Sri Lanka

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Tropical island nation off the southeast coast of India.

Population about 19 million. It is a democracy, with a strong central government. The formal education system is strong by globo-institutional standards, for a relatively poor country.

Sri Lanka is well known internationally for its tea. Moderately socialist after independence, it has in the last 20 years increasingly engaged in privatization and other capitalist practices. Now Sri Lanka exports and imports a much wider variety in the global economy.

Since independence (from the British Empire in 1948), struggles between majority Sinhala-speaking Buddhists and minority Tamils (mostly Hindu) have been a regular feature of Sri Lanka's political life (left-over divide and conquer from the British?). Since 1983 there has been on-and-off civil war, mostly between the government and the LTTE -- the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Tens of thousands have died, and perhaps as many in struggles among Tamil militant groups, and in two brief uprisings by Sinhalese disaffected with their government (JVP). Hundreds of thousands of refugees are displaced internally or have fled to Tamil Nadu and around the world.

The LTTE demands a separate nation -- Tamil Eelam -- as the only means for Tamils' rights to be respected. Some Sinhalese demand political unity of the island as a part of Sinhalese identity, or as a matter of realpolitik.

The Sinhalese trace their lineage back to a prince from somewhere around what is now Bangladesh, but perhaps more importantly to a later king's conversion to Buddhism, and the Buddha's charge that they protect the religion. The Tamils came originally from South India (where there are currently more than 60 million Tamils). Both cultures have been on the island for a long time, but not as long as the Wanniyala-Aetto (Veddahs), the few hundred remaining tribal people. Other minorities include Muslims (mostly Tamil-speaking), Christians (Sinhalese and Tamil), and Burgers (mixed local and European).

From the CIA World Factbook 2000. Not Wikified.


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