At long last, welcome to political satire in Carnival

Political satire was banned in 1936 under British Colonial rule, and the ban still holds till today.

“At long last, welcome to satire in Carnival” - Narcy Calamatta.
“At long last, welcome to satire in Carnival” - Narcy Calamatta.

A short history of the Maltese Carnival

As Malta's Carnival celebrates its 485th birthday this year, Culture Minister Mario de Marco has announced his interest to see the reintroduction of political satire during one of the most popular festivities celebrated in several localities across Malta and Gozo.

Several observers, including actors, theatre critics and a parliamentary secretary, have welcomed De Marco's comments.

Political satire was banned in 1936 under the British Colonial rule who felt that fun made of prominent political figures had gone too far. The ban still holds to this day and age. There is nothing that stops an individual or an entity from filing a complaint with the Police if they feel they have been offended.

Political satire long overdue

"At long last, welcome to satire in Carnival," Narcy Calamatta, a prominent stage and TV actor, said.

Calamatta described satire as "a human need to elect a king for one day and throw banana skins at the village idiot".

"Rulers who felt insecure had banned satire from Carnival. Ever since, no government had the courage to remove this silly regulation."

Political satire was such a thorny issue, he added, that it had led to the closure of a satirical paper he used to write for.

"I helped on a satirical paper for two years called Xewka II and we were slammed with a third libel case against articles which had made merry of government front-runners, we had to close down," Calamatta said.

"We must be the only country in the world without a regular satirical newspaper. But if the need is felt now to reintroduce satire in carnival, it is only because the situation is out of hand."

Calamatta argued that the Internet does not wait for the Carnival season to make fun of prominent politicians or satirise burning issues. He noted that political clubs embraced political satire all year round, with billboards featuring politicians.

"Why would people want to go to Valetta to see a monotonous carnival that rehashes Aztec and Hollywood cultures year in year out? Satire - whether political or pop - might spice it up a bit and we can get rid of the last vestiges of colonial rule," he said.

'Iċ-Ċirasa' author speaks out

Parliamentary Secretary Mario Galea - renowned for his own share of satirical comments towards his fellow colleagues in politics - expressed similar sentiments.

"We are fooling ourselves by officially banning political satire while the Internet is brimming with it. Satire is alive and kicking on the web. Why should we kid ourselves by ignoring that reality?" Galea said.

Galea, author of satirical column 'Iċ-Ċirasa', has repeatedly called for the need for politicians to be able to joke about themselves. "It helps us stay down to earth. Politicians do great work ... but we must admit that we are responsible for farces as well. We take politics far too seriously," he said.

Galea himself had raised the issue of satire when he was still a backbencher. Galea, who warned that satire shouldn't be out of control, argued that accepting satire is another sign of maturity.

"At the same time we shouldn't be rigid and narrow-mind. But it's a lie to censor 'official' things when the Internet is revealing another reality," he said, in clear reference to satirical videos which went viral on the web. The divorce referendum, the then-Arriva fiasco and the recent political crisis within the Nationalist Party had led to creation of the Hitler meme. The videos have attracted thousands of viewers.

Let Carnival be about creativity

Malta's current ambassador to Tunisia, also a Theatre Studies lecturer and an expert of Gozo's Nadur carnival, Vicki Ann Cremona believes that government is finally serious about abolishing censorship from performances and is finally taking steps to curb it.

"Political satire will radically affect Carnival as it gives rise to a whole new series of possible subjects. However, I am afraid that we might actually fall into the opposite trap and simply focus on satire, forgetting that carnival is also all about fantasy!" Cremona said.

"How harsh can the satire get? As harsh as the float makers will make it. It is up to their creativity," she said.

Cremona reminded how in past times, whole articles had beenn dedicated to the Carnival satires in the newspapers and some very ferocious floats used to be created as well.

She said that when Carnival was first censored in 1935, Malta was under a provisional government: "It was a time when people protested about the lack of freedom, when there was no political voice."

Asked how she believed the general public and politicians would welcome political satire, Cremona said a difference existed between reacting to something as opposed to stopping it.

"One also has to take into account the fact that satire is not exclusively political, it can also be social."

Undoubtedly, Gozo's Nadur Carnival is the most famous for its spontaneity and satire. How would the introduction of political satire affect the Carnival in Nadur?

"There is nothing unique about satire. What is unique is the way the artist or performer expresses it. Nadur will adapt itself to a new reality, which might serve to render it more dynamic."

A short history of the Maltese Carnival

Carnival became a popular event during the reign of the Order of St John. The knights used to gather in Birgu and play games and display their skills in pageants and tournaments.

Grand Master Jean Parisot de La Valette allowed the wearing of masks in public, which was forbidden during the rest of the year. The main attraction of Carnival used to be the decoration of the ships of the Order's fleet where dances were held.

In 1639, Grand Master Juan de Lascaris-Castellar issued a proclamation prohibiting women from wearing masks or participating in ball organised at the knights' auberges on penalty of being publicly whipped. Another order was that nobody could wear a costume to represent the Devil. Lascaris's confessor was blamed for the directive and many dressed up as Jesuits to make fun of the confessor.

A knight ended up arrested after someone dressed as a Jesuit with offensive writings on his back, while four others dressed as scoundrels and pretended to beat him. It is from this incident that the Maltese figure of speech 'qisek wicc laskri' derived, used to describe someone with a sad face.

An old tradition related to Carnival is the parata, an important part which is still held today. It was customary for some peasants and later companies of young dancers to gather early under the balcony of the Grandmaster's Palace and wait eagerly until they received formal permission from him to hold the Carnival.

Companies dressed as Christians and Turks performed a mock fight recalling the Great Siege of 1565.

Carnival parades during the British period, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, were noted for their biting satirical themes, and many of the intricate floats were designed to poke fun at political figures and unpopular government decisions.

Political satire was banned in 1936.

Another important tradition, 'il-kukkanja', was introduced in 1721.

Satire is all well and good but politicians shouldn't just accept critical comments made in a light vein. They should act upon them and really understand what the people are saying. I fear that passing on a message in a satirical form will give the impression that the public is finding certain actions funny even enjoyable instead of worrying.
Luke Camilleri
It is not as if Political Satre will feature in this carnival and don't know whay all this fuss and enthusiasm! All d. Demarco did was to show an expression of interest, not in giving the go ahead and do it! It might just feature in the P.N. Carnival Manifesto of Electoral promises for the next general election..... There is quite a long way from showing an expression of interest to actually doing it, and we all know the P.N> and Gonzipn in pre and post electoral moods!
Kulltant ma inkunx naf jekk nidhaqx jew nibkix f`dan il pajjiz...qeghedin jghejdulna li is satira politika fil karnival spiccat fis sena 1936, forsi naqbel ...pero li il karnival spicca mil parlament ma naqbel QATT. Meta tara ligi importanti bhal tad divorzju tghaddi minghajr il firma ta l-ghola kariga fil parlament, jigifieri tal Prim Ministru, kif tista ma tghejdx li din hija karnivalata.Meta tara parlament jiehu vot u jigu 34, b34...jigi l-ispeaker ( li ma ghandux il mandat tal poplu ) u dejjem irid bil fors jaqbel man naha tal gvern( qeghed nghejd ghal kull speaker miz zewg nahat )...Nispera li meta tinbidel il Kostituzzjoni, tinbidel din ta l-ispeaker, u ghandha tigi li l-ispeaker ghandu jintghazel mill poplu, bhal maghandu jintghazel il President ta Republika.