"Our vision is to enter the 21st century, as one of Asia's most developed and democratic Nations"
49th Anniversary of Sri Lankan Independence
Colombo, Sri Lanka
February 4, 1997
Today we celebrate 49 years of independence. As we step into our 50th year of independence, the moment is opportune for us to glance back at our achievements and our failures and to consider the tasks we need to accomplish, in order to transform the political independence we obtained in 1948 into a true and complete freedom for all our people.
49 years ago, today, we began our "tryst with destiny". The task ahead of us then was daunting. We set out to build a strong and democratic Nation and to usher in a lasting economic prosperity that would benefit all alike. We marched in through the doors of freedom with much hope and courage, spurred on by the vitality of our new Nation.
We have had many successes. We were proud of the strong political institutions of parliamentary democracy which we had built, as well as our education and health-care systems, the fine arts and literature. But somewhere along the path, we seem to have missed the way. We have meandered. We have faltered. We have let our Nation fall into the deep, dark abyss of intolerance and terrible violence.
A Nation with a great and ancient civilisation and one of the finest cultural and architectural heritages of the world, committed to the noble Buddhist philosophy of peace and love for others, has in the past two decades suffered a heavy toll of human lives and experienced some of the highest rates of social violence, alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide anywhere in the world.
We had also veered off course in our march towards economic development and prosperity through lack of vision, corruption and waste. These were the causal factors for the massive deterioration of the economy and the near total break-down of the public service.
The moment of truth dawned on us in 1994. The Nation opted decisively then, for a return to human decency and the reinforcement of democratic institutions, honesty and good governance and for a rational, planned and efficient economic development.
The people expressed their decision in torrential waves of support, at three democratically held elections in 1994. The tasks they handed over to their government was daunting.
The People's Alliance Government has not flinched for an instant, in the face of these enormous challenges. We accepted the challenge of transforming into reality a beautiful dream.
The reign of State Terror is no more. Respect for human rights stands restored, and democratic institutions have been revived and strengthened.
In the sphere of economic development we have formulated a clear vision and laid a strong and durable foundation for a vigorous economy, which has already begun to ensure growth while serving not only a chosen few, but all the people - the rich and the poor, of every community, in a just and equitable manner.
Yet, these achievements will remain fragile, as long as we do not succeed inconclusively solving the most terrible crisis this country has faced in its long history.
I speak of the crisis of our Nationhood. A crisis has torn asunder the different communities that once lived in brotherhood, in a united Sri Lanka, to the point of some demanding a separate State through the use of arms and the exercise of terror and others obstinately demanding special privileges over the rest.
This has given rise to a continuing armed conflict in one part of the island, that causes serious ripples in the totality of Sri Lankan society.
The Sri Lankan people have fully realised the urgent need for a lasting solution to this problem.
Faced with this crisis, my Government has acted swiftly to guide the country towards the correct solutions. We met terroristic violence with firm resolve, whilst evolving political solutions to the problems of the minorities, through free and fair dialogue. I believe that we have successfully seized a problem that had so far eluded independent Sri Lanka, and found solutions to the crisis of our Nation-State. We believe that his country has sufficient space and resources to offer equal opportunities to all its groups and communities of citizens.
The promise of a lasting Peace is in the air. We hear everywhere the sound of reason, and the echoes of the sweet music of brotherhood and understanding.
We shall not be diverted from our path by the irrational protests of a malicious few.
We are strong in our resolve because we have the confidence and the support of our peoples - of all races, religions and creeds.
We shall rededicate ourselves to build one, united country, where we value the richness of diversity, while we steadfastly adhere to the strength of our common Sri Lankan identity.
We shall continue in our commitment to build a stable and rapidly developing economy upon the foundations we have laid.
Our vision is to enter the 21st century, as one of Asia's most developed and democratic Nations. The elusive Peace will be achieved. The problems of poverty and unemployment, of low productivity and inadequate technology are being sought to be overcome through all that has been done and is being done. The economic fundamentals have been set on the right track, wide-ranging reforms of the education system and the public service are underway.
New agricultural and industrial policies have been launched.
We are truly poised to realise that beautiful dream. The Nation possesses in full measure the courage, the sincerity of commitment and the dedication required to achieve our goal.
If we only direct that stupendous commitment of our young people, who so readily sacrifice their lives, at the altar of destruction and division, towards building bridges of understanding and peace as well as to building roads, waterways, schools, hospitals, power, communications networks, factories and farms, we would have won the final victory. My fervent appeal to our youth is to make that commitment - to the cause of unity, peace and prosperity and we shall do the rest. Let us thus enter on our 50th year of independence with such a resolve to transform dream into reality.
May the Noble Triple Gem Bless you.