Jason Micallef: a fascinating glimpse into the partisan brain in extremis

The Skinny | No 90 – Tried for Treachery

Nature on holiday: heavenly. Nature in Malta? Don’t be a traitor...
Nature on holiday: heavenly. Nature in Malta? Don’t be a traitor...

What are we skinning? The implication that the country’s critics are traitors.

Why are we skinning it? Because it is a regressive assumption that sits on precisely the wrong side of parochial charm in the Maltese psyche.

What triggered it this time? Valletta Cultural Agency chairman Jason Micallef branding half a dozen or so of his compatriots as such, after they appeared in a short but sharp documentary on the French programme Arte, which dedicated an episode to uglification brought about by Malta’s development regime.

What did Micallef say, exactly? That all who criticise Malta in international fora are nothing short of ‘traitors’, that Malta’s recent leaps in ‘quality of life’ must be commended, and that France should look at its own shortcomings before turning its guns on Malta.

Did Micallef bring up any specific examples of France’s shortcomings? Yes, he posted a random smorgasbord of photos depicting flaming cars in recent riots.

Right. Because flaming cars are such a rarity for Malta. Indeed...

But could it be that Micallef may have a point? You’re gonna have to be a tad more specific.

A larger country zooming in on tiny Malta’s shortcomings can sting a little bit. In general terms yes, but this programme was not about ‘picking on Malta’ – it was a look at how a rampant drive for overdevelopment continues to encroach on the quality of life of regular citizens in what should, after all, be an EU country.

Who were the ‘traitors’ in question, then? Jason Micallef’s social media ire was, predictably enough, directed at lawyer and environmental activist Claire Bonello – a longstanding thorn in the side of the development establishment and political status quo – but as per usual, it does not seem like he thought his assault through.

Why do you say that? Because then the tag of ‘traitor’ would have to stretch to accommodate the likes of the mayor of Qala, Gozo, who effectively represented all of his counterparts on Malta’s sister island as he appeared in the documentary to deliver an impassioned protest against the development that threatens to engulf all of Gozo too.

Any other key victims? Well, there were the likes of Din l-Art Ħelwa executive president Alex Torpiano and a local farmer among others... but these are predictable targets for Micallef, who gets plenty of mileage from his peanut gallery of his Facebook followers for picking on NGOs, academics, and pretty much anyone with a genuine bent towards inquiry and critical discourse, and who will not be drawn into the shallowly partisan muck.

If the opposite of treason is patriotism, which trait of the Maltese people does Jason Micallef embody? He offers a fascinating glimpse into the partisan brain in extremis: branding critics as ‘traitors’ and all but calling for their expulsion to some imaginary gulag.

That sounds problematic. Yes, not least because we’re even running out of space for construction waste, without having to worry about building new gulags.

Do say: “We should approach international programmes focused on Malta with healthy scepticism. But when genuinely concerned Maltese people are featured in said programmes decrying the island’s very real tendency towards overdevelopment, it’s clearly not a case of a larger country ‘picking on’ a smaller one, but the assessment of a tragedy in action.”

Don’t say: “Jason Micallef is justifiably bitter about not being asked to talk about his game-changing infiorati in a documentary about Malta’s shrinking natural landscapes and the death of its flora and fauna.”