Put your environmental outrage where your vote is

Fact of the matter is that the hunters’ lobby has so far proven to be everything that Malta’s environmentalist movement is not, and never has been. They are motivated; organised; united by a single purpose; and – much, much more importantly – they are also ‘apolitical’

Ok, I’ll admit this might sound like ancient history; but way back in around 1998 – at the height of an election campaign, with Malta’s membership in the European Union still hanging in the balance – I found myself having a very public argument with a whole bunch of people outside a popular St Julian’s bar.

It all started when I expressed my opinion that the Nationalist Party (then in opposition) should not have entered into any ‘agreement’ with the hunters on the eve of that election; and also, that it was a grave mistake to promise them any form of ‘derogation’ from the European Union on the subject of spring hunting.

But what really turned the heat up, on that occasion, was that I made no secret of the fact that I fully intended to base my voting intentions on that same premise (which, at the time, meant voting Alternattiva Demokratika instead of PN).

I suppose you can imagine what the ‘counter-arguments’ – if such they can even be called – sounded like: most of them were, in fact, mere recitals of the prevalent editorial line in every Nationalist-leaning newspaper (including the one I worked for myself):

‘A vote for AD is a vote for Labour’.

Never mind how patiently (or impatiently) I tried to explain that - from the perspective of an anti-hunting bird-lover, at any rate – it made precious little difference which of two equally pro-hunting parties went on to win the election in the first place… and never mind, too, the undeniable fact that that AD was just as ‘pro-EU’ as the PN (so much so, that it was even part of the same ‘Yes’ campaign)… or even, for that matter, that there wasn’t much point in wanting to join the European Union at all, if it also meant that hunters would simply keep getting their way in absolutely everything, as usual…

Those of you who are old enough to remember what Malta was like back then – and let’s face it: it hasn’t changed all that much – will also know how perfectly useless such arguments invariably proved to be. It mattered not a jot that the people I was arguing with were all, on the surface, ‘against hunting’ themselves… they all insisted on supporting a pro-hunting party anyway, because (as one of them piously put it, at the time): ‘People are more important than birds’.

Do I even need to go on? Fast-forward 23 years, and – lo and behold, wonder of wonders, etc. – some of the very same people I had that argument with, all those years ago, are now taking to the social networks in droves: all railing furiously against the fact that today’s government has made yet another concession to the hunters’ lobby… this time, formalising an agreement that has existed for no less than 36 years – including all the time when their own preferred party was in power, please note – to allow the hunters to manage two large woodland sites, in L-Ahrax and Mizieb, as ‘hunting reserves’.

Hmm. Not to bring it all up again now, of course, but…  what, might I ask, are these people even complaining about? Isn’t this exactly what they themselves voted for: not just in 1998, but also in 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2017? And isn’t it what they will once again vote for in the next election, whensoever that might be?

Much more to the point, though: isn’t this precisely what they also tried to ‘convince’ – not to say ‘bully’, ‘browbeat’ or ‘intimidate’ -  so many other people to vote for, over the past two-and-a-half decades at least?

But in any case: I could, of course, go on like this for hours - after all, I’ve only been making the same point for 25 flipping years now – but the truth is that there are two sides to every equation. And just as these new-found ‘environmentalists’ only have themselves to blame, for the very situation they now complain so loudly about… by the same token, you can’t really blame the hunters for so successfully manipulating Malta’s eternal political problem to their own advantage, either.

In fact: try as I might, I can’t even bring myself to even begrudge the hunters’ federation for landing that ghastly Mizieb and L-Ahrax management contract; even if it is something I myself have argued against for so long.

For much the same reason, I can’t really say I begrudge them any of their other past successes, either: for instance, the way they have consistently arm-wrestled successive governments into always granting them more, and more, and MORE concessions…or the way they have managed to get both the Labour and Nationalist parties to timidly eat out of their hands, like frightened little sparrows, for fear of losing votes.

Because in their case, at least… that ‘fear’ is very real. And to put that into a little historical perspective: this is a small excerpt from an article I wrote about it in 2006:

“The first manifestation of the hunting lobby as a political force in its own right came in 1994, when several hundred hunters, some carrying guns, marched into Valletta under slogans such as ‘10,000 hunters = 10,000 votes’.”

Some of you may also remember the televised counting process in the 1996 election: especially the close-ups of so many wilfully invalidated ballot sheets, with the words ‘No Kacca, No Vote’ scrawled across them in large letters.

And while ‘hunting’ – in and of itself – might not have been the only factor contributing to the Nationalist Party’s historic defeat, on that occasion… it did prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the hunters themselves were not exactly bluffing, when it came to threatening to withhold their electoral support.

As a result… my oh my, what an earth-shattering surprise. In the end, they always got exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it: no matter how ‘unfair’, or downright reprehensible, it always seemed to everyone else. Funny, isn’t it, how the only people who ever actually put their money where their mouth was, also happen to be the only ones who succeeded… where everyone else failed?

And this, I fear, also forces us to confront an even more painful truth about the hunting situation in Malta. Much as I myself have always tended to blame the political parties for the present state of affairs… truth be told, I can’t even really hold them responsible anymore.

I mean, look at it from their perspective for a second. On one hand, they have a well-organised, para-military lobby group numbering around 10,000 voters – which become at least 30,000, factoring in their extended families – and all of them deadly earnest in their intention to base their vote only on their cherished ‘delizzju’… and on the other, a bunch of whiny little moaners, who complain (and complain, and complain) about the hunting situation for four out of five years…  only to invariably come running back to the party fold, with their tail between their legs, the moment the starter-pistol is fired for an election campaign.

Which of those two lobby-groups would you capitulate to, if the decision was yours to make? The one that could actually cost you an election – with all that electoral defeat implies, in this country – or the one whose vote you can always rely on, no matter what (and who will even do some free campaigning on your behalf, when the time comes?)

No, no, make no mistake. Fact of the matter is that the hunters’ lobby has so far proven to be everything that Malta’s environmentalist movement is not, and never has been. They are motivated; organised; united by a single purpose; and – much, much more importantly – they are also ‘apolitical’, in the sense that they have never allowed such petty considerations as ‘partisan allegiance’ to get in the way of what they always wanted to achieve.

This is why they keep getting what they want, every single time; and until such time as the anti-hunting lobby organizes itself along similar lines… and puts its environmental outrage where its vote is, once and for all… this is what will continue to happen, indefinitely, with no end in sight.

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