Rohana Wasala, from Island, 27 May 2011, where it appears under a different title
The tri-services parade today, accompanied by a fly past and a sail past by the Air Force and the navy respectively, marks the second anniversary of the Sri Lankan nation’s triumph over terrorism. The terror movement against the country which was defeated two years ago was of a much larger scale and more far-reaching significance than the Marxist insurrections of 1971 and 1989 in the south of the country, which were also decisively crushed by the state. Twenty-six years of mindless terrorism left many thousands dead, and many more thousands maimed for life. The material damage the country sustained was immense. A victory achieved at such a costly price cannot be consigned to history as just another achievement like the cricket world cup triumph in 1996. It is an event to be celebrated not only by this generation, but by many generations to come
Of course, a few detractors could condemn this as yet another manifestation of triumphalism. The word means overdone celebration of the defeat of an enemy, (implicitly at least) with no expectation of reconciliation. The question of reconciliation with the enemy does not arise in this case because the enemy that was defeated had ruled out any reconciliation or compromise while still alive, strong and active, and more relevantly because that enemy is now dead. There is also no question of a need for reconciliation (in the sense of restoring friendly relations after estrangement) with the community they claimed to represent (but contradicted that claim by persecuting them for an impossible megalomaniac dream), for the state fought against terrorism, not against but for that community; normal good relations between them and the state have held during the war as well as before and after. Having said that, I am not denying the possibility of
triumphalism in any similar situation though there is none in this. There must be a sense of proportion; extremism even in celebrating is not to be desired. But it must be emphatically stated that Sri Lankans have never been guilty of that. Yet, the charge of triumphalism is a favourite one levelled againstSri Lankaby its detractors. That’s how it has even got into the infamous Darusman report.
However, the term ‘reconciliation’, as it is used in contexts relating to activities directed at restoring normalcy and addressing relevant problems, obviously has other important and complex dimensions of meaning, with which I am not concerned here. Reconciliation in those senses must be addressed, and is being addressed.
Just as we were required not to underestimate the strength and influence of the enemy we had to overcome we should not discount the importance of the victory we won. The whole nation paid a tremendous price for it, not only in material terms, but more inestimably in blood, sweat and tears – heroic sacrifices whose story is still hardly listened to in the outside world amidst the din of misinformation that the separatist anti-Sri Lanka hate mongers raise. Keeping alive the glorious memory of this victory for our posterity will not only inspire the nation, but discourage future adventurers.
We achieved this victory against many odds. It was a victory that could have been ours at least twenty-five years ago but for external interference brought to bear on us, something intended to serve the geopolitical interests of the powers that be. Such meddling was invited and facilitated by the divisive forces at work internally. As always in the over two thousand five hundred year history of the island it was our unyielding sense of proud national identity that has remained unextinguished through invasions and colonisations, that inspired and summoned to action the nationalist forces to face and defeat the enemies of the nation.
For the nationalists, nation means all the people who collectively make upSri Lankairrespective of ethnic, class, language, religion, ideology, and numerous other identities. This basic fact is not recognised by the anti-nationalists who condemn nationalism as Sinhala Buddhist racism. That the Sinhala Buddhists form the majority of the population is a fact. In the long history of the island they always represented the country in the face of foreign invasions, and fought for her independence on behalf of all Sri Lankans. What happened recently was not different. But this doesn’t mean that the minorities should live among the Sinhalese on sufferance, or that the Sinhalese Buddhists claim any special powers, privileges, or rights that others cannot access. Nationalists come from all ethnic communities. What they want is a country where all Sri Lankans enjoy all due privileges and rights in equality and dignity as citizens of one country.
That is no doubt the wish of all Sri Lankans. The realization of that vision is not difficult if Sri Lankans are allowed to sort things out without outside interference. But there is something unalterable: the unique geographical position of the island at the southern tip of the great landmass that is India, and right in the middle of the Indian Ocean, with the boundless sea stretching to the Antarctica on the south pole has always impacted on its cultural, economic, and political destiny. It has been especially attractive to foreigners from ancient times. Our history has been a struggle to stay whole. The past five hundred years saw the country survive the longest imperialist attack on its independence. It came from the West. We were robbed of our independence, our wealth, our knowledge, our dignity. We are still living through the evil legacy of that imperialism. Though Western imperialist rule here formally ended more than sixty years ago, its evil influence has not left us, and will not leave us soon.
How we are caught up in a geopolitical tussle between mutually apprehensive giants, which is rather subdued though at the moment, is too well known to need reiterating here. This is mainly due to the desire of erstwhile imperialists or their successors to dominate our region. Other powers interacting with them must also be factored in. Our separatist problem, which is for us a matter of staying whole or being mutilated, is an exploitable resource for some of them, but a mere pain in the neck for some.America’s blowing hot and cold, andIndia’s mildly threatening cajolery in connection with the Sri Lankan problem are not difficult to understand. But they must understand that just as their interests are important for them, our survival is important for us.
Some time after 9/11 terrorist bombing inAmerica, Chris Floyd wrote in Moscow Times, May 24, 2002:
“Absolutely nothing must be allowed to interfere with the achievement of Central Asian dominance: the Holy Grail of the energy elite and its corporate outriders. Nothing — not democracy, not morality and certainly not the safety of the suckers back home — is more important…”.
We, as a small nation, have little defence in face of such hegemonic attitudes.
Living in a world where might is right we have no other way than relying on our own resources to save ourselves as a nation. However, while adopting friendly but firm positions regarding our own interests in dealing with parties which have axes to grind, we n should not forget our genuine friends who have always stood by us in critical situations; that should be part of our strategy.
Albert Einstein is said to have stated that the bravest thing is not to fight. But in the real world there probably is no chance for such bravery to be demonstrated, particularly in a world where there is terrorism to overcome. We have defeated terrorism. But what future holds, no one knows. Readiness to face any eventuality is vital. In our culture we have never fought aggressive, belligerent wars to take possession of others’ land or resources. But we have been always brave in the defence of our country.
Our ultimate aim must be to be brave in the Einsteinian sense. For this, there is only one way for us. We must resolve the problems that provided a pretext for terrorism peacefully and democratically, while protecting our territorial integrity.