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Trilingualism as a promoter of reconciliation

Text of speech by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, at the Independence Day celebration held at the Sri Lankan embassy in Lebanon

It was good to hear the message of the President read out in all three languages, and the stress there, as well as in other messages read out, on reconciliation is most welcome. We have now emerged from several decades of great danger to the country, when we had to deal with terrorism of an extremely effective sort. That had to be destroyed, for the sake of all our people, in particular the Tamils of the North who had suffered so much repression, and I am happy that life is now back to normal in those areas and agriculture and commerce are flourishing.

But we need to do more to bring our people together, and in particular we must ensure better communication and understanding between our people. In this regard, the trilingual initiative of the President is an urgency, and I hope very much that the coming years will see all our people at least bilingual, if not trilingual. I used to think I was too old to learn another language, but the President puts us all to shame in the manner in which he communicates enthusiastically and effectively in Tamil as well as in Sinhala and English.

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

Language development is also vital to raise the profile of our people who now work in other countries.

The ability to communicate is empowering, and many of you here would benefit from knowledge of English to enhance your roles whilst also increasing the amounts you earn.

Sri Lanka, which has such an effective basic education system, should not be lagging behind countries such as the Philippines with regard to wages, but our lack of English knowledge is a shortcoming.

English and IT skills

I hope therefore that we will be able to provide our youngsters with this knowledge from school, while also developing training programmes for older people who wish to use their skills abroad.

Our universities should think more broadly in this regard, and introduce diploma and certificate courses that will include English and IT as well as professional skills.

For too long we have been stuck in a purely academic approach to higher education, but instead of sticking slavishly to an outdated British model, we should follow what Britain and most other countries are now doing, which is promoting the dignity of professional occupations too by providing high level training along with the soft skills necessary to enhance employability.

Unfortunately we are slow to change, though perhaps an institution such as the Kotelawala Defence University will be able to move more quickly, given too its need to train for gainful employment when they leave the Forces those soldiers who have developed great professional skills in whatever they do, ranging from fighting terrorism to helping restore livelihoods for the victims of terror. Diploma courses in areas such as nursing and care for the disabled should be started, and these could also be extended to youngsters in the North in need of gainful employment.

Adequate compensation

I was happy to meet here a contingent from our Forces serving in the South of this country, where those displaced from Palestine have been languishing for over half a century.

To me it is sheer wickedness that the West should have precipitated such homelessness, simply to assuage their own guilt for the appalling manner in which they had treated Jews over the centuries.

The Jewish people certainly deserved a refuge, given how they had been persecuted, but it should not have been at the expense of innocent Palestinians. The Europeans should have provided the land themselves, or at least ensured adequate compensation and proper homes for those they were abusing, but instead they have allowed this sore to fester for decades, with concomitant tension for the whole world.

In such a context our Sri Lankan soldiers provide humane support, which is not resented.

I was pleased at the very positive response to Sri Lanka in all the cities I visited so far, including Tyre, which I had been told might be dangerous for foreigners. But the Lebanese people, and those for whom they have provided a refuge for the last 60 years, understand our goodwill towards them, and indeed our sympathy, for they clearly have suffered much worse from colonial arrangements than we in Sri Lanka did.

As happened with regard to British India, the carving up of geographical entities into convenient chunks has created chaos in the Middle East, and we have to be thankful that we escaped that fate then, and managed through dealing firmly with terrorism to escape it now.

Better communication

But for that very reason we have to make sure that we work together towards a prosperous shared future.

Sectarianism and efforts to privilege one community, in any part of the country, must be combated, and this can best be done through better communications.

We have done much in this regard as to physical communications, with roads and infrastructure, but personal communication must also be developed, and improved commercial contacts. I should add too that we must ensure expansion of private sector activity that will treat all our citizens alike, without rent seeking and political advantages that it is assumed will arise from special treatment of some segments. On this 64th anniversary of our Independence then, we have much to celebrate, but also much to do for the future, to ensure the continuation of a meaningful independence for all of us.

 

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