Creating harmony and seeking reconciliation
The core message and challenge of Christmas embody a powerful call to foster the goodwill of all and an imperative for efforts at creating harmony and seeking reconciliation of differences.
It involves easing tensions, calming anger and contention, resolving conflicts and exercising restraint in all matters, initiating dialogue in patience and establishing mutual understanding between divergent ideological positions, as well as healing the wounds incurred and restoring law and order which guarantee a peaceful society of justice and solidarity.
Despite the valid legal attempts made to tame the constitutional crisis, the recent political upheavals and corresponding social disturbances call all, both those at the helm of government and citizens as well of our dear motherland to give serious thought to re-discovering the lost national cohesion and the international prestige of our country whilst ushering in paths of political stability, economic recovery, national security and ethnic harmony. The country in all its modern history had never been so severely strained under such pain, anxiety, scandal and disruption, the like of which even the civil society had never ever seen before. One is reminded of the sad eras of invasions by our former colonial rulers of this blessed land, known as Tambapanni to King Vijaya, Serendib to the Arabs and Tabrobane to the Greeks.
A very serious question looms large over the horizons as we gaze in wonder at the mighty oceans that surround us, the graceful rivers that flow down and streams that trickle by, glazing mountains of the hill country with their mighty water-falls cascading, adding grace and luster to our landscape: “What in the heavens has befallen this Dhamamadeepa of ours after 70 long years of liberation from the clutches of foreign rule, with the country finally coming into our own hands as on a platter?
In any growth process there are ups and downs as in evolution there are natural selections and random mutations. As a nation newly freed and able to take our destiny in our own hands, we had a plethora of resources both in terms of human and natural endowments in our country. We were well away in our system of education with the social fabric steady and healthy. Being a repository and sanctuary of four of the world’s greatest and living religions, Sri Lanka had a strong religiously cultural and socially cohesive structure. What was needed was a strong and stable political movement to keep the country well-anchored in her prosperity and growth.
It is unfortunate, that the country and its pawned people became the battleground for party-politics vying for power purely driven by greed even at the present moment of national disaster. The agricultural economy of the early independence era should have been consolidated with our farmers and paddy fields taken to the fore. Agricultural farming could have been modernized with the latest technology as we ventured into the 1950s.
The political upheavals were on the prowl already by this time with the capitalistic rightist ideology on one side and the socialistic leftist ideology intruding from the other side. Battles were drawn polarizing the country for a long time along these two major treks, until the open economy appeared in the late 1980s with an executive presidential form of government that enjoyed absolute power on many fronts until it came to an unprecedented crisis about three years ago. There was an outcry either to abolish or at minimum to reduce the excessive powers of the executive presidency.
The burning issues
Our foreign relations went helter-skelter too between being beholden to the capitalistic western nations and socialistic eastern nations as well as some nations of the Middle-East. Once it was the USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan which were our great benefactors. Then there was a radical swing towards China and India. The relations with these latter countries proved very difficult, since they were and are still, the biggest powers in Asia. It was difficult for governments to walk the way of the non-aligned path that she had taken at the Bandung Conference in 1955.
At Bandung in Indonesia in April, 1955, representatives from twenty-nine governments of Asian and African nations gathered to discuss peace and the role of the Third World in the Cold War, economic development, and decolonization. The core principles of the Bandung Conference were political: self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality. These issues were of central importance to all participants in the conference, most of which had recently emerged from colonial rule. The delegates built upon the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, worked out in negotiations between India and China in 1954, as they sought to build solidarity among recently independent nations.
The countries of the Non-Aligned Movement represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ members and contain 55% of the world population. These two historical institutions were of immense importance to Sri Lanka vis-a-vis her international relations and integration into the community of world’s nations. Internally, a false extremist trend of nationalism based on hatred towards anything that was foreign and divisive politics that preyed on the ignorance of the rural masses, paved the way to instability oftentimes.
Battle for power
It was unfortunate that within the domain of internal politics, parties and people became polarized into two major blocks of the UNP and the SLFP. In the meanwhile, rural people felt left in the lurch and youth violence began to emerge in early 1970s. They wanted their right to good employment and quality education for the rural youth. Having failed in many ways at their voices being heard, they took to insurrectional violence threatening institutions and political authority. Hundreds of thousands of our youth were killed in this rebellion which raised its head again in the mid-eightees. In both cases, state violence was unleashed to quell the rebellions. It was resorted to sometimes in very cruel, inhuman and crude ways. Mass deaths and mass graves were the inevitable results of this national tragedy.
The culture of violence came to a halt in the 30-year ethnic war that really throttled Sri Lanka in a terrible way, slowing down also its economy. Armaments had to be bought and the military maintained. These thirty years of war and terrorism sank the country in misery as never before and is greatly to be blamed on an unjust and bloated false nationalism as well as a plethora of social injustices that ensued there-from. Everyone began to realize that politics and government based on religion, race, language and ethnicity would end up in inevitable disaster. Also the fact, that no political party at elections mustered an absolute majority, prevented the formation of a strong legislature.
The way forward
Weak coalition governments became the order of the day until recently the two major parties decided to work together as a national government having agreed on a common agenda for developing the country. It is at this point that a crisis came over due to policy and ideology clashes within the ranks of the government and aggravated by a radical decision from the Executive giving rise to an unprecedented political imbroglio. This crisis will not be solved easily unless there is conversion of heart and goodwill for collaboration once again with the interest of the common good of country at heart on the part of politicians and political parties.
The people at large also need education on this important issue for the country to move forward. They should not allow themselves to be bullied into fanciful party manifestos which tend to hypnotize them into false dreams. Mistakes must be humbly accepted and all errors corrected forthwith. Having learned enough and more from this national tragedy, politicians, civil society and people in general (the hoi polloi) must stand together in bringing the nation out of its current chaos and impasse, shock and confusion.
There has been an avalanche of errors and bad discernment spilling up all fronts in the rank and file of political authority: the executive, the parliament and political leadership. It is unjust to carry the masses as well into this mess who would still be blissfully ignorant of the depth of misery this constitutional crisis involves. The professionals and the intelligentsia of the nation must intervene to help translate this crisis into a moment of opportunity for insight, enlightenment and growth.
Christmas is no mere cultural pageant or social celebration but an essentially spiritual festival based on a Christian religious truth, celebrated across the globe commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, one of the most influential personages to walk this earth. He is hailed as the one and only historical Incarnation of God. From his Galilean village in modern Israel, he revealed religion to be a source of social transformation, bringing the values of forgiveness and compassion, justice and love into public life and not limiting it to ritual, rites and worship, domesticating it in temples, churches and mosques. We gather in these places of worship in order to go out and be propelled to live the values we believe in.
This is where religion enters politics since kings must rule in justice and in goodness, safeguarding human dignity and common good. Crucial issues confront us at this Christmas: political stability, economic prosperity, national security, ethnic harmony, transitional justice following the ravages of war and caring for the poor. These are the building-blocks of peace at this time. When governance becomes unethical and immoral, religion can challenge such erratic social behaviour of public authority, since it is the breaching of public trust.
These days of Christmas, the festival of peace, should see us exorcized of prejudices and errors that blind us to truth, leading all in this beloved motherland into an era of righteous living and social reconstruction. The path to that goal consists invariably in venturing on a relentless and sustained effort at achieving national harmony and seeking reconciliation. This could well be the most gracious gift that citizens can give one another at this Christmas.