War during reconciliation? A study of presidential speeches on the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict bridging war and reconciliation
Surenthiraraj, Esther Priyanthini
Hamilton, Heidi E.
This paper examines the discourse produced by Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in six presidential speeches delivered across five years from 2008 to 2012. It draws on political discourse analysis (van Dijk, 1997), positioning theory (van Langenhove & Harré, 1999), and schema (van Dijk, 1998) to form a cross-disciplinary approach and traces President Rajapaksa's portrayal of the ethnic conflict in speeches delivered during the latter stages of the war to post-war speeches. Throughout this paper, the importance of detailed linguistic analysis is highlighted, stressing its role in anchoring day-to-day language use to larger ideologies in the world. In order to trace patterns across the President's discourse, this paper analyzes the positions he adopts a) towards the main parties involved in the conflict and b) through storylines issued to explain the conflict. Understanding the storylines issued as also indexing schema that the President draws on to perceive and discursively produce the ethnic conflict in a particular way, this paper also inquires whether there is a shift in positioning as the speeches progress from a war time context into a post-war setting which would reveal the President's transition from `war schema' to `reconciliation schema'. The study finds that the President's positioning of the five main actors in his conflict narrative, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil people, the Sri Lankan armed forces, the government, and the international community, remain the same across war time and post-war speeches. The discursive construction of narrative describes a storyline, and the President issues three main storylines to support his positioning of these actors. His `historical lens' narrative that compares the ethnic conflict to invasions of the country by Indian kings and Western colonizers subsumes and enhances his three storylines, thereby becoming a metanarrative through which the positions ascribed to the main actors of the conflict are interpreted. The paper also argues that analysis of the President's discourse does not reveal a shift from `war schema' into `reconciliation schema' following the end of the war, and instead draws on existing discriminatory beliefs that uphold majority ethnic group ideologies.
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