All eyes are now on Malta. We have been challenged to prove to the world that this is a safe, democratic country. A nation horrified at the violent assassination of a leading journalist. By calling for a day of national mourning, these are the values and identity that many people wanted to express and uphold as Maltese citizens.

The Prime Minister has explained to a journalist that, for him, one of his duties in the aftermath of the tragedy was to give the message that the country is moving on, and that it is ‘open for business’. Which is why he still travelled to Dubai to sell passports in the week after the murder.

This upset readers. Yes, we can all agree that the country must and will keep going. But there is business and there is business.

The selling of passports is just the sort of business that jars at a time like this. Selling citizenship for cash reduces our national identity to a meaningless transaction, at a time when people are searching for meaning.

Nationhood goes beyond a financial exchange or purchase

Citizenship is linked to culture. People are committed to their country, their soil, their roots and family. Nationhood goes beyond a financial exchange or purchase. People feel a responsibility towards their country. They might even be ready to die for it, as patriots in times of crisis. Selling citizenship is difficult for many people to accept, precisely because of these deep emotions.

Traditional routes to achieving citizenship involve lengthy residences, or even exams in cultural history and language, in order to ensure a sense of belonging and commitment. The sale of passports to ‘high net-worth individuals’ bypasses all of this, with residence and investment requirements which are unconvincing.

According to a recent report on citizenship in the Economist, “the typical passport buyer is unlikely to settle, will care little about her new country’s politics, and will have no interest in defending its values.”

A day of national mourning is no ordinary time. It is a moment of soul-searching, of seeking meaning and values, in the face of an event which has shaken so many people to the core. Pope Francis himself was moved to send a message expressing his spiritual closeness to the Maltese people at this difficult time.

Yes, Malta is open for business. But man does not live by bread alone. The passports could have waited.


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