What did the people of Sri Lanka invent
Why the Tamil Tigers still have a lot of supporters
During the Sri Lankan Civil War, the Liberation Tigers of over thirty countries are declared a terrorist organization. After the war, their supporters decided to change the image of the fight for Tamil Eelam. In the diaspora, hero framing primarily appeals to young people.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was formed in 1975 after decades of oppression of the Tamils in the east and north of Sri Lanka. It emerged from a Marxist-Leninist group. The Liberation Tigers demanded Tamil Eelam, a Tamil state of their own. From 1983 to 2009, the guerrilla army fought a bloody civil war with the Sinhalese government, killing tens of thousands of civilians on both sides. Between 1980 and 2001, 188 suicide attacks by individuals or groups were carried out worldwide, 75 of which were for the account of the LTTE. According to information from the FBI, the group is said to have even invented the explosives belt. The Tamils who could fled the war. Today the global Tamil diaspora, from the USA to Canada, the EU, Switzerland to Malaysia and Australia, has around three million people.
The guerrilla army is classified as a terrorist organization by 31 states. After the Sri Lankan civil war, the supporters of the Tamil Tigers decided to re-market the struggle for independence. At the time, however, the LTTE lacked clear leadership to respond appropriately. Today their offshoots are better organized politically. "The Tigers supporters worked for a long time on the hero image," says PhD student Tanuja Thurairajah, who studies the local diaspora.
In the USA, to which many Tamils fled from higher castes, the United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) was founded at the end of the civil war in 2009, which “works for a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict”. In Great Britain the British Tamil Forum (BTF) campaigns for the concerns of the Tamils. Many groups in the diaspora collect funds for war victims and reconstruction in Sri Lanka. Or they enable small businesses to be set up through financial means.
The fight in the mind
In Switzerland, according to Thurairajah, the groups Tamil Movement, Phoenix and Swiss Council for Eelam Tamils are involved in this political process. Phoenix sees the Tamil Tigers as freedom fighters, as one of the founders, Jathuram Thirumalmarukan, explains. The organization even introduced an identity card for Tamil Eelam around a month ago. With the political action, she wanted to point out the problems in Sri Lanka and the reasons why a separate state is necessary, explains Thirumalmarukan. The card costs ten francs per month for members. However, one must see this as a fundraising campaign. According to Thirumalmarukan, the money will be used for projects in Switzerland. Last year, for example, the group organized a memorial hunger strike.
Such young groups, which emerged mainly in the post-war period, had kept the "Tamil struggle" alive in the diaspora. According to the security report of the Swiss intelligence service, they are hardly noticeable in this country. Nevertheless, the radical minority is overrepresented in the media. There are few separatists and active LTTE supporters.
The LTTE enjoys the admiration of many sympathizers in Switzerland: Every year on November 27th, thousands of Tamils commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Tamil Tigers in Freiburg. For many, it is heroes who fought for freedom and independence.
"Young people in particular are quickly fascinated by the romantic heroic rebellion," says PhD student Thurairajah. The second generation's relationship with Sri Lanka is not a natural one. While the first generation still had to experience the bombs and suicide attacks and tend not to talk about them anymore, the second generation only has this imaginary version of their homeland.
Ten years ago there was hardly any criticism to be said about the LTTE in Switzerland, and many feared reprisals. The first generation of refugees didn't talk about politics. Today, according to Thurairajah, this is no longer the case.
Alternative school books
Every Tamil child in Switzerland goes to Tamil school on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays, almost all of which are run by LTTE representatives. In the city of Zurich, for example, rooms are made available to the schools, and the Education Directorate recognizes the Tamil school as complementary lessons. In the old textbooks of the Tamil schools, according to Thurairajah, the alternative story of the Tamil liberation struggle was kept alive. According to Thurairajah, some essays had to be written about Tamil Eelam.
During the war, Switzerland was the transshipment point for the LTTE's finances. Funds for the Liberation Army flowed from the diaspora into their coffers - some paid voluntarily, others were pressured. Some of them would have feared for their local relatives if they had not given anything. Many would have paid out of a guilty conscience, because otherwise Tamil people would have considered themselves disloyal, explains Thurairajah. There are those affected who are still paying off loans today, says LTTE critic and cultural mediator Rajan Rajakumar. Since the war ended so abruptly, it is believed that millions of euros still remain in Swiss bank accounts to this day.
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