Comfortably numb

I am against sharing breathing room with those who were comfortably numb when Malta was no different than it is today, with the same structures that made their rule of law just as unpleasant and repugnant as they say it is now

Saviour Balzan
4 December 2017, 8:28am
The definition of what a nation is, is surely ambiguous. The most commonly repeated descriptions I found in a quick Google search include a recognised territory, people who share a culture and a language, and a government that is elected to represent the nation. There was no reference to a shared history.

So I concluded we have the specific requisites. We do have a clearly defined territory, even if from Dwejra Tower, the highest point in Malta in the limits of Bingemma, it is possible to see at least three sides of the island and parts of Gozo. Malta has its Semitic language and rich Christian culture. It has its own distinct idiosyncrasies and deep-rooted beliefs. We are also a bilingual nation, with the majority speaking Maltese as their first language and a smaller anglicised community opting for English as their first language. But we are all Maltese at the end of the day.

We also talk of two tribes, but we are after all, very similar to each other with the same aspirations, good and bad, and the same hang-ups and pecuniary interests: children first, money-driven, Roman Catholics, homeowners, car-lovers, money-savers, over-dressed, loud and brash, believers in the power of patronage, emotional, hypocritical and territorial.

This seems to be what makes us Maltese, by way of an unkind stereotype.

Beyond this, there may be other micro-niceties which differ from one demographic group to another, such as the passion of discussing politics at all times, the burdensome family occasions, the love for controversy, a bebbuxxata, sipping a cup of coffee at Cordina, bragging about money, barbeques on the roof, eating al fresco, a weekend in Gozo or a tea with condensed milk and a pastizz first thing in the morning.

However trivial it appears, this too makes us Maltese.

Then there are those who lament that Malta is no nation, even though when it comes to the crunch Maltese turn to zealots and patriots, standing up to the foreigner who takes our country to task, those who ridicule our culture or identity, and even Maltese ‘natives’ who pick apart the inelegance of the Maltese character by way of denigrating popular notions of ‘Malteseness’.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the reality of a general public that is on a completely different wavelength and who feel, despite everything that is wrong with Malta, that things are just fine from where they stand. This very ‘Maltese’ way of thinking is behind Joseph Muscat’s high ratings at the polls.

Look into different pockets of life and discussion in Malta, and you could be mistaken, thinking instead that Malta is a “mafia state” run by criminals for criminals. And yet, few people seem interested in taking apart these claims.

So I wonder what the real truth is. Maybe somewhere in the middle? It cannot be completely on one side or the other. It cannot be all black or all white. The press is often accused – and we recognise our own limits – of being out of synch with the national pulse, but then again we cannot completely ignore the general sentiment in the country. And this is not just a reference to the justified anger of political minorities who are taking the Labour government to task.

I am also referring to a wider group of Maltese, silent perhaps not just in the approval of their government but also silent in their disapproval of what they feel is wrong about this same government.

"People’s state of mind does not seem to be calibrated to even listen to these arguments. And a reason for this is probably found in the messengers who are relaying the message"
The majority of the Maltese well-meaning public is that they never liked, nor stood for the kind of tabloid trash that defined Maltese journalism in the online world and social media. They disliked the OTT, classist and offensive work churned out by Daphne Caruana Galizia even while being unable to look away at what was being exposed about the government.

So this week’s delegation of MEPs symbolises the efficacy of the European Union pointing out, in some cases very correctly, the defective systems in our government, but what was also interpreted as an affront to Maltese sensibility. I can make out the sensation of Maltese thinking that they either do not give a damn about what MEPs think, or that they should mind their own business. And the fact that the delegation seemed interested only in one particular one-sided opinion, reinforces this belief. Especially, when considering that a Nationalist MEP, David Casa, was also part of the delegation.

Observers of politics may know that socialist Ana Gomes and Green MEP Sven Giegold are doing just what their job description tells them to do, but the Maltese will react with their typical self-conceited confidence by saying: “Why don’t they go and see what they are doing in their own countries?” (Portugal has its own golden visa, Germany has its own Dieselgate and BASF scandals…).

Indeed in the briefing with the Prime Minister, Muscat was quick to draw a feather from the accusations being levelled against him.

“If I am ‘corrupt’ because of what gets written online, then you too would be considered ‘corrupt’ because the Romanian press says the same thing about you,” he told Romanian conservative MEP Monica Macovei, who put on a pretty stern display.

‘Lectured by a Romanian?’ some down in the street would say. The Maltese simply love their politicians to be toughies.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong for Malta to be probed by MEPs. Maltese MEPs do it in other countries. And even when that happens inside EU states, they do not take it kindly at being undressed by a parliamentary committee.

Does it keep governments in check? I think it might have little effect beyond the public display. People’s state of mind does not seem to be calibrated to even listen to these arguments. And a reason for this is probably found in the messengers who are relaying the message.

There is some natural repulsion to those who are crowding the stage and who are articulating the arguments.

I, for one, can share many of the concerns articulated during the Sunday rallies, but I am soundly against sharing breathing room with a number of these individuals who were comfortably numb when Malta was no different than it is today, with the same structures that made their rule of law just as unpleasant and repugnant as they say it is now.

Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...