Gwynne Dyer: Aftermath for Tamils in Sri Lanka and abroad

"(The war) is not going to end soon," said Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, the Sri Lankan army's spokesman, last month. "It will take some time to completely eradicate terrorism from the country--we think about two years."

In the euphoria over the recent military victory that ended the conventional war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ("Tamil Tigers") and wiped out most of their leadership, most people in Sri Lanka have forgotten that prediction, but it remains likely.

In fact, the brigadier may even have been optimistic in saying that two years would "completely eradicate terrorism" in Sri Lanka.

In the last weeks of fighting, foreigners called for a cease-fire to protect the Tamil civilians trapped within the diminishing perimeter held by the Tigers. These voices  solemnly warned that a crushing military victory by the government would embitter the Tamils and cause just such a terrorist war afterward.

But that was just foreigners being naive: after 26 years of war, the bitterness among Tamils is already quite enough to fuel a postwar guerilla war.

However, whether that war actually occurs depends on what happens next, not on how Tamils feel about the way the war ended. The ordeal of the 300,00 Tamils who were trapped with the Tigers' army in its last stand was extreme, but it was not just due to government shellfire.

The survivors of that ordeal, who are now being held in government-run displacement camps, were forced to accompany the Tigers in their retreat to serve as shields.

They were killed by the Tigers if they tried to leave, so they are not in the least romantic about that last stand. Whereas the very large number of Tamils in the diaspora overseas are.

Diaspora Tamils are in shock about recent events, for most of them saw the founder and leader of the Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakan, as an invincible defender of the Tamil cause. They can scarcely believe that he and almost all the other senior leaders of the Tigers are dead.

Moreover, the Tiger support network in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom that provided 80 percent of the organization's military budget is still intact.

There are plenty of young radicals in those communities who are ready to continue the war in Sri Lanka, if only by guerilla and terrorist attacks for the time being. This is strikingly different from the situation in Sri Lanka itself, where it is clear that most Tamils in the areas formerly under the Tigers' control are ready to stop fighting.

They have personal experience of the Tigers's ruthless rule, they have lived through 26 years of constant insecurity and recurrent violence, and they have had enough.

That would normally be the deciding factor in the equation, for if the Tamils at home in Sri Lanka really want to end the war, who could make it continue?

There are, unfortunately, two possible answers to that question. One is the dogmatists in the Tamil diaspora, for whom the goal of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka is sacred. The other is the victorious and deeply intolerant government of Sri Lanka, which may well throw its victory away.

Many Tamils living abroad just want to integrate into their new countries and leave all that unhappy history behind them, but family ties back home and the pervasive presence of Tiger radicals in the overseas communities make it hard for them to do so.

There is a risk that the Tamil diaspora, like the millions of Irish who emigrated to the United States in the famine of the 1840s, will become the base for a permanent war against the oppressor back home.

That is what the Fenians became in 19th-century America, even launching unsuccessful "invasions" of British North America (i.e. Canada) in pursuit of their goal of liberating Ireland.

If the Sri Lankan government cannot create an acceptable future for its Tamil population at home, the same thing will happen in the Tamil diaspora.

There is no good reason why Sri Lanka's Tamils should not live peacefully as the country's largest minority, but history is against it. The ethnic nationalism of the Buddhist, Sinhala-speaking majority has poisoned Sri Lankan politics, beginning with the laws that made Sinhala the sole official language and imposed restrictions on Tamil access to universities and the professions in the 1950s and 1960s.

Those laws were mainly the work of the Bandaranaike political dynasty, which deliberately cultivated a resentful Sinhalese nationalism for electoral reasons. The laws aimed to redress the grievances of the Sinhalese majority, who believed that the Tamil minority had prospered at their expense by collaborating too closely with the British colonial power, but they went too far and they have lasted too long.

What the country needs now is a clean slate where everybody's language has equal status and every ethnic group has equal opportunities. At the end of these terrible months, and despite all the killings and the "displacement camps" crammed with dazed Tamil civilians, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has enough political credit in the eyes of the Sinhalese majority to make that revolution happen.

Unfortunately, his government probably lacks the imagination for doing  that, in which case the terrorism will probably start up again soon.

Gwynne Dyer's most recent book, Climate Wars,  was published in Canada by Random House.




May 28, 2009 at 7:42pm

Sorry The war will continue because of the ultra nationalism of the Tamils who aspire to completely dominate SL. The LTTE has been gradualy trying to ethnicaly cleanse areas to create corridors to join all tamil communities. That is the reason they never agreed to a peaceful solution. !2% of the people are demanding a third of the land and 2/3 of the coast and also has aspirations for the central province in the pretext of a homeland which was never there. With regards to university admissions it was based on the facilities available.Tamils in the East neaded less marks than a Tamil in Jaffna and sinhalese in colombo. It was never a law to discriminate Tamils. With regards to the Tamil language the anomaly has been corrected.To consider the above as discrimination is all propagands.The question is whether the 76% of the citizens who happen to be Sinhalese will tolerate it.


May 28, 2009 at 10:24pm

Gwynne Dyer

You sums it up really well.

Tamil Diaspora must face the reality. Do not put the Tamils back in any danger again.

Government must act soon. Leave and let the Tamils live and rebuild their land of their own. Full stop.

State terrorism and Buddhist extremism must end.

The country must unite to avoid any future bloodbaths

Doc Forsythe

May 29, 2009 at 2:32am

As a western doctor working in the northeast of srilanka during the Tsunami period, I personally, the sinhalese srilankan army denying foreign aid to the tamils and diverting it to the sinhalese areas. The tamils and sinhalese of srilanka have very different language, religion, tradition and culture and srilanka is ethinically very polarized between tamisl and the sinhalese. Ever since the the british gave the majority northeast tamils of the northeast to be ruled by the southern sinhalese the country has become another Ruwanda. The 99% sinhalese army of Srilanka in 100% tamil areas has caused ethinic cleansing and genocide by the sinhalese srilankan government. For the last 50 years there has been violaence directed against the tamils by the sinhalese governemt sponsored serial "ethinic riots". Please read the hongkong based AHRC.HK website for more information on the tamils persecution by the sinhalese. Srilanka borrows money from Iran to buy weapons from Israel, china and pakistan to bomb tamil civilians by using cluster bombs for the last 25 years.


May 29, 2009 at 3:41am

Good one


May 29, 2009 at 2:40pm

Tamils have always wanted something for nothing. Tamils in the western diasporas are just like that, trying their damndest to get something for nothing. Sorry folks! It ain't gonna work this time. The Tamils who really matter are those poor Tamil civilians now being cared for by the government. Most of these diaspora activists have never been to Sri Lanka and most that were born there left the country before they were teenagers, therefore we can deduce how much they know or care about Sri Lanka. Just ask them to go back and live in Jaffna for a month to see what happens. I bet they will not be able to cope without their western luxuries. Most of the arguments you see raised by Tamils in western diasporas are juvenile and so miss-informed that you wonder who actually believes their cock-and-bull stories.


May 30, 2009 at 1:59pm

I am a British citizen who spent most of my early life in Sri Lanka. I have witnessed multiple incidents where Tamils have been discriminated against and unfairly prosecuted by the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka. Now these cases may have been acts by the Government however if there really was no prejudice by the Sinhalese to the Tamils I would have expected the Sinhalese people to stand up and point out the Government's wrongs. I mean if the Canadian Government did something wrong against the people of Quebec, would you expect the rest of Canada to stand by and do nothing/support it.


May 30, 2009 at 8:12pm

Stephan: "Tamils have always wanted something for nothing".
Roy : Sounds like how the Sinhalese got control of the NorthEast after the British left. They got something that wasn't theirs for absolutely nothing.
Stephan: "Most of these diaspora activists have never been to Sri Lanka and most that were born there left the country before they were teenagers, therefore we can deduce how much they know or care about Sri Lanka."
Roy: The Tami Diaspora started booming only during the early 90s, well into the civil war. They also have numerous relatives there. Therefore they are well aware of what goes on there.
Stephan: Just ask them to go back and live in Jaffna for a month to see what happens.
Roy: A better question would be if a Sinhalese person from the South can go live in Jaffna, an area maintained by the Government. You would not be able to pay him enough to do so.
Stephan: Most of the arguments you see raised by Tamils in western diasporas are juvenile and so miss-informed that you wonder who actually believes their cock-and-bull stories.
Roy: Right, so why don't we hear what the Tamils in Sri-Lanka themselves have to say. Why doesn't the government allow international agencies and reporters into the areas like Jaffna and the Wanni to see what the Tamils have to say(without the Army "tour-guides"? That will prove that the Tamil Diaspora is "miss-informed". Ofcourse, perhaps the Goverment is scared that the Tamil Diaspora might be proved right if they do so? Only someone who has something to hide would curtail the freedom of the press. No one can doubt the Tamil Diaspora while the Government has an iron-curtain against free speech and free press.


Dec 25, 2009 at 5:08am

Hits most nails on the head, but 99.8% vote in referendums in Canada, Norway and France (with more to come) for the recreation of Tamil Eelam says, as always, that the only dogmatists are those that sideline mandates to advance their own interests. Not to mention the Vadukoddai Resolution, but then we expect as much from the Sinhalese regimes. It's a little sad you can't wake up and smell your own dogma.