With Civil War Behind, Business Booms In Tiny Sri Lanka

Few island nations have had better pre-conditions for economic and social development than Sri Lanka, which investors recognize is ripe for growth and tourism. The country has a high literacy rate and free healthcare. But none has suffered as long as Sri

Seamstress at work in Jan Höjman's clothing factory in Sri Lanka
Seamstress at work in Jan Höjman's clothing factory in Sri Lanka
Ric Wasserman

ALAAWA â€" Sri Lanka's beaches are known for their beauty, but from the mid-1980s until seven years ago few tourists saw them as war raged between government troops and the Tamil Tigers guerilla group. The country slowly imploded, socially and economically.

The few who dared to invest believed that one day the country would again rise. And indeed Sir Lanka began its climb back in May 2009, when the Tamil Tigers were defeated.

Swedish clothing manufacturer Jan Höjman saw the potential in the tiny island nation, building a factory while the war still raged. "We started in 2004 in spite of the war and all that meant," he says now. "Of course, it felt very unsafe, but at the same time we saw a country where contact with the officials went smoothly, especially in terms of legal aspects and logistics."

Höjman was convinced because he knew that the country had both excellent tailors and a long tradition of clothing production. And then the war indeed finally ended.

"Since then, the country has changed dramatically in many, many areas," he says. "Especially regarding the infrastructure, the roads."

Manager Nalin Papadana guides visitors around a factory, built in 2006 in Alaawa in north central Sri Lanka. Rows of men and women are busy stitching and cutting fabric, sewing on buttons, ironing collars. Production here is radically different from mass manufacturers because the 500 workers fill Internet orders, sewing each garment individually according to body size and style preference.

Dannika, a seamstress, has been working here since the factory opened. She breaks into a wide smile as she explains the improvement since the war ended. "We can travel anywhere we like because it's safe now," she says. "We're no longer afraid. The factory has programs with music, dance and a child daycare center."

Attracting workers

These extra perks are becoming more common across Sri Lanka as prodution facilities try to attract skilled local tailors.

But the textile sector, though booming, has been hit by one dark cloud: The EU dropped Sri Lanka from its list of countries with duty-free import, and that cuts into profits and limits investors.

It lost its favorable EU status because the government refuses to allow a UN investigation into how an estimated 70,000 Tamil Tigers were killed in the last battle of the war. A UK TV channel has produced a documentary showing Sri Lankan troops shooting the Tamil prisoners of war.

But the EU issue doesn't bother Nalin Pappadana because orders are streaming in and a new factory will go up. "That's the plan," he says. "It will take around three years time to finish all the factory premises. Then we'll have the capacity to employ 1,200 plus another 500 here."

It's not just textiles that are expanding. Sri Lanka's biggest contributor to the economy is now tourism, with a 40% jump over the last three years.

Sunrise over Millabedda, Sri Lanka â€" Photo: uditha wickramanayaka

But most hotels are small operations. The country is in deep debt to China, which has built the new roads, harbors and airports. Bigger investors will be necessary to repay the loans.

A traditional ceremony greets the guests at Sri Lanka's first luxury hotel, which opened in December. The hope is that tax revenue from five-star hotels like this one will help reduce government debt.

Hotel manager Tamir Kobrim says Sri Lanka's time has come. "The owners saw the opportunity, and we are investing just about $100 million in two resorts," Kobrim says. "It's a huge investment, a huge commitment for the company and the owners, and I think they believe in the country, in the future. They believe that Sri Lanka is a new destination."

Sri Lankans too are optimistic. With a literacy rate of 93%, free health care and developed infrastructure, things are looking up.

A major challenge is to ensure an equal share of the development revenue is invested in the north and east. That's crucial because, if not, the country risks Tamil protests, which might quickly scare away both investors and tourists.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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