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Text of a lecture by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha Adviser on Reconciliation to HE the President given at the panel discussion on Reconciliation arranged by The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies’ Reconciliation and Development for Peace Section – December 15th 2011

We must love one another or die

Auden’s reminder of the need for togetherness to avoid annihilation, which he expressed in ‘September 1939’, evoking the horrors of the war that caused such destruction in Europe, is of particular significance in Sri Lanka today. We have got over the horrors of the terrorism that plagued us for two decades and more. We have also got now to get over the bitterness and suspicion that prompted that terrorism.

What happened in Post-War Europe can perhaps provide object lessons for us, especially when contrasted with the settlements following the First World War, which led not to peace and reconciliation but to continuing confrontation. The victors of 1918 were determined to rub in their triumph, and engaged in self-aggrandisement of horrendous proportions. The pretext that they had fought for freedom was nullified by the even more oppressive controls they imposed on Asia and Africa and the Middle East. In the last named area, with continuing catastrophic effects on the world at large, exploitation of resources by the victors of 1918 replaced the comparatively benign and economically inclusive control of the Turkish Empire. The fierce competition to plunder Africa, sanctified by the preposterous carving up of the continent in the 1884 Treaty of Berlin, was refined by the elimination of Germany, and the incorporation of Tanzania and present-day Namibia and other entities into larger empires. And India saw the extraordinary spectacle of refined repression, combined with an insidious policy of sowing division and dissension through the presentation of the oppressor as the only hope for minorities – a game that continues to be played, to the finish as Noel Coward might have averred, in so many theatres of potential conflict around the world today.

That card had proved useful in the destruction of the great land empires of Europe. But while the creation of small nation states by the dismembering of Germany and Austria could have been justified by the burgeoning nationalism of the areas they had previously controlled, no such indulgence can be granted to the triumphalism that screwed down the nails on the coffin of German aspirations. The result was Hitler and September 1939, following on the swallowing of Austria and Czechoslovakia, where the race card had been played in reverse.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2011
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