How deft is our present government and the clique of oligarchs? This is a question I constantly ask myself.

Mussolini was once quoted as saying that if one plucks a live chicken one feather at a time, it will not notice that it has become naked before it is too late.

Mussolini met the fate all dictators do at some point. They get toppled when the population – initially fooled by the economic growth created by national works, by the free rein given to the inner clique of businessmen, and by the jobs in State entities – get disillusioned by the loss of their freedoms, the fear of the secret police, the failed international forays.

How deft are our leaders in Malta at plucking the chicken? Who is the chicken?

The answers to these questions lie with the ‘chickens’ themselves. They are the Maltese, among them those who follow blindly the false visions, the untruths and the mass cult that their leaders have been trying to promote. In front of their leader, they are proud and eager to have one feather at a time plucked from their plumage.

They are still partly plucked and have not yet realised what is happening. Other chickens have realised early enough and protested.

In Mussolini’s Italy, those protesting were cast aside, ostracised, left without State jobs or State contracts, exiled, denigrated and even had their necks wrung if they refused to be silenced.

Is the same happening in Malta, an EU member, in the 21st century? I leave it to the ‘chickens’ to decide whether it is only a figment of the imagination or the object of an intricate conspiracy concocted by 45 international journalists of the world’s major newspapers, or by the large majority of MEPs who voted in favour of the resolution criticising Malta, or by the heads of the Leeuwarden and Timisoara Capital of Culture committees, or by the Council of Europe.

How many feathers are left to be plucked before the cold sets in, before the chicken reacts to pain or the shame of nakedness? Have the chickens been bribed and fooled to pretend that, like the Emperor without clothes in the fairy tale, they still believe that they have their full plumage?

What is happening in Malta today is the same pattern of feather plucking and of feathering the nests of selected business owners and of the inner circle

I believe that the strategy is very Mussolini-like. Even the visual images of certain speeches, the tones, the Mediterranean need to be surrounded by crowds of fawning adulators, look very much like those famous speeches we see on old Pathe news films of the Piazza Venezia in Rome.

Juvenal, who coined the phrase panem et circensis to criticise the egoistic and greedy commoners who did not care about the events happening around them, could have created this phrase for the populist stratagems of those pre-war times in Italy. Those days are very similar to the Valletta 18 pseudo culture tal-poplu. The building of flyovers, restoration of fountains and opening of plazas feel and look like the monumental buildings of the Third Reich.  The Third Reich too was created through a movement that obtained power through popular democratic election. The 1930s were years of growth, construction and pride in Nazi Germany.

As in Italy and Germany, what is happening in Malta today is the same pattern of feather plucking and of feathering the nests of selected business owners and of the inner circle with political influence. Today there are no foreign military forays or any visible signs of mass indoctrination with brown shirts or youth movements. It is much more subtle, all dolled up in ultra-liberal terminology. But the aims are identical. Pluck the chickens feather by feather so that they do not notice they have lost it all to the few insiders.

It is not too late.

The chickens can awaken. How long can their ODZ areas be usurped before they react? How long can businesses in construction, hotels or gaming use local or foreign slave labour on monthly salaries of €800 to €1,200 knowing that if workers do not accept, there is a constant supply provided by the modern human traffickers, known today as manpower companies, aided and abetted by the Ministry for Labour?

The promise is of rapid, easy permits so long as workers coming from eastern Balkan or European countries accept €800, when at home they earn between €200 and €250. Living 12 to a two-bedroomed flat, sleeping in shifts and working several jobs or inhuman hours, they can even send €400-€500 home to help cover their family’s monthly needs.

The Maltese would love to perform those construction or hospitality jobs if only they were paid €2,000 to €2,500 a month, in order to have enough money to buy a flat, move out of their parents’ home, marry and live comfortably on one salary. But they cannot compete in that labour market.

What do the chickens do instead? They take two or three extra jobs on the side, driving Uber-like cabs on the black market, moonlighting as whitewashers or nightclub bouncers, or cashiers at the new malls owned by one or another bażużlu or switcher.

By making ends meet but wearing themselves out to the bone, they just make it easier to be plucked.

(To be continued)

John Vassallo is a former ambassador of Malta to the European Union.

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