Moving forward

It might not be the most popular thing right now, but let’s not forget that Western Europe has been free from conflict for the past 73 years, mainly because of the European Union

Jean Monnet (left), Robert Schuman (middle) and his aide Jacques de Bourbon-Busset (right), at the inter-governmental negotiations on the Schuman Plan that gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Community
Jean Monnet (left), Robert Schuman (middle) and his aide Jacques de Bourbon-Busset (right), at the inter-governmental negotiations on the Schuman Plan that gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Community

Have you ever considered what grew out of the horrors of the Second World War? There are many things we take for granted today, from the emancipation of women to the peaceful co-existence of countries that have their roots in that conflict.

We know how our country suffered. Malta was a strategic place that helped the Allies supply the North African effort against the Italians and the Germans. The war was cruel and unforgiving. Millions of young people lost their lives. The numbers are incredible. We often forget that the biggest country to suffer human loss was the Soviet Union, or Russia, with a horrific 20 million lives lost.

But the war also allowed the world to start afresh. New technology and scientific innovation, important elements of the war, were quickly utilised for benefits that we’re familiar with today, such as the computer and penicillin.

This week we celebrate International Women’s Day, and in a way it all started with the Second World War. Before the war, women were treated as second class citizens. They ‘had to know their place’. There were many influential and remarkable women before the war, but most often than not women found society slamming the door in their face.

The war changed that. All of a sudden no pair of hands could be left unutilised, and with men on the front, women took the lead and showed their mettle. On both sides of the divide, women took leading roles in engineering, medicine, construction and factory work. Their brilliance shone through in the different fields of work.

Today we’re miles ahead of the war days, but still far from having an equal society. Unfortunately, we live in a world where women still have to fight that little bit harder and work that little bit more to achieve parity. But it all started with the war.

In parallel, the war also brought another major development. Countries refused to align back to the old Empire models. Britain could hardly afford it anyway. Countries from south-east Asia to Africa wanted independence and self-determination. Among the long list of countries, suddenly on their own for the first time, was Malta. Imagine being conquered for centuries and all of a sudden the people have their own president and their own government. A vote for every individual – something even Empire-led countries were only starting to introduce.

At the moment, the rhetoric in Europe is very dangerous but we must work harder as politicians to reach out to the disillusioned and fight populism with a pragmatic approach, not an ideological one

Our path was not easy. Did we struggle? Did we make mistakes along the way? Of course we did. But we’ve also built a society that provides for its people. We have free healthcare and free education – an envy of countries much larger and wealthier than ours.

I think we should all be proud of being Maltese. If you look at all the islands in the Mediterranean you can’t name one that has a better standard of living. I am not one who subscribes to blind patriotism. I think we’re human before everything else. But our journey is truly remarkable and we should all feel proud. Over the past few years, politics has taken a sour turn but I hope we can go back to talking about the things that make this country great and fix what needs fixing. When politicians squabble over menial and childish remarks they are deviating from
their real work – to build a better country.

I think we should also be proud to be Europeans. It might not be the most popular thing right now, but let’s not forget that Western Europe has been free from conflict for the past 73 years, mainly because of the European Union. At the moment, the rhetoric in Europe is very dangerous but we must work harder as politicians to reach out to the disillusioned and fight populism with a pragmatic approach, not an ideological one. People will vote for those who listen to them and do not discard them. They will support politicians who promise to work for them and not forget them.   

From the darkness of 73 years ago, we’ve built a better world in so many different ways. These achievements are not there to stay unless we all continue to make the effort. Our job is to stay on this road.

 

Evarist Bartolo is minister for employment and education

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