‘Summer of 69’ is what I had dubbed our own summer of 2013. You may recall the magnanimity of 69 lawyers who signed a judicial protest against a proposed push-back of immigrants.

I certainly applauded the gesture in theory but would probably not have put my name to the protest, had I been approached.  Why?  Because the whole thing seemed rather contrived – perhaps even tainted by other motives, as is often the case on this island.

I had never before witnessed such concerted action in support of human rights by members of my profession. To that extent I was with them, one hundred per cent, although I suspected that a number, with some genuine exceptions, were less concerned with the push-back per se and more interested in the political pantomime. In other words, with pressing the metaphorical ‘dislike’ button and being on the right side of history.

I was also struck by another thought. Where were those lawyers when these immigrants (and their countrymen) were denied bail for years on end? Where was the outrage when for years there had been no right to legal representation during arrest?

And why were no eyebrows raised at the Attorney General’s unfettered and absolute discretion in drug and money laundering cases, let alone his conflicting roles as both public prosecutor and counsel to government?

Where too were those lawyers in the summer of 2012 when Mamadou Kamara died in the custody of the Detention Services and Armed Forces? Where indeed was the Civil Society Network then?

Back then, the only person who I recall was clamouring for constitutional and institutional reform was a disillusioned Nationalist backbencher called Franco Debono, who was making life very uncomfortable for Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and the PN government. After that, of course, he was written off as psychologically unstable, an egotistical rebel MP who had had the effrontery to go against his own party and leader.

I remember it all so well because I made the ‘fatal error’ of lending Debono my support because I happened to share his concerns and agreed with most of his proposals. And, yes, I also believed that his loyalties were in the right place. For why should party loyalty and political camaraderie take priority over good governance and human rights violations? Why, when you know things are inherently wrong, should you go with the flow purely for the sake of ‘party’ and for fear of being taunted and criticised?

It’s easy to jump onto a bandwagon, be carried away by the media frenzy and convince yourself that you’re in sole possession of the moral high ground

At the time nobody was having any of it. Perhaps I should rephrase that and say that Daphne Caruana Galizia wasn’t. I have always maintained that many looked to her for both blessing and approval. She gave ‘legitimacy’, you see, to both people and causes, and I have no doubt that had she stood by Debono (and, more recently, by Adrian Delia) others would have followed. Debono in turn would have been vindicated – an overnight phenomenon and a national hero.

But back then, a (PN) MP’s defiance of any sort was still regarded as political anathema. So Caruana Galizia lost no time making sure that Debono and anyone who supported him were shunned and treated like pariahs. Which naturally gave everyone the freedom and ‘legitimacy’ to follow suit.

Today, once again thanks to Caruana Galizia’s disapproval of Delia, the reverse applies: disloyalty to the leader has become kosher and rebel MPs are even fashionable. In fact, the same MPs and ordinary citizens who regarded Debono with contempt for having the gall to go against Gonzi are the same people who are now making life hugely uncomfortable for Delia, the current leader of the Nationalist Party.

It’s amazing what a few years can do. And a rather delicious irony when you stop to think about it. Now, with rumours of a ‘coup’ within the Nationalist Party flying around, I find myself wondering how we have got from A to B so quickly and the part played by Caruana Galizia in all of it.

Even more ironic is that Caruana Galizia’s murder has promoted the birth of the Civil Society Network, a group now fighting many of Debono’s battles. Only he paid the price and was ousted, blocked by a wall of Caruana Galizia’s own implacable making.

One wonders why there were no protests (certainly not to this extent) during the first 13 years of this century and even before that. I very much doubt that this is due to their being too busy trolling the Times of Malta comments boards, calling Debono names and engaging in hateful, inflammatory, crude and misogynistic remarks in the name of freedom of expression!

By and large, protests in Malta only started when the PN lost the mandate to govern. And the protests – shall we call them ‘push-back’ too? – have become more and more virulent. If Debono was the PN ‘traitor’ of 2012, Delia is this year’s target. Where was Caruana Galizia’s consistency in her rough handling of both men?

I can’t escape the feeling that the protests we have seen lately – the bunny girls and the bananas – demonstrate a sad lack of objectivity in Malta. We are feeding off tribal divisions, social damage and private hurt. And it’s easy to jump onto a bandwagon, be carried away by the media frenzy and convince yourself that you’re in sole possession of the moral high ground and have a monopoly of the truth.

Malta is hopelessly tribal. Everything is either black or white. Will the parties and their supporters ever be able to row back from their established positions, forget the past and discover shared values? Doing so requires goodwill, a commitment to consensus government and a truly public spirit transcending party interest.

michelaspiteri@gmail.com

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