Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • December 2010
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The National Anthem in Tamil & the UN Experts Panel

Posted by harimpeiris on December 23, 2010

Sri Lanka’s post war politics followed a predictable script with the war winning president using the popular fervor of the war victory to bring forward by two years the date of a presidential election,  securing a second term, a two thirds majority in parliament and removing any restrictions on his ability to keep seeking presidential office indefinitely.

Post war peace policy

 What has not been as smooth a sailing for President Rajapakse has been the post war peace policy trajectory, the type of peace that is sought to be established. On the international front, there have been persistent calls for investigating alleged war crimes and calls to significantly improve our human rights track record. Domestically, the government is yet to seriously commence a dialogue with the chief Tamil political party the TNA, or in fact accede to the requests of the government’s own Tamil allies the TPF.  The North continues like a military zone, defense spending is actually increased, the state of emergency is persisted with, there is no government financial support to the war affected Tamil population and Northern Provincial Council elections ignored.

Language issues

 

In that context comes the inane proposal to scrap the national anthem in Tamil, largely used in the North, amongst mono lingual Tamil Sri Lankans, of whom we have many, especially in the North. A national anthem, like other national symbols should unify, not divide. Unity is achieved through inclusiveness. It is worth quoting the late veteran leftist leader who during the debate on Sinhala only famously predicted, “two languages one nation and one language two nations”. Language policy has been one area in which the Rajapakse Administration has been generous and inclusive, beginning with and led by the President becoming fluent in Tamil and using it in interactions with Tamil people and at public forums. Surely it is preferable to have Tamil speaking Sri Lankans sing the anthem with understanding and meaning than parrot it in a language they don’t understand.

Notwithstanding the factual inaccuracies that reportedly occurred at Cabinet, the following are some basic facts about multilingualism in national anthems. Bilingual countries such as Canada and Cameroon, have their national anthem in both English and French, the Canadian has a native Canadian language Inuktitut version too, the Swiss national anthem, originally in German has its own version in the other three languages of that country, French, Italian and Romansh. While the New Zealand national anthem has both English and Maori lyrics, the post apartheid South African national anthem is multi lingual.  Closer to home the Indian national anthem is not in Hindi, but in Sanskritised Bengali.

UN Panel and a just peace

 

The Western world is pushing Sri Lanka hard on war crimes and human rights issues. Handle it wrong and President Rajapakse is likely to spend his second term with an international standing that will progressively decline somewhere from that of Burmese strongman Gen.Than Shwe down to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, with many more incidents like the Oxford fiasco. That is neither good for President Rajapakse or indeed for Sri Lanka, as the loss of GSP plus facilities on human rights grounds revealed. The real issue the world is looking at, is not so much the war we fought but the peace we are trying to establish. The whole world, US, EU, UK, India have all branded the LTTE a terrorist organization and there is little sympathy for its defeated armed force or its rump international elements. However, there is serious concern about the treatment of Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Becoming a pluralist and tolerant society is not something that Sri Lanka has promised the world and we can, should we deem it wise and desirable, embark on creating an ethno religious supremacist state. But we have covenanted and warranted, together with much of the world as part of human civilization that we will abide by basic human rights and humanitarian law. In the light of ethno religious nationalism when we fail to adhere to our international commitments we invite international opprobrium.

A successful approach to changing the international dynamics are neither blanket denials which lack any credibility, cozying up to dubious friends or hiring expensive public relations firms in Western capitals. But rather a policy change that will move towards national reconciliation and the creation of a just peace to secure the rewards of our just war.

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