President Maithripala Sirisena’s commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s three-decade civil war and the debate it has opened in local media show that attitudes on the war’s aftermath are now beginning to change, but that the pace of change is too slow to expect healing and reconciliation in the near future.
For the first time since the end of the war six years ago, May 19 was marked as Remembrance Day. Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, celebrated it as Victory Day during his presidency, rubbing salt into the wounds of ethnic Tamils, who suffered tens of thousands of civilian losses during the fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the rebels if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Rajapaksa’s regime also held a “victory parade” on each anniversary, and erected numerous “victory monuments” in the largely Tamil-majority northern and eastern parts of the country. For the former president, it was not only the victory of the army under him, but also that of the majority Sinhalese people over the ethnic minority.
Sirisena, who was health minister in the former Rajapaksa government, made a departure of a sort by changing the name of the anniversary’s commemoration, although he has tried to have it both ways, carrying on with a military parade on the anniversary, allowing the military as well as Sinhala nationalists to continue to see it as the celebration of the nation’s strength and sacrifice of troops in the war. At the same time, Sirisena has made enough room for ethnic Tamils to commemorate those civilians who lose their lives.