The Malta Independent 11 December 2017, Monday

Fear stalks the land

Noel Grima Sunday, 3 December 2017, 10:19 Last update: about 8 days ago

I was shocked to hear Simon Busuttil’s speech in Parliament last Monday. He spoke about a Malta engulfed under a wave of fear, where people face reprisals for speaking out against the government.

That’s funny: I have been writing for and against governments for years and years and have not faced any reprisals. Not even in 1998, when Evarist Bartolo used to single me out for special mention in speech after speech and night after night as I made my way homewards to an empty house, and I expected reprisals around every corner, but none came.

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Nor did Busuttil mention this climate of fear in the months before 3 June, when he dreamt of ascending the Castille steps and sacking the Commissioner of Police by the next day. There was a Labour government then as there is now.

Look around you and see for yourselves whether or not we are living in a reign of fear. People walk about, go shopping, go to Valletta, enter restaurants, go hiking, do whatever – and there is no trace of fear in them.

It reminds me of one time when I was in Germany and was reading of terrorist attempts in Italy and, as I was due to go to Rome from Germany I was afraid of what I was about to find there. Then I landed at Fiumicino and on the bus to Rome I saw couples walking hand-in-hand, families with children and no sign of tension anywhere.

Of course, there has been the terrible murder of Daphne and we cannot, and must not, forget it – even if the murderer and the motive are eventually revealed, and even more so if more time elapses and no clue is found.

But to generalise from that to describe a climate of fear enveloping the country is to portray the country as an East Germany under the Stasi or a Romania under Ceausescu.

And is Busuttil hinting that we are living in a climate of fear because the government-regime has installed this climate of fear in the entire country; that this climate of fear is the way the government-regime keeps the country in thrall?

Instead, people have been demonstrating for all they are worth: camping out in Castille Place, holding improvised demonstrations as they did on Friday. And I say good for them and good for the country: they are showing that the country has not been overcome by fear.

Among the other pearls he uttered on Monday, Busuttil also said that the independent media has been bought out by the government through advertising. We can never win with Busuttil. If we say something, it’s because we have been bought by the government and if we do not say anything then that also is because we have been bought by the government.

He was supported by Godfrey Farrugia who said he cringes whenever a car stops outside his door but then the media saw him interact with his wife, who interrupted him and then said to him: “Hurry up or we’ll be late”.

The truth is that people like me, like us here, who do not work for the government, have far more freedom than people working in any way with the government. Working for the government has its perks, I’m sure, but it also carries responsibilities too.

But my issue with Busuttil goes further than that. He is a politician. Can a politician pronounce that the country is living in fear without creating a tsunami of fear among his audience? Can a politician speak of fear overshadowing the land and not at the same time be calling for people to shake off the yoke of fear and to rise up?

Or would he be condemning the population to a lifetime of despair and lack of freedom?

I believe that a politician should infuse hope in his listeners, rather than despair. There was not an ounce of hope in Busuttil’s speech on Monday.

And here is where he went wrong pre June and where we went wrong with him. By focusing on the issues of law and order (which issues are all there) he neglected to speak about the issues that the population cares about. And he and his party were sidelined by the country as a result.

I have seen this many times in people who leave high office: they lose focus, they start looking at things in a skewed way. Where in office they were balanced people, they now lose that balance.

I am not saying that Busuttil has lost the good points that he has, nor that he has outgrown his usefulness or that he is now ready to be dumped in a skip, but Monday’s speech has shown that he is still living in the trauma of losing an election he believed he was winning.

And he is being surrounded by people who are using him as a foil to defy the party leader and to create a mini-party of the elite that is subject to no party but whatever gets decided in the way they decide things, which is not so transparent to those of us outside the gilded circle.

This is the group that decided, without a prior discussion, to ask for the resignation of the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General and that then came up with the chimera of saying these posts must be filled as the result of a two-thirds majority in Parliament, an idea that has been declared to be unworkable by some experts.

It may be a moot question as to whether or not this group is led by Busuttil or whether he is being led by it. Whichever: either the confrontation inside the party has not happened yet or else we have two parties side-by-side, both acting in complete independence.

That may not be resolved in immediate terms but still, to return to the main theme, the country expects more from Busuttil, who has so much to give, than mere scare-mongering.

 

ngrima@independent.com.mt

 

 

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