Four years after the conclusion of conflict, Sri Lanka still has a long way to go to achieve Reconciliation. This is unfortunate, given the enormous efforts made by government to improve facilities for the people most affected by war. But it is not surprising that, as indicated by the results of the last election held in the Northern Province, we have failed to win hearts and minds.
That would not have been difficult had a concerted effort been made. But this requires planning, and unfortunately planning is not something Sri Lanka has been good at. For over three decades now, we have tended to respond to events or rather to crises. The one exception was the care with which, in the period after 2005, we approached the conflict, with all branches of government working together and care taken to ensure the dissemination of clear and convincing information. Following the conclusion of the conflict however all that broke down, and propaganda, often based on parochial electoral considerations, took over, with little attempt at intelligent analysis of ground realities.
Thus we seemed to believe that reconstruction alone would suffice, and reconstruction that placed a premium on cement rather than people. This is on par with the worst delusions of capitalism as elevated into a political philosophy, the assumption that prosperity will trickle down. But this does not work, and Sri Lanka may in the end have to pay heavily for the failure to conceptualize with sensitivity of those who took on responsibility only for construction and not for consultation, who concentrated only on resettlement and not rather on restoration.
Sri Lanka is at a crossroads. After the end of a long civil war, the country has an historic opportunity to draw on its strengths and riches to create a unified, prosperous and just society.
But it is also faced with complex problems, mostly arising from its recent history. In Australia, we only see the influx of Sri Lankan refugees. But this is merely a symptom, hinting at the larger problem of post-war reconciliation at home.
Sri Lanka is beginning to exorcise its ghosts, but Australia and the international community need to help it on its path to peace.
What is needed now
Reconstruction and reconciliation in post-conflict settings have to occur together. The top-down provision of resources by governments or international agencies needs to be combined with the process of bringing communities together to heal old wounds and where appropriate, to find ways to resume communication with old enemies.
This process of reconciliation is painstaking and can be difficult. Without reconciliation, facts can take on lives of their own, acquiring perverse meanings. The building of roads can be seen as an act of colonisation. The construction of schools and the provision of learning materials can be seen as brainwashing. Even the provision of food and medical care can be interpreted as tools for enforcing and entrenching dependence.
In Sri Lanka, reconciliation and healing has to be undertaken at the level of civil society and encompass all ethnicities, religions and communities. The role of the government is not unimportant but should not be overestimated: in fact, there are things here that governments simply cannot do. Continue reading →