Lessons in democracy, from Vladimir Putin…

While the rest of the world – including Malta’s government, and opposition parties – were very quick to condemn Putin’s grotesque parody of democracy, last week… there has been no local condemnation of the pro-life lobby’s equally abhorrent antics in Malta’s Parliament, so far

Young people taking part in the National Youth Parliament debated a motion calling for the decriminalisation of abortion
Young people taking part in the National Youth Parliament debated a motion calling for the decriminalisation of abortion

Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure there are plenty of other things – apart from democracy, of course – that Vladimir Putin is actually very well-positioned to lecture the rest of the world about, right now.

Like, um… ‘topless horseback-riding’, for instance. Or, even better, Photoshopping the pic to make it look like he was actually riding a bear… so that it becomes ‘topless BEAR-BACK riding’ instead! (Get it? ‘Bare/bear’? Oh, never mind…)

But in any case: if you were interested in cultivating your own personal image, as a ‘strongman, tin-pot, Banana-republic dictator’ – of the kind that is so hilariously lampooned by videogames such as Tropico , by the way – I can think of few better teachers than good old ‘Vlad the Inhaler’, you know.  (So named because, let’s face it: judging by his recent behaviour, he must be ‘inhaling’ some pretty strong stuff…)

Same goes for ‘How to hold the entire world to ransom, through the threat of nuclear war’. There was a time – and not that long ago, either (I caught the tail-end of it myself, as it happens) – when you could pursue an entire post-graduate degree in that subject, from universities in both Russia AND America… and find yourself lectured by experts such as Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, Leonid Brezhnev, Richard Nixon, etc.

Today? Not so much. Unless we extend the subject to ‘holding the world to ransom, with nuclear weapons that you DON’T actually possess’ – in which case, we would have to add countries like North Korea, and terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda, to the list – as far as I can see, there is only one world leader, alive today, who is openly (and credibly) threatening to ‘press the Big Red But-ton’ at any given moment.

And that’s already quite a lot more than any of the above Cold-War leaders ever really did them-selves… which makes Vladimir Putin by far the most qualified world-leader, alive today, to teach us all a thing or two about how to ‘rule by fear’.

By the same token, however: I wouldn’t exactly go running to Moscow, right now, to take lessons from Putin in ‘democracy’ (and even less, ‘the protection of human life at all its stages’). And yet, that is EXACTLY what Malta’s pro-life lobby seems to have been doing, in recent months. How else can we explain that all its strategies, of late, seem to have been lifted directly from Putin’s own playbook, on ‘How to subvert democracy, for your own (anti-democratic) ends’?

Take the National Youth Council’s mock-parliamentary debate on abortion, for instance: which was held in the House of Representatives last Thursday… and which (surprise, surprise) ended up with a massive majority for the pro-life side.

The operative word there, by the way, is ‘massive’; and not ‘majority’ (which was all along to be expected anyway: given that the list of speakers was originally divided into ‘around 27 participants to argue in favour of the motion to decriminalise abortion, and 30 to argue against.’)

What happened in practice, however, was that only nine (9) of the original 27 pro-choice partici-pants actually showed up for the debate: the rest having been (and here I quote from our news report) “forced to drop out […] after receiving flak when their names were shared on pro-life social media groups.”

It transpires that the full list of pro-choice speakers had been leaked to (and published by) a certain Simon Debono – who incidentally seems to have elected himself as undisputed leader of Malta’s entire pro-life movement, while nobody else was looking – with the result that the 27 pro-choice participants were targeted by a systematic online intimidation campaign.

According to our news report, “some pro-life advocates went as far as to contact the parents of the participants to convince the speakers to drop out”; and more worryingly still, we were even told that: “Many medical students also began dropping out in fear of facing academic repercussions, if any of their conservative lecturers were to discover they are in favour of decriminalising abor-tion…”

Right, I’ll stop there for now; because already, we seem to looking at a classic re-enactment (albeit on a much smaller scale) of a certain strategy that Vladimir Putin himself has only just put into ac-tion, in Ukraine.

Let’s go over it again, shall we? In order to annex four of Ukraine’s territories, Putin first invaded that country – a fact which, in and of itself, forced much of its pro-Ukraine population to flee for safety across the border (so much so, that Europe even had to deal with a Ukrainian refugee crisis)…

… and in the process, it also ensured that the only people to actually remain in those four regions, would be mostly ‘pro-Russian’ to begin with: and therefore, more likely to be (overwhelmingly) in favour of Putin’s entire annexation scheme, than against.

But still: so far, Putin had only engineered the semblance of a majority, for the shambolic ‘referen-dums’ he was about to announce. And just like Malta’s student pro-life movement… a majority, on its own, was clearly not enough.

Oh no: Putin needed a ‘MASSIVE majority’ (large enough, indeed, to try and ‘legitimise’ his blatant theft of those four territories, in the eyes of the rest of the world). So what did he do? Apart, of course, from simply exterminating all his political opponents, in both Ukrainian and Russian camps?

Why, he turned the referendums themselves into military exercises, of course… so that voters would quite literally be forced to cast their vote, under the intimidating gaze of the Russian mili-tary.

Can anyone be surprised, then, that the results ended up being as close to 100%, as is humanly possible? (And more to the point: can anyone possibly be dumb enough, to actually accept that outcome at face value?)

Now: admittedly, the local pro-life lobby’s tactics have (so far, at least) been a lot less openly vio-lent, than any of that… but still: in principle, its approach to that mock-parliamentary debate re-mains not merely similar, but IDENTICAL to Vladimir Putin’s approved methods.

They first ‘invaded’ the privacy of their political opponents – forcing many of them to literally ‘flee for their safety’, in the process – and then, they harassed and bullied the few that remained, in a way that ensured that their own vote would likewise be cast ‘under the watchful eyes of the Mal-tese pro-life lynch-mob’ (which apparently includes university lecturers, who might even fail their students because of their pro-choice views).

I mean, honestly. Why not just fire a few scud-missiles at them too, while you’re at it?

But still: what makes all this so reminiscent of Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, is not so much the ‘tactics used’… but the ‘effect that was achieved’. Just like Putin before them, both those 30 pro-life participants (or some of them, anyway), and Simon Debono himself responded to the above farce as if it really did add up some kind of ‘moral victory’ for their own cause.

And they even celebrated it, too!  Debono, for instance, crowed: “A Victory for the Pro Life Move-ment. Vast Majority of Youths in the Maltese Parliament voted against Abortion. This is what win-ning looks like. And not a single Stabile Sign or Graffiti Drum in sight..”

And even more bizarrely, some of the 30 voters who engineered this manifest distortion of democ-racy, actually stated that: “We are proud to share the news that all of the proposals and amend-ments put forward by pro-life youth were voted for with an absolute majority, reflecting the reality that most Maltese youth value life…”

Erm… sorry, but what do they mean by ‘reflecting reality’, exactly? Because last I looked, all indica-tions were pointing towards a rather different reality, you know: one in which the sort of ‘pro-life absolutism’ that these people so clearly advocate, was actually in decline.

Now: I am aware that our own polls are not necessarily an accurate ‘reflection of reality’, either… but the latest one showed that “an absolute majority [53%] believe that women who have an abor-tion should not be sent to prison…”

And more specifically, that: “The young aged between 16 and 35 are the strongest opponents to sending women to prison, with 71.1% disagreeing with existing legislation. Among the young, 16.7% agree with sending women who have an abortion to prison.”

Bearing in mind that the entire topic of this ‘mock-parliamentary debate’ – and incidentally: never before has the adjective ‘mock’ been so adequately applied – was precisely ‘the decriminalisation of abortion’… I think we can all see, right there, that the ‘massive majority’ secured by that ‘mock-parliamentary vote, was every bit as credible as Putin’s 99.9% approval ratings in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

But with one, glaring difference. For while the rest of the world – including Malta’s government, and opposition parties – were very quick to condemn Putin’s grotesque parody of democracy, last week… there has been no local condemnation of the pro-life lobby’s equally abhorrent antics in Malta’s Parliament, so far.

And not only has the outcome of this farcical vote been ‘allowed to stand’… but it will even be ‘presented to the Prime Minister, the Opposition leader and the President of the Republic’, no less (You know: the same three political leaders who have only just vociferously condemned Vladimir Putin, for doing exactly the same thing in Ukraine).

At which point… I have to admit I am seized by a sudden doubt. Is it really the Maltese pro-life lob-by that’s taking lessons from Vladimir Putin? Or is actually the other way round?