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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, April 11, 2005

Challenges ahead

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Features: "Dr. Norbert Ropers, the Director of the Berghof Foundation for Conflict Studies advocates strengthening local and regional cultures as a counterbalance to globalisation.

He says that the challenge for Sri Lanka is to find ways to reframe its rich diversity as a source of strength, instead of being a cause for conflict and stresses the importance of developing an additional to the existing ethnic identities, i.e. an identity as a Sri Lankan. He spoke to Sunday Observer staffer, Ranga Jayasuriya on a gamut of issues ranging from globalisation to the ethnic conflict.


There are four crucial global trends relevant to Sri Lanka. Firstly, the increasing income inequality between the Northern Western hemisphere and the developing world during the last forty years.

But, at the same time relative inequality between the OECD world (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the Asian countries reduced, that means, while Asia is moving from medium to high level income group, the least developed countries, particularly in Africa are loosing out. There is differentiation in income distribution.

Sri Lanka is in the lower middle income group, which is an interesting position, because it could either become part of this Asian nations closing the gap with the OECD world, or it might be in danger of falling back.

The second phenomenon is what is now described as globalisation, which shapes whole political, technological and ecological development. Unfortunately, the developing world is at the receiving end in this process. They are not the drivers. On the other hand, in Asia, there are countries which are catching up, moving step by step into the group who helps drive this process.

In this respect, there are two models for Sri Lanka. One is the Chinese model, which is more production driven. The other is the Indian model which is more service driven. Sri Lanka has to make a decision on what kind of mixture of production orientation and service orientation it likes to choose.

One aspect which may be heavily disputed in this country is what is described as financial globalisation. This is a difficult trend, because it has led to an unregulated circulating of speculative capital around the world. Traditional culture supporting trade and marketing has been more and more taken up by speculative capital, driven by forces which are more determined by assessments of rating agencies.

As for financial globalisation, we need re-regulation of this market. Otherwise sustainable development all over the world, not only in the developing world, but also in the developed world could be undermined, as we have already seen in the South East Asian financial crisis.

The third trend is what is described as cultural globalisation. There is homogenisation of tribal culture, dominated by Hollywood or Bollywood. On the other hand you have a kind of counter culture. The Stronger the cultural trivialisation more the counter forces. When more people oppose the cultural trivialisation,there is danger that they can be dragged towards more fundamentalist tendencies.

The fourth trend is in the political sphere; because of modernisation or urbanisation, more and more people ask for political participation. They do not want to be excluded, they do not want repressive or authoritarian regimes. Politicisation and active participation in politics will lead to more pluralism, because people have different interests according to their identities, according to their communities.

Therefore the main challenge is that how we could find mechanisms that help us cope with the growing diversity. It is not possible to have political regimes, which try to stay homogeneous, on the long run. At the political level we need strengthening local and regional institutions, because, that is where people who are directly affected can articulate their own interests.

If we need to cope with growing pluralism, we have to allow the people to have a voice on the local and regional levels. That is the only way to counter the trivialisation of cultural sphere. Tribal culture is dominated by anglo saxon culture. Therefore it is necessary to cultivate or nurture the traditional culture of other religions so that there is a counter balance for the globalisation.

What is important for Sri Lanka, a country which has opened up itself to globalisation is strengthening the local and and regional communities as much as possible, because they are the most sustainable counterweight to global trends which would otherwise undermine the local culture.

Big Asian countries like India and China have found their own way of balancing globalisation, given their weight it is easier for them. As for Sri Lanka, with its rich culture, it also has so much to offer, and has the capacity to withstand forces and strengthen local identities.

It is also a challenge to Sri Lanka to find how its rich diversity could be reframed instead of being a burden or a reason for struggle and conflict.

South Africa is perhaps the best success story of this kind. South Africa was transformed from an exclusionary polity of apartheid regime to a rainbow nation.

It is crucial to develop an additional to the existing cultural and ethnic affiliations, for instance an identity as a Sri Lankan. In the process of nation building, inclusivity is the most crucial aspect. For sustainable peace or just peace, all communities who are affected by any kind of agreement must be involved in the process of identifying solutions. It is necessary to enhance the inclusivity of all negotiations, of all movements towards a common understanding on what kind of Sri Lanka, that communities of this country would like to see.

With reference to constitutional mechanisms which would help to achieve just peace, the principle of subsidiarity will be very helpful, meaning that the governance should always take place at the lowest possible level of governance.

For instance challenges of post-tsunami reconstruction in Galle, Matara and Batticaloa should better be handled by local authorities close to the people. The stronger the local officials are, the more capacities they have for effective political administration. Therefore subsidiary is a very useful principle to guide the construction of State formation. But it is up to the parties and stakeholders to decide as to what kind of State formation is adequate for this country.

All the parties to the conflict are willing to settle the conflict through negotiations, but they differ in the way to do it. Therefore a challenge for all the parties is to engage in a process which would allow them to move what is called 'positional bargaining' in conflict resolution to another attitude called 'principled negotiations'.

The joint mechanism is often portrayed in the media as one sided giving in to the other, or making concessions. That is one way of looking at it. However, negotiations are a process which both sides can learn from joining to solve the problem. They are looking at ways to organise post-tsunami aid effectively; they have to look in to the best way of fulfilling post tsunami relief needs. That should be the guiding principle in the negotiations. If one looks at federal countries around the world, many of these countries have handled the challenge of creating and combining diversity and unity somewhat more effectively than centrally organised States.

Negotiating parties to the ethnic conflict agreed in Oslo to explore a federal solution. It is important to explore as many different possibilities of power sharing, so that parties can be aware of rights of power sharing options. Sometimes, the term federalism is seen in Sri Lanka as a term which provoke either sympathy or hostility. Based on Sri Lankan culture and its historic experience when various kingdoms co-existed, they should find how to organise a power sharing.

Whatever kind of power sharing at the end of the day comes out of the process, should be decided by all the stakeholders of the process.

Constituent communities will have to find how to combine self rule and shared rule. Long on-going protracted social conflicts like the one in Sri Lanka can be addressed, only you see that as an addition of combination of peace and justice.

There can be no sustainable peace without justice; no sustainable peace without the respect for human rights and pluralism.

The number one guiding criteria for conflict resolution is that you must have vision for just peace. Number two we have to look not only on the political side, but also on the economic side. If there is no sustainable economic development there cannot be a sustainable peace. So conflict resolution needs to have a vision on social economic betterment.

Third, all communities should have a share in political decision making. Finally, you need to have an intelligent combination of a good structure and a good process; One of the requirement for a good process is inclusivity. There is no sustainable peace process, without peace dividends. Peace dividends must have economic dimension, not only the relief that there is no body bags coming home, people must feel that something is moving towards the rights direction with respect to the economic wellbeing.

Any government in power has to take that into account. Some however do not take this serious enough; because of that the former government was elected out of power.

The peace process needs an intelligent strategy as to how we can reach those people who otherwise do not see that the peace process has given them any benefits, especially in a society where there is a lot of scepticism and distrust that others might get more than oneself.

Conflict transformation, the term also includes that you should have a comprehensive understanding that you can not just confine the peace process to the leadership level; it must have a comprehensive format where the entire society is involved in healing the legacy of the past and helping all people see that the post- conflict or post- war situation is something where they all benefit. Just as same as people in the South felt that peace dividends had not reached them, people in the North-East feel that there is no tangible peace dividends for them apart from the Ceasefire Agreement. A lesson from other post conflict or post war situation is that if people who are affected could not see tangible results, they can become more and more frustrated and that they can forget that the ceasefire itself is an achievement.

It is obvious, little or no reconstruction has happened. Therefore the principal idea is to have some kind of interim arrangement, which would allow all people to see tangible results coming out of the peace process. So far it is very difficult to achieve, because the two sides want to do it differently from each other.

Any one who takes political responsibility has to see that there is a need to take risk; there is no risk free peace process.

Both sides have to look at their possibilities of taking risk. In some countries this is difficult, because, you are responsible to your constituency. Your constituency expects from you the maximum.

However the art of politics is always the art of possible.

Art of possible in Sri Lanka is to look into how we can do a step by step approach to find common solutions without loosing the rapport with our own constituency.

The LTTE's ISGA proposals many believe are the maximum proposals, it dealt particularly with the aspects of self rule, but there is little component of shared rule.

However, having followed the discussions closely my impression is that it could be the starting point for negotiations and I see the possibility of finding a compromise, that both sides are willing to look at the necessity of combining self rule and shared rule.

At the end of the day , there will be a solution to the ethnic conflict and peace will be based on an agreement where you have to combine shared rule and self rule. Any solution will be on combination the only open question is what kind of combination. In that respect parties have to come together, sit together and discuss it; no side can put their will on the other side. They all have to make concessions and look at a win- win solution, acceptable to all communities and should find ways to organise this co-existence."

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