Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam Conflict Resolution - Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam > Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD)> International Seminar: Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka > Opening Remarks, Nadesan Satyendra, Adviser, Centre for Justice and Peace, Geneva > Opening Remarks, Dr. Norbert Ropers , Director, Berghof  Foundation, Colombo, Sri Lanka > Index of Seminar Papers > Index of Fact Sheets > List of Participants

International Seminar:
Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka
Organized by the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD)
in collaboration with the Berghof Foundation, Sri Lanka
Zurich, Switzerland 7 - 9 April 2006

Opening Remarks
Nadesan Satyendra,
Adviser, Centre for Justice and Peace, Geneva
[see also
Selected Writings - Nadesan Satyendra]

Ayubowan. Vannakam.

The couple of words that I spoke in Sinhalese and in Tamil reflect in a small way the divide across which we meet here in Zurich. Language is not only a matter of semantics. It also has something to do with our feelings and the way in which we segment the world in which we live.  And often something may be lost in the translation.

Having said that, the few moments that we stood up last evening in memory of those who have died in the conflict in Sri Lanka brought us together in recognising and indeed, feeling the pain and suffering that this conflict has brought in its train - a pain and suffering that moves us to commit ourselves to contribute in whatever small way we can, to help bridge the divide that exists amongst the peoples who live in the island of Sri Lanka.

The CJPD itself is a small beginning to enable the Tamil diaspora and other conflict resolution activists to engage in a meaningful and constructive way and contribute to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in the island. It is a small beginning. But we take comfort in Gandhi's remark many years ago that what ever you do may be insignificant but it is important that you do it.

We meet here today in Switzerland having come from many different parts of the world, from Australia and the United States, from Canada and the United Kingdom, from Netherlands and Germany, Sweden and Norway, from India and Malaysia, from South Africa and from Sri Lanka.

And to this second track conflict resolution initiative, those of you who are present here today bring a wealth of expertise gained from many different disciplines - disciplines that range  from Theology and Human Rights, Humanities and Ethics, Conflict Resolution, Conflict Transformation, Human Rights Advocacy, Sociology, Education, Political Journalism, Political Economy, International Studies, Political Science, Management, Law and Indology  - to mention but a few. 

But perhaps above all else each one of us brings to this Seminar a willingness to talk to each to each other and to listen to each to the other. And in the case those of us who are Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims, to listen to the aspirations that each one of us have as a people, and perhaps more importantly also listen to the genuine concerns, fears and vulnerabilities that each of us have as a people. 

This Seminar is a Second Track initiative. It is not a First Track directed to negotiation and settlement of conflict. Nor for that matter is it a Third Track directly concerned with conflict transformation. It is a Second Track initiative concerned with improving communication and advancing mutual understanding.  

The armed conflict itself has served as a catalyst for this Second Track approach. To state the obvious, if there had been no armed conflict we would not be seated here. And if there was no threat of an armed conflict in the future, there would be no need for us to sit here. 

Ofcourse, there has been no shortage of conferences, seminars, and symposiums on the conflict in Sri Lanka. We have had many. And the fact that we are meeting here in Switzerland means that the earlier meetings have not yielded the results that were expected. Some of you may even wonder whether to continue to do the same thing and expect different results may not be rational. 

However, this is not to decry what has happened before, but rather to learn from what has happened before and build on the experiences that we have gathered. This Second Track initiative has been organized with modest expectations. We do not expect that in the space of a couple of days we will find answers to the issues that confront us. However, we do expect that we may at least make a beginning and ask some, if not all, the right questions so that we may better understand the issues that we may need to confront and address. 

Last evening, Mr.Tarcisius, Director, CJPD spoke from his heart when he reached out to our hearts. He was right to remind us that we cannot understand each other with our minds alone. We are not desiccated calculating machines. To use a felicitous metaphor that some of you may have come across before, a metaphor used by Roger Fisher -  to understand a beetle, it is not enough to think like a beetle � you must also begin  to feel like one. You must begin to truly feel what it is like to be a beetle.  

But the invitation to reach to our hearts is not an invitation to descend into sentimentality - a sentimentality which is transient and quickly evaporates with time. We need heart. But we need mind also. We need both mind and heart. It was Martin Luther King who said somewhere that we must combine a tough mind with a tender heart. 

Here, I was touched by something that Peter Senge wrote a couple of years ago. I truly cannot put it better than in his own words. I will therefore read what he said. 

"We are unable to talk productively about complex issues because we are unable to listen. ... Listening requires opening ourselves. Our typical patterns of listening in difficult situations are tactical, not relational. We listen for what we expect to hear. We sift through others' views for what we can use to make our own points. We measure success by how effective we have been in gaining advantage for our favored positions. Even when these motives are covered by a shield of politeness, it is rare for people with something at stake to truly to open their minds to discover the limitations in their own ways of seeing and acting.

Opening our minds ultimately means opening our hearts. The heart has come to be associated with muddled thinking and personal weakness, hardly the attributes of effective decision makers... (But) The path forward is about becoming more human, not just more clever. "

In the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka, too, the path forward is not about being clever.  We can all be clever. But the path forward is to be become more human.

The conflict in the island of Sri Lanka can be simply stated.

The LTTE struggles for the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. Sri Lanka seeks to secure its existing territorial boundaries.

Stated in this way, the conflict may appear to be insoluble. Something will have to give. Squaring the circle may seem impossible.  

Some of you may have heard of the story about the two professors Ury and Fisher. It is a story. There were these two professors in a room. One wanted the windows open and the other wanted the windows closed.  So there was this big dispute about open - and close. Ury insisting that the window be open and Fischer saying no, it must be closed.  The conflict went on for sometime and Fisher eventually said let us sit and talk about this. The response he got was  �What is  there to be talked about - I want the window open, you want it closed. So what is there to talk about?' . And then Fisher asks, 'Yes, OK -  but why is it you want the windows open?�  So, behind your stated position what is your interest?. And Ury replied 'I want it open because I like the fresh air and the breeze and so on.'  Ury then asked 'Yes, but, then why do you want it closed?' Fisher replied 'Because papers are flying around, I cannot control it.'

And then the two of them jointly started examining ways in which they could get a win-win solution so that Ury could have the fresh air and Fisher would not have his papers flying about. They discussed the idea of positioning the tables differently, then putting up screens  and so on and so forth. But the point of the story was not  so much about the end result � it was about the fact that the two parties to a conflict were  able to jointly engage in a dialogue and the synergy  that was created resulted in solutions which neither of them may have thought of on their own. 

In the case of the conflict in Sri Lanka we may want to look behind the stated positions of the LTTE  and Sri Lanka. We may want to look at the interests that the Tamil people and the Sinhala people want to secure. I believe that it is possible to move towards a resolution of the conflict on a win-win basis.  

I am reminded of a statement by a UK  foreign minister some years ago that  'Sovereignty is not virginity.' Independence? Yes.  But all countries in this world are dependent on one another. After three hundred years of wars and two world wars, the countries in Europe have moved towards an European Union. There are different ways in which peoples may associate with one another in equality and in freedom  � and here there is every thing to talk about.  And not much is gained by straight jacketing the discussions on the basis of known ideas and conceptual models. I thank you.


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