here is almost no need for me to say that we are living in an era of social and political uncertainty, and even turmoil, no matter which part of the world we live in. Modern communication channels keep us updated on what is happening around the world and the information we are constantly exposed to reveals it all. Even people living in the highly developed Western Europe no longer feel safe and secure. In an interconnected world, people who suffer due to poverty and conflict in various parts of the world do not want to remain trapped in their traditional habitats and suffer in silence but actively search for opportunities to migrate to more secure places within their own country or in other parts of the world. Mass migration of people to Europe in recent years is symptomatic of the above tendency. The developed countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere have been compelled to accommodate incoming refugees in large numbers over the last several decades. But there is increasing resistance to migration in many developed countries, making it more difficult to migrate. Meanwhile, people who have been left behind in countries that have been badly affected by political and other conflicts, economic crises and natural disasters have had no respite but endure persistent trauma, risks and frustrations.
There is no one simple explanation of the emergence of the present global condition. Yet, it is possible to identify some of the global processes that paved the way for the present situation. The transition from liberalism to neo-liberalism and the resultant
global transformation brought communities with divergent world views face to face through economic, social, cultural and political processes that transcended national boundaries. As is well known, post war economic boom increased international trade and migration but both were highly regulated by the States. Very different social and political systems existed side by side in a world divided economically and on ideological grounds. While some countries pursued liberal capitalism, others had moulded their economies with varying degrees of state control.
The adoption of neo-liberal economic policies in the 1980’s that almost coincided with the disintegration of the socialist bloc led by the then Soviet Union set the stage for a massive global transformation in international economic, social and cultural relations. This transformation was sure to generate massive ideological and other conflicts around the world, despite increasing capacities and readiness on the part of many countries to adapt to the imperatives of the market and the new ideology. While the same transformation necessitated increasing exploitation of natural resources leading to the present global environmental crisis, the world however, did not become a just and equitable global village either.
Though mass civil society action has not been new to the modern world, as was evident from many social movements at least since the 1960’s, the present phase of civic action is almost perpetual, and does not give a respite to activists engaged in continuing agitations against multiple stakeholders, be it intra-state, state or global. It is often the same people who continue to engage in mass civil society campaigns on many fronts on an almost continuing basis to pursue causes that they are committed to. So much so that many people who began their journey as young adults today find themselves as senior citizens but still have not seen their dreams realized, be it justice, peace or equality, despite significant gains in some countries.
"Socially and politically conscious citizens who have been active in the public domain in fast changing societies over the last several decades have no doubt lived very stressful lives"
Socially and politically conscious citizens who have been active in the public domain in fast changing societies over the last several decades have no doubt lived very stressful lives. Given the highly violent nature of many conflicts today, agitators often get caught in violent conflicts. Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict is a case in point. Even other, less contentious conflicts in the country have also disrupted the lives of many people, often forcing them even to leave the country. The way the economy has been transformed by neo-liberal policies over the same period has also been disruptive of the lives of many people across the country. Rural urban as well as mass international migration of labour is a clear case in point.
Where do we stand today with respect to the above issues ? As is well known, the country is still in a flux. There is hardly any consensus on any of the contentious issues that have given rise to public agitations. In other words, there cannot be any respite for those who are engaged in civil society campaigns to drive home their points of view and demand change in keeping with their aspirations. But, the key question is how far the younger members of society fill in the hiatus created by senior citizens who naturally wish to take a back seat. Given the composition of the youthful population in the country, the realistic answer to the above question is not very encouraging. As mentioned earlier in the article, many of the globally oriented, highly skilled youths tend to leave the country in view of the persisting domestic economic and political uncertainties. Those who are left behind are mostly the products of public educational institutions who hail from rural lower middle class families. Their main preoccupation understandably is finding employment in keeping with their qualifications and aspirations, and these are usually low paying government jobs. Once they secure such jobs, they tend to concentrate more on their personal lives than on larger social and political issues. Hence the continuing domination of much progressive civil society action by senior citizens and the members of the urban middle class with limited participation of rural educated youth.
"On the other hand, many university students and upwardly mobile rural youth tend to take an active interest in matters that are closely connected with their personal interests, namely educational and employment opportunities"
On the other hand, many university students and upwardly mobile rural youth tend to take an active interest in matters that are closely connected with their personal interests, namely educational and employment opportunities. This is evident from the types of issues they are generally concerned with such as privatization of education and government jobs. Such wide ranging issues such as climate change, human rights, growing economic disparities and good governance do not seem to be particularly attractive to them. Given the fact that the future prospects of Sri Lanka and indeed of many other societies across the world depend on how we resolve these larger issues through sound public policies , continuing civil society agitations for progressive policies are indispensable to bring about the desired change. Yet, there is a real danger that social fatigue sets in, compelling long standing civil society activists to withdraw from social networks in the public domain, making it harder for effective civil society action to be sustained in the long run unless more and more youthful members of society are drawn into progressive social movements. But the kind of socialization that many youths in countries like Sri Lanka have undergone under the influence of often inward looking, nationalist education systems has instilled in them a sense of insecurity and marginalization in the context of a highly competitive socio-economic environment fostered by globalization. Under such conditions, marginalized youths can be easily drawn into ultra-nationalist political formations, resulting in their radicalization and consequent violent politics. Consequences of such politics are too familiar to us to be indifferent.