Opposition movements cannot be built on single issues

To all those people, then – and not just to Dione Borg – the sight of that ’kuruna’ being so peremptorily discarded, and kicked about like a piece of trash on the ground, was an ugly, painful reminder of just how far the PN has fallen since its ‘Golden Age’

I don’t always agree with his general take on things; but I can certainly understand how someone like Dione Borg would feel ‘hurt’ by that awkward confrontation in front of the Great Siege monument – or, if you insist, the ‘Daphne Caruana Galizia makeshift memorial’ – in Valletta last Wednesday.

I assume you all saw the video, so I’ll keep the necessary description part brief. Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia turned up to pay his party’s respects to Daphne Caruana Galizia on the second anniversary of her murder – accompanied by most of the usual PN bigwigs: Clyde Puli, Hermann Schiavone, David Agius, Kristy Debono, and (last but not least) a positively unamused Louis Galea – only to find himself publicly accosted and humiliated by Daphne’s sister, Helene Asciak.

‘Shame on you, crooks!’, she repeated at least a dozen times, as a stony-faced Adrian Delia placed the wreath at the foot of the monument anyway; and while the video itself (at least, the one I saw) didn’t capture this detail… a subsequent clip showed the same wreath lying in tatters on the ground, where it was eventually kicked out of sight before the planned vigil/protest began some hours later.

Before proceeding, I shall have to admit that my own reactions were divided on this one. As both Nationalist Party and Opposition leader, Adrian Delia no doubt felt obliged to make a show of respect for the journalist he once described (and God, how he must regret it today) as a ‘bicca blogger’.

And while it is self-evident that he did this ‘only for the cameras’ (as Helene quite rightly told him to his face)… well, it is equally true that all such public obsequies are always done for publicity’s sake.

Delia is certainly no exception to this rule; and it would be unrealistic to even expect him to be, anyway. He is, after all, a politician; and part of the job description also includes making loud, fulsome proclamations of things you don’t necessarily believe in, or feel too strongly about yourself.

For the same reason, however, it is also hard to defend a man who so brazenly disregarded an appeal to ‘step back’, by the bereaved family member of a murdered woman. ‘Show some respect’ was another thing Helene Asciak shouted at him; and – even if just for the purely political sake of sparing himself, and his party, further embarrassment – my gut feeling tells me he should really have heeded her advice, and taken that step back as requested.

Viewed in conjunction with the fiery indictment by Daphne Caruana Galizia’s father last week – who accused the PN leader of exploiting his daughter’s death for political gain – it was actually quite idiotic of Adrian Delia to even go anywhere near that particular monument at all… still less on that particular day, at that particular time.

For while his right to do that may be ‘inalienable’, and all that… the judgment he displayed in actually doing it was rather poor, under the circumstances.

But hey, that’s just my own personal reaction; and you can all make of it what you will. The reason I started this with a reference to Dione Borg’s reaction is that… well, there are two.

One, the ‘hurt’ Dione expressed was not specifically for Delia’s sake; but rather, for the sight of that PN wreath (note: the word in Maltese is ‘kuruna’, which has far weightier implications; in a different context, it could also mean ‘the Rosary’) which had been dumped unceremoniously on the ground, and trampled upon by a crowd of people who used to call themselves ‘Nationalist’ until not so long ago.

Two, because Dione Borg is (like myself, and anyone else over 45 years of age) a relic of the 1980s. He even wrote a book, entitled ‘Liberty Under Threat’, about the grisly events of those years – the murder of Raymond Caruana, the frame-up of Peter Paul Busuttil, etc. So like most Nationalists of his generation, he evidently considers the PN to be the only political force that has ever really fought for democracy and human rights in this country.

So many years later (and after 25 years of the same PN in power) it is altogether too easy to forget the times when there was more than just a modicum of truth to that claim. It is true that the Nationalist Party, led by Eddie Fenech Adami in the 1970s and 1980s, stood up to some of the most heinous human rights violations this country had ever seen.

I myself remember only too well when ‘to be a Nationalist’ meant a whole lot more than just ‘rooting for one party over another’; and others who are older (including Daphne Caruana Galizia herself, if she were still alive today) would no doubt confirm that, in the years leading up to the 1987 election, ‘liberty’ really was ‘under threat’ in Malta.  

So even if, to younger ears today, the archaic battle-cry of ‘Xoghol, Gustizzja, Liberta’ may sound like the distant echo of a forgotten political war fought centuries ago… to old timers like Dione Borg (not to mention Louis Galea, who was PN general secretary when all that happened)… it clearly still retains some of its former resonance.  

To all those people, then – and not just to Dione Borg – the sight of that ’kuruna’ being so peremptorily discarded, and kicked about like a piece of trash on the ground, was an ugly, painful reminder of just how far the PN has fallen since its ‘Golden Age’.   

For this is the point Dione Borg really raised with that ‘hurt’ reaction of his: the man who placed the wreath may have been (boo, hiss!) Adrian Delia… but the wreath itself was emblematic of the Nationalist Party as a whole. And the PN is more than just an embodiment of its current leader. Leaders come, and leaders go… but the history of a political party remains what it is regardless.

All of which raises an inevitable question: if the PN’s history is to be so summarily rejected… what will its future be like? Once these people have finished trampling what’s left of the Nationalist Party underfoot, and kicking it to pieces as it lies prostrate on the floor… what do they plan to replace it with, when it is well and truly dead?

Above all: who will this new Opposition movement (assuming there even is one at all) actually represent?

For there is more than just the historical significance of the PN hanging in the balance here. What is also at stake is the precarious situation that Malta’s entire Opposition – including, but not limited to, the PN – finds itself in today.

Another image that is currently doing the rounds shows a comparative aerial view of the crowd which attended Wednesday’s protest (estimated at around 3,000), and the much smaller crowd (around 600) that celebrated Independence this year in front of the Stamperija in Pieta’.

This picture has been gleefully shared by people who seem to think that Wednesday’s crowd somehow represents the ‘true’ PN… or at least, the only faction of that party that can still carry on its historical struggle against corruption and injustice.

But if this is their perception… quite frankly, they must be bonkers.

Just as the PN is more than just Adrian Delia… it is also a whole lot more than just 3,000 angry citizens who (let’s face it) only have one point of convergence to unite them: Daphne Caruana Galizia.

It would be difficult at the best of times to build a viable Opposition movement out of a single-issue lobby group; let alone when the single issue in question happens to take the form of a personality who… well, out of respect for the bereaved, let’s just say Daphne Caruana Galizia was ‘divisive’, and leave it at that.

And besides: 3,000 may indeed be quite a showing for any old civil society NGO; but it remains pitifully microscopic, for a full-blown Opposition party that intends to pose a real challenge to the behemoth that is Joseph Muscat’s Labour.

A better comparison would be with an aerial photograph of the Fosos at the height of one of Eddie Fenech Adami’s mass meetings in the 80s. For if the intention really is for the PN to recover the energized support of those glorious years… then the real yardstick you have to measure up to is the PN of Eddie Fenech Adami’s time… and not Adrian Delia’s version today.

Meanwhile, apart from numbers – which are kind of important, in an electoral equation – another thing Wednesday’s crowd also lacks is the legitimacy of broad-church representation.

The political party founded by Fortunato Mizzi in the late 19th century, and re-moulded by Eddie Fenech Adami in the 1970s, has historically represented a heck of a lot more than just one, rather small section of Malta’s upper-middle class. The Nationalist Party of old also spoke to the poor and the disenfranchised; it offered economic models that would create jobs for the working class… in factories, in industrial estates, and in the sort of professions that the privileged minority would never dream of working in themselves.

I need hardly add that the Labour Party takes even greater pride in its historic representation of those much larger, more widespread socio-economic denominations that some people still like to call ‘hamalli’. Like the PN, Labour owes its origins to far more than any one ‘single-issue’ concern.  And again, it is this history of social inclusion – and not Joseph Muscat himself, who, like all leaders, is ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ – that the Labour Party really draws its gargantuan strength from.

So coming back to that wretched PN ‘kuruna’ we all saw kicked about on the ground last Wednesday… all of that, too, is present in the same image. Dione Borg was not the only Nationalist who took umbrage at the sight; thousands more would likewise have interpreted it as an elitist dismissal… not just of Adrian Delia, but also of themselves who support him: the ordinary, everyday Nationalists who weren’t born into comfortably affluent families; who do not speak English as a first language, nor happen to live in the island’s ‘socially preferred’ neighbourhoods.

Despite their years and decades of faithful service to the PN… they, too, must have felt like they were being rejected out of hand, by what they probably perceive (rightly or wrongly… it doesn’t really matter at this stage) as a bunch of spoilt, stuck-up snobs.

Very little can be built on those foundations, you know. And certainly nothing that can ever aspire to replace what the PN once was, as a truly inclusive force for social change.

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