I have a feeling…

I am saddened by the fact that the events such as the one that took place in Nice may lead to the supremacy of Marine le Pen and the far right, which will serve to send the EU into a spiral of self-destruction

It is bad news for all of us, as the right reigns supreme in this time of brutality and crisis
It is bad news for all of us, as the right reigns supreme in this time of brutality and crisis

I was planning to write a piece about France, a country I am in love with for its culture, its cuisine, wine, landscape, politics, its language and contradictions. I guess I am one of many. But returning on Thursday night from France I was saddened to see what had happened in Nice. It kept me awake until three in the morning, listening and watching the human tragedy unfold.

I am saddened, more so by the fact that these events may lead to the supremacy of Marine le Pen and the far right. And this will only aggravate the situation further, and serve to send the European Union into a spiral of self-destruction. Today French citizens with Arab or African origins are firmly installed in French society. A superficial glance at the French football team will somehow illustrate this point.

Le Pen and her party of sycophants will work to break with Europe and raise the ante on refugees and asylum seekers, and those French with distant links to former French colonies. It will be the sure end of Europe. A grand idea may be sabotaged by horrific events spawned by living conditions originating thousands of kilometres away.

France, led by the accident-prone and foolhardy François Hollande (now with a barber on a €10,000 monthly retainer) faces a political quagmire and I can just imagine most French socialists and social democrats voting with their nose and voting Nicolas Sarkozy back into the Elysée.

As I collected my thoughts about Nice, one of our leading journalists, Miriam Dalli, returned from a week at sea with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) during which she witnessed over 300 migrants being saved after having seen death at close range. There is no better learning experience than seeing such a human calamity unfold before your own eyes.  

As she uploaded the stories, readers of MaltaToday, Maltese readers, viewed the stories and some – not all – posted the usual, indecent and injudicious comments. Here’s one comment: “My serious question is: would they have avoided half the suffering had they forgone their beliefs and used their brains instead? Have they endured suffering just because of a mental restriction somewhere in their mind telling them not to betray their religious teachings?”

Sometimes you cannot be blamed for thinking that we are out of synch with our readers.

The truth is that most Maltese are simply detached from the suffering of most migrants and refugees, and more so detached from the history behind the origins of their despair. Civil wars, persecution and economic strife, among so many other ills, did not just kick-start one fine morning by chance.  

Africa and the Middle East in particular have been the playing ground of the West.  From Iraq to Lebanon to Palestine, from Mali to Sudan, from Eritrea to Libya and Algeria, these countries have either been deprived of a chance to develop their democracies and economy, or have for long been held captive by strongmen presiding over underdeveloped economies and impoverished societies. Abject poverty and economic deficit have led to extremism digging in. Very often their leaders, some of them kept in power by the policies of the West, close their eyes to their own people’s sufferings, aggrandizing themselves from their country’s resources while their people struggle with life, often unsuccessfully.

As the madness of one individual in a swerving lorry ploughing into crowds of numerous nationalities at the Promenade des Anglais was slowly sinking in, another event was developing.

Turkey was having its coup d’état against a tyrant by the name of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It failed, and hardly had the attempted coup become public before all western leaders, Joseph Muscat included, pointed out that the democratically elected Erdogan should prevail.

Erdogan, an Islamist, has steadily increased his power since being elected last year once again as president, a partly ceremonial post, but not completely so. The prime minister for more than a decade before that, Erdogan worked hard for more control of the judiciary and cracked down on any form of criticism, including prosecuting those who insult him on social media. People have been jailed for writing the truth. Turkey is no democracy.

Turkey’s human rights, according to Amnesty International, have deteriorated following elections in June last year. The media faced increased pressure from the government; free expression online and offline suffered significantly. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continued to be violated. Cases of excessive use of force by police and ill treatment in detention worsened. The independence of the judiciary was further eroded. Separate suicide bombings attributed to the Islamic State (ISIS) targeting left wing and pro-Kurdish activists and demonstrators killed 139 people. An estimated 2.5 million refugees and asylum-seekers were accommodated in Turkey but individuals increasingly faced arbitrary detention and deportation as the government negotiated a migration deal with the EU.

And as I write, I see Nationalist MP Kristy Debono has tweeted on the Turkish coup that the will of the people in a democratic election should always prevail. And that’s fair enough, although I wish she had also been vocal about Turkish journalists being  detained and imprisoned, or criticised Erdogan for his lax security policies against ISIS. Again, these statements from our MPs just show their lack of historical perspective when it comes to events such as these, where facile commentary is expected to fill in the gaps of their understanding.

Like the far right in France, expect Erdogan and his band of merry men to gain more power and wield more undemocratic measures to impose their will. Maybe then, Joseph Muscat will speak up again to defend the democracy that Erdogan ‘upholds’.

Air Malta

If there was ever a time for change at Air Malta, it has to be now. Ryanair, which offers super deals thanks to its economies of scale but also because of route support subsidies from Maltese tax, and aggressive take-it-or-leave-it deals, has left Air Malta straggling behind.

In our EU negotiations prior to 2002 we should have been tougher with the EU about state aid for our national airline – if we wanted to sustain a pampered group of pilots and an unnecessarily large number of cabin crew, inflated by political interference. That is what the politicians should have fought for: to continue to subsidise through our taxes a legacy airline that has had to undergo painful cuts.

I always use Air Malta. Not for its space, cabin crew smiles, or the unique baguette snack, but out of tradition. Although… don’t forget the primary airports and times served by Air Malta can be far superior to those offered by LCCs. But again, I have a nostalgic, patriotic, silly approach to air travel. Price-wise it’s good for Air Malta, bad for me.

Now airline pilots deserve their salaries. But they do not deserve to look down on their colleagues who work in the same industry. If they are great at flying the aircraft, the engineers are just as great at keeping them airworthy, for instance.

No pilots in the same category of a regional or short haul set-up work only 55 hours and enjoy the benefits that Maltese pilots have, which include the time and liberty to even run a business of their own.

Neither should it be that we retain the excessive number of cabin crew, when there are no meals to serve on board and, let us face it, little to do, with even no newspapers to distribute or coffee or tea to dispense.

This time around, Joe Public should not expect to have his/her taxes wasted on the excess and cushiness of Air Malta’s pampered staff. 

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