Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sri Lanka day 3 - settling in

I am writing this reflection in the spacious Executive Director’s office at the Colombo International Centre for Ethnic Studies. The office seems unchanged from many previous visits, but outside, the signs of last years’ turbulent attempt at a leadership transition are everywhere. There is no welcoming receptionist, only stacked files and debris in her former place. Ceiling tiles have been removed from a chronically leaking roof, but the roof has not been repaired. Funds were being sought from donors, but the proces stalled when controversy over the ICES Colombo leadership and participation in an organization promoting the international ‘responsibilty to protect’ erupted. Despite financial problems, most of the staff members remain on the job. But one wonders for how much longer the current scale of operations will be sustainable. Some protagonists seem more concerned about ‘being right’ than saving the Center

What strikes me about the dynamic of current contentions facing the Center is parallels with the larger conflict in Sri Lanka. There are ‘sides’ though not differentiated by ethnicity. Each has its grievances. Conversations must begin with a recounting of history or, more accurately, ‘histories,’ because perceptions differ so greatly. Neither side is wiling to view circumstances from a different perspective or even to admit that a different perspective exists. Those who disagree are viewed as either fools or knaves.

“I can never forgive them, never!!” is the phrase I am hearing from proponents of both sides.

I have suggested that the inability of an organization, whose mission includes conflict resolution, to resolve its own conflicts seems paradoxical, but that is the reality. “This is not the time for Christian charity!” was the response from one friend of long standing that greeted my mediation efforts.

Yet hope springs eternal. If the Irish and South Africans can find grounds for resolving their conflicts peaceably, why not the staff, Board members and friends of the international Center for Ethnic Studies?


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