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Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 1:24 pm

Sri Lanka Celebrates ‘Victory.’ Now Comes the Hard Part

By Jeremy Gantz

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As Sri Lanka's government and most of its citizens celebrate "Victory Day" today, days after President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared the Tamil Tigers vanquished, there are plenty of unanswered questions about what exactly "post-war" life might mean to the small island nation.

Certainly, the end of the conventional war doesn't put an end to the immense suffering experienced by hundreds of thousands of (mostly Tamil) civilians caught up in the northeast war zone in recent months. And, just as important, it does not put to rest many Tamils' fundamental, still-lingering questions about political representation and governmental discrimination – the same questions that sparked the ethnic war in the 1970s in the first place.

When I left Sri Lanka in 2005, in the middle of the doomed 'ceasefire' (stalemate was always a better word for it) period between the government and the Tigers, I knew full-blown war would return as soon as either the Tigers had recharged their batteries or a more hardline nationalist government came to power in Colombo. The latter happened when Rajapaksa became president in late 2005 – but I never thought he could push the Tigers to defeat so quickly. And I certainly never thought I'd live to see this photograph, which the government says is the body of founding Tiger Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose long career displayed Stalin's political ruthlessness and Pol Pot's single-minded tenacity:



Some have said it was one of the leader's doubles, but one of his former deputies (who revolted to form his own faction and is now in Rajapaksa's cabinet!) says it is him.

Regardless, now comes the hard part: forging a lasting peace, which must include real devolution of power to the largely Tamil Northern and Northeast provinces. But that's abstract compared to the immediate needs of thousands of Tamil refugee, who, as in every war, have borne the brunt of the military assault. How they are treated by a government basking in the glow of military victory will likely indicate what Tamils can expect from their government in the long run. Nothing is guaranteed.

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he worked as a reporter for The Cambodia Daily in 2007. After graduating from Carleton College in 2004, he lived in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright scholarship, studying the intersection of ethnic politics and public education. His articles have also appeared in Chicago-area newspapers, Alternet and the Onion’s A.V. Club.

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