World View: Sri Lanka Follows a Predictable Pattern After Its Civil War

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Pope canonizes first Sri Lanka saint, calls for national unity
  • Sri Lanka’s presidential election exhibits high drama
  • Sri Lanka follows a predictable pattern after its civil war

Pope canonizes first Sri Lanka saint, calls for national unity

Pope Francis, visiting a Catholic shrine in Madu, Sri Lanka (TamilNet)
Pope Francis, visiting a Catholic shrine in Madu, Sri Lanka (TamilNet)

More than half a million people attended a seafront mass in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, on Wednesday, as Pope Francis announced that Reverend Joseph Vaz had been canonized as a saint. Vaz was a 17th century Indian missionary who revived the faith in Sri Lanka during a time of anti-Catholic persecution by Dutch colonists, who were Protestant Calvinists.

The Pope’s visit comes five years after the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. Sri Lanka has two major ethnic groups, the majority Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist, who control the markets and the government, and the minority Tamils, mostly Hindu, who were rebelling against the government to create a separate Tamil state. The Pope said that he hoped that religion could help heal the divisions between Sinhalese and Tamils, just as Saint Joseph Vaz had helped bring the peace in the 17th century.

The Pope encouraged the Sri Lankan government to appoint a “truth commission” to determine what happened in the civil war, to bring about healing:

The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity.

This was actually a swipe at the Sinhalese government, which has been accused by the U.N. Human Rights Council of having committed genocide during the civil war. Although the war ended in 2009, there are still some Tamil groups in Sri Lanka and in the European diaspora that would like to revive the war, and the Pope’s nice-sounding remarks give encouragement to those groups.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter sent by a Tamil leader to the Pope, shortly before his visit:

I am Mrs. Ananthy Sasitharan, an elected member of Northern Provincial Council in the island. I am working for the people who lost their family members in the last phase of the genocidal war waged on Tamil people in the North-East. We have been tracing the whereabouts of many of the cases that are being regarded in the records as ‘missing persons’. …

I hope that Your Holiness is aware of the fact that the underlying conflict in the island is a 60-year-long genocide against Tamils. It has claimed the lives of most of the talented people from our traditional homeland in the North-East. A significant number of our resource people are forced into exile. The remaining Tamils are forced to live as second-class citizens, facing various forms of oppressions, colonization, Sinhalicisation and finally Buddhicisation of the traditional Tamil homeland through Sinhala militarisation.

During your visit, the Sri Lankan political leaders … will be fighting for the opportunity to kiss your hand and get your blessings. … The political leaders and their military commanders of the Colombo government are seeking to protect themselves and their system from its crime of genocide. …

Your Holiness, please do not be fooled by their false promises on protecting ‘minorities’. In fact, transforming Tamils into their ‘minorities’ was their first step in the genocide. Tamils are not a minority in our own traditional homeland, which is subjected to systematic Sinhala Buddhist colonization with a genocidal motive. …

We look at Vatican, as a moral guardian of humanity. The Catholic Church, having witnesses among the people, has a moral duty to safeguard the people from the protracted crime of genocide.

As this letter shows, the civil war ended in 2009, but the tensions and emotions that drove the civil war are still burning. Reuters and Guardian (London) and TamilNet

Sri Lanka’s presidential election exhibits high drama

Mahinda Rajapaksa was first elected president of Sri Lanka in 2005, and led Sri Lanka to victory over the Tamils in the civil war that ended in 2009. His political party, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), has won almost every local and national election since then. In October of last year, sure of victory, Rajapaksa called for a new election for January 8, a year earlier than he had to.

However, Rajapaksa’s own Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena, declared that he would create a new party, the New Democratic Front (NDF), and oppose Rajapaksa. Even two weeks ago, it was thought that Rajapaksa would score a major victory. But when the election was over and they counted the votes, everyone was shocked that Sirisena won. Rajapaksa was hailed as a unifier when he graciously conceded defeat to Sirisena.

Then it turned out that, on the morning of election day, Rajapaksa realized that he might lose, and he sought the support of the army in overturning the results of the election. Only after they failed to back him did he concede.

The campaign spokesman of the new president claimed on Saturday that the Sri Lankan army had defied Rajapaksa’s orders to use force to keep him in power:

The army chief got orders to deploy the troops on the ground across the country. They tried attempts to continue by force. The army chief defied all the orders he got in the last hours.

We spoke to the army chief and told him not to do this. He kept the troops in the barracks and helped a free and fair election.

However, Rajapaksa denies that there was any coup plot. According to his spokesman:

When U.S. State Secretary John Kerry spoke to Rajapaksa over the phone, the former president assured him there will be a smooth power transition as stipulated in the constitution.

Whether the allegations of a coup attempt are true or false, the damage has already been done in the sense that the election results have been clouded, and in the future, Tamils will view election results with suspicions of Sinhalese tampering. Ada Derana (Sri Lanka) and South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP – India) and Economist

Sri Lanka follows a predictable pattern after its civil war

As long-time readers may recall, as the Sri Lanka civil war approached a climax in May 2009, every news organization and analyst that reported on the civil war were predicting that the civil war would continue on for months or years, because it had already gone on for 26 years.

As far as I know, every analysis in the world was wrong except the Generational Dynamics analysis. As I had been saying for months earlier, the Sri Lanka civil war was a generational crisis war, headed for an explosive climax, and when that climax was finally reached, then the war would be over once and for all. The comparison I made was to the surrender of Berlin and Tokyo that ended World War II once and for all.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, civil wars are very interesting studies because they’re self-contained. With a war involving two or three nations, it gets complicated to sort out the various ethnic groups, religions, and generational timelines. But in the case of a civil war, such as the Sri Lanka civil war, you have two opposing sides with the same generational timelines, and with a clear fault line separating. The result is that the generational timelines for civil wars are more predictable than for multi-nation wars.

Let’s illustrate this in the case of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka civil war was fought between two ancient races: The Sinhalese (Buddhist) and the Tamils (Hindu). WWII was a crisis war for India and for Ceylon, the former name of Sri Lanka. There was relative peace on the island until 1976, when the Tamils began demanding a separate Tamil state and formed a separatist group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or just “Tamil Tigers.”

A non-crisis civil war began in 1983, and the low-level violence continued until a peace treaty was signed in 2002. In the next few months, the peace treaty has been unraveling, and in the last couple of weeks it appears closer to a full-scale crisis civil war.

In 2006, the fighting became a lot more serious and by 2008 it was a full-fledged generational crisis war. The major characteristic of a crisis war is that the value of an individual life goes to zero, while the only thing that matters is the society and its way of life. To illustrate this, I always like to point to the Allied storming of Normandy Beach in 1944, where the American soldiers were shot down like fish in a barrel. Subsequently, the allies firebombed and destroyed Dresden, and then nuked two Japanese cities.

WWII had a literally explosive climax, but the Sri Lanka civil war had a climax that was just as explosive, though not literally, and just as genocidal. The Tamils had been using civilians as shields. Since the Sinhalese army did not want to kill innocent civilians, this Tamil tactic worked for years. In January, 2008, the Sri Lankan military commanders promised to “defeat the Tamils once and for all” by the end of 2008. This was a signal that the lives of civilians would no longer matter, and that the army would attack the Tamil Tigers even if it meant killing civilians. (See “Sri Lanka government declares all out war against Tamil Tiger rebels” from January 2008.)

Finally, in May 2009, the Sinhalese army trapped the Tamil Tiger militants in a U.N.-declared “safe zone” and slaughtered them, including a number of civilians, although 50,000 civilians that had been trapped there were freed. That was the end of the war. (See “Tamil Tigers surrender, ending the Sri Lanka crisis civil war” from May 2009.)

The genocidal climax of a civil war is particularly shameful for both sides, because the mass slaughter was not directed at foreigners, but against cousins, brothers and neighbors.

Once a crisis civil war ends, the country goes through a Recovery Era, where the traumatized survivors pass laws and create institutions whose purpose is to guarantee that such a war will never happen again, not to their children and not to their grandchildren.

Sri Lanka is now in the midst of a Recovery Era. Tensions are high and bitterness is deep, but there’s no more war, at least for the time being. But there’s a new generation rising, young people with no personal memory of the horrors of the civil war. After about 15 years after the climax, there’s a generational Awakening Era, and they begin to make their voices heard. Young Tamils will demand an end to discrimination, and many young idealistic Sinhalese will join them. But then the incidents of violence will start, expanding into low-level violence, and the cycle will continue.

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Sri Lanka, Colombo, Pope Francis, Saint Joseph Vaz, Tamils, Sinhalese, Mahinda Rajapaksa, United People’s Freedom Alliance, UPFA, Maithripala Sirisena, New Democratic Front, NDF, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, Tamil Tigers
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