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raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

The real scandal is our failure to heal the divide

 I just want to live in a normal country where you don’t have to worry about these things at all. I don’t think it’s too much to ask

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
2 May 2017, 8:36am
This in turn brings me back to the earlier point about healing the divide
This in turn brings me back to the earlier point about healing the divide
My article today (written on Friday afternoon) may lack the polish I normally try to give my articles. I’m not in the mood to edit, and I detect from what I’ve seen online that most people prefer crude, unvarnished writing anyway. Fair enough, different people, different tastes.

Now: I will not deny that my online behaviour of late has been a little... as Vinnie Jones would put it... ‘emotional’. A word of explanation may be in order. In fact I feel I owe it to readers. I could get flowery on this, but I’ll try not to. When I started writing articles 20 years ago, I didn’t have much of a clear idea of where I wanted to go with it. It was never a childhood ambition of mine to become a journalist or a columnist or whatever. In a sense, the position concretised around me. All the same, I found myself in this position where I could put stuff out there... now what do I do with it?

I don’t want to come across like I have been motivated by some higher purpose. I’ve written a lot of rubbish and I’ve made a lot of (sometimes very serious) mistakes. My mistakes may even have contributed to the problem. But I looked around me at the time and I said: if there’s one thing I’d like to try and end in this country, it is our national culture of political tribalism. 

I had my good reasons. As a 12-year-old boy, somebody tried to bite my ear off on a bus because I spoke English and was from Sliema. Ok, I’m tal-pepe. Sorry.  Can’t really do much about it, you know. Next time I’ll try and arrange to be born somewhere else. And I’ll try improving my Maltese in future, promise. No need to bite my ear off, is there? 

Bear in mind I was too young to think about the deep-seated political acrimony behind this. But to this day I still stand by my naive childish view of the time that... I mean, guys, come on. It shouldn’t be this way.  A child shouldn’t grow up feeling that half the country hates him because of something he has no control over.

Another childhood trauma was Karin Grech. I was around eight at the time. Out of respect for family, etc, I won’t relive the details. But a little girl was blown up in her home. That’s not a thing an eight-year-old boy should really hear details about on the news. Actually, it’s just not a thing that should ever happen. Ever. Then there was Raymond Caruana. I was a little older, so could handle the trauma better. But still. The two big mental images that framed my childhood were: a dead child’s remains being scooped up from the kitchen floor, and a dead man lying face upwards in a pool of blood. Should that be the backdrop to a generation?

Yet I got this horrible impression that crimes like those were being assessed differently by the two political perspectives. Acknowledging the full horror of one party’s crime, also meant maybe giving an electoral advantage to the other party

I was profoundly shocked by that impression. I still am. And I have seen it repeated ever since. Labourites were in denial over Raymond Caruana, too. Heck, they’re in denial about corruption right now. No scandal, no matter how earth shattering or enormous, has ever jolted the country out of its state of internecine violence. Both sides always entrench themselves in this absurd idea that their own lives somehow matter more than the others’. That their ‘truth’ is more ‘true’ than the others’ ‘truth’.

All this is avoidable. But you have to make an effort to avoid it. What we saw this week, however, was the very opposite: a concerted effort to take us right back there. Whether it happens literally, with bombs, teargas, machine guns, etc... I honestly don’t know. Given the extent to which political hatred has now deepened in this country, it’s just another of those things I can’t exclude. I think it likelier that the hatred will just continue to simmer internally as a low-level apartheid... and to be frank that might be even worse.

Now: people have been talking about this as a scandal; but inevitably, because they only ever view things from their own perspective. That the Labour Party is enmeshed in a corruption network involving several high-ranking members of government: oh, of that there seems to be no doubt. I threw the ‘seems to be’ because it’s important. Our collective opinions, at this stage, do not matter. Those charges have to be proved in court. But that something stinks to high heaven, I think we can all see, and quite clearly.

But something stinks on the other side, too. I have thought long and hard about this. Corruption is bad. But there are good ways and bad ways of exposing it and bringing it to justice. Doing it the wrong way may actually be worse than the corruption.

The way this has been done – at every level, every stage – has been atrocious. You can consult my Facebook timeline because I recorded all the absurdities as they happened. We saw a re-enactment of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: an entire country swept into mass hysteria by unproven allegations.

I have run out of adjectives to describe how utterly bizarre and dangerous that is. But the bottom line is: those charges cannot be allowed to become Malta’s umpteenth unsolved political crime. We couldn’t solve Karen Grech because of politics. We couldn’t solve Raymond Caruana because of politics. We couldn’t solve Zeppi l-Hafi because of politics. How often are we going to allow politics to get in the way of justice?

This has to reach closure, because if it doesn’t... 

Well, let’s look at some scenarios. It is difficult, because there is too much we still don’t know. But there’s going to be an election. And hey, this is what you all wanted, right? 

Outcome 1: All things remain equal, the allegations remain allegations, Joseph Muscat continues to protest innocence, and we vote. Joseph Muscat wins. Now: I sincerely hope everyone will accept the legitimacy of an election that they themselves called for. I hope there won’t be any ‘election-rigging’ claims or anything like that. Just saying. This was turned into a trial by election... now the election decides it.

What would happen to the ‘grand coalition’ under those circumstances, I honestly can’t say. Don’t care a fig, either. What I do care about is that the judicial process would still be unresolved. Sooner or later a court will have to decide whether Michelle Muscat owns Egrant, and therefore will have to go to prison for 18 years.

Our scenario must now split into two. Michelle innocent, Michelle guilty. The former is a certainty if no evidence is produced. The latter depends entirely on the quality of the evidence if it ever does appear. Either way, a judge will have to decide.

If Joseph Muscat is prime minister and he or his wife goes to prison... well, I see that as a serious crisis. How it pans out I can’t say, but it won’t be pretty. But that would probably be the best-case scenario (looking at it only from the national dimension).

Because if she is acquitted... oh boy, oh boy. Where do we even start? I don’t even want to think. 

You will have noticed I mentioned only Michelle so far, and not Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri (even less Brian Tonna). There are two reasons for this. One, my gut feeling tells me the typical Laburist has by now given up hope on the other three. But Michelle? Ma belle? Who swam the Gozo channel in aid of charity? Who radiates in their eyes like an angel descended from the heavens? My gut feeling tells me they still believe her (and I won’t go into whether they’re right or wrong – not important at this stage).

What would happen if the typical Laburist interprets that their beloved Michelle was framed? FRAMED? They framed our Michelle, to send her to prison for 18 years?

I honestly don’t want to be around if that happens.

Second reason is that I’m noticing the emphasis is now shifting away from Michelle and Egrant. Well, it will be shifted back. That was the most calamitous allegation (and the most specific one) and that’s the one that will have to be proven in court. I would like to think that the shift in focus is not because the PN is now getting cold feet. If your feet are cold, wear a second pair of socks. The allegation was made, very dramatically on live TV by the Opposition leader; ‘we can’t prove it because these things are difficult to prove’ is just NOT going to wash.

There are two other scenarios I can think that would be even more catastrophic. The first is if the PN wins by a landslide – or by any margin – and Michelle Muscat goes on to be acquitted. On top of all the above-mentioned considerations, you would have to add the inevitable conclusion that the PN would have (under those circumstances) stolen the election. I’ll stop there, because if you don’t see the seriousness of that, I am clearly wasting my time.

The second (and I honestly can’t think what might happen) is if nobody wins the election. If the result is disputed as it was in 1981 (and EU referendum, etc). Whether it happens along exactly the same lines, I don’t know: what I do know is this. We are now heading towards our eighth election since 1981, and we still haven’t reformed our electoral system. The problem is still there.

And you wanted this to be decided by an election? Under these circumstances? I mean, honestly. 

This in turn brings me back to the earlier point about healing the divide. In 1987, Eddie Fenech Adami stood on a podium, looked us in the eye and said (something like) ‘we will all live like brothers’. Well, 30 years later we can all see the brotherly love around us. Sorry, but this is a failure. I believed him 30 years ago. He failed to deliver on that promise (however much good he did elsewhere). The bigger problem is still there, too.

There is a lot more I could add right now: I was flabbergasted that the general response to my complaint about privacy breaches was: ‘get whatsapp’. My answer to that is: ‘get inzabbabb!’ I am not trying to hide my phone conversations. I am not worried that my phone is tapped because it might incriminate me. I am worried that a single person seems to have access to all our private data, possibly through the secret service. Sorry if I over-reacted, but... it spooks me. I might be paranoid, but paranoids are human too, and their sentiments must be respected.

Bottom line: I just want to live in a normal country where you don’t have to worry about these things at all. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

DealToday
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