Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation

By Robert I. Rotberg | Go to book overview

ical vision of an ethnically heterogeneous political association called the state, a vision that should be shared by the three main ethnic groups: Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. Such a shared vision still remains a distant possibility. The idea of sharing political power, particularly among the ethnic groups, has been the least accepted and the most resisted approach in Sri Lankan politics. The resistance to sharing state power has been emphatically seen as a virtue among the elites and ethno-political cadres (Sinhalese as well as Tamil), and to a considerable extent among the masses too. The democratic political culture with which Sri Lanka has been so intimately associated excludes power-sharing based on ethnicity. Indigenization and domestication of democratic institutions and practices has occurred in such a way that they are presupposed to serve exclusive sectional interests. This is the discursive raison d'etre of majoritarian unitarism as well as minoritarian separatism.

One key problem with contemporary Sri Lanka is the absence of strong defenses against ethnic exclusivity in politics. The post-colonial nation-state has destroyed all those defenses in its own style. Rebuilding these defenses invariably involves building a new political culture that can accept and yet transcend ethnicity in politics. But, there is a massive problem: there is no political ideology historically capable of providing such a vision. At least in Sri Lanka's case, there have been only two ideological strands that were capable of providing conceptual underpinnings for a non-ethnicized political order: Marxism and liberal humanism. With the historical decline of Marxism as well liberal humanism, Sri Lanka's problem has become infinitely complex.

The next task is to imagine new forms of political association to replace the nation-state. This is the real task of reconstruction.


Notes
1.
April 1995 marked the breakdown of peace talks between the People's Alliance government and the LTTE. Since then, the military equation has changed dramatically, with the LTTE losing control of the Jaffha peninsula. Having retreated to the thick jungles of the mainland's north and east, the LTTE has nevertheless managed not only to survive militarily, but also to resist fiercely the advance of government troops.
2.
Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times ( New York, 1968).
3.
One of the most peculiar aspects of Sri Lanka's conflict is the absolute reluctance being displayed by the government and the LTTE to maintain communication when they are in war. Militarized conflicts in other countries provide a contrasting example of parties exploring political possibilities for settlement while the war continues.
4.
In Sri Lanka's contemporary political parlance, the political package refers to the institutional reform proposals for greater devolution drafted by the present People's Alliance government.
5.
The Thimphu principles refer to four positions concerning a settlement articulated by Tamil

-167-

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