Extremism might ‘get you somewhere’, in the end

The upshot, of course, is that nothing ever gets done at all, about the constant of encroachment of public land by greedy developers – or any analogous environmental issue, for that matter – until a point is reached when ‘civil disobedience’ 

It has been described as an ‘act of civil disobedience’, and - even more unwisely – as an example of ‘extremism’; but there can be no doubt that Moviment Graffiti’s actions on Comino last Sunday, are a classic case of civil society power at its most effective.

This is not the first time this organisation has resorted to drastic action, in order to challenge the status quo - a status quo that is all too often characterised by the greedy appropriation of public land – with government’s blessing - by mercenary commercial interests.

Nor was it the only successful one. Over the past few years, Graffitti’s ‘extremist’ militancy has in fact succeeded, in many areas where the more traditional political opposition has clearly failed.

The NGO managed, for instance, to force a government U-turn, on major projects like the proposed yacht marina in Marsaskala, or the building of a campus at Zonqor.

It was also Moviment Graffiti activists who literally forced open the gates to the Manoel Island project: restoring public access to the foreshore, as was all along stipulated in the contract (and in any case, a right enshrined in the Maltese Constitution).

More recently, its activism convinced private investors to give up on their plans for a ferry terminal in Balluta Bay. And like many of the others, this latest direct action - which saw activists remove deck chairs from the Blue Lagoon, and put a stop to its unlawful annexation by private concessionaires - has once again captured the public imagination: forcing the government to recognise (and even applaud) the merit of an action, that it should really have taken itself.

Indeed, in this particular case government may even have a direct responsibility for the Comino situation: for what is in question here is not just the government’s failure to clamp down on sun bed operators; but also, to limit the number of tourist arrivals on pleasure boats, as recommended by its own management plan for the Comino Natura 2000 site.

So for the Tourism Minister to announce that ‘sunbeds will no longer be allowed on the sandy beach’, is only to confirm that Moviment Graffiti had, in fact, succeeded in ‘forcing the government to do its job (if not, actually doing the government’s for job for it, itself)’… precisely because his government was so clearly reluctant to take any action at all.

Moreover: to argue that the protest had taken place on the same day that ‘Malta Tourism Authority officials were meant to inspect the site’ is, quite frankly, to inject a dose of surrealist humour, into what is effectively a very embarrassing situation for the Labour government (and for the Tourism Minister, in particular).

Likewise, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli might be ruing her earlier remark – directly to MG activist Andre Callus – that ‘extremism gets you nowhere’. If anything, this latest incident proves that ‘extremism may indeed ‘get you somewhere’; it is governmental apathy, on the other hand, that clearly produces no effect at all.

For much the same reason, Opposition MP Joe Giglio (though he clearly had other NGOs in mind, at the time) may wish to reword his boastful claim that ‘Political parties are higher than NGOs’. For when it comes to taking direct action, to represent the interests of ordinary citizens… that, too, is meant to be the work of an Opposition party.

Yet we can all see with our own eyes, that it was actually Moviment Graffiti – not the PN – which cleared those deckchairs away. Indeed, if the worth of a civil society organisation is measured by the impact it succeeds in bringing about: it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Moviment Graffiti has been a more impactful ‘force for change’, in this country, than both Malta’s mainstream parties put together.

And this should not surprise us, either, for reasons that are implicit in all the above cases. In Marsakala, Zonqor, Manoel Island and now Comino, Moviment Graffiti are effectively acting as representatives for an ever-growing segment of demoralised, discontent people, who have lost hope in the ability of the mainstream political class to ever truly represent their concerns.

The upshot, of course, is that nothing ever gets done at all, about the constant of encroachment of public land by greedy developers – or any analogous environmental issue, for that matter – until a point is reached when ‘civil disobedience’ (or, possibly, ‘extremism’) becomes the ONLY way to effect truly meaningful change.

And from this perspective: it is the failure of  mainstream politics - not the ‘extremism’ of civil society – that brought us to this situation.