Bob Dylan’s anti-war song of the 1960s reflected a global movement that changed the world with student revolts, liberation of the masses, educational modernisation, liberation of women, anti-colonialism… you name it, our generation did it. From Woodstock to drugs, from inter-marriages to student exchanges.
New politicians took over and we moved from a broken, post-war world to a new world full of dreams and hopes. Politics changed and inward-looking nationalism turned its head around to such an extent that we all celebrated what we thought was the wringing of its terrible neck and the choking out, once and for all, of its threat among us.
What a beautiful world the teenagers of the 1960s, the elderly of today, had ahead of them.
Full of promises and hopes with the creation of the European Union that was meant to put a stop forever to the risk of intra-European wars that had plagued us for hundreds of years and killed Europeans by the millions.
And yet, what started so magnificently has now turned sour, the utopian visions of the likes of Dylan transformed into a crass materialism. We became an economic machine that only existed to make money and to respond to the physical needs of the ever-growing populations. We depleted the world of its resources and altered the climatic balance of our planet.
How could we have done this? Our generation started as an idealistic one and ended up as a wanton, wasteful and spoilt mass of utterly stultified geriatrics.
In fact, what we did in the 1960s was because the youngsters of those days looked at their parents, the stultified generation that had seen the start of World War I and started World War II, and we were angry.
We did not want to continue along the same lines. Idealism and hope for a better future took over. Those were glorious days.
Stefan Zweig, in his essay on the Tower of Babel, saw the catastrophes that nationalism and inward-looking politicians had wrought upon his Austria and Europe; he looked on and despaired. He kept hoping in vain for a pan-European solution to the problems that befell the continent until he could stand it no longer and took his own life, just when the war was ending.
That is how I feel now in our little microcosm of Malta. I look in vain for a spark of hope from our youth. But where are all the children? Where have they gone? Why are they silent?
Two recent events have sparked this essay. The first is Greta Thunberg and the Fridays For Future movement that has mobilised millions of youth to miss school every Friday as a protest against the destruction of our world’s environmental resources.
I feel like returning my degrees in protest
It was a protest against the politicians who talk the talk but do not walk the walk; against the spineless politicians and the industrial giants of the technology, oil and financial service industries acting like pigs at the swill, buying off politicians left, right and centre.
Greta showed them all up in their worst garbs with her now famous UN General Assembly speech.
In Malta, we were absolutely silent. No students except for a mere handful took to the streets. No students missed classes to protest. Few youth do anything that shows they care.
Their absence is a blot on all their characters.
In Hong Kong, for the past 17 weeks, young people have been risking their lives every weekend to protect their rule of law and freedom of speech.
Journalists have been killed across the world fighting for freedom of speech and citizens have protested as a result, toppling governments in other countries. Here, in Malta, we have had our fair share of murdered journalists. And yet, where have all the children gone?
Malta has shown that its future is not in the hands of young, bright dreamers who want to change the world.
It is in the hands of foreign gaming industry types, tax evaders, fugitives and Mafia members seeking EU passports, construction industry oligarchs and demolition experts.
The second event that spurred me to vent my anger and disappointment was the absolutely disgusting action by the university to allow security officers at Freshers’ Week to forbid a protest by the few active and thinking students around.
These students believe that the protection of the Maltese environment, streetscapes and town centres is more important in the long term than being seen by a potential future employer in one of the stands.
What has our country come to?
Even worse than the need to have security at our alma mater was the initial attitude of the University in defending the action. The rector should resign over that.
I feel like returning my degrees in protest – degrees obtained there with much pride, including with great protests at graduation day in 1968, without security officers present and with the then University leadership disagreeing with but allowing and respecting our right to protest.
Bob Dylan was right... where have all the children gone?
John Vassallo is a former ambassador of Malta to the EU.