Raphael Vassallo’s article (‘The real scandal is our failure to heal the divide’) should be required reading for all Maltese. The young should definitely read it and His Excellency the Archbishop might consider reading extracts from the pulpit or even tweeting parts. After all, he’s no stranger to the political scene.
Vassallo’s dystopian view of Malta makes for very sobering reading and confronts two uncomfortable and disturbing truths: (1) that the level of political hatred in this country is deeply entrenched and expressed as a form of ‘low-level apartheid’; and (2) there are some things far worse even than corruption.
It is of course possible that when I read the article l was riding the same ‘emotional rollercoaster’ as Vassallo or experiencing some kind of existential social media crisis. Whatever it was, the piece hit me like a double shot of tequila on an empty stomach and went straight to my head. I was bowled over. For even if I couldn’t quite agree with every aspect of the analysis, I was inspired by Vassallo’s ability to transport me to my own political Idaho. It was ‘transference’ of a kind – a location of myself and my story inside Vassallo’s own narrative.
We all have them. Narratives. Most of them intertwined with our childhoods, and too often in Malta they’re political. I never came close to losing an ear because I couldn’t string together a sentence in Maltese at the age of nine, but I distinctly remember filing up for class and being asked whether I liked Maltese Lolly Pops (MLP) or Peanuts (PN).
It was not difficult to work out the politically correct, socially acceptable answer. Besides, back then I was a typically paid-up member of the PN and passed muster. But I was also naturally rebellious and knew instinctively that I could get away with provocation. So I deliberately opted for Maltese Lolly Pops and created a sensation.
Remember, this was the Convent of the Sacred Heart in the 1980s! Still, there was another reason. I sensed, you see, the anxiety (bordering on panic) on the face of the girl next in line for questioning. Her surname was ‘Mintoff’. My answer was as compassionate as it had been rebellious. I drew fire and she was spared the trauma of lying or, God forbid, telling the truth.
The Labour stigma still exists and you’re given an easier ride if you’re Nationalist
The following year, most of the ‘politically exposed’ Labourite students at school left for Sandhurst and we never saw them again. To me, it was heart-wrenching, horrifying. I felt so sorry for those girls and so incredibly ‘lucky’ to have been spared their fate. I was obviously ‘on the right side of history’. At an early age, I understood that ‘being Nationalist’ made life a whole lot easier.
Fast forward to May 1 this year. I’m standing on my balcony watching people walk to the Nationalist Party meeting in St Julian’s. I smile, as I always do whenever I see people of either party swathed in flags. And I find myself in the throes of my very Maltese dilemma: that the things I hate about Malta (and passionately want to escape) are precisely the things I love. The small-island tribalism that can sometimes be stifling, vindictive and petty, and at other times zany and charming.
I have found the current election campaigns both vindictive and petty; and, as expected, many of those ‘surgically attached’ to social media are trusting whatever it is they’re reading. Messages and status updates (often legally flawed and factually incorrect) are repeated and shared. The slurs go forth and multiply, and soon begin to resonate like Truth. Finally, we reach herd-like consensus and the ‘thought-policing’ of orthodoxy. Political birthmarks are proudly displayed, the tribe asserts itself and tells you who to vote for, on pain of eternal damnation. Thinking outside the Party box is verboten.
Speaking of the box, I reckon Malta would be so much the better if its expat community of permanent residents was allowed to vote and have a political say. We Maltese come with way too much political baggage. Hence elections here focus excessively (obsessively?) on the small stuff (‘don’t let anyone wrestle your voting document out of your hand and throw methylated spirit over it’). This diverts attention from the real issues: noise and litter, the nation’s health, infrastructure and natural environment – things that will outlive any government of any colour. Which is why politicians get away with being second-rate.
Still, nothing grates on me more than information (from any quarter) which is patently false and legally unsound. And I hate window dressing, political correctness and throwaway opinions ‘liked’ by people who don’t know better, or worse still, who do.
So here’s something ‘politically (in)correct’ I’ve long wanted to say. I absolutely love what’s happening at the Kappara roundabout. It’s a job well done. It would be nice if we could once in a while praise, apolitically, the minister, Transport Malta and whoever else is responsible. As things stand, if I were to post a Facebook status on Kappara, there’d be a conspicuous absence of ‘likes’ and only a handful of half-hearted comments. That’s because for many, ‘liking’ anything this government has done would be a perfidious betrayal.
I’ll end, as I started, with those childhood narratives I’ve never quite recovered from: the feeling of enforced segregation, the ‘us and them’ which, 35 years later, is still sadly with us. Just as upsetting is the awareness that many of my contemporaries from back then probably think I’ve since lost my moral compass and am stranded on the wrong side.
I was never one for sides, although today I do see things very differently and have revised many of my opinions. But I’m of the opinion that the Labour stigma still exists and that you’re given an easier ride if you’re Nationalist. And like Vassallo I have no wish to be taken back to the 1980s.