Reconciliation’ is a popular word in Colombo politics, touted by government leaders and NGO activists
There are “two opposite beliefs and ideas” that came to be gradually embedded in Sinhala- Buddhist and Tamil societies
Yet unlike a broken egg, broken societies can be mended without scars
This country cannot afford to slip into a “Myanmar syndrome” with political leaders playing ‘lip service’ to reconciliation avoiding responsibility
One week ago on ‘twitter’ someone handling the account @garikaalan tweeted on the ‘Office for National Unity and Reconciliation’ (ONUR) funded omnibus film “Her, Him and the Other” titled in Sinhalese as “Thundenek” by three of the most reputed Sri Lanka’s present day Sinhala film directors, Prasanna Vithanage, Asoka Handagama and Vimukthi Jayasundera. The tweet questioned the inability of ONUR in finding a Tamil film director for their funded project and said, “One of the female character-a Tamil mother of missing person portrayed as ‘finding’ her son in a Sinhalese soldier. So much cliché. Not reconciliation, propaganda!”
Reconciliation apart, ONUR could not stand that critical comment and hit back with a nasty response tweeting “We’ve failed in nation building & uniting the country due to this kind of ignorant, opportunistic statements; judging even without watching nor understanding the diversity of film crew. Not sure if you are a Bot, if not, pls contact us so we can arrange for you to watch the movie.”
This ‘reply tweet’ very clearly says why there cannot be reconciliation. First it accepts this country has failed in nation building and uniting the country, even after the guiding political head of ONUR had an 11 year spell as all powerful Executive President of this country. Two, their arrogance does not allow them to know the difference between a ‘film director’ and a ‘film crew’. They tend to believe a few Tamil and Muslim assistants in the film crew could be substituted for the absence of a Tamil film director. And three, they have no set programme scheduled for public screening to tell the ‘tweep’ s/he could go and see the film. Therefore, ONUR has to be personally contacted for a private screening. That proves how stupid and narrow these funded projects are and how far away they are from honest and sincere attempts at reconciliation.
That said, this bold criticism of cosmetic projects on reconciliation presumably from a Tamil Northerner needs attention in mainstream media for better reasons. The three short films themed on post war Sri Lanka issues and strung together into a single film, perhaps is very creative and ‘arty’, seriously insightful and may be worth the time watching it. That does not mean it could in anyway contribute for “Reconciliation” this country in its post war life needs but is not provided for. The tweet by @garikaalan thus begs an answer to the question, ‘what is reconciliation in a society that remains bloodied, mutilated and polarized after almost 03 decades of a militarized ethnic conflict?’
‘Reconciliation’ is a popular word in present day Colombo politics, touted by government leaders and NGO activists in numerous platforms and in their statements made more for international attention. Literally ‘reconciliation’ means “the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree” and also “making and accepting apologies”, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary. There are “two opposite beliefs and ideas” that came to be gradually embedded in Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil societies; the Sinhala Buddhist belief is that this country belongs to them and all others, Tamils and Muslims as minorities can live only if they accept Sinhala Buddhist dominance and the Tamil belief is that they have an equal right to the history of this country no less than the Sinhalese.
For 03 decades Tamil political leaders strived to lobby, pressure and agitate to negotiate for a decent and a dignified answer that at every turn was denied by Sinhala leaders compromising with Sinhala supremacist politics. That eventually led to the near 03 decade old militarised ethnic conflict concluded in 2009 May. Conclusion of the military conflict did not bring about any “agreement” in ‘making and accepting apologies’ for what was done in creating ‘opposite and conflicting beliefs’ that led to the brutally militarised conflict.
Reconciliation in present day Sri Lanka looks like a broken egg that for sure cannot be patched up again. Yet unlike a broken egg, broken societies can be mended without scars that would scare new generations into new conflicts. Rwanda is one such country that went through genocide of Tutsis being wiped out like “cockroaches” by Hutus in 1994. But now with reconciliation on their own choosing, is ruled by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that is influenced very much by Tutsi activists and local leaders, with broad support across the country.
What needs to be done is to undo what was done for de-polarising of this society that still remains heavily polarised and is being continuously polarised every day. De polarising certainly is no easy task with the Sinhala South dominating all elections and Southern political parties playing into Sinhala Buddhist psyche for votes. Sinhala Buddhist dominance remains with a supremacist psyche that is deeply pegged to the two main political slogans, “Unitary State and Buddhism as the State religion”. The dichotomy that is played out thereafter is the allegation that “Tamil separatism” is still conspiring to divide this only Sinhala Buddhist country in the world map.
Developing and nurturing this Sinhala Buddhist dominance was and is a political campaign. It sprouted even before independence in 1948, grew in stature with Sinhala political leadership that to date is being directly and indirectly patronised by mainstream political parties at every level. From their leaders visiting and taking advice from the Chief prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters to local leaders patronising their chief monk in their own temple. From political leaders promising a “Unitary” State, a privileged status to Buddhism in the Constitution and patronising of ‘war heroes’ to their local leaders taking all that a step and a half further, giving them an anti Tamil flavour. All that backed up by mainstream media from Colombo, the Sinhala media contribution certainly cementing the social psyche for Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. Meanwhile, national education is adding its own weight in producing the next generation for Sinhala Buddhist dominance.
This is a massive political collage that has to be politically deconstructed for reconciliation to break into reality, not in North-East but in the Sinhala South. In the absence of mainstream political leadership taking up that challenge, over 03 decades of Colombo based NGO activism with Trillions of dollars pumped into peace building, conflict transformation and management, educating journalists on secular and inclusive journalism, creating awareness on and promoting power sharing and federalism have all completely failed and miserably too. With funds that came without much effort, with “employee activists” who were only responsible to the “project” and not to society, these NGO activism could not provide the alternate political leadership necessary in challenging the multi pronged, many faceted Sinhala Buddhist political campaign for dominance and supremacy in South.
What was not possible with donor funding through NGOs when the Sinhala South was at times in “war fatigue” cannot be achieved now when the Sinhala South lives with “war heroes” who won the war having eliminated one of the most ruthless and powerful “terrorist” organisations in the world. That cannot now be achieved when the Sinhala Buddhist psyche accuses “all NGOs as proxies of international conspirators who are trying to divide the country” and therefore remain tarnished and insulted.
Yet, this country cannot live with fractured and mutilated peace. Cannot live with dignity and pride while State law enforcement agencies play for Sinhala Buddhist extremism as in Ampara most recently and many times before. This country cannot afford to slip into a “Myanmar syndrome” with political leaders playing ‘lip service’ to reconciliation avoiding responsibility in taking the lead in politically campaigning for reconciliation. In challenging Sinhala Buddhist supremacist ideology that obstructs and disrupts de polarising necessary for actual reconciliation. Having wasted 09 years after the military conflict was concluded, this country cannot wait for UNHRC Resolutions and international power brokers to settle our political conflict with their jargon, the Sinhala South does not want to and cannot understand and protesters in Keppapilavu has not been heard for over a year.
Political reality is, these issues cannot be outsourced to outside agencies to find answers that our opposing communities have to come to terms with and compromise on their own free will. There is only one way out to create such conceding and conducive environment for serious dialogue across ideologically polarised societies. The two main political partners in this “unity” government needs to be honest and sincere in what they say on peace, unity and reconciliation. They have to walk the talk, instead of leaving the walking to Sinhala extremist elements. They have to provide open and active political leadership for reconciliation to happen. They have to begin by bringing their own political parties to resolve they would work for reconciliation that would get the Sinhala South on board to begin “the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree” and also “making and accepting apologies” for all that had gone wrong in the past, who ever is to be blamed.
That has to begin with President Sirisena and PM Wickramasinghe getting their parliamentary groups to adopt a resolution to the effect they (i) oppose Sinhala Buddhist extremism in every form and shade, and (ii) they stand uncompromisingly for immediate release of all Tamil detainees without charges, (iii) would provide for social and economic life in North and East without security forces interfering in civil activities, (iv) would immediately take steps to release all private land to their legal owners, presently occupied by security forces (v) would fast track the long delayed OMP work in co-operation with affected families agitating to know about their missing family members and (vi) would also work towards shared political power in an undivided country.
These two leaders in government, should similarly get all their PC Members and their newly elected LG members to adopt similar resolutions in provinces and districts. No political leadership can honestly and seriously talk about peace, unity and reconciliation unless their political parties at every level first agree and consent to an actual programme on reconciliation. It is only if the whole party dialogues and decide on a reconciliation campaign the leadership can launch a live, ground level campaign for reconciliation and counter Sinhala Buddhist extremism in the South.
To date no political leader in the South have got his (no woman leading a political now) political party to agree for a reconciliation process. They have not discussed in their own party, in Executive Committees and Central Committees as to how reconciliation can be achieved in this polarised society. In short, the two main political parties in the South and in the unity government have never seriously and organisationally discussed reconciliation and power sharing in their own party branches, affiliated organisations and in their annual conferences. That remains the biggest setback in winning the South for reconciliation and would remain so, until the two political party leaders honour their pledge for reconciliation and power sharing by getting their own political parties to accept and consent to the basic demands of the war affected people in the North-East. Reconciliation cannot be left as mere rhetoric on platforms without party structures agreeing while pandering the South for Sinhala votes. That duplicity will not be the answer for the people, though leaders fear to stand up to their own responsibility of politically leading the country on much needed, much delayed reconciliation.