For balance, I propose a conference on National Disunity

The Skinny • No 77 – The President’s National Unity Conference

President of the Republic George Vella
President of the Republic George Vella

What are we skinning? The concept of ‘national unity’ and how it applies to the island-state archipelago of the Maltese islands, independent for a relatively short time and ‘united’ almost never.

Why are we skinning it? Because President George Vella ambitiously set up a conference in the name of just such a concept nary a week ago, all the while the ongoing – and supposedly levelling and therefore in-theory unifying – coronavirus pandemic continued to emphasise just how at each others’ throats we insist on being for the bulk of our waking lives.

What makes you say that? Party-owned media is the prerogative of tin-pot dictatorships and banana republics, yet it is still very much prevalent in Malta. Journalists being savaged both by the prime minister himself and an army of partisan online trolls for asking tough but direct questions on the handling of the pandemic. The fact that middle-of-the-road voters or non-voters are referred to as ‘kannoli bla krema’, as if not having a vote or refusing to vote for the duopoly signifies a lack worthy of social ridicule…

That’s a lot of reasons. Oh, I’m not done yet.

Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Go on, then… The fact that the Prime Minister’s Sunday speeches dedicate at least three-quarters of their running time to bashing and undermining the Opposition… and entirely unnecessary exercise and a waste of the nation’s time as, on the other hand, the Opposition bears no real threat at the moment, as the Nationalist Party itself is also stuck in a reactive loop, preferring to go on the offensive and defensive instead of using this downtime to come up with concrete proposals that can serve the country…

So you’re mourning for Malta’s supposed lack of national unity? That’s the thing, though. I’m not, really.

Now there’s a twist! Care to explain? The idea of national unity strikes me as a bit facile. And in a time when the rise of the far-right literally everywhere is such a concern, it also strikes a bit of an uncomfortably fascistic note, to be honest…

Come on now, that’s an exaggeration! There’s a huge difference between the concept of national unity and the violently chauvinistic tenets that underlie the far-right… There is, but will the difference register far and wide in the current political climate? Also because, regrettably, the President’s conference was organised while the ‘Team Malta’ slogan was pretty much freshly announced.

Why is Team Malta such a concern? It’s a ploy put in place to use the pandemic as a way to get all and sundry to toe the government line, or risk being branded a traitor.

When you put it like that, it sounds like it’s lifted straight from the far-right playbook. It is rather chilling. I only hope that it’s done in ignorance. Because the idea that it was done knowingly is too scary a thought to bear just now.

Do say: “While national unity is an admirable goal to strive towards on paper, the risk of it becoming predominantly about silencing dissenting voices and shaming those who do not toe the government/dominant business party line is incredibly great. Unity is well and good, but creating a rigid ‘default’ cultural position that excludes all differences and undermines any chance of change and evolution is not exactly a pleasant proposition to contemplate.”

Don’t say: “For balance, I propose a conference on National Disunity. Kazin vs Kazin, irkotta vs pastizzi, Chiara vs Ira. Mad Malta: Beyond Thunderdome at Ta’ Qali. Make it happen, please.”