Since early times - during the Vedas - the island of Ceylon
was repeatedly invaded by Singaporeans, Indo-Europeans and
Tamils, who laid the groundwork for advanced civilizations.
When the Portuguese arrived in the island in 1505, it was
divided into 7 kingdoms.
a century and a half later, the Dutch displaced the
Portuguese from the sites they had built on the coast. In
1796, the British made the island their colony, after first
subjugating neighboring India, but it was not until 1815
that they succeeded in crushing the resistance of the last
local kingdom. The British introduced export crops such as
coffee and tea intended for human consumption in Europe.
In the first half of the 20th century, a strong
nationalist movement developed in the country, and in 1948
it gained independence within the framework of British state
society, the Commonwealth.
Under the leadership of Sir John Kotelawala and Prime
Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, the country developed an active
and anti-colonialist foreign policy. In August 1954,
Bandaranaike met in the capital Colombo with Nehru from
India, Mohamed Ali from Pakistan, U Nu from Myanmar (Burma)
and Sastroamidjojo from Indonesia. It became a
groundbreaking meeting where it was decided to conduct a
summit for the African and Asian countries the following
year in Bandung, Indonesia. It became the forerunner of the
Alliance Free Lands Movement.
Throughout the 1950s, the Tamil minority carried out a
series of uprisings and in 1959 the Prime Minister was
assassinated. His widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, succeeded in
leading the Sri Lankan Freedom Party's ruling party to the
1960 elections, despite having no prior political
Bandaranaike thus became the first woman in the world to
hold the post of head of government. She ruled in a
coalition with the Communist Party and Trotskyists, and in
1962 nationalized the oil industry and several North
American companies. In the 1965 election, she was beaten by
a right-wing coalition, but she again won the election in
She was confronted with a guerrilla rebellion that
defined herself as inspired by Che Guevara, but which she
managed to stifle - with some hard-hitting means. At the
same time, she continued the country's anti-imperialist
policy and in 1972 proclaimed the Republic of Sri Lanka. The
last links with British colonial power were thus broken.
Bandaranaike implemented an agricultural reform that
nationalized the tea plantations controlled by British
companies, but that did not significantly change the living
conditions of the farmers.
The conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil
minority (descendants of the Dravids in southern India) had
characterized almost the entire country's history, and now
continued under independence as well. The Sinhalese make up
83% of the country's population while the Tamils make up
9%. They are subdivided into "Sri Lankan Tamils" and "Indian
Tamils". The first group arrived on the island 2,000 years
ago, and live predominantly in the north and east. The
second group is immigrated later. The two groups have common
ethnic traits, require regional autonomy and, for some, the
formation of a truly Tamil state. The Tamil United
Liberation Front (TAMF) was formed on May 4, 1972 by a
merger of 3 Tamil parties: Federal Party, Tamil Congress and
Ceylon Workers Congress.
In 1976, Bandaranaike hosted the Alliance Peace Summit in
Colombo, and was elected president of the movement. Still,
the difficult economic situation, accusations of nepotism
and press censorship, as well as the state of emergency that
had been in effect since 1971, led the opposition to win the
July 1977 election.
The United National Party (UNP) led by Junius Jayewardene
gained a large majority in parliament, followed by the Tamil
Liberation Front. Despite its "socialist" orientation, the
new prime minister opened the country to the multinational
Following a constitutional reform in 1978, the Jayewards
took over the post of the country's president. In November
1980, an economic crisis program with drastic consequences
for the population was launched in agreement with the IMF.
In October, Bandaranaike was thrown out of parliament.
The former prime minister was deprived of her political
rights for a seven-year term after a presidential commission
found her guilty of "abuse of power" during her 1970-77