The Malta Independent 20 June 2018, Wednesday

'Nothing is more alien to the Maltese than the idea of State'

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 18 June 2017, 08:50 Last update: about 2 years ago

The events of this week have clearly demonstrated that Malta is a few centuries late.

I am referring to state-building, needless to say, or rather, to autochthonous (or home-grown) public institutions that function in an efficient and proper way. Malta did have a state of sorts under the Knights, but it was not autochthonous, it was not modern and it was not Maltese.


The state one finds in Western Europe was fashioned by dynastic succession wars and deals, by religious controversies and the related bloodshed, and by evolving economic models. These tensions and pressures gave rise to language-based national identities and ultimately the European nation-state. We had nothing of the sort over here.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, new state structures emerged in Western Europe. Religion and state found new ways of co-existing, with renewed religious legitimation of statehood being a watershed moment. Protestantism defined both the self-perception of Germans and their perception from abroad. Catholic self-affirmation contributed to the creation of Ireland and Poland as “new” nations. In Malta, Catholicism was used as a shield against English/British cultural and political imperialism, but whether it contributed to the creation of a Maltese nation-state is open to debate.

We were never creative in the field of state-building, probably because the need was never really felt. We were given a state structure by the British, and we passively accepted it, at least formally. Whereas Vassalli had theorised about a possible Maltese state (on the lines of Ragusa/Dubrovnik, that is a self-governing protectorate of a stronger state), there does not seem to be a contemporary Maltese theory of state. When it came to the crunch, we simply confirmed Sorbonne professor Alain Blondy’s (sarcastic?) observation made in 1994 that “Nothing is more alien to the Maltese than the idea of State” (“Rien n’est plus étranger aux Maltais que l’idée d’État”).

We received the Westminster model, like other former British colonies which, however, had no prior political history but only a history of silver, sugar, indigo, and slavery. We were given the Westminster model and, as this week has once again shown, have failed to understand its underpinnings, workings, and mechanisms.

To be sure, one can mention past and present attempts to raise awareness on this topic. Some seven years ago, Harry Vassallo, for instance, wrote an interesting opinion piece in which he tried to outline a perceptive though brief constitutional history of Malta from a purely home-grown perspective. As far as I know, he never expanded it into what might have been an insightful and seminal monograph.

Five years later, Dr Vassallo was lambasted by Daphne Caruana Galizia for accepting an appointment in John Dalli’s Commission cabinet and then at the Maltese Permanent Representation in Brussels.

Mrs Caruana Galizia herself has been intermittently posting blogs on the institutions of the country, but her stance, wittingly or unwittingly, usually tends toward a sort of call to ‘Protestantise’ Malta. Moreover, she uncritically embraces the ‘amoral familism’ narrative blaming our underdeveloped state structures on a mythical Southern Italian mountain village mentality.

I find this completely unconvincing, mostly because so-called ‘amoral familism’ applies to all the Rothschilds and Agnellis of this world, even though they do not live in some remote hamlet in the Basilicata region. I think Mario Puzo’s explanation is better. In The Godfather, Puzo makes a young Michael Corleone tell his Irish bride that his father, the mafia boss, was like quite a few other powerful men, whether in politics or in business.

Mrs Caruana Galizia also gives me the impression that she uncritically embraces Max Weber’s interpretation, which attributes wealth in Europe to the so-called ‘Protestant work ethic’. Here again, I am not convinced – not only because I have been persuaded by Jared Diamond’s thesis that guns, germs, and steel were the concatenation of factors leading to Europe’s supremacy, but also because some of the (ironic) works of the late Italian economic historian, Carlo Cipolla, indicate that capitalism arose not only among the Calvinists and other Protestants of North-Western Europe but also among the Catholics of Northern Italy.

The Protestantisation of Malta is therefore, to my mind, not the roadmap to follow in the collective state-building effort which Mrs Caruana Galizia, like so many others whose brains are not permanently in standby mode, desperately want to see in this country.

Ironically, re-elected Prime Minister Muscat has embarked on the Protestantisation of the Maltese nation. Not in the ecclesiastical sense – Mintoff had threatened to do just that when he said (on 29 April 1983, during a mass meeting in Zejtun) that the Maltese State might create its own Christian Church like other States had done before it. (His speech can be found on YouTube.)

Dr Muscat’s Protestantisation is in the social sense, by craftily framing civil liberty issues in the context of battles that did not take place in Malta, but elsewhere. Just like the Westminster model (the product of historical circumstances that have no equivalent in Maltese history), the civil liberties manifesto is but a plant you bring from abroad, bagged in foreign soil.

Dr Muscat’s social Protestantisation is ironic because there is no corresponding Protestantisation on the political level – the kind of Protestantisation advocated by Mrs Caruana Galizia and others.

In Dr Muscat’s Protestantisation, there is no indication of transparency, accountability or all the other hallmarks of the Protestant political legacy. This was for all to see this past week.

To my mind, having joined the European Union leaves very few options open to Malta. The country will have to create a state apparatus that works more or less according to accepted European standards. It might take time, and the labour pains might be acute, but one day this baby will have to be delivered.

In the case of England, whose Westminster model we have, it took many generations to achieve. Shakespeare’s political plays are witness to this. In our case, a future playwright might decide to represent Malta’s state-building saga on stage. One of his works, a three-act play, might focus on the election of 3 June 2017 and its aftermath, with the election being Act I. Act II might culminate with the outcome of the magisterial inquiries and it is still too early to foretell how the plot will develop in Act III.

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