Every October, summer comes to an end abruptly. This is usually when people get back to their normal daily routines.
The summer heat slows everyone down like a drug and makes it easier to suspend reality for a couple of months. But this autumn, a new reality is now hitting home. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, and these changes will persist for some time to come.
Many of the long-term effects have yet to be understood. The educational opportunities for children and young adults have been impacted. For my generation, this is not the first time. The political situation in the 1980s had prevented many young people from getting the university education they wanted at the time.
We survived and the current younger generation will too, although there will undoubtedly be some sad casualties. Even if they do graduate from school and university, young people today may also find their job prospects limited due to the uncertain economic situation.
The elderly are also badly affected and often perhaps more irreversibly.
For them, giving up certain social and economic activities for an extended period could actually mean stopping them for good. They may never be able to pick up those pieces again. Their world has shrunk before its time.
Just imagine if COVID-19 had struck a year ago instead of last spring. The power of those protests at the end of 2019, with big crowds gathering in the streets of Valletta every week with banners and chanting and blowing horns in front of the barriers erected around the parliament building would not have been possible.
Many readers will be familiar with Robert Harris’s book Fatherland, an alternative history imagining a world where Hitler won World War II. Or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which imagines a world where in the 1940 presidential election, Franklin Roosevelt is defeated by Charles Lindbergh who then takes America along a path of anti-semitism.
Joseph Muscat will find it very hard to shake off his reputation for flouting ethical standards in public life- Petra Caruana Dingli
Perhaps one day somebody will write a story imagining an alternative history for Malta, with a different but still plausible set of outcomes, where Joseph Muscat and his close gang continued to rule Malta from their roost at Castille for many more years beyond 2020. Who knows how that would have ended up?
Had street protests not been possible last year due to COVID-19 or some other reason, could this have happened? Would Joseph Muscat and his inner circle have resigned when they did? The power of civil society activism, and the importance of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association, are clear.
When the smoke clears
With all the big political changes which occurred this year in this country, there is a lot of talk about legacies in the media and among political analysts. Particularly the legacies of the two political leaders who have stepped down, Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia. And, of course, the legacy of the journalist whose story is intertwined with their political careers, Daphne Caruana Galizia. The third anniversary of her brutal murder was commemorated two days ago.
Understanding a legacy means trying to encapsulate and assess the main aspects of a person’s achievements, their successes and failures, and which of these will continue to have meaning to society over time. How will they be viewed by people as time passes, when the smoke clears, and when the raw emotions, hopes and disappointments have faded?
A year ago it was certainly not a foregone conclusion that Joseph Muscat would be gone, disgraced, his sun sinking fast below the horizon. After stepping down as leader, he has now also resigned as backbench MP.
He has said that he is heartbroken at the way it ended for him and that history will judge him. Well yes, that judging has already started and is well underway with the long trail of inquiries, investigations, reports and court cases that Muscat has left behind, all seeking to unravel and unpick knots of deceit and bad practice in numerous scandals.
He will also find it very hard to shake off his reputation for flouting ethical standards in public life. The latest is the ‘instruction’ he gave to the chief executive officer of the Malta Tourism Authority to provide former minister Konrad Mizzi with a lucrative consultancy position.
This has now been slammed in a new report by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Muscat always has an answer ready, hoping some glib excuse will be swallowed whole like a slippery eel by the unthinking masses. But he may find that his reputation for readily putting his hand in the public coffers to dish out favours will stick like glue.
As for Adrian Delia, he will also be judged over time. There is no doubt, and surely nobody can say otherwise, that throughout his leadership he did not make inroads with voters. He had abysmal results in surveys. He haemorrhaged support for his political party, and divisions grew and multiplied within his ranks.
Delia is still blaming his own generals for working against him, and will not take on board the idea that it was his duty to unite them under his leadership. Many of them were there, working within the party before he showed up, and he had to gain their trust. If he could not manage to do so, as was the case, he was not the right man for the job.
Delia has pushed away some of the sympathy he could have enjoyed today, instead generating resentment at the damage he persisted in inflicting on the political scene, by weakening the opposition at a time when a strong front was needed.
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