Researcher: Danielle Beswick
Funder: British Academy (Small Grant)
This project analyses strategies used to create 'new' national identities after violent ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and Rwanda and explores their implications. Both states experienced civil wars ended by a military victory and the substantial defeat of armed opposition within national territory. Post conflict governments in both states expressed an intention to promote a new national identity, replacing and de-legitimising ethnicity. In Rwanda this process began in 1994, and my previous research examined the role of legislation and ‘shadow methods’ in creating and managing ‘Rwandan’ identity after conflict. This project will carry out new research in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and further research in Kigali, Rwanda, to ascertain how these governments have tried to create new ‘post-ethnic’ national identities. It is often suggested that denying differences after conflict leads to governments failing to address grievances which led to conflict in the first place. The examination of two very different cases which nevertheless have common elements will explore the validity of this assertion.
This research compares attempts to create national identity after ethnic conflict, identifying strategies used, exploring the content of the new identities and assessing implications of these strategies for sustainable peace.
The 1994 Rwandan genocide saw 800,000 of the minority Tutsi group killed. The mainly-Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has dominated Rwandan politics since 1994. Through legislation, education, and methods of disciplining, it enforces a single national identity and removes ethnicity as an aspect of identity and politics. This may help avoid a Hutu-perpetrator/Tutsi-victim dichotomy in society, but researchers suggest that in enforcing ‘post-ethnic’ identity, the RPF has precluded long term peace and reconciliation by privileging ‘victors justice.’
In 2009 Sri Lanka’s government ended civil war by militarily defeating the LTTE (‘Tamil Tigers’). The Sinhalese nationalist government (Sinhalese make up around 80% of the population) has since signalled an intention to promote ‘Sri Lankan-ness’, indicating minorities must embrace this identity rather than considering themselves ‘Tamil’ or ‘Muslim’. Observers fear attempts to remove ethnicity from public life mean grievances of the Tamil minority, and governance reforms necessary to tackle root causes of conflict, will remain unaddressed. The project will compare these two cases, and has three objectives:
To identify how 'Sri Lankan-ness' and 'Rwandan-ness' are defined by post war governments. This includes identifying the role of particular facets of identity e.g.: language, religion, territoriality, shared ‘national’ experience, civil war, history or cultural markers.
To identify what policies and practices have been introduced to reinforce primacy of this national identity. This includes exploring legislation, (particularly on political parties/activity), civic education programmes, re-education or solidarity camps, transitional justice mechanisms and public awareness campaigns.
To evaluate the implications of these attempts to create 'post ethnic' identity, specifically considering the extent to which these strategies promote or undermine prospects for sustainable peace.
For further information about this project please contact Danielle Beswick: firstname.lastname@example.org