Addressing a meeting to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the national reconciliation oriented ‘Sri Lanka Unites’ organisation recently, Special Assignments Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama said, “We must safeguard the diversity of cultures that we have inherited and there is no one better to look after it than the young people of our country.”
Preceding this remark the minister said that a country which has only one religion, one culture and one language is a very limited country and that a country that has many religions, many cultures and many languages is a country which is cosmopolitan and more exciting to live in. He contrasted the young people having open minds with older people many of whom are burdened with irrational prejudices, and are carrying baggage of frustration built up over the years. The minister referred to the debilitating 30 year war, fuelled by inter-communal hate, which held up social and economic development in a country which at the time of independence in 1948 was one of the leading nations in Asia.
The Minister pointed out that the Treasury is still constrained to repay war debts when national resources should be devoted to improving the life chances of young people. He said that it is now up to the young people free of the burdensome baggage of prejudices ‘to create a hate less, generous world’. Striking a personal note the minister said that he is happy to observe that prefects of his old school Trinity College, Kandy, where he himself was a Prefect once were among the young people joining in this great mission of national reconciliation and rebuilding. This function was held on 28 January at the BMICH.
Following is the full speech of Dr. Sarath Amunugama at the 10th anniversary celebrations of ‘Sri Lanka Unites’:
I am very happy to be here to represent the President and congratulate ‘Sri Lanka Unites’. We are impressed by the work done by this organisation and also look forward to its even greater achievements in the future.
Sri Lanka emerged a few years ago from a 30 year debilitating war. When we achieved independence in 1948 we were one of the leading nations in Asia. We were considered to be a country with the greatest potential in this part of the world. Our achievements like universal suffrage, adult education, gender equality, low maternal mortality, high life expectancy, were all outstanding within the region. But then came ethnic conflicts and the consequent decline of the country.
We went into a long period of decline and had to sacrifice all those great ideals that we proclaimed when we achieved independence. War is a very costly undertaking. The money that should go to help the poor to improve their education and health and to give better opportunities to all our people to reach their goals is dissipated when we have to spend on guns, on assault vehicles, on long range artillery and on military aircraft. Innocent civilians of all communities are killed in a senseless war. So many innocent men, women and children who are all Sri Lankans were killed due to no fault of their own.
We now have to rise again. We have to again marshal our resources so as we can start on a journey which we should have embarked on over 30 years ago. The people who suffered most from this war are young people. In reality however young people had nothing to do in creating these conflicts. They were either not born or were in school or they were busy looking for jobs and were not at all involved in the type of inter-communal hate that fuelled the war. I think this organisation has put its finger on the pulse of that aspect of our society.
We have now to rethink and rebuild. We have to reconcile and have respect for the dignity of each and every one of our citizens. Actually the young are the best people to do that. Many old people are prone to be suspicious of other cultures and other communities. They have a baggage of frustration, a baggage of bad experiences. In many cases it is very difficult to reform them. But the young don’t have all those phobias. Social psychologists have clearly shown that ethnic conflicts are part of a learning process. We learn prejudices from our immediate society and kith and kin. We are not born with all those prejudices. We learn mutual recrimination as we grow older.
So it is very important that we should start in schools, start with young people, start with the people who will be the future leaders of this country. So ‘Lanka Unites’ is a very important movement, a movement that give us a lot of hope. Hope is associated with young people who look to the future. When we have no ethnic and social conflicts when we don’t have to spend hard earned money on killing each other, then we can begin to invest our resources in improving the life of our young people. We can then improve the life chances of young people.
I am glad the war is over. We have now to embark on the path of reconciliation. However we still carry a lot of debts incurred during the war. The Treasury of the country is still paying for all those weapons of war. We are paying for those fighter jets, those helicopters, those tanks, those guns and those warships. Every year we pay taxes, when we should be looking for money to spend on social welfare we are unfortunately paying old debts incurred during the war. It was called a fratricidal war. That means a war between brothers. It is not a war with a foreign country; it is war between groups of people in the same country. When it is a war between people who have lived together for centuries that clearly shows the absurdity of war.
I am very glad that young people including prefects from my own school are joining in this effort at reconciliation. I myself was a prefect at Trinity College, Kandy, many years ago. I am sure these boys are much better perfects than we were. I am so happy that all these young people are getting together to create a better world. They must create a hate less, generous world. We must empathise with and understand the cultures of other people, life of other peoples. Having many cultures in a country is really a blessing.
We are all enriched by having several cultures, languages and religions, because then our experiences are widened. A country which has only one religion, one culture, one language, is a very limited country. The country that has many religions, many cultures, and many languages, is a country which is cosmopolitan and more exciting to live in. So we must safeguard this diversity of cultures that we have inherited and there is no one better to look after it than the young people of our country.