(A Speech by Dr Godfrey Gunatilleke at the OPA a few decades ago)
Let me at the outset thank the Organisation of Professional Associations for inviting me to participate in this very important seminar. I consider it a great privilege and honour to do so, particularly because you have chosen a theme which is at the very heart of our national problems today. Listening yesterday to the inaugural addresses and discussions, I was able to appreciate the formidable nature of the challenge you have undertaken to address. The real challenge lies, I think, in your attempt to define how professional elites could contribute to the formulation and development of national identity and that is indeed a task that will draw on your deepest sense of professional integrity, on your best intellectual and moral resources. It is indeed a very challenging and even daunting task and it immediately raises a number of very complex issues. I thought, therefore, I should try to deal with some of the broader conceptual issues in this brief introductory talk of mine and by doing so define some of the basic principles and ground rules which we could apply the specific problems and conflicts which beset our own efforts at creating a national identity.
You have selected the right wording for the theme: “The need for a national identity for sustainable development.” You have placed the right emphasis on the premise that no development of an enduring nature can take place in a country without a strong sense of national identity. I would agree that premise is substantially correct. Development of a country requires a cohesive effort, a collective will which will be able to harness all the human and other resources of a society. The foundation for that is obviously a sense of belonging to a larger identity that all the individuals and groups in that country can share. Along with that, there is another implicit idea; you are saying that there is need for national identity because that is the best means of unifying a country, of overcoming and resolving the internal dissensions and divisions within a country. The national identity becomes the overarching frame of reference, the higher court of appeal as it were to reconcile conflicting and competing interests – the conflicts between social groups, between ethnic communities, between classes, between employers and employees and between regional or local loyalties and national interests.
Over and above that, the national identity has become essential for the simple reason that we are living today in a globe where the world comprises a community of nations and the nation-state is a legally indispensable unit. We are relating to each other as individuals across national boundaries within entities which have a recognised legal international status as nations. We cannot travel abroad unless we belong to a nation unless we have a legal national identity. And apart from all this the national identity carries with it another attribute; as a nation, we are a member of an international community and as a member of that community we are concerned with our image as a nation in the community of nations; the esteem or lack of it, with which we are held in the community; a spirit of healthy international competitiveness. This enables us to develop our own standards of excellence our own competitive capability in the world whether it be in trade, in sports, in intellectual pursuits or in our social and development indicators. A strong sense of national identity motivates a country to aspire to an international status which brings it recognition for its own distinctive contribution to the world economy and to the global civilisation.
So a national identity performs all these functions. But in fact when we talk of the national identity, when we deal with national identity, we are dealing with a phenomenon of great complexity, a phenomenon which contains two underlying contradictory and conflicting concepts and tendencies. On the one hand, we are saying that identity is needed because it distinguishes one from the rest, from all others. It gives one distinctiveness, it gives one separateness. It is your identity that enables you to get that singularity of being which demands recognition as another; it is the recognition of identity that is the foundation of equal human relations. But on the other hand, we are saying that to get identity we need to belong to a larger whole; we need to place our individual identity in a larger identity. So when we talk of identity we talk of separateness, of divisiveness at the same time as we talk of unity, cohesion solidarity. It is important to remember this and reflect on the profound significance of the internal contradiction which is at the heart of all identities. This contradiction should not be seen as a negative attribute of identity; identity signifies the unity in the heart of all diversity in as much as it signifies the diversity at the heart of all unity. When we talk of identities we need to be constantly aware of the enormous capacity that identities have for conflict, for creating antagonistic relationships. At the same time, we can escape these conflicts and divisions only by seeking larger identities. It is this perspective we must bring to the question of national identity.
Identity is therefore a multi-faceted phenomenon. This is well illustrated when we consider the concept of identity in relation to the individual. We as individuals have several identities – we belong to families, we belong to organisations we belong to religions we belong to ethnic groups. There is then a whole hierarchy of identities. The way in which identities take their place in a hierarchy is a very important characteristic of an identity. This is particularly true of national identity; it consists of a very complex and comprehensive hierarchy of identities – the identity of the family, the identity of religion, the identity of language, the identity of an ethnic group. Each identity has its own specific demands and loyalties. What seems to be demonstrated in history is that the national identity can endure and can inspire unity only to the extent that it can manage that hierarchy successfully. That hierarchy can be an enormous source of conflict, it can engender the most destructive forms of oppression, discrimination and hatred if it is not managed successfully. On the other hand, it can be an enormous source of strength nourishment of diversity and consolidation of unity. I think that should be the basic framework within which we need to address the question of national identity in Sri Lanka.
In the history of man’s political evolution, national identity is a relatively recent phenomenon. I still remember in my University days, when reading Bernard Shaw’s St Joan, coming across a very interesting passage. In one of the scenes in the drama, Joan familiar to us as Joan of Arc proudly identifies herself as “French” and her interlocutors ridicule her for calling herself “French” they could recognise a Lombardian a Burgundian but French was a concoction they find strange and even comic. Joan was living at a time when the whole concept of national identity and the nation-state was newly evolving, evolving out of loose feudal loyalties that were existing then, loyalties which were essentially local and regional, loyalties which were organised around duchies and counties and principalities. The national identity was evolving because there was a compelling need for it as a result of the economic changes that were sweeping Europe. The economic imperatives of modern commerce, of a growing industry, required a new type of political entity which provided larger economies of scale, larger territorial units of political stability and law and order. These provided the framework of common laws and regulatory regimes within which business could be conducted with some degree of security. But the historical process by which national identity evolved also reminds us that it will always contain many vestigial identities, identities coming from the past, deeply rooted in all types of traditions all types of historical loyalties and enmities that all nations contain.
If we think of national identities in this sense we can identify a rather simple typology of national identities in the world today. There is first a group of countries in Asia and Europe which are the oldest existing human societies. The national identities that have evolved in these societies are deeply rooted in their long history, their traditions which go back in time to the beginnings of recorded history. We can further divide these societies into two sub-groups, one with more or less homogeneous national identities and another group with national identities formed out of more than one ethnic, linguistic or religious identity. Nations like Japan, Korea, China, France, some of the Scandinavian nations and the Irish Republic might fall into the group with identities which have a high degree of homogeneity in culture, race and language; but these are few and even among them there are small pockets of diversity. The large majority of these old Asian and European societies fall into the second sub-group with multi-ethnic or multi-lingual or multi-religious national identity. Each society is formed with more than one ethnic or religious or linguistic group. These societies have attempted to create national identities which are like tapestries, unifying patterns, out of long histories that have brought great cultural and ethnic diversity among them – you will find such unity in diversity in the national identities of countries like India, Malaysia, Belgium, Switzerland. In all of them, several ethnic, linguistic or religious groups have come together and have been held together by a national identity. Many countries which seem culturally and ethnically homogeneous like Germany, UK, Italy have long histories of regional conflicts and ethnocultural differences that underly their over-arching national identity.
A second major group are the migrant societies that grew in the Americas and Australasia. Consider how they have created their national identities. Unlike the old societies of Europe and Asia, they did not have the burden of history, the long accretions of tradition. They could start anew. They went to new places, they had a new enterprise and opening of a new life. They were able to bring together people from different cultures from all parts of Europe, initially and build strong nations and national identities, whether it was the USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Mexico. These migrant national identities are of a different type. Their problems were of a different character. Their expectations from the new land they adopted and their relationship to the nationhood that was being developed were more open and adaptable to changing conditions, more amenable to compromises and realistic adjustments as they had no deep-rooted historical attachments to a traditional habitat, no historical claims handed down over generations of settlements as in the case of the population groups in many of the old societies of Asia and Africa. People were ready to go in there and accept what was already available and prepared for them; they accepted the place given to them by those who were already there before them, and those who were there were for the most ready to welcome them at least in the period of the formation and growth of the new society. The migrants came out of a past which they left behind and was no longer relevant to them in their new future. Of course, the evolution of these societies was by no means a smooth and peaceful process. There was great violence, the genocide of indigenous peoples, civil war as in the USA and the Latin American States, national wars between the new nation-states over territorial claims as between Latin American states, and new problems of national identity such as those of a large population brought in as slaves. But out of all these problems there grew a new type of national identity, of types of accommodation for creating a stable sense of nationhood which today has a major role to play in the growth of national identities in developing countries.
The third major group with another very different set of problems pertaining to national identity are the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. They are very different indeed but nevertheless, there is much we can learn from them. The boundaries of these countries were drawn artificially by the imperial powers and units of administration established, bringing together a very heterogeneous collectivity of tribes for each unit. Their nationhood rests on a history of the relationships that grew within these single units of administration. Many of them face the enormous challenge of a transition from tribal identities to national identity. We are witnessing the vast human tragedy that has followed the collapse of these fragile nationhoods in some of the countries. But there are still the heartening successes where societies have forged a stable nationhood as in Tanzania or to a lesser extent in Kenya. Recently I was in Johannesburg and had a glimpse of the intense effort made by all communities to heal the wounds of the past and created a unified society out of the very diverse elements, the Zulu and Non-Zulu tribal communities, the European descendants – the British and the Boers, and the Indian community.
There is a great deal we can learn from the efforts made by different societies to forge unity out of diversity, to preserve and strengthen the humanity and sense of equality that makes possible the peaceful co-existence of many diverse groups, of majority communities with minority communities. I think there is a major responsibility for a professional association such as yours to study and interpret the experiences of these countries, the history of the growth of national identities; to throw light on those elements which enabled societies to overcome their internal divisions and hatreds and find stable forms of peaceful co-existence. The wide dissemination of ideas based on the serious work of this nature can be of great value in our present predicament. It will promote a better understanding of the challenges that face us in creating and developing our own national identity. Such work falls primarily within the disciplines of the social sciences – political science, sociology, economics, the management sciences, historical studies and related fields. But while this is true of the analytical work on the processes that go into the formation of national identity, the challenge which you have posed in your theme is a challenge for all the sciences and professions. It requires a collective intellectual effort which involves all the professional elites and I shall come to that issue in the concluding part of my talk.
Let us try to place our own problem within this general framework which I have outlined, the broad typology of the problems of national identity that I have discussed. What are the special characteristics of the national identity in Sri Lanka, what are its special problems? There are many identities in Sri Lanka contained in the identity which we would like to define as the Sri Lankan identity. What are they? We begin with the identities that start at the village level. Our people have a strong sense of local identity of belonging to a particular village; the expression “gamata yanawa” for someone who has come away from his village to reside elsewhere for specific reasons such as employment, is synonymous with a home where one real identity resides; then at a higher level there are regional identities – the South, Kandyan,; there are caste identities which are vestigial and which we hope will disappear with modernisation. In another dimension, we have strong religious identities which cut across other identities – the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Christian and within the different denominations, and the Muslim. These identities all claim their special allegiances and conformity. Then, over and above all these we have three primary identities which seem to be organising these various sub-identities and containing them. These are the three primary ethnic identities Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. What are the problems that are associated with this variegated pattern of ethnocultural religious and other identities?
Let us first examine what history has to tell us about the political responses and strategies that have been adopted in the formation of national identity. One process is the process of exclusion. In this process, a society gets rid of diversity by violent means. We witness this in the processes of ethnic cleansing; the social, religious or ethnic group which is often a minority which is different from the main or dominant group in a society is either forced out from the country or killed in large numbers including women and children, reduced to a state of utter helplessness and totally marginalised. The atrocities of ethnic cleansing have been part of human history from the beginning. An example from the early part of this century is the diaspora of the Armenians after the atrocities perpetrated on them by the Turkish rulers. A more recent example is the ethnic cleansing in the states that made up Yugoslavia. Through genocide and other forms of ethnic cleansing, societies strive to bring about the homogeneity they desire and rid themselves of a different identity in their midst which they perceive both in a cultural as well as a political sense, a threat to their own identity. We need to ask ourselves how the forces that create solidarity in a group, which unifies it, also let loose this inhumanity towards other groups. We are aware that the most nakedly brutal impulses lie beneath the surface of our civilized natures and the conflicts between group identities seem to trigger their explosion in the most destructive way.
There is next, the process of assimilation in the formation of national identity. This happens when one major identity says “Look, we are the major identity in this country. We will assimilate all the other smaller identities into our identity and they will become one with us, accept our ways of living and beliefs and they will cease to exist as separate groups with identities different from us.” There are many countries of that kind. One of the successful examples that I can think of is Thailand which has assimilated the Chinese identity into the main Thai identity in all forms, names, language, ways of living so that today it would not be easy to distinguish the group which was originally Chinese from the Thai mainstream. But usually, wherever the assimilative process has worked it has worked by suppression of differences and separate identities, by the exercise of superior power and coercive means which compel minorities eventually to assimilate themselves to the major community and refrain from giving political and cultural expression to their identity. A coercive process of assimilation however has seldom succeeded in achieving a full process of assimilation. The cultural identities have always persisted and have asserted themselves in time. Today we find that the Labour Party has a major agenda for devolution in Britain; they envisage a different United Kingdom with Scotland and Wales enjoying more regional autonomy and devolution.
The third process that countries have followed to achieve national identity in situations of multi-ethnicity and cultural diversity is the process of accommodation. A process which accepts that there are many identities in the given society and that they have all the right to flourish as identities but at the same time seeks the mode of co-existence which brings these identities within one overarching national identity. It is that process which offers the best potential for realising a viable national identity for Sri Lanka. But we need to look into the special characteristics of the multi-ethnic situation in each country before we find the appropriate mode of accommodation. The pattern of multi-ethnicity is not uniform in all countries. The process of accommodation and the expectations of each group in a given situation of diversity depends on the natural balance of power among those groups, their demographic weight, that is to say, the share each has in the total population, the nature of the differences whether ethnic linguistic or religious. At the time of independence the Indian subcontinent could accommodate the enormous linguistic and ethnic diversity within the Indian national identity, but yet it found difficulty in including the Muslim-Hindu religious difference. In the case of Malaysia, we have a situation where two immigrant population groups entered into an accord and gained citizenship accepting the “bhumiputra” status of the indigenous population. The Malay and the Chinese communities were also relatively well balanced in size and so distributed geographically that it helped the process of accommodation and acted as a deterrent to conflict. The Malaysian national identity has therefore been able to withstand the exclusiveness of Islamic fundamentalism and the bhumiputra concept has operated within parameters which left enough space for the growth and development of all communities. The leaders have been able to maintain a balance, delicate though it be, and bring together its diversity under the rubric of Malaysia Incorporated, putting more emphasis on a dynamic process of economic development which imparts a sense of pride to all Malaysians as they build together the future Malaysia.
Similarly with Indonesia. Indonesia saw to it that diversity was respected. You would recall how Sokarno selected the dialect of a small somewhat unimportant community to develop the national language of Indonesia Bhasa. The Indonesian situation of course had the advantage that the dialects were all derived from common Malay roots and therefore lent themselves to the development of a common language. But it was the magnanimity of the initial selection which provided the symbol for national unity in diversity and give the minorities a sense of security, a sense of being esteemed. And then the leadership developed the national idealogy of Panchaseela. Panchaseela attempted to provide again the vision of universal values, the spiritual core of all the great religious traditions and made it the unifying vision for Indonesia. Again it helped to avoid the exclusivity of Islamic Fundamentalism in a society which in fact was predominantly Islamic. Panchaseela brought all the ethnocultural strands together and gave to all the communities a sense of belonging to the Indonesian whole.
We can find many other examples. Singapore is in a sense an artefact of national identity. Here was a society which had a large Chinese community and minorities of Malay and other communities. Singapore had problems analogous to ours. They had a Malay minority who were ethnically linked to the larger community of “bhumiputras” of Malaysia. In Sri Lanka, we might perceive a similar situation with the Tamil minority who are part of a much larger ethnic group in South India. But Singapore was able to manage its ethnic diversity more prudently and with greater inner confidence than we have been able to do. It was able to create a Singaporean identity which brought all groups together within a vision of a mini- country becoming the most orderly and developed of the developing nations.
We need to learn the lessons from these examples which are appropriate to our own situation. There are no doubt special features which are in a sense unique to our situation. We have minorities with much longer histories and traditional settlements than Malaysia and Singapore. There are therefore different self-perceptions and expectations that have engendered conflict. The majority in our case, the Sinhala majority and within it the Sinhala Buddhist constituting as they do nearly 75% and 70% respectively of the population, occupy a much larger cultural space and demographic weight than the Malay majority in Malaysia. In Singapore, although 77% is ethnically Chinese the religious breakdown is more evenly distributed between Christians Buddhists, Taoists and others.
In Sri Lanka, the roots of our conflict lie in the nature of the ethnic and cultural balance and the way we agree to structure our society to reflect that balance. In a society with the ethnocultural composition such as ours, what is the overarching national identity to which all can belong? In principle, the Sri Lankan identity has to be able to give the right sense of belonging to all Sri Lankans. The Sinhala Buddhist, the Sinhala Christian, the Hindu Tamil, the Hindu Christian, the Muslim and other smaller ethnocultural groups such as the Burghers and Malays should all be able to partake of that identity and contribute to it in the same way as presumably Singaporeans of all ethnic and religious groups do in relation to their Singaporean identity.
If we are to achieve a similar unifying national identity which motivates and brings together the different ethnic and religious groups, it seems to me that many conditions have to be fulfilled. We must find the right answer that both gives a sense of equality of citizenship to people in all groups and at the same time accommodate the size and weight of each culture with a due sense of proportionality. It is inevitable both in terms of cultural space and demographic size that the Sinhala Buddhist culture will occupy the centre of our development as a society; its spiritual core in its purity will have to be the main source of spirituality in our society. Given the centrality of Sinhala Buddhist culture, we at the same time create the space for the other cultures, the other identities to exist and flourish as part of the larger Sri Lankan identity.
There is however a whole range of very complex issues that are involved which cannot be adequately addressed in my brief talk this morning. Let me nevertheless touch on a few salient issues. We normally qualify the concept of equality which applies to the individual citizen with the concept of proportionality which applies to groups. Equity demands that the entitlement of a group whether a political party or a community be governed by the number of people it represents or contains. Proportional representation in the political system for instance rests on such a concept. If we translate it to ethnic groups we have ethnic quotas and so on. We have to be careful that the application of the principle of proportionality does not lead to a denial of the just entitlement of individuals based on their own individual capability and merit. Many of the grievances underlying schemes of standardisation, ethnic quotas, affirmative discrimination of any type which favours a disadvantaged group result from this type of proportionality. We cannot, however, ignore these basic conflicts between equality based on entirely individual criteria and equity-based on criteria such as proportionality which pays attention to disparities among groups. We have to find the right balance between individual equality and proportionality by a long process of adjustments in the actual situation of living together.
The concept of the pre-eminence of Buddhism which seems to be equitable, based on the principle of proportionality also raises similar issues. Giving a central place to Sinhala Buddhist culture should not signify a type of dominance which marginalises other cultures and deprives them of the space that enables them to contribute creatively to the Sri Lankan totality. Both the idealogy and the way in which the cultural space is occupied and shared has to be designed to promote the creative cultural diversity within a society in which the Buddhist culture will be the major participant in the Sri Lankan identity. This will be a continuing challenge to Sri Lankan society. It cannot be solved simply by a form of secularism in which the state has no relations with religion. Even if we do so, in a society in which religion will play a major role, the problem of the relative roles and positions of the different religions and cultures will always be part of the social reality. In that social reality, we cannot conceive of a national identity in which the separate ethnocultural identities are forgotten in a new secular identity nor can we think of a national identity in which all smaller identities are merged in the Sinhala Buddhist identity. The Sri Lankan identity must find its own unique form and give a new expression of unity that both transcends as well as protects our separate identities. I don’t think that is a difficult task for us because we have many things in our culture which will enable us to develop a national identity of that kind.
I would end by drawing your attention to three pre-conditions for developing the Sri Lankan identity.
One is the political pre-condition. If there is the full and total commitment of all the ethnic identities to the democratic vision, a political vision of full democracy and empowerment of the people, then I think we have a major unifying national force. We must however realise that this means having a much more demanding democracy than the form of democracy to which we have got accustomed. We have got used to a majoritarian democracy which assumes that the rule of the majority is democracy and we have learnt the hard way that this type of democracy is not sufficient. If we are to have a Sri Lankan identity which gains the full and free commitment of all ethnic and cultural identities in our country then we need to develop the democratic idea and its institutions in a form which goes much further than the majoritarian type of democracy. True democracy must enshrine fundamental human rights which are beyond any form of a violation through the will and the power of the majority. The rights of minorities and the empowerment of minorities must be an integral part of such a democracy. Our efforts to achieve such a democracy has brought us today to the threshold of devolution – devolution which affirms that there must be political space and freedom for people to develop their own cultures and their own identities. That freedom is something fundamental to the concept of a Sri Lankan identity.
Let me give you an analogy from my personal experience of an extended family I knew. This family seemed to be a very viable extended family with considerable resources. The head was very generous, educated the children and helped them to develop in various ways. As they reached adulthood and formed households of their own, he built them each a house in the large extent of land he owned and wanted them all to live in a close neighbourhood under his protective eye and patronage. They were all getting on very well when one of the younger sons grew up and married. He said, “Father I want to go away, I want to have my house in another place. And I want to live by myself and bring up my family in the way I wish to”. The father couldn’t understand that. He said, “but why do you want to do that, I’m giving you everything. You’re living here, you are all together with us”. But the son said, “no, I want to be free, I want to build up my family the way I want to and give me the freedom I need to do that”. Now that father was a wise father, he gave the son his patrimony and said `go and build your family and you have my blessings.’ Later on, one found that the new family contributed to the extended family in a rich way brought relationships of a different kind and the extended family got further strengthened and acquired greater resourcefulness. Because that father was aware of the need, the fundamental primal need for freedom and identity. All identities require that same freedom.
The national identity must find the space to accommodate that political freedom. I think there is one principle that we must accept, i.e. is the principle that has been demonstrated in democracies the world over, the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. that the higher level of government must not retain for itself any powers that can be exercised at the level below, that power must be exercised at the level closest to where the activity takes place. The power that is at the top is only the power that cannot be exercised effectively at the bottom. This is the principle of empowerment of people. If this is applied rationally, the need for devolution of power becomes self-evident. Devolution based on this principle produces a very vibrant democracy. A democracy which is vibrant at all levels from local to national, from Pradeshiya Sabha to Provincial Council. The hierarchy of power will be developed according to the need for the power to be exercised at each higher levels. Switzerland has been an excellent example of democracy based on the principle of subsidiarity.
The second pre-condition of a Sri Lankan national identity is development. In the modern age one of the most unifying forces, perhaps the most, seems to be a capacity that a country shows to project for itself a development vision, a vision of the development of itself, a vision of the future society, the standards of living to which its people can aspire. It is a vision of development which includes all the people, all the social and ethnic groups. We see this process at work in Malaysia, Singapore and Mauritius. If in Sri Lanka today, we could have a Sri Lankan development vision in which the whole country is thriving, then you have already put into place one essential element in the concept of national identity. Just imagine, if we have peace, how development can transform this country. The reconstruction of the North and East can be a major lever in a spurt of high growth in this country, in which the entire country could participate. Development of this type and at this pace can be the foundation for a real process of reconciliation and co-existence for this country. If we visualise this process of development and its spatial distribution, the development of the North and East and the potential of the Trincomalee harbour could create a triangle of high growth which will encompass and lift up the North Central Province. So we need to have a vision which tells us that development can include all of us. It is the Sri Lankan vision of development to which the professionals can contribute.
The third element in the Sri Lankan identity is the spiritual vision. And here, I think we have more strengths than most other countries; unfortunately, those strengths are not being fully used. Our strength lies in the presence of the four great spiritual traditions, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Christian and Islamic. Despite the deep-seated ethnic conflicts which have riven our society, we have had no serious religious conflict. Today, the four religions have, although as yet in a limited way, initiated an interfaith dialogue to respond to some of the critical problems of our society. We have the capacity to reach out to the fundamentals of our religious traditions and relate together to the core human values in them, which unify the human race. In this sense, we have a unique combination of cultural and inner spiritual resources in our country to develop the spiritual framework for a unifying Sri Lankan identity. Each religious community in the country belongs to a larger human and global civilisation. This must be seen as a source of strength which locates our own national identity in the centre of human civilisation and gives it a rich global dimension – a dimension which will not allow the national identity to become over-assertive and insular in outlook.
Finally, I think professionals have a major and unique role to play as professionals in the development of our national identity. This contribution can come in two ways. One can come more directly through the analysis and study of the problems of national identity that I have broadly discussed. Professionals have a significant contribution to make in promoting the rational understanding of the problems which have led to conflicts in our society and strengthening the capacity for peaceful resolution of these conflicts. There is a need to learn from the experiences of other countries, study them and apply them. I know that many professionals in the field of social sciences are even now contributing to that process. The OPA could help to broaden and strengthen that process.
Another more important means of developing a sense of national identity is through a co-ordinated and collective effort to achieve high national standards of professional excellence. The rules of entry into a professional community, the estimation of the true worth of an individual member within such a community are based on a value system which transcends ethnicity, class and creed. Such a value system can act as a powerful force for national unity and become a focal point for the development of a true Sri Lankan identity. In this regard, the professional community has not always adhered to the highest values of their vocations. Often ethnic considerations have fostered rivalries and antagonisms and embittered relationships.
Nevertheless, if we recall the development efforts of the pre-independence era and the years immediately following independence we find professionals of all communities working closely together and contributing to national development. It is a strange irony of our history that the colonisation of the dry zone which became a highly contentious issue in the ethnic conflict was pioneered by Sinhala and Tamil engineers and professionals working with great dedication. You will find that this is true of every profession. The foundations of the professions in this country were laid by professionals of all communities who were able to work together as a national elite. Academics of all communities laid the foundations for higher education in our country. It would be possible to give symbolic expression to our Sri Lankan identity by selecting some of the professionals from all communities who made the pioneering effort in various professional fields and established standards of national excellence and honouring them with national awards. The OPA as the apex professional body could undertake this task and continue a system of such awards. The OPA would need to consider what innovative efforts it could make within their professional mandate itself to create the environment for the growth of a Sri Lankan identity. Indeed, the professional community has a major responsibility for providing the role models and creating the value system that helps to develop a national identity which is truly and fully Sri Lankan.