Sri Lankan renaissance
Scots can play an important part in Sri Lanka’s “renaissance” after decades of terrorism and conflict, the country’s High Commissioner to the UK has told the Asia Scotland Institute.
Speaking at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Dr Chris Nonis said Sri Lanka offered opportunities to emulate “those intrepid industrialist Scotsmen who pioneered what is today one of our major industries, the tea industry”.
And he appealed to people across the UK not be dissuaded from visiting Sri Lanka by the island’s critics, people he described as “demagogues of division”.
Sri Lanka endured 28 years of conflict between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists, which claimed up to 100,000 lives. The violence ended in May 2009 but recriminations over abuses by both sides continue.
“Having endured this conflict, what Sri Lankans need is to be given the time and space to be able to heal the wounds,” the High Commissioner said.
“Please, don’t listen to the demagogues of division. Help us to unite our country. Britain can play such a wonderful part, Scotland can play such a wonderful part, building on the wonderful reservoir of goodwill we had.”
Dr Nonis said Sri Lanka’s long conflict – involving suicide bombers, child soldiers, assassinations and roadside blasts – was an aberration for a country that achieved universal suffrage as early as 1931. In 1960, Sri Lankans elected the world’s first female prime minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Today it has a free health service and a free education system.
“We were actually a very peaceful group of people, contrary to the image that has been portrayed,” Dr Nonis said. “And it hurts us tremendously when people have these slanderous accusations about my country and my people. It hurts me. Why? Because I believe in the British principles of justice and fairness and equity.”
Dr Nonis said money that had been spent on weapons was now being used to promote reconciliation and reconstruction – and, as a result, the country is “moving on”.
“We are narrowing the fiscal deficit,” Dr Nonis said. “We’ve got single digit inflation, single digit interest rates, and tourism is booming. We had over a million tourists last year of which I’m proud to say 114,600 came from Britain.”
“What we look forward to,” he added, “is that all of you come and join us in Sri Lanka’s renaissance.”
Below, Asia Scotland Institute chairman and founder Roddy Gow interviews Dr Nonis.
Photo credit: the image used on our homepage for this story is The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, by McKay Savage