The COVID-19 pandemic seeped into every imaginable sector of our lives and rattled things as we have known them for a long time. This includes our cultural sector, in all its dimensions.
An integral part of our country’s cultural heritage are our festas, which are organised by means of a dedicated group of people who voluntarily give their time and energy towards the organisation of a cultural, social and religious event in their hometown.
Festas have been impacted by the pandemic as well, putting at risk one of Malta’s distinctive elements.
Financial constraints have increased, mainly because the pandemic had prevented clubs from organising fundraising activities. Moreover, costs have risen steeply. Expenses related to the police presence during activities and the firing of petards amount to hundreds of euros and the cost of organising band marches can reach as much €3,000 per band march.
The organisation of pyrotechnic shows also incurs large expenses.
The prices for raw materials used in the manufacture of petards and other pyrotechnic works have skyrocketed, so much so that an average-sized display comes with an approximate price tag of €40,000.
Street decorations are a factor as well as they require constant maintenance, thus further increasing expenditure.
This is only a fraction of the total list of costs of which band clubs operating on a voluntary basis must bear the brunt of organising and strengthening their village festa.
During the last few weeks, I was one of the first to raise this issue in parliament, particularly regarding the lack of direction being provided by the authorities for band clubs and their enthusiasts.
After all, I am an enthusiast myself and, therefore, I get to comprehend their sentiments.
They are frustrated, not only because of the lack of direction but also because they are feeling discriminated against and cheated.
An integral part of our country’s cultural heritage are our festas- Toni Bezzina
Their frustration stems from the fact that, while other mass events are being held, there seems to be no will to resume the organisation of religious and cultural events, not only festas but also activities such as the Baby Jesus procession on Christmas Eve and Good Friday processions.
One must point out that the organisation of festas requires months of effort and planning beforehand. Thus, the lack of information and direction by the authorities is already having its effects.
Clubs are presently not able to plan for the upcoming year since everything is still up in the air.
Consequently, they cannot budget their funds and work with the knowledge of how things will pan out during the upcoming year.
In order to truly address this precarious situation, where an integral part of our heritage is in danger of fading away, the government has the duty to intervene, not only by clarifying the present situation but also by providing financial support.
We must keep in mind that village festas are one of the main driving forces behind our tourism industry as they attract thousands of foreigners as well as creating an element of internal tourism within our country, thus spurring our economy.
The government would do well to intervene and alleviate some of the pressure on the voluntary organisations.
Another issue that is looming over this sector is the lack of sites from which petards can be let off.
At present, the law stipulates distances that must be kept from residential areas when letting off petards for safety purposes.
The lack of open spaces is leading to a lack of areas where pyrotechnic displays can be held, which is a pity because such displays are something that distinguishes us as a nation.
While the fact that festa enthusiasts are voicing their concerns and some of us politicians are taking up their case, a lot still needs to be done.
We, politicians, tend to use festas to our own advantage, turning them into a public relations exercise for our own political gain.
However, it is high time that we return the favour and help save festas, not simply for our own good but also for the future of our traditions, which are an intrinsic part of our culture.
Toni Bezzina is PN spokesperson on transport and infrastructure.
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