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State

Capital

Sri Lanka

Colombo

formerly Ceylon

Currency unit

Sri Lanka rupee

Connections

Empire

Population

South Asia

War

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

History

This island has been known in Europe by several names. The earliest was probably Taprobane by the Greeks in Roman times; later Serendip by the Arabs. Later it was known to the English as Ceylon. The present name was adopted in 1972 when the country became a republic (It means "Blessed Lanka").

Before the Europeans arrived in the Indian Ocean there were several political entities for the two main cultural groups.

The earliest inhabitants were probably the Veddas, whose descendants are now a very small group of about 2000. In the south and west, as now, were the Sinhalese, a people speaking an Indo-European language related to those of northern India who had arrived by the 5th century BC and were centered on the kingdom of Kandy. In the north and east were the Tamils, a group speaking a Dravidian language similar to those spoken in south east India. They are believed to have arrived from India from the first century AD up to 1200 AD. A Tamil kingdom was founded by rulers coming from south India in the 14th century.

The religion of the Sinhalese is Buddhist. Buddhism arrived during the 3rd century BC. The religion of the Tamils is mostly Hindu. There are some Christians and Muslims in both communities.

The Portuguese first arrived in 1500. By 1619 they controlled the island. The Dutch East India Company displaced the Portuguese and the British East India Company took over in 1796. It was a British colony from 1802 until 1947 when it became independent as a dominion.

Each of the colonizers has left a linguistic legacy. English is still an important language but there was a period when a nationalist government tried to phase out English in favor of Sinhalese.

The British ruled the country as a Crown Colony, which means they did not recognize the pre-colonial political units, and created a unitary state with local government by District Commissioners. The result of this was that the majority Sinhalese community discriminated against the Tamils, claiming, without justification, that all the Tamils were temporary workers from India - though it is true that some of them were migrant workers brought there by British planters.

Following independence a democratic form was followed with alternation of left and right wing parties. However, incompetence ruined the economy and a steadily increasing population pressed on the land resources creating tensions between the communities. In 1956 the Sri Lanka Freedom party under Bandaranaike won the general election as a Sinhalese nationalist and socialist group. This is when Tamil disaffection with the state began. Violence began in 1981 and has grown into a guerrilla civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, with divisions within each community adding to the violence. Government forces behaved with great brutality, killing people without trial. So did the Tamil Tigers and other guerrilla groups.

30,000 are said to have died already in the fighting. One of the most brutal of the guerrilla groups, the JVP, is from the Sinhalese (Buddhist) community. It has been suggested that a lack of common solidarity was made worse when the Bandaranaike government dropped English as the common language, so that Sinhalese and Tamils could no longer communicate as easily.

Article about Tamils

The government announced in May 2009 that the war was over when the whole of the Tamil Tiger area had been conquered by government forces and the leaders killed. Thousands of civilian refugees were displaced with an unknown number of deaths. However, the fate of the Tamil population as whole remains uncertain. The original cause of the conflict - the unitary state left by the British - remains unresolved.

Languages

Sinhalese

Tamil

English

 History

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

Politics

There is an elected president and an elected parliament using a modified proportional voting system to prevent one party landslides. However, there have been a number of extreme swings between right and left. Personalities such as Mrs. Bandaranaika who succeeded her husband as leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party pursued a policy of nationalization which led to economic collapse. The recent right wing government was headed by a very authoritarian president Junius Jayawardene, whose policies helped provoke the present low level civil war. He was succeeded by Ranasinghe Premadasa elected in 1989 and assassinated May 1993. He too was accused of authoritarianism.

Elections can only be held under threat of violence from the Sinhalese terrorist groups (JVP), believed to have some support or influence in the army; and from the Tamil equivalents. The JVP appears to wish to drive the Tamils out of the Island. The Tamils want a restoration of their own state (Tamil Eelam), taken away by the British and earlier colonialists.

The left wing alliance won the unexpected August 1994 parliamentary elections under the daughter of former PM Mrs. Bandaranaike. That is, it's a dynasty. Will she settle the Tamil problem?

The election of a prime minister from the opposition party at the end of 2001 led to a ceasefire and hopes of a settlement of the war. A ceasefire in February 2002 was still holding in February 2003 and talks had begun between the two main parties.

What looks like an attempted coup by the President against the Prime Minister occurred in November 2003. The President appeared to be opposed to the agreement with the Tamils.

During 2006 the number of violent incidents seems to be increasing and the ceasefire is no longer operative.

The has war continued to increase in brutality during 2007, so far.

In December 2008-February 2009 government forces gained control of most of the rebel area, suggesting that the military phase of the struggle might be coming to an end. But the result does not appear to be what the rest of the world would call democracy. The government would seem to be in practice a dictatorship of the President and his brother, the defence minister.

 History

 Politics

 Green

 Rights

Economics

A very fertile island with plenty of rain has experienced starvation due to incompetence in agriculture and now from civil war. Leftwing governments subsidized food for the towns and farmers lost the incentive to plant. It has been proposed that the Tamil community provided much of the labor and their disaffection has harmed the economy.

Recent governments have tried Free Trade Zones to catch up with Singapore. But the civil war discourages foreign investment.

Population growth has made an increase in the standard of living hard to attain.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Rights

Green/Ecology

It can be argued that the main problem of Sri Lanka is the rise in population and increasing density. This creates a competition for limited land and may well be the real cause of the civil war.

The east coast and parts of the south west coast were seriously affected by the Tsunami of 26 December 2004. The Tamil and Sinhalese areas were both affected. However, this did not lead to co-operation between the two areas.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

Human Rights

The rule of law has broken down with well-documented cases of thousands of disappearances. There are believed to be police and army and unofficial death squads.

Although there is a court system, there are extra-judicial gangs which ignore the decisions of the courts.

Press censorship and control of the media by the government.

The treatment of the defeated Tamils is suspected to be harsh.

Last revised 16/03/12


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