell local tickets to me. As soon as they heard my Sinhala accent, they asked my identity card. I said I was born in the North. They didn’t ask ID card from Sinhalese, because they spoke perfect Sinhala. If they have hired a Tamil, he/she would have understood my Jaffna Tamil accent. I never paid foreigners’ fee, I simply walked-out.

    Recently, I saw a documentary on “reconciling and rebuilding”, in the documentary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is struggling to finish one sentence in English without stumbling for words. It is a disgraceful to the country; and shameful to the United States, because he is an American citizen too. The regime is heading to China to get help at the UNHRC meeting. I will campaign to the Chinese communist party to keep the distance from the least educated regime in the history of Sri Lanka. If the Chinese communist regime supports the Rajapaksa fools then I will tell the Asian leaders that the Chinese communist regime undermines the Asia’s stability by backing the thugs. Do not ever think that the Chinese communist regime has the capability to fight against the West, India and Japan. I will make the Chinese communist party feel very uncomfortable in Asia and in the world. Wait and see what is about to unfold. The Rajapaksa regime thinks it is smart; wait and see how smart it is.

    The world is far smarter and talented in foreign dealings than the foolish Rajapaksas’ relatives and friends who serve as diplomats all over the world. It is over; it is just a matter of time to see the Rajapaksa brothers have been thrown out from their power. The foolish Rajapaksa regime has been dreaming to rule Sri Lanka for another twenty years. But I have a message for the Sri Lanka’s most foolish regime “it is over, pack up and leave, id you don’t we will make you to leave.”

  • 0

    Mr A.K Smarakoon article of ‘Thirty years War still on’ has see one side of story of War between Tamil rebellions and Govt.of SL. I quite agreed with you that un-address by Sri Lankan, Ruling political classes and its parties fail to seek principle solution National Problems since 1948.
    Our approach was negative even left parties theses on National question of Tamil issues.? Sri lanka( Ceylon) was multi-national country of mainly two Ethnic groups Sinhalese and Tamils.
    In Religions terms that there were Buddhist, Hindus Muslims and Christans. In fact& reality where there is NO oppression by one or other a group of RACES over the others as well. The ruling class of bourgeois-landlords who are that hand in hand with foreign capital who plunder the wealth of all races in SL. Needless to say two linguistic communities and all religions were subject oppression by local and foreign capital and local bourgeoises.
    There for call for SEPARATION OR SECESSION would be weaken and destabilization nation unity, people’s SOVEREIGNTY and REPRESTANTIVE DEMOCRAY that just struggle against of state OF SL.is fact poverty and inequality faced by people of all over the an Island. Our stage of democratic revolution and its TASK NEED BOLD UNITY OF MASSES OF WORING POOR IN CITIE AND RURAL POOR IN COUNTRYSIDE as well .
    We are face by common class expolting by ruling Boureoies class.
    But during anti-colonial struggle demand for self-determination by any races against British Rule was VALID. The right of Self-determination will not apply any more as in the Pre-Colonial era.
    Our war of politics and politics of democracy has been mixed by ruling class narrow type of Democracy in Sri Lanka.

  • 0

    I really don’t think any of you really understand what is about to unfold in the Indian Ocean. This is going to get ugly beyond your prediction. But the real losers are Sri Lankans. Remember, India felt threatened, and created the LTTE when J R went behind the US. Ultimately, Sri Lankans paid for it with the THIRTY years of war and losing more than 100,000 people. Now Mahinda Rajapaksa is going behind China and pushing India towards the West. India does not have a choice; it must go with the West. The West knows that Asia is getting bigger and powerful, and the West will do everything to break Asia. If the Chinese communist party really understands the West’s power and knowledge it would not go against India or Japan. Even if China, India and Japan joint together still they can’t defeat the West, because the West is so powerful. How in this earth the Chinese communist party is going to fight against the West, India and Japan?

    The Chinese communist party’s action is similar to the Japan emperor’s action who decided to attack the pearl harbour without knowing the implications of his action. Eventually, the US dropped two atomic bombs and made them to surrender unconditionally. The Japan emperor made his people, Chinese, Koreans and other Asians to suffer. Likewise, the Chinese communist party will make others to suffer in Asia. The Chinese people who have been working hard to make the Chinese communist party rich will end up in nothing, because of the Chinese communist party’s foolish actions. The Chinese communist regime and the Rajapaksa fools are playing a foolish game in the Indian Ocean. They will betray their people and undermine Asia. The ultimate losers are Sri Lankans, and other Asians, but the winners are the Westerners.

  • 0

    Chins ever-never asked any Military base or Naval base in Sri Lankan.
    Sri lanka is friendly with Indian and China since long years.
    Major religion came for Indian majority people follows by Buddhism since 2600 years. That traditional relationship with India cannot undermine by Terrorist out-fits of Tamils. Yearly 400,000 to 500,000 Sri Lankan Buddhist Pilgrimes visit India that Holy places of Buddhist’s temples. Our people more affection to India than China.
    No evil forces can undermine Sinhalese -Buddhist relation with People of India.
    What ever so called story by Terrorist of Tamils that Chinese economic assistance and Investment in mega projects in Sri Lanka, that China respect Country Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, An Independent and Democracy of Sri Lanka. We no Chinese single soldier in OUR SOIL.
    Since 1957 China support many fields in country developments.
    During 1971 April Insurrection China give many assistance to Govt. Of Ceylon to stability and maintain security of our Country. In the reality China is Friends of SL, not in words but indeed.
    Some anti-Sri Lankan Tamil-Terrorist want to undermine Relationship between China and India.
    Sri Lankan NON-aligned nation, not belongs any POWER BLOCKS. We are in Peaceful Capitalist Path of economic development and we practice Representative and Participative Democracy similar to Indian model of Democracy.
    Ours political-democracy values are more similar to USA, UK and many EU countries.
    An Economy assistance, is concern that an investment, marketing, trading, lending money from China of SL, want for genuine efforts overcome 30 WAR lunch by Tamil terrorist of LTTE is DESTROY her nation economy; to be rebuild and revitalization of economy and PEOPLE’S LIVEHOOD OF ALL NATIONALITIES we seek help form China is nothing wrong. This assistant will NOT ONLY for SINHALESE IT WILL SERVE TAMILS MUSLIMS IN EVERY NOOK AND CORNOR OF PEOPLE LIVING IN OUR ISLAND. And benefit all nationalities in Island.
    But our social-system is different form China, that ours is Parlimentery Political Democracy capitalism.
    Needless to say foundation of Political-economy and social system Sri- Lankan is more or less closer to India than China.
    What ever Party come to power Sri Lanka Govt. are NOT threaten Indian at all.
    Mahinda Rajpakase Govt follow same path as our past history, as well.

    • 1

      sirisena Yatawara

      “Ours political-democracy values are more similar to USA, UK and many EU countries.”

      Not with China of course.

      “And benefit all nationalities in Island.”

      The deals with China benefits only the clan.

      Chinese constructed airport, harbour and the power plant benefited no one but the clan.

  • 0

    Mr Native Vedda…… there were so many mage projects had been build last 66 years Since day of Independence Galoya Scheme by DSS, Mahavalie River diversion projects by JRJ and Gamini D, and Banadarake internationl Hall(BMICH) by SRD and Mattala International Airport and Mamagampura Port by MR. These projects will go our history of New construction by time to time. Is fact credit should go to MR and his ruling party. How it will benefited to clan only? Its can used by all people of Sri Lankan. This logic is against interest of Our Nation!
    Kindly see positive point of view and common sense to understand Second International Air port is National interest. And Magampura Port for trading and economic purposed of developing is concern that is priority of our national agenda.
    We are towards peaceful path of capitalism, if we want to change path of development and reformed that made sustainable progress, that we can serve the world better, than any other economic system necessary to changes our enterprise order.

  • 0

    Brilliant stuff.
    More comments later

  • 0

    A regime change is impossible in near future, but the need is to generate a discourse on peace and harmony. People will rise up one day, but we need to educate them continuously……..

  • 0

    Mr Sirisena, if you think the course of the present govt. is the way to improve this country you are sadly mistaken. Ignorance has filled the minds of Sinhalese masses because they are like frogs in a well. They only read controlled press and media and they are unaware of the world outside.
    Just buildings do not bring peace. Listen to the leaders of the world. International bodies have a right to interfere when human rights are violated. Please remember this.If Rajapakses do not change our country will be doomed.

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