Her boldest speech yet

The President of the Republic yesterday delivered what many will agree was her most hard-hitting speech to date, and we ignore it at our peril

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca giving an address on Republic Day (Photo: DOI/Jeremy Wonacott)
President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca giving an address on Republic Day (Photo: DOI/Jeremy Wonacott)

The President of the Republic yesterday delivered what many will agree was her most hard-hitting speech to date: a clear, concise analysis of the ills of Maltese society, and a call to arms for a more decent, civilised society worthy of its name as a democratic republic.

We ignore the President’s speech at our peril. But perhaps, it is indeed with us that the responsibility lies to remind our elected legislators of the finer points of her Republic Day speech, that we should not tolerate politicians that do not lead by example, that we should send a clear message that we will not allow the safety and sanity of our society to be sold out to those who brandish the xenophobic alarmism of the far-right. That we should demand what, until recently, seemed to be impossible: the raise in minimum wage, a control on ignominious rental and property prices, a stop to the airportification of an island that is in thrall to the global elite’s cash… such a tall order, and yet the President seem to encompass all that was wrong with Maltese society on her 13 December speech.

It seems almost superfluous to add comment to her finer points.

In the first instance, she sent a reminder to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that Malta’s deportation of migrants who had developed roots in our country, was simply unacceptable. “As a guardian of the Constitution, I believe that Malta should continue to host all those who live among us, or those who come to visit us, with the utmost love and respect. I am morally convinced that we should appreciate, and not condemn, persons who are helping to build our prosperity, and who form part of our society, by sending them back.”

She beckoned us to protest “against xenophobia, racism, social exclusion and the exploitation of workers for profit.”

She asked us to celebrate the increase of civil rights, laws which are less discriminatory, and laws which protect a life of quality, which safeguard human dignity, “and which promote economic, cultural and social inclusion as well as equal opportunities for all.”

She warned us against far-right demagogues who seek to undermine the rights of others in a bid to thwart others’ democratic rights. “Those who assert that they are in favour of righteousness can never be the ones to sow the seeds of hatred. Those who assert that they are in favour of democracy cannot be the ones to impede participatory democracy.”

Her keen eye on the economy admonished the state of precarity among certain families, reminding the social partners that the writing was on the wall to raise the minimum wage. “It is immoral to reduce people who have always worked hard and those who genuinely are not able to work to the brink of poverty or to a perpetual state of destitution. It would be an atrocity for our Republic if we do not take advantage of this positive economic growth in order to remove the barriers between social-economic anomalies.”

Indeed, she also railed against the dual economy of highly skilled labourers hailing from outside Malta and a new reality of underpaid native workers who share the same aspirations. “A caring republic does not accept the theory that a healthy economy, which attracts local and foreign investment, should be based on hardworking persons who are paid a pittance.”

She spoke of inequality in every form, in education, in income, and between men and women, whom she said frequently lived with more constant threats and fear for their health and their lives every single day. “Whilst the economic independence has helped women in general, domestic violence is still overshadowing social relationships in this country.”

In emphasising that our Republic is one built on the principle of work, she reminded us that “a just republic” will not tolerate a situation where different families are obliged to live under the same roof since they cannot afford the high rental rates or, worse than that, where families are rendered homeless – a missive against the uncontrollable prices on which property speculators today dine out and celebrate upon.

From here on, she reminded everyone of the importance of dialogue between civil society and legislators, and appealed for “diligence and integrity in the planning sector and for the absolute recognition that people come before profits”, calling on politicians to “work collectively towards a long-term environmental vision and strategy, which goes beyond a single legislation.”

And perhaps her coup de grace was left for the unethical and deplorable manner in which muckrakers and antagonistic bloggers and journalists, from both mainstream and new media, were attacking the private lives of persons, and their family, even those in public life, “to appease some people and generate hate amongst us. This is done to favour a few, while sowing hate amongst us. However, this is psychological violence aimed at the individual, not at the argument or belief.”

We stand four-square behind her appeal to political leaders to disassociate themselves publicly from individuals who abuse of their freedom of expression to sow hatred amongst us.

It is not just respect for public people that is at stake here; across the full spectrum, we as Maltese must work harder to regain the respect we seem to be losing for each other.