The speech of Volodymyr Zelensky, a brave president fighting a brutal war unleashed by the tyrant next door was always going to be a significant moment for Malta’s parliament. But, unfortunately, when the Ukrainian president addressed the House last Tuesday, it was our leaders’ generic poor statements that became the talk of town.
While his army fights tenaciously on the Ukrainian battlefields, Zelensky resorts to straight talk to muster international support to defend his country against the Russian invaders and shake western leaders from their self-centred interests and complacency.
In every speech he made to parliaments in western democracies, he rebukes his audiences in a distinctly unique tone which resonates.
Speaking to the Maltese parliament, Zelensky did not waste time getting to the point. When Speaker Anġlu Farrugia made an introductory comment that referred to the war as a “conflict”, Zelensky promptly rebuked him: “We do not have a conflict; we have a war going on. Words are not speaking these days, but shelling, torturing and killing.”
Zelensky chided the Maltese government on issues he considers favour Russian oligarchs close to the Kremlin. He warned Maltese parliamentarians that Russian passport buyers and business operatives could be setting up shop in Malta with ulterior motives. His straight talk included visceral remarks on the risks of Malta’s golden passports scheme being used against his country’s security.
In a well-crafted and researched speech, Zelensky raised other Malta-related issues. As Malta relied on the British Spitfire in World War II to defend itself, he insisted Ukraine now needed weapons and support to repel the Russian invaders. Malta’s commitment to neutrality and pacifism does not impress the leader of a nation that needs tangible help to defend itself against military aggression.
The reactions of the prime minister and the opposition leader must have done little to convince Zelensky that Malta could be relied upon to support the Ukrainian people.
Farrugia was especially poor, especially when he chose to indulge in platitudes with a leader and a country struggling for survival. It would be excusable if Farrugia was lecturing the invader about the importance of dialogue and compromise, but not with a leader who has done everything to avoid the war, including sitting with the enemy.
We do not have a conflict; we have a war going on. Words are not speaking these days, but shelling, torturing and killing
Robert Abela seems to be stuck reading Department of Information statements, speaking about stopping passport sales to Russians and saying Malta will “make its voice heard in the right fora”, one day after minister Aaron Farrugia said Malta is not keen on an embargo of ships carrying Russian oil.
Abela said that while Malta was neutral and non-aligned, “this does not mean that we are silent, blind and deaf to your suffering”. Abela did not commit to stopping the golden passports scheme that hangs like an albatross around the country’s neck.
It’s fine for Malta to not agree with Ukraine on everything, or to bow down to all their requests. But if Zelensky is taking the time out of a war to address your parliament, the least you could do is reply with sincerity rather than resort to hollow statements that miss the point.
Grech’s statement that Ukraine should be welcomed in the EU was the clearest statement. Realistically, he argued that Malta would not be providing weapons or military equipment and was too small to give the country any substantial aid.
But then he ruined it by referencing Eddie Fenech Adami and Ġorġ Borg Olivier, to a man who doesn’t care about local politics.
All three Maltese leaders repeatedly played the sympathy card but that means nothing to a leader who wants concrete action and not rhetoric. The exchange with Zelensky was more about managing diplomatic relations for the Maltese parliament. It’s time for Maltese leaders to step up their game on the international stage instead of just resorting to the tried and tired bag of speeches which simply placates the locals.
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