Democracy and the common good

When will this country really break free?

Archbishop Charles Scicluna made some very interesting comments about the roots and principles of democracy during the launch of a photojournalism exhibition (People Power) the other week.

What struck me – in a positive way – were the Archbishop’s comments about the relationship between democracy and the common good. He referred to the Maltese people being “passive players accepting the benevolence of our rulers” and of lacking in initiative and not even a sense of the common good – ascribing this sad situation to our colonial past, saying that “as a young democracy, we do not have the sense that this is our country and it is not that government is far away.” What used to be the Crown’s problem and the ‘Dik mhux tar-reġina’ attitude has not been shaken off after 57 years of independence.

The Archbishop then boldly went on to decry that: “There is a crisis of this feeling of the common good that we need to have a critical attitude towards and this comes from our colonial past. We are always grateful for what we receive but this benevolent despotism is almost still with us, in a system where everything is granted as a favour and you have to be grateful to the government for doing their job. I think that is poison for the common good. Governments do the right thing because it is their job to do it. Our gratitude is a question of courtesy but we do not owe it to them, they owe it to us to do their job.” I suppose one could call this the ‘prosit Ministru’ syndrome.

One cannot but agree with the Archbishop that this is the attitude of the big majority of the Maltese people. He continued saying that there are two important aspects that are required for democracy to work – education and solidarity.

As he put it: “Without education, we do not have real democracy because it is education that empowers people to have a critical attitude to power”; and that moreover “democracy, needs people who have the education to develop a critical mind and also to be able to elaborate and express their true yearnings.”

Regarding solidarity he thinks “there is no democracy where there is reciprocal resentment, hate, and also anger” and concluded that “at the end of the day democracy is not monochrome; the beauty of democracy is a variety of attitudes, opinions, and also social theories that come together, trying to vie together or with each other, to promote the common good in the concrete circumstances of time and place.”

This is far removed than the two-tribe system that our democracy has actually been reduced to – a situation where respect for other people’s opinions is completely lacking, as one sees from comments posted in the social media.

I have quoted extensively from the Archbishop’s speech because I also believe that in the current situation our democracy is in crisis. Not because the will of the majority is not respected in general elections, but because too many people are just members of a flock that follow their shepherd whatever their shepherd does or leads them to.

The lack of critical thought is also an inheritance from our colonial past. But not just that. Our education system has still not shaken of the antagonist attitudes taken by many in the teaching profession towards students who are creative and who take the initiative to be different while questioning whatever they are told. In this, our education system has failed this small but independent and proud little island.

One bad influence that the Archbishop missed is the influence of the attitude that the Maltese Catholic Church adopted towards the people at large. Mgr Charles Scicluna has been a fresh face with a fresh attitude that one cannot but admire. But his predecessors practised their ministry as if the people of Malta were their fiefdom, allowing no one to be critical and different.

I remember other times, of course. When I wanted to enter a preliminary course at University in the early 1960s, I was obliged to get a pass at matriculation level in religion. I had to accept and repeat whatever the book on apologetics said about the proof of the existence of God – irrespective of what I thought about the proof. Not toeing the line would get you nowhere – exactly nowhere. Archbishop Michael Gonzi decided what films we could see, what clothes foreign circus performers wore, what clothes we could wear, whom one could marry, with whom we go bathing in the summer... and even whom to vote for! All critical attitudes were unacceptable and considered as just plain heresy.

In my opinion this lack of critical attitude in the minds of many Maltese and the way they look at things as either black or white is not just the result of British Colonialism. The Maltese Catholic Church is as much to blame as the colonialists with whom it had an unwritten tacit agreement to run the country.

That is why throughout the historical development of representative elections, different Maltese politicians from most political parties had different disagreements with the Archbishop of the day. This is why some political fanatics look at Archbishop Scicluna with unjustified suspicion. The Church then was interested in the power to hold sway over the people, smothering any individual who was critical and creative.

The shambles in which democracy finds itself in Malta is mostly the result of its turbulent history with the Church and the colonialist conniving (and co-operating) to hold on to power at the expense of democracy and the rights of the Maltese people.

When will this country really break free?

A clear abuse of power

The law to neutralise Court decisions in the case of eviction of Band Clubs has been found as a ‘clear abuse of power’ by the Constitutional Court in the case of the issue between the De Paule Band Club and the owners of the premises occupied by the Club.

I will not delve into the merits of the case, as I was involved professionally in this particular case.

But I cannot but express my disgust at the connivance of politicians from the government and from the Opposition to pass this obscene law that makes a mockery of the rule of law.

I would have expected Jason Azzopardi – as self-proclaimed champion of the rule of law – to stand up in the House of Representatives and clearly denounce the government for legislating in this way.

Alas, Jason Azzopardi, who is elected from the district that includes the band club, apparently missed this chance!