COLOMBO: May 19, which was celebrated as “Victory Day” by the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, will from this year onwards be observed as “Remembrance Day” to recall the sacrifices of all those who had fought to maintain the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka irrespective of their ethnicity, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told the media here on Thursday.
In a bid to take this message of unity to the interior of the island, the function this year will be held, not in Colombo, but at Matara in the deep South. However, as in the past, there will be a military parade at which President Maithripala Sirisena will take the salute. It will be a Ranaviru Smaranaya (War Hero’s Commemoration Day) as well as a civilian Remembrance Day.
The idea of changing the character of the function stemmed from President Sirisena’s speech on Lanka’ Independence Day on February 4 this year in which he said that the “biggest challenge facing Lanka is the bringing together of the minds of the people of the North and South through a process of reconciliation.”
More recently, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said that Lankans should stop looking at the war dead as Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, but as Sri Lankans as all of them were Lankans.
In another departure from the past, the Sirisena government is allowing Tamils in the North to observe May 18 as the Day to remember their dead. It was on May 18, 2009 that LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed. However, the Tamils do not mention Prabhakaran or the LTTE in their observances on this day. They pay homage to the thousands who were killed or had died in Mullivaikkal in May 2009. The LTTE is a banned organization and so it cannot be commemorated.
Asked about sections of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) planning to observe the day as “Anti-Genocide Day”, cabinet spokesman Senaratne said that those wanting to do such a thing are in a minority.
“There are extremists in every community. The majority of the Tamils are for Lanka’s unity. Even the Tamil Diaspora is silent these days,” he observed.