University of Limerick
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An opportunity lost: the entrenchment of Sinhalese nationalism in post-war Sri Lanka

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posted on 2023-02-24, 18:01 authored by Anne Gaul
This research studies the trajectory of Sinhalese nationalism during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa from 2005 to 2015. The role of nationalism in the protracted conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils is well understood, but the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009 has changed the framework within which both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalism operated. With speculations about the future of nationalism abound, this research set out to address the question of how the end of the war has affected Sinhalese nationalism, which remains closely linked to politics in the country. It employs a discourse analytical framework to compare the construction of Sinhalese nationalism in official documents produced by Rajapaksa and his government before and after 2009. A special focus of this research is how through their particular constructions and representations of Sinhalese nationalism these discourses help to reproduce power relations before and after the end of the war. It argues that, despite Rajapaksa’s vociferous proclamations of a ‘new patriotism’ promising a united nation without minorities, he and his government have used the momentum of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers to entrench their position by continuing to mobilise an exclusive nationalism and promoting the revival of a Sinhalese-dominated nation. The analysis of history textbooks, presidential rhetoric and documentary films provides a contemporary empirical account of the discursive construction of the core dimensions of Sinhalese nationalist ideology. It explores how the end of the war has affected the myth-symbol complex underlying national identity as well as the motives and rationales of nationalist politics. The research identifies continuities and changes in the content and use of these dimensions as a response to the transition from war to peace. These shifts, however, do not signify a challenge to the traditional hierarchical framework of Sinhalese nationalism. Instead, post-war triumphalism has reinvigorated its ethnic core that places the Sinhalese, their culture and religion, above other communities in Sri Lanka. The military victory has reaffirmed the link between the Sinhalese nation, Buddhism and the state that has traditionally been used to legitimise Sinhalese claims to a Sri Lankan nationalism. Furthermore, developments, such as the victory itself and growing international criticism, are incorporated within traditional nationalist frames and, in turn, help to reinvigorate them. Overall, this research demonstrates implicit and explicit discursive modes of how the Rajapaksa regime continued to perpetuate an exclusive Sinhalese nationalism, marginalising minority communities, their long-standing grievances and the crucial issue of reconciliation after the end of the war in 2009.



  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Andrew Shorten





Department or School

  • Politics & Public Administration

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