Role for Sri Lanka’s Diaspora

by Terence MacNamee

The eyes of the world have been on Sri Lanka as the people go to the polls. In spite of everything that has happened, the island is a functioning democracy where the voters can make a difference – as we have seen now, more than once.

Is there going to be real reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamils? Because that would be what Sri Lanka needs. It won’t happen, however, as long as there are traditional prejudices and nationalistic positions entrenched on both sides.

There has always been a temptation in such a situation for the majority to say “it’s our country, dammit!” and then “if the others don’t like it – they can go somewhere else”. Trouble is, look what happens. Louis XIV gave the Huguenots a shove, and they went – they went to other countries in Europe, settled there, and put all their work into developing new things. All the other countries profited, and it was France’s loss.

All around the world there is a huge (mainly Tamil) Sri Lankan diaspora that did not exist before. It is tough on them, tough on the families who saw them go, but it is a challenge in the positive sense, an opportunity – not only for them, but for Sri Lanka. Now it is up to the Sri Lankan diaspora in places like Canada to think of helping in rebuilding the country and solving the problems. Precisely they have something important to contribute, because they have got off the island, out of the entrenched mindset. They have seen the rest of the world, especially the younger generation who may have been born in exile. Of course, the temptation for them is to say “the hell with it – we have had enough – we will just build a new life for ourselves here”. Like the Huguenots did. But Sri Lanka deserves better. The country deserves a future.