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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, October 31, 2005

Ethno-nationalism: Sri Lanka's Deep Divide

Dheshapalana.blogspot.com:"It must be a peace without victory. Only a peace between equals can last: only a peace, the very principle of which is equality, and a common participation in a common benefit.”
- Woodrow Wilson.

The winds of change have swept our motherland once again. While the Tigers continue their demand for cessation in the northeast, mainstream parties have beaten the drums of ethno-nationalism in the south. The ethno-national divide has deepened. The distinction between factional military activism and a marginalised ethnic minority has become increasing blurred in the minds of many.

Theologians in mainstream politics continue their call for the establishment of a theocratic State. They advocate a perhaps paradoxical Dhamma War - a war in the name of the Buddhist doctrine. Tragically these extremists functioning under the guise of guardians of the Dhamma have succeeded in brainwashing an alarming number. Their rise to power in 2003 is testimony to the onset of this new wave of ethno-nationalism that has swept Sri Lanka. It is undoubtedly the biggest such since July 1983.

With the defection of the JVP over the controversial signing of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) Agreement, the coalition now functions as a minority government. The scale of power thus hangs in the balance, perhaps somewhat stabilised by an assurance by the Leader of the Opposition that the incumbents would not be toppled.

The future of the nation is on the minds of many; the preservation of a unitary State predominates the wishes of a large number among the ethnic majority.

As if to complement this sentiment has been the rise of extremist politicians through the whipping up of nationalism at grass-roots level. This nationalism has fast escalated into ethno-nationalism. The chauvinists would argue that it is merely the preservation of an age-old faith.

Rhetoric by extremists in the weeks surrounding the signing of the P-TOMS Agreement in June churned the cauldron of ethno-nationalism once again. Not for the first time, the nation lapsed precariously close to anarchy. Have we not learnt our lesson from the riots of July 1983? Is there a need for a dreaded history to repeat itself two decades from perhaps the blackest incident in our nation’s past? Is there a day in the future when we can forge together as a truly united Sri Lanka? We may thus ponder: is the widening of ethnic and social cleavages the sole doing of the LTTE? Alternatively, we may question, are there others involved?

As to the chauvinists, in quoting the Buddha, who preached: “May all beings be well and happy,” one may wonder: can adherence to this doctrine of ‘Maithri’ or loving kindness be achieved by the elimination of those beings that oppose?

The recent signing of the ‘Twelve Point Agreement’ between the Prime Minister and the JVP has arguably further changed the landscape of Lankan politics; with it, new questions have come to light. Can Sri Lanka achieve peace sans devolution? Does the country truly face an ethnic problem or a ‘national question’ - as repeatedly re-iterated by the leader of the JVP? Is the answer to lasting peace pride of place for the majority or the formation of a national government? Many would argue that these are but some of the questions on an endless list.

Its time for the nation to choose; as Sri Lanka goes to the Presidential polls on November 17, let her people, through informed - rather than emotion-driven - choice-making, decide.

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