Twenty-eight years ago, in the summer of 1990, I was swimming at my favourite spot in Wied iż-Żurrieq.

Then, as a 13-year-old, I remember the gentle lull, the cricket chirping over the Qrendi valley, and the shimmering blue sea. It was close to 1pm and gradually, the beach was coming to life. Children from surrounding villages were filling the air with laughter and excitement. Until She arrived.

Little did I know at that time that politics could lead to bullying. And it took me many years to join the dots and truly understand the real roots of such hatred.

A year older than me, accompanied by her sister and a handful of friends, this girl loved the thrill of instilling pure fear.

Two years after puberty I was bullied because of my now more womanly physique. She tried to belittle me in front of all my male friends. I was made to feel that I was the odd one out. That going through bodily changes was something to be ashamed of rather than normal.

I remember her forcefully trying to push me down under water for several minutes. The more I struggled, the deeper the next trust down would be. I took short breaths and tried to push her away. Luckily, being taught how to swim in the deep, at times rough sea, helped me survive.

Penning this in 2018, I recall another episode in the midst of the political turbulence, a few years earlier in the 1980s. I remember my parents wrapping my little brother and me, whisking us away in a car and giving me refuge in another Qrendi house while taking my brother to a separate household.

Little did I know at the time that my parents had received a telephone threat that someone was going to kill their children.

Political hatred.

As dusk broke, the family hosting me gathered to watch the 8 o’clock news. It featured the barbaric violence on the Maltese courts.

The same She came into action. The same bully, calling all Labourites by harsh words. I was shocked; startled.

Her aunt, at that time a Nationalist, flanked most of the time by the then MP Louis Galea, swiftly intervened, telling her to cease hateful and inciteful language, whether against Labourites or Nationalists.

Her aunt’s words still echo in my ears. Growing up, I always looked to her, this brave soldier, with respect. She stood up against bullying. I still think of her today with admiration and a deep sense of appreciation.

On the contrary, I am appalled by Kristina Chetcuti’s ruthless article published last Sunday.

She tried to belittle me in front of all my male friends. I was made to feel that I was the odd one out

Some crucial context: Chetcuti is not a common person. She is the partner and consort of the would-be Prime Minister and disgraced former Nationalist Party leader, Simon Busuttil. What is his stance on the issue? Does he disagree with it, condemn it? Does it leave him unaffected, indifferent? Or does he condone it, endorse it – even applaud it – perhaps?

I refuse to tolerate this and similar poison pens.

Speaking of the Prime Minister’s twin daughters, Chetcuti pitilessly and callously announced that “school bullying is part of growing up”. According to her, “it serves children well later”.

Presumably then, national campaigns worldwide aiming specifically to eradicate bullying from schools have been not only for naught but perilously misinformed and counter-productive. How generous of Chetcuti to bestow her wisdom on the world.

To say that I categorically and wholeheartedly refute this sort of thinking would be a mild understatement. In a world were bullying statistics are worryingly yet steadily rising, societies are rightfully stepping up the fight against a trend that risks causing permanent damage to society’s greatest asset – its children.

There is no other way of putting it. Bullying is a crime, a grave crime. Daily, thousands of children around the world fail to go to school because of the chilling fear of being bullied again. According to the School Violence and Bullying, Global Status Report by Unesco, published in 2017, it is estimated that 246 million children and adolescents experience school violence and bullying in some form every year.

Unesco says that all forms of violence and bullying in schools infringe on the fundamental right to education, and that unsafe learning environments reduce the quality of education for all learners. “No country can achieve inclusive and equitable quality education if learners experience violence in school.”

In this sense, I classify Chetcuti’s article as horrifying. And I, for one, stand up to be counted.

Our society has a duty to send out a clear message.

Dear Kristina, no. Bullying is not OK. I will defend this argument even if, God forbid, your children had to go through this painful experience. Because all children are equal. And because political bullying is indeed filthy and grave, like any other form of bullying.

Quoting Chetcuti again: “Schoolground bullying is bound to happen. It can be because your children’s classmates think that your politician husband is absolute rubbish...”

We are indeed so lucky that the Maltese chose wisely a year ago. People chose love over hatred. Chose heroes instead of bullies.

Our electorate chose not to be a martyr but the sung hero, a country which proudly walks with its head held high, enshrined in stability and good values.

Julia Farrugia Portelli is the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes​.

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