Perception vs. reality

Monday, 19 May 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech during the victory celebrations on Sunday would have disappointed many due to its refusal to address many of the burning challenges facing reconciliation and instead vamping up the rhetoric to quell “external elements” that are attempting to divide the country. The strongly-worded delivery liberally revisited the heartaches of the past. True to form, he dwelt extensively on the “humanitarian” aspect of the war and elaborated on the integration accomplished since then, touching upon the rehabilitated former cadres and 4,000 odd Tamil youth who have joined the home guard and dozens more prepared to become part of the Army. Essentially it was called a victory for peace not war. Few fair-minded people would disagree with these momentous achievements, but they would have noted with dismay the President’s steadfast refusal to accept that there are still many steps that need to be taken to foster sustainable reconciliation. A look at his speech would show that the activities at Matara were largely to shore-up support for the regime whose largest claim to power is ending the war. In a startling absence of empathy, Rajapaksa limited the discourse of the war to LTTE leader Prabhakaran and his dastardly acts and steadfastly ignored the fact that Tamil civilians died during the war and the right of Tamil people to commemorate their dead without the suffocating military presence. Blood donation drives and remembrance activities in kovils have been stamped down and the Jaffna University closed to prevent any events as in 2011. Last year arrests of about 15 people in the north showed the dissatisfaction felt by the masses. No doubt insensitive measures of this nature contributed to the Government defeat in the provincial council election last year as well but it seems the lesson has not been learnt. This has prompted observers to term the situation in the north as “peace on a war footing”. As per usual he gave no quarter to the Tamil diaspora or international community that has been pointing out the shortcomings of the reconciliation steps taken by the Government. The latest speech shows the Rajapaksa regime will continue to turn a deaf ear to land grabs, the continued militarisation of the north, and attacks on Jaffna journalists, their offices and even on Tamil politicians themselves. Such a stance is all the more contentious as Sri Lanka stares down the barrel of a United Nations probe. Continuing its ‘devil may care’ attitude, External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has already insisted the Government will not allow UN investigators into the country. Various interviews with representatives of the US and European Union – Sri Lanka’s largest trade partners – have warned things will only get worse for the nation’s international reputation if they do not work with the UN. Refusal to do so will come at a cost the Rajapaksas may not feel but the rest of the country might. True reconciliation is grounded in understanding, generosity, transparency, humility and dignity. All elements that have been largely lacking in the Government’s method and this perception continue to seriously undermine any efforts at gaining real peace. It has come to the point that what is not said in the President’s Victory Day speech says more of Sri Lanka’s reconciliation than what is voiced.