Over the weekend I attended a seminar arranged by members of the Crawley Tamil community. A number of well-informed speakers addressed the meeting and presented some compelling evidence about the long-term persecution of Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil population by their own government. The Sinhalese people form the largest ethnic group on the island make up a large majority of the population.
There were disturbing images presented of serious human rights abuses and of legislation designed to improve the position of the majority at the expense of minorities. Coming away from the meeting, it was clear to me that the world community and the media needed to give a great deal more attention to the situation in Sri Lanka. A commitment to ending our blind spot for this part of the world is a prerequisite for any kind of international action. It is necessary to get beyond the picture postcard perceptions to understand and try to resolve the conflict on that island. There is a significant movement calling for the creation or restoration of an independent Tamil state, Tamil Eelam, in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
As with so many of these conflicts, two words stand out for me – majority and minority. The Russian word, Bolshevik, loosely meaning majority, has become part of our common language in abbreviated form. Significantly the opposite word, Menshevik, loosely meaning minority, is hardly used at all. During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks were quite tough on the Mensheviks and so it has been throughout history with many groups categorised in this way.
We live in a world where majorities and minorities too often fear each other. In some countries, we have majorities engaging in pre-emptive discrimination. They anticipate a minority growing in influence, power or numbers and take steps to slow or even stop this natural development. By doing so, they can increase their own fear of the future when a minority might eventually become a majority and not necessarily be that forgiving of what has happened.
It is not all depressing if we can be self-aware, know what we want to achieve and can have some kind of commitment to reconciliation. South Africa provides a good example. Ultimately its white supremacist regime had to give way to true majority rule and the question was always how this would come about. An increasing self-awareness of the situation caused the realisation that there had to be change. Detailed talks framed what everyone could agree on achieving and the process was topped by the creative idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
No two situations are the same and it is wrong to suggest solutions from a position of relative ignorance but it is instructive to look at progressive examples from around the world which have lead to majorities and minorities living in harmony. We manage to do this locally to a great extent and in a very natural way. It is one of the great hallmarks of our Crawley community.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
6th May 2009