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.
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higher education, but instead of sticking slavishly to an outdated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
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.
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
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.