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Sunday, 3 February 2013

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Move forward together as one people

A friend asked me recently what my feelings about patriotism were.

She caught me off guard. It had been some time since I thought deeply about my relationship to my country. Since our conversation, I’ve continued to think about what it means to be a patriot and if I am one.

A drawing by a pre-school child on ethnic harmony

Around the dinner table in the suburb of Colombo where I grew up, my parents would point out at just the proper time in our social discussions that patriotism means loving our country and also, working hard to make it more lovable. The flag, they would add, could take care of itself. This advice did not keep us from rushing down to Galle Face Green to watch the annual Independence Day parade and gleefully wave National Flags. Commemoration of the nation’s Independence Day was fun, and it made us feel good.

One important event on our Independence Day celebrations, since those days, was the display of the nation’s gratitude to the patriotic men and women who valiantly fought and won a war for the reunification of our territory. The historic importance of this achievement cannot be underestimated. They sacrificed their youth, their limbs, and sometimes their lives, because their country asked.

The two-minute silence was a solemn moment for me. There was stillness in the air; all you could hear was the occasional clicking of camera shutters, quite rightly recording the tribute for history. It was incredibly hard to describe the shared emotion, but it was almost tangible and could be read on every single person’s face, a steely combination of patriotism and resolve.

It was a moment of truth when I experienced the real sense of patriotism which goes hand in hand with the independence celebrations of a country.

I often wonder whether it is different today. Has our younger generation understood what patriotism really means?

Unity

Today, with the complete eradication of terror and after three decades of strife, we have become sadder, but wiser. Sixty odd years ago, if we could have understood the solemnity and the importance of the concept of a unified nation, we could have prevented the bloodshed and waste of human and national resources.

It is not too late, yet. Let us be honest to ourselves, listen to our hearts, and seek the right answers for a few questions. If we can find the right answers, we can look forward to become again a unified nation in double-quick time. Let us start from our own experiences. We all know that national identities and loyalties are threatened from within (rather than from outside) and they are quite real.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to our nation. Throughout the world, the possibility of “nations within states” and of internecine conflict along religious, ethnic, and linguistic lines seem ever-present. The former Yugoslavia is perhaps the most prominent illustration of state disintegration amid clashes between ethnic and religious groups with aspirations to nationhood. Yugoslavia even begat a label for this process: balkanisation.

The cases of Southern Sudan, Chechnya and Iraq are three more recent examples. Moreover, there have also been less famous but still significant mobilisations along ethnic lines in other areas of the world, such as Latin America. Even milder dynamics that likely do not portend state disintegration are still interpreted as threatening national identity.

Sixty-five years after Independence, I believe it’s time for us also to begin investigating more systematically the variation in attachment among the different segments of our population to the motherland. We should focus in particular on how our populations that are “minority” in terms of ethnicity, religion and language feel about their country. In this investigation, we should seek to answer two questions. First, do our minority populations feel less attachment to the country in which they live? Second, what political, economic, and cultural factors strengthen or weaken the national attachment of minority populations?

Living in a divided nation makes it harder to be a patriot. We have to decide how to advocate for the country as a whole as opposed to merely our own perspective. Commitment and criticism are steps one and two of patriotism, but the third step - service - is more difficult: Service by mouth and by action, by learning, educating and advocating. This kind of service makes you the truest type of patriot, one willing to work for change instead of only asking for it.

Patriotism

It is a well-known economic principle that for development to be achieved by a society, the people have to be the driving force behind it. All development undertakings must involve the people, who ought to be seen in the initiation and implementation stages of development projects. Fulfilment of these conditions do not in any way guarantee development in the absence of unity and harmony among the people. This is because no objective, however great the aspiration might be, is attainable on the basis of individualism. Several people have to strive together if even the simplest of things is to be achieved.

Independence Day is celebrated in grandeur every year

It is, therefore, that I reiterate that on the 65th anniversary of our independence we have to seriously ponder and contemplate on the theme of ‘National Unity and Patriotism’. This theme is indeed apt and highly relevant, because it requires every Sri Lankan, young and old, at home and abroad, to take a deeper reflection of what it takes to achieve our national vision and even surpass the development targets that we have set for ourselves over the years.

Much of the social and economic progress have been achieved in the past 65 years. The signs are already boldly written on every Sri Lankan in the sense of the many opportunities that have been provided to enable him/her to live in better and much improved conditions of living. However, despite these achievements, we should all recognise the added unrelenting effort that is needed to make our country Asia’s success story when it comes to peace, development, progress and prosperity.

National pledge

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has often said that the advancement of every Sri Lankan, regardless of affiliations in terms of politics, religion or race, is his utmost priority. The assurance presents to the nation’s citizens to take ownership of national development undertakings, so that collectively, we can accomplish our common aspirations. As we take stock to commemorate the 65th anniversary of our freedom from foreign rule, we should at all times remember that where there is unity, there will always be peace and tranquillity.

When unity is secured, all other development facilities will fall in to place because everybody will continue to work towards the progress of the society; this accelerates the overall development process. On the other hand, when disunity is the order of the day, the resultant effect is total negligence. It is, therefore, fundamental that, at least for the sake of our future generations, we come together as one - as Sri Lankans - in pursuit of our collective aspirations.

With everything that we do as Sri Lankans, we should always remember our national pledge, which teaches us that we must stand together and move forward as one people, for if we insist on pursuing our goals without keeping the collective objective in mind, we shall be divided, and divided we shall fall.

The country belongs to all of us and it is a collective responsibility to deliver its development.

This is the lesson on patriotism. And, this must be our pledge for this Independence Day and beyond.

 

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