Two of Malta’s polar opposite versions of itself were on full public view in recent weeks, in glorious technicolour. 

Over time, Malta has become skilled in presenting itself in many disguises.

Modern, beautiful, European, and sophisticated; or traditional, ugly, part-time European, and often viscerally primitive.

Malta has become well-versed in inhabiting both (and many other) iterations of itself simultaneously.  Many of our politicians, civil servants, businesspeople, professionals, and large segments of our population seem to revel in this cultural and political schizophrenia.

For many, it has become a default two-fingered salute to mainstream European political life and culture. For many, being Maltese means being Janus-faced: officially one thing, in reality something entirely different.  

It might even be listed as a key characteristic of Malta’s official identity, best exemplified by our current Prime Minister. It is frequently argued that while the Maltese like to practice modern political and social traits, they remain in thrall to traditional tribal politics and their ‘darker’ arts which erupt regularly.   

This particular moment in Malta graphically highlights this darker Malta, with its deformed political and social behaviour that is asphyxiating the country and generating yet another national crisis.

Recently, Malta marked 20 years of EU membership. All the trappings of the modern state were on display. Official conferences, celebrations, speeches, reports, reflections, and much pomp and circumstance. Flags and more flags.  State receptions and events with ambassadors, VIPs, official cars with accompanying security and road closures, police, ministers and prime ministers – the great and the good ‘doing’ official Malta. 

It was Establishment Malta, in all its full trappings and regalia.  

All was designed to invoke citizenship, democracy, modernity, and sophistication. Some serious speech making and assertions about Malta ‘taking its rightful place’, a ‘leading’ light in Europe, ‘punching above its weight’… Malta being responsible and serious about being responsible and serious.

In direct contrast, we simultaneously witnessed the ‘other’ more primitive, more atavistic Malta at work. Again, ministers, prime ministers, police, security, events, press conferences and rallies, all theoretically celebrating May Day.  Flags and yet more flags. Speech-making, but of a very, very different hue – faux-angry, threatening, provoking, and inciting.

The other ‘establishment’ Malta brutally refuses to accept the principles of democracy. It makes a mockery of law, responsibility, or honesty. It was a devious, dishonest, politically irresponsible, and reckless Malta on full public display.

One Malta threatening the other Malta, often through the side of its mouth and with more than one smirk and exuding malice.

A prime minister publicly naming and attacking a magistrate for ‘political terrorism’, simply for doing her duty.  A prime minister inciting the party faithful to beware ‘provocation’ from a mysterious ‘establishment’ apparently determined to ‘destabilise’ the country. A prime minister consciously and deliberately choosing dishonesty and public disinformation.

Simultaneously, a former prime minister declaring himself ‘innocent’ of everything and anything - a ‘victim’ of a ‘political vendetta’ by that same mysterious ‘establishment’.  This because a civil court judgement and an official audit declared a secret and corrupt hospitals deal for which he had overall responsibility ‘fraudulent from day one’.

Two prime ministers, current and former, deliberately undermining the state and blatantly conflating their own personal interests, those of their political party with those of the rest of society. 

It is the Janus-faced Malta in full technicolour once again (and with a cheering/jeering crowd).

Having done their duty to that 20-year EU Maltese state, they now return to atavism, attacking the judiciary and the courts, mangling the law, criticising independent journalists as enemies of the state and as agents for the ‘establishment’.  As noted by rule of law NGO, Repubblika, their behaviour amounts to nothing less than a hostile take-over of democracy and justice’.

It needs repeating over and over and over again - it does not have to be like this.  The current regime is a particular and specific Maltese creation which can be unmade and remade if society chooses.  There is nothing inevitable or pre-determined about Maltese politics or public culture. 

There are many other Maltas – decent, honest, and democratic. We know and experience them on a daily basis.  

We are now beginning to witness that different Malta once again asserting itself in the face of the current crisis as the reaction of our recently appointed president, many business leaders (including the financial services sector), journalists, studentsacademics, a former chief justice and local residents demonstrate.

Malta is unequivocally better than what our dominant political establishment represents.  We urgently need to rediscover our individual and collective sense of outrage and agency, our understanding that we are not simply ‘victims’ of ‘their’ history but potentially architects of our own. 

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