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Expanded version of additional comments by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Chair of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

At the Meeting of the Alliance of Democrats in Rome to discuss Security, Development, Democracy – 1st October 2010.

Apart from providing a brief overview of the Sri Lankan situation, I think I would be failing in my duty as Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats if I did not provide a different perspective on some of the issues we have discussed here today. In talking about Security as well as Development and Democracy, we have heard many views but in many cases there was a lack of historical awareness, and of precise detail, that will not be conducive to productive discussion.

Sometimes this may be deliberate, but I also wonder whether knowledge of history and of accurate detail is no longer thought necessary. I was horrified for instance at the ‘Ara Pacis’ museum yesterday to have a guide who knew very little of Roman history. I cannot of course expect Italians in general to know as much about Roman history as those with a classical British colonial education, but more surely should be expected from a professional guide. The great initiative of Francesco Rutelli, Co-President of the European Democratic Party, in setting up a Museum dedicated to Augustus’ Altar of Peace, is stultified by such ignorance.

So too in our discussion today we did not pay enough attention to history, as exemplified by the map which adorns the cover of our Conference file. Should we not stop to think of the strange shape of Saudi Arabia, as presented there, with areas that give it access to the sea occupied for nearly a century now by those selective mandates the British set up after the First World War? That was done with French collaboration – though Italy was not I believe part of this carve up – in the interests of security, European security.

So the heart of Arabia was left isolated, without alleviation through the healthy pluralistic influences that trade and commerce with the outside world brings. Lebanon and what used to be Palestine, till it was turned into Israel, Syria and Iraq, and also very special British creations, Kuwait and Qatar and the Emirates and Muscat and Oman and Aden, were kept apart. As the West now complains of increasing fundamentalism, it should reflect on the fact that its own security concerns were responsible for restricting the flow of ideas that had made Islam internationally such a vibrant universally acceptable religion.

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Presented by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Chair of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

At the Meeting of the Alliance of Democrats in Rome to discuss Security, Development, Democracy – 1st October  2010

I must thank the Alliance of Democrats for this invitation, which not only permits revisiting Rome, one of life’s  great experiences, but also focuses attention on factors particularly pertinent to Sri Lanka. Indeed in making a connection between Economic Development and Democracy, I should also draw attention to the third factor this meeting is about, namely Security.

Sri Lanka has just emerged from a harrowing conflict against one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups. Sadly, though democratic friends in Asia such as India and Malaysia supported us wholeheartedly in this struggle, this was not the case with some Western democracies – Italy, I should note, being generally an honourable exception. This had to do with democracy again, in its more populist form, given the lobbying power of terrorists. Thankfully, with the conclusion of the British General Election, we hope that such depressing deficiencies in democratic systems are now behind us.

The fears we had with regard to our security, and the disparities in economic development this led to, are now thankfully definitely behind us. I must admit that, initially, successive Sri Lankan governments were responsible for failing to ensure equitable economic development throughout the country. This contributed to resentments that burst out in terrorism movements, in the South of the country as well as in the North. But, whereas disparities based purely on geography, something you are familiar with in Italy too, can be solved relatively easily – or rather should be, since this is an area in which we have much to learn from each other – resentments are less easy to assuage when racial differences are added to geographical ones.

So in Sri Lanka we had resentments that multiplied, and when we reached accommodation with all but one of the terrorist groups that had emerged, that one, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, declared that they were the only representatives of the Tamils. Murdering other Tamil leaders, aided and abetted by political parties in Sri Lanka that tried to use them, converting sympathetic politicians in the West to their cause, the Tigers for twenty years and more prevented settlement, and indeed prevented corrective measures with regard to the deprivation of the Tamil people.

We did however finally overcome the Tigers, through military operations that should be studied by any Western nation wondering why their own wars against terror are failing, and why they have not won the support of the people whose willing or unwilling covert support contributes to the survival of terrorist forces. That however is another question. What concerns me here is the way in which fast forwarding development has contributed to the understanding finally amongst Tamils in Sri Lanka, as well as amongst idealistic but balanced supporters of Tamils abroad, that the present government is committed to a pluralistic democracy.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2010
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