Shaking off the two-tribe mentality

I do not know what sort of teaching in civics goes on in our schools. I expect the knowledge imparted in the subject to be intended to help our future generations to become active and informed citizens

After Joseph Muscat’s astounding electoral victory in 2013, I thought that there was a shift in the way Maltese citizens look at party politics. The big shift from the PN to Labour was surely an indication of the beginning of the end of our tribal politics. It seemed to me as if we had finally broken the mould. The two different opposing political tribes – with each believing that whatever ‘we’ do must be right and whatever ‘they’ do must be wrong – appeared to me to be part of a receding scenario. We had become ‘a normal democracy’ where shifts in support for different political parties are occurring all the time between one election and another. How wrong I was!

The so-called switchers have entrenched their anti-PN stance, thinking that if they switch back it would not be a normal political shift but their lamely admitting that they were wrong when they switched from one party to another. Loyal PN supporters continued to exacerbate the issue by attacking switchers; instead of saying they understood why they switched...

Today, I am afraid that tribal politics are stronger than ever. In an interview on The Malta Independent on Sunday published last weekend, Nationalist MP Claudio Grech put it mildly when he said that political tribalism has set the country back. He insisted it is about time that this country shakes off this political tribalism for its own good. I cannot but agree with Claudio Grech’s words: “The ‘us versus them mentality’ is something which has crippled the country for a number of years now and has stifled certain progress and nurtured a binary divide between Maltese citizens. The way in which politics is done in this country, traditionally, deem what one party does as always good and what the other party does as always bad. “

He rightly concluded that we should build our politics “not on what I think, or you think, or what I want or what you want, but on evidence. This means that you build politics on what is factual, that which is researched, and that which is sustained by the research that you have ongoing.”

There will always be people who stick to the party line without querying anything. But the fact that the vast majority of people support their political party blindly, whatever they say or do, has become this country’s major handicap.

Just look at the idiotic comments on Facebook posted by people who apparently think that there is no difference between the rivalry of two band clubs from the same locality with comparing the political and policy positions of the two main political parties.

I do not know what sort of teaching in civics goes on in our schools. I expect the knowledge imparted in the subject to be intended to help our future generations to become active and informed citizens. Of course, the influence of the parents must not be forgotten.

At school, however, our children should gain basic civic knowledge and develop some knowledge of our Constitution. Students should be helped to find their voices and become active citizens.

Most probably, hardly anything of this sort goes on in our schools.

Our whole education system is based on students following what their teachers tell them. They are not encouraged to think independently and decide for themselves. This is the way knowledge was imparted to me when I was a kid – I knew what to say so as to satisfy my teachers and what I thought did not matter. In the case of religion, the circumstances were much worse, of course.

Religion is there to be learnt and followed blindly. And supporting blue or red has become Malta’s second – but stronger – religion.

Our education system must be geared to teach children that they cannot believe whatever they read, and to learn how to check their sources of information.

They should be taught how to be active participants in their community; how democracy works in the case of both the government and local councils and how to keep abreast of current events. Most important of all is the need to impart the lesson that empathy matters. We need to teach our kids that kindness and empathy make for a better world. Respecting those with a different opinion is something that too many Maltese have never learnt.

I cannot see our political tribalism disappearing overnight.

But we owe it to our future generations to overcome it.

Our Destiny

Apparently, the only thing that unites the Maltese is the Eurovision Song Contest.

Over the years, I have seen the enthusiasm for the Maltese participant rise to great heights before the contest and wane swiftly afterwards, with a resigned mood of our small island being badly treated. Isibuna żgħar!

In fact, we have witnessed all sorts of efforts to get what seems to be Malta’s Holy Grail – a Eurovision Song Festival victory. Alas, it never was really in our grasp. This seems to be our destiny!

And now comes the news that Minister Carmelo Abela has ordered an audit of how the allocated money was spent; after receiving reports that part of the allocated budget was used to place bets on Destiny winning the contest in order to boost the bookmakers’ odds.

It seems Malta had allocated some €650,000 for the festival – €350,000 to be spent by the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and a further €300,000 by PBS.

Some say that by the end of the day, this amount will increase to over €700,000.

Following reports of an unlimited budget allocation to boost Ira Losco’s chance of winning in 2016, The Times had submitted a freedom of information request asking for the total amount spent on Malta’s participation in the contest on that year. The request was refused!

So, how much Malta spends on its participation in the Eurovision song contest is a state secret – at least as far as the year 2016 is concerned.

The issue of possible financial mismanagement was flagged by the PBS board to Minister Abela who is responsible for public broadcasting.

It is understood that the MTA is also believed to have gone considerably over budget in promoting Malta’s song, including spending on social media influencers.

This obsession with winning the contest is senseless – but this is what seems to unite all our political tribes.