ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 2
Posted on November 29th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

From 2010 to 2014, Sri Lanka    held a celebration on May 18th to mark the end of the Eelam war. The celebrations were marked by a military parade, speeches and a moment of silence. This celebration was known as ‘Victory Day’ .One way of erasing the Eelam victory, was to get rid of Victory Day and   Victory Parade. 

Our opponents criticize us for celebrating Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism, said Mahinda Rajapaksa. They don’t want us to hold military parades, they say we are exploiting the war victory for political gain and they demand that we stop recalling the war victory.

In 2014, Canada, on behalf of the international community, the TNA and the Tamil Diaspora, wanted Government of Sri Lanka to replace its annual Victory Day Parade, with a day of remembrance for all those who suffered as a result of the conflict. Victory Day perpetuates roles of victors and vanquished within the country, said Canada.  The Rajapaksa administration rejected the Canadian demand and went ahead with the Matara parade. It was Sri Lanka’s prerogative to engage in such celebrations, the government said.

Canada boycotted the 2014 parade. Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, in a strongly worded statement, issued exclusively to ‘The Island’, explained the Canadian decision to do so. Five years after the end of the conflict, the time has arrived for Sri Lanka to move past wartime discourse and to start working seriously towards reconciliation, the Ambassador said. It is time to mend relations between communities and to ensure that all Sri Lankans can live in dignity and free from discrimination, based on ethnic, religious or linguistic identities.

Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report recommends that a solemn day of remembrance for all victims of the war would be more conducive to sustaining peace here. Such a gesture would go a long way towards putting wartime posturing behind Sri Lanka. “I will not be in Matara, but I will be thinking and remembering all those who lost their loved ones over the 30-year conflict,” concluded the Canadian ambassador.

In January 2015, Yahapalana government cancelled the military parade held on victory day. For five years Sri Lanka didn’t have a military parade, observed Shamindra Ferdinando in 2019. Yahapalana government terminated the annual victory day parade, to the dismay of the vast majority of Sri Lankans, he said. The celebration was re-named Remembrance Day.

The west openly welcomed the change to a day of remembrance. So did the Global Tamil Forum. Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake also supported the decision. These parades were a source of great inconvenience for the   soldiers, he said. There are many who like to come and watch these parades, but it is the soldiers who have to put in a great deal of effort to make these parades a success, he said in 2018.

Moreover, it costs millions of rupees to hold such pageants. With the rise in fuel prices and the rising cost of living, how can we, being the armed forces who are paid by the public, have such functions with public funds, he asked.

This is not the time to blow our own trumpet and boast to the world that we are victorious, he added.  We feel that this is not the right way. Instead we would rather conduct religious activities that would bring merit to the souls of these war heroes,” he said. A series of programmes have been organized at every military establishment throughout the country.

Those who supported the Eelam victory did not agree. The cancellation was meant to appease those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE, they said. There is now an attempt to make us forget the war. There cannot be any other instance of a country depriving itself of its right to celebrate victory over terrorism . Shame on those politicians who suspended the Victory Day celebrations, they declared.

Former Navy Commander Sarath Weerasekera said that in May 2016 they had complained of the cancellation of the annual Victory Day parade by Yahapalana, while allowing the commemoration of LTTE cadres. No country would allow commemoration of terrorists having deprived the military of its right to celebrate victory, he said, this is an insult.

What is wrong with Victory Day, the anti-Eelamists asked. Victory days are celebrated all over the world to ensure that memories of a just struggle are not forgotten. There are  four victory days to celebrate the World War II alone.  On 8 May when Germany surrendered, on Aug 15 the day Japan surrendered, on Sept 2 when the documents were signed in USA. Russia has a separate victory day parade to honor Russian soldiers who died in WWII.  Military hardware is  displayed at this parade.

Is it wrong to celebrate our victory, supporters of the Victory asked.   Yes  it is, said  the  Eelamists. World War  II is commemorated because it was a war between sovereign states, but the Eelam is a ‘home and home quarrel’ and should be forgotten as soon as it is over.

This issue was debated in an opinion poll held by Sunday Times in 2014.  One respondent  said  that  Victory celebrations with military pomp are usually reserved for victory against invader or  foreign aggressor. Sri Lanka’s  conflict was in internal one, and those who died were citizens of the country.  Though it may have been necessary to defeat them, it is not necessary to have victory parades.

Another said that Victory celebrations  polarize the community. There is no collective remembrance of loss. Instead there is  a reinforcement of the separation. Victory parades would hamper reconciliation as well.. Instead of a victory parade, there should be an  American style Memorial Day. America holds this,  commentators said, to honor the Union soldiers who died in the Civil war. This is incorrect. Memorial Day  in the USA remembers those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

By 2018 the country was getting restive about Yahapalana rule.  Yahapalana  was its way out. The angry supporters of  the Victory parade had to be appeased if Yahapalana was to win the next election. Therefore, Victory day was celebrated on 18.5.18. without a military parade.

National War Heroes’ Day commemoration, headed by the President was held at National War Heroes’ Monument in Battaramulla, followed by a mega Army-supported ‘Aaloka Pooja’ Pinkama, in the  evening at Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya. The media showed a  heartrending photograph of mothers weeping at this  commemoration ceremony and  gazing at their sons’ names on the name board.

There was a Ranaviru samaruma at Parliament on 19.5.18.  Commemorative events were also held  at the Security Forces Headquarters, Division Headquarters, Forward Maintenance Areas, Regimental Centers, Army Training Schools, Units, Field Headquarters and military rehabilitation centers. There were religious observances at all regimental formations.

There were commemorations at Anuradhapura, at  Nilwala Devalaya , Matara, in the Vanni,  and the Vavuniya Pradeshiya sabha.  Corporal  Gamini Kularatne, Hasalaka hero,” was remembered near his statue in Elephant Pass. His mother attended the event. In addition, Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, organized a commemorative event on May 4th.  Kurunegala military memorial was opened on the 12 May. It has long panels on either side, with the names of those who died.

In 2019 there was a   low key armed forces victory celebration . The government celebrated the event, on the afternoon of May 19, 2019, at the War Heroes’ monument, at Battaramulla with the participation of President Maitripala Sirisena, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. Commentators pointed out that it was Mahinda Rajapaksa ‘s resolute political leadership ensured Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE. Rajapaksa brought together a team that relentlessly conducted a nearly three-year long combined forces offensive, until the LTTE collapsed on the Vanni east front.

The government ignored all top ex-Generals/Officers who spearheaded the successful war effort.  Former  Defence Secretary  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the then Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and SLAF Chief Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonatileke, were  not invited to the Battaramulla event. A furious Fonseka is believed to have turned down the invitation whereas others didn’t receive invitations. Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE would never have been possible without their leadership. Their unparalleled contribution made the victory possible, said Shamindra Ferdinando.

  In the absence of a tri-services National Victory Day parade, the armed forces marked the day with a series of events in Colombo and the provinces. Had there been a proper parade, each service would have had a headquarters element and separate sections for Wanni, Eastern and Northern theatres. Instead, the seven Army Commands, East, West  Central, Wanni, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Jaffna, marked the day with a march on main roads on May 22, 2019.  The Kilinochchi Command marched from Karadiyapokku Bridge to War Heroes monument in Kilinochchi. The Navy had its main commemorative event at its Welisara base while the Air Force had none.  The print and electronic media didn’t even bother to report events organized by the Army at Command level, observed Shamindra Ferdinando. ( Continued)

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