Like building contractors, ‘festa-organisers’ need to be held to higher standards

And this raises a few questions, concerning the standards of ‘health and safety’ provided by the organisers of these (I repeat) MASSIVE street-parties

OK, let me get this straight. One week ago today, practically every newspaper in Malta reported the exact same story as their main ‘front-pager’... under (variations of) the exact same headline:

‘Bernard Grech refused entry into Ħamrun’s PN club, during San Gajtano feast.’

And... fair enough, I suppose. Given the recent, troubled history of the Nationalist Party: I do more or less understand, how such ‘minor trivialities’ may have overshadowed everything else that actually happened, during that supposedly ‘joyous’ occasion in Ħamrun.

Besides: going only on the headline, anyone might assume it was the beginning of a good old-fashioned joke: ‘A man walks into a bar...’

Only in this case, the man TRIED TO walk into a bar (and evidently didn’t manage); and, just to make matters a tiny bit more surreal... it turns out that the same man is actually the ‘owner’ – in a manner of speaking – of the ‘bar’ in question: you know, the one that wouldn’t even let him in, at the height of Ħamrun annual (supposedly ‘community-based’) ‘festa’...

So yes: I do see a certain news-value, to what was effectively a highly embarrassing turns-of-events for Bernard Grech, both personally and politically.

But... um... how can I even put this? Guys? Hello-o-o? Aren’t we, like, ‘forgetting’ a little something, here? Did it somehow escape our attention, that – precisely as a result of the ‘little detail’, that hogged all the limelight – another man ended up nearly getting KILLED, by the local festa equivalent of... a LYNCH-MOB, for crying out loud?!

Well... OK: here, The Malta Independent gets a couple of extra bonus points, for having actually mentioned this particular aspect, in its headline (even if only as an ‘afterthought’). As for the rest: the details WERE all actually included, somewhere in the stories themselves.

And from those details, we learn that a certain Noel Mifsud Bonnici – a PN supporter who accompanied Brenard Grech on his ill-fated visit to that club – was so badly beaten, in the ensuing mob-violence, that...

... HE CAN’T EVEN WALK, FFS!!! He’s still lying in a hospital bed, a week later, recovering from surgery to his legs (he suffered lacerations to his knee-ligaments, which may take up to eight weeks to heal... if they ever properly heal, at all);

And elsewhere, he had multiples fractures to his hands and forearms (which, as anyone who’s ever watched ‘CSI’ will surely know, are technically known as ‘defensive wounds’) ... all inflicted upon him, by a ‘group of (intoxicated) men’ who - to quote the victim’s wife - ‘continued to beat him’, as he lay helpless on the ground.

And let’s face it: those are not the sort of injuries you’d expect any old ‘street-fight’ (trust me, I’ve seen a few in my time: and they rarely result in anything worse than a ‘black eye’, or a ‘bust lip’). Those are, quite frankly, the sort of injuries you’d expect from... a high-speed traffic accident, no less!

And as such: I would expect the aggressors – if they are ever caught, naturally – to be charged with, at minimum, ‘grievous bodily harm’; and at maximum... ‘attempted murder’. [I use the term in its strictest legal sense, please note: whether or not their intention was to actually KILL that man... the sort of injuries they inflicted were potentially life-threatening, in themselves; and the circumstances imply that the assailants could indeed have ‘beaten him to death’... had it not been for the intervention of others.)

That, in a nutshell, is how how serious this latest case of ‘urban gang-warfare’ really was... regardless whether it was ‘politically-motivated’, or not.

At the same time, however: well, this is partly why those headlines bothered me so much, in the first place. All this emphasis on the ‘political’ nature of this incident, may also be blinding us to the root causes of all this street- violence, to begin with.

Naturally, I won’t bother going into the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of what happened, in this particular case... if nothing else, because there are (to date) at least three different versions: and depending on which of those you believe... Mifsud Bonnici may just as plausibly have been beaten by ‘Labour supporters who hijacked the club,’ than by supporters of his own party.

Either way, however: it shouldn’t really make much difference. What really matters is that – just over a week ago, today - Mr Mifsud Bonnici became the umpteenth victim of of a certain type of ‘crowd-violence’, that (let’s face it) we have almost come to expect, from the ‘traditional festa’ of certain towns and villages (and other mass-gatherings, too).

Indeed, it may not even qualify as the most ‘serious’ case of its kind, to have occurred on St Joseph’s Street, Ħamrun, during the feast of ‘San Gajtano’. (A 16th century saint who, by the way, was best known for his philanthropy; and for having opened – among other things – a bunch of... um... HOSPITALS!)

Nor, for that matter, is Ħamrun the only Maltese locality associated with this kind of ‘street warfare’. This is from a 2004 article about a fight in Haz-Zabbar’s village feast (dedicated, by the way, to ‘Our Lady of Graces’):

“The fight itself broke out at around midnight at a point midway between the Social Club and the Tal-Baqra kazin. One eyewitness described the scene in terms of a ‘stampede’.

“Suddenly the air was filled with bottles hurtling in all directions, and pandemonium broke out as people started running to get away from the melee. The same eyewitness also described how he attempted to administer first-aid to a man whose face had been lacerated.

“Among those who sustained injuries was Assistant Commissioner Paul Sammut, who also was hit in the face with a broken bottle...”

Naturally, I’ll stop there – but what all these incidents have in common, is that they illustrate an undeniable fact about our ‘traditional Maltese festa’. Clearly, is no longer that ‘innocent, family-friendly, community event’, that some of us might still remember from early childhood.

No, siree: it seems the ‘village festa’ has moved with the times... and even the smaller ones now rival the biggest ‘rave parties’ of the 1990s, for the sheer size of their crowds (and the sheer debauchery of their ‘drug-fuelled mayhem’). As for the larger ones – with Ħamrun being a prime example – it would be no exaggeration to describe them as ‘miniature versions of Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnival Parade’.

In other words: they are MASSIVE crowd events – attracting anywhere up to 15, 20,000 people, if not more – which have meanwhile acquired a certain reputation for, um...

... ‘lawlessness’.

And this raises a few questions, concerning the standards of ‘health and safety’ provided by the organisers of these (I repeat) MASSIVE street-parties. Starting with the most obvious of the lot: who organises ‘village festas’, anyway?

The answer, it seems, is: “the village band clubs, and the parish members....”

Whereupon a second question arises: what sort of ‘conditions’ are imposed on these clubs (and individuals), before issuing a permit for said ‘village festa’? And who, exactly, is meant to ENFORCE those conditions?

To put that into some kind of perspective: when ‘party-organisers’ apply for a permit to host an event – which, in this context, is usually ‘a private function, catering for around 500 -1,000 attendees’ – there are all sorts of conditions they have to abide by.

Before the regulations were amended, in 2018, to reduce a few of the more ‘draconian’ financial impediments... what they were looking at was basically this:

“DJs seeking to organise a party [...] have to get a €500,000 insurance policy [!], irrespective of the number of people expected to attend, along with an estimate of the number of people per square metre.

“DJs are also expected to provide a certificate from an electrical engineer and a health and safety certificate, along with VAT documentation and an €11,000 bank guarantee.” [!!]

Lastly, they also “have to ensure medical professionals were on site, together with an ambulance.”

Meanwhile, another thing organisers could always anticipate, was that their party would be duly ‘raided by the police, in search of drugs’...

... and in the event that any drugs were actually found, anywhere on the premises: they themselves could also expect to face ‘drug-trafficking’ charges – if not ‘corruption of youth’ (which actually happened, a few years back) – as part of their own responsibility, as the official ‘event-organisers’.

Now: how much of that actually applies, to the ‘village band club and/or parish members’, who organise the annual St Gajtano festa, in Ħamrun? Or any other village feast, anywhere else on the Maltese islands?

Not much, by the looks of it. It seems as though – while the ‘village festa’ itself has transcended its quaint, parochial origins: to become a ‘festival of drugs, debauchery, and unadulterated, Quentin Tarantino-level VIOLENCE’...  their actual organisation remains entirely in the hands of ‘village band-club enthusiasts’: who (no offence, or anything) are hardly the sort of people you’d expect to actually control a scene of ‘crowd violence’, of the kind described above... are they, now?

Honestly, though: do we really have to wait for the next victim of ‘festa-related violence’ to actually get MURDERED, this time, before we finally realise that – just like the construction industry, come to think of it – the organisation of such dangerous activities, can no longer be left entirely in the hands of... ‘amateurs’?

Well... I guess so. After all, that’s precisely what we did in the case of Jean-Paul Sofia, isn’t it?