The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

The PN’s hard slog

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 9 June 2019, 10:45 Last update: about 5 months ago

I am writing this on Friday afternoon, before what I expect to be the Xarabank version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. But it’s not okay at all, to my mind. Is the PN up a political blind alley? Is it blind to the destiny it is building for itself and the country? It had better get out of the quagmire, and fast –  otherwise this country is going to end up having no Opposition.

The way out is not easy. The party needs morale and money. But, then again, is there ever an easy way out? Only hard work over time, coupled with steely determination, can open the way forward. What I am saying is obviously neither new nor unheard of. But it is tough, and costly. It will be a long slog.

Bottom line: the PN needs to find itself and move forward: before it’s too late.

 

St Joseph the Liberal

During an interview, the Leader of the Opposition said that people were now realising they were paying for corruption through taxes and austerity measures and they did not want to continue doing so.

His commitment to the people, he said, was that these things would not repeat themselves once his party was in government.

“God forbid the day comes when I am Prime Minister and I allow such things to take place.”

“I owe it to all taxpaying Maltese and Gozitans not to allow this,” he said.

When was this prophecy made?

The Sunday Times of Malta published this interview – which I have quoted word for word – on Sunday, 29 August, 2010, and the Leader of the Opposition was replying to questions by the (then) managing editor of The Independent on Sunday, Noel Grima. The Leader of the Opposition was none other than St Joseph Muscat, the Liberal.

Since then, some papers found in Panama have cast significant light on the ability of the Saint of Liberalism to prophesy.

 

Good Liberalism, Bad Liberalism

There is good liberalism, and bad liberalism.

And even ugly liberalism.

This was the subtext of two intelligent comments posted beneath an article published by The Malta Independent. I liked the comments, and am reproducing them here:

An “M. Spiteri” wrote: “What the people want: (1) Clean politics. Zero tolerance to corruption. (2) Stop building on ODZ land. (3) Complete overhaul of social housing. Those who live in government property should pay commercial rates if their situation has improved. (4) Even distribution of excess GDP to all employees if targets are exceeded. (5) An underground transport system linking north to south. (6) More discipline/accountability on the roads, classrooms, public areas and employment. (7) More tax on pollution. (8) More incentives for women to work. We are still way behind where female employment is concerned. (9) Immediate repatriation of criminal foreigners. (10) Better salaries. The gap between the rich and the poor is far too wide. No to slavery.”

A “J. Magro” answered: “The majority of the Maltese people are happy with corruption, building on ODZ land, more cars, the silence of all criticism etc., etc. They voted for this. This is what they are getting.”

M. Spiteri’s argument is mostly about good liberalism or, to put it differently, freedom but within limits. J. Magro is arguing that the people do not want good liberalism, but ugly liberalism, which essentially means “free for all” or unbridled freedom.

To my mind, both analyses are right, because they are different. One should aspire to good liberalism (Spiteri’s argument); we are getting ugly liberalism (Magro’s argument). But to J. Magro’s comment, I would add that we are also getting bad liberalism. Not only is the situation a free-for-all, marked by a 100 per cent tolerance for abuse and nonchalance, there is also the non-stop effort to introduce bad liberalism. Whereas ugly liberalism is the freedom to abuse and be nonchalant, bad liberalism is the presumed liberty to play God.

Take the discussion on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and the insistence from certain quarters to allow would-be parents to play God by not allowing ‘defective’ children to grow. This is not free-for-all liberalism; this is bad liberalism. Consider that this comes in the wake of the assisted suicide of a depressed 17-year-old girl from the Netherlands, which should serve to open our eyes to  the signs of the times.

The Maltese Government has already permitted the use of the morning-after pill, which inhibits the growth of a fertilised egg, the very first phase of human life. Now, certain quarters – which probably have the ear of St. Joseph the Liberal – are proposing PGD, that is the ‘elimination’ of ‘defective’ babies.

This is bad liberalism. It panders to our animal side.

Good liberalism is liberalism tempered by conservatism. Bad liberalism is liberalism of the beast inside us. Ugly liberalism is when the short-sighted, opportunistic and couldn’t-care-less attitude rules uncontested.

The centaur, the half-man, half-horse creature from Greek mythology, is the best metaphor to use. The upper part (representing reason) is human; the lower part (representing instincts and appetites) is animal. Bad liberalism is when the centaur is guided by animal instinct. Ugly liberalism is when the centaur is guided by animal appetite. Good liberalism is when instincts and appetites are tempered by reason.

(When I say ‘reason’, I do not mean remorse, regret, pangs of conscience, and the such, as these usually derive their energy from instincts and appetites. By ‘reason’ I mean the calculation aimed at finding the balance between instincts and appetites on the one hand, and the requirements of survival on the other.)

Like all readers, I have read the advice proffered to the PN by party stalwarts. I would like to echo Dr Joe Borg’s words: that the liberals and the conservatives within the PN should forge new alliances and offer the country a serious alternative. This is indeed the true challenge that all patriots, all those who love Malta, want the PN to face and overcome. The PN should represent liberalism tempered by conservatism, unlike Dr Muscat’s Labour which has transmogrified into a power station of bad and ugly liberalism.

 

Sette Giugno and other uprisings

Apropos patriots,  it is a good thing that we commemorate the events of 7 June 1919. Those events – which involved not only an uprising of the Maltese against the Empire but also the killing of four Maltese – have a hugely important place in our constitutional history.

Between 1800 and 1813, the Maltese had been led to believe by the British that there would be an autonomous Maltese political entity enjoying British protection. The process, which ended with the Congress of Vienna in 1815, dashed those aspirations of the Maltese, and a virtually autocratic governorship was established, under a Scottish ‘despot’ (Sir Thomas Maitland) whose subalterns – Maltese and British – called ‘King Tom’.

The Maltese never abandoned their dream of autonomy and, to a good degree, achieved it in 1921, when Malta was granted self-government. The events of 1919 were crucial to this achievement.

June 7, 1919 was not the first time the Maltese rose up against the foreign overlord. They had already done so in 1428, against Gonsalvo Monroy, say, and again in 1798, against the Revolutionary French army occupying the islands. The Maltese chose their own general to lead them against the French: Notary Emmanuele Vitale.

All the Maltese, that is, except the Żebbuġin and their neighbours from Siġġiewi. In his account of the French occupation, the Baron Azopardi tells us (on p. 94) that “quegli avevano già scelto, dal primo momento della rivoluzione, a forza, e con minacce, per capo, e generale de’loro battaglioni, il canonico della Cattedrale D. Francesco Saverio Caruana”: “they had already chosen, from the first moment of the uprising, with the use of force and threats, as their chief and general of their battalions, Cathedral Canon Rev. Francesco Saverio Caruana.”

Clearly, the future Bishop Caruana was no believer in democracy. Threats and force were a surer way of taking over command.

The Baron published his account in 1836. Caruana had been appointed Bishop five years earlier, and would reign until his death in 1847, at the ripe old age of 88.

It was a big surprise, believe me, when I discovered that, despite Bishop Caruana’s much-avowed popularity, his Wikipedia page does not exist in Maltese. I would have thought that such a historical personality, who, according to some, is still revered as a hero would, at the very least, have had a Wikipedia page in Maltese, just like the other Żebbuġin: Dun Karm Psaila, Dun Mikiel Xierri, Mikiel Anton Vassalli, Antonio Sciortino, Philip Muscat and the rest. Instead, nothing. This hugely popular historical Żebbuġi is the only one without a Wikipedia page in Maltese.

 

Gio Nicolò Muscat

Speaking of people who lived at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, I must admit that I have only now read a letter to the editor of this newspaper published last January dealing with Gio Nicolò Muscat, another historical personality considered by some to be a hero.

Muscat was the most important uditore (that is, minister-and-judge) under Grand Master de Rohan. What I find puzzling is that – despite the fact that some explicitly call him their “hero” – it would seem (but I stand to be corrected) that they are unaware that Muscat’s wife’s brother-in-law was cousin to Don Gaetano Mannarino, whose brother-in-law was lawyer Federico Gatt, who worked on the Codice Municipale. Did the family connection have any relevance? We don’t know, because, despite its obvious existence, it has not been analysed.

 

Maitland

I mentioned Governor Thomas Maitland – “King Tom” – earlier. Maitland was Governor of Malta at a time when the Ionian Islands – seven islands off the Adriatic coast of Greece – were a British protectorate and he was their Lord High Commissioner. He used to prefer spending more time there, in Corfu, than here, in Malta. In one of his writings, Judge Giovanni Bonello tells us that “King Tom” moved a good number of precious paintings from Malta to his Ionian abode. He probably thought they were like private property, poor misguided guy.

Needless to say, they were not private property!

One wonders whether our man in Athens, Ambassador Joseph Cuschieri, has looked into this question, and whether he has at least enquired about the possibility that the treasures “moved” from Malta to Corfu by “King Tom” be brought back to their legitimate home.

 

My Personal Library (53)

Baron Vincenzo Azopardi’s Giornale della Presa di Malta e Gozo dalla Repubblica Francese e della Susseguente Rivoluzione della Campagna (1836) is a short, highly readable, account of the French occupation of Malta and the Maltese resistance to the Revolutionary forces between 1798 and 1800. The author claims that the episodes are based on what others before him published – so if anybody disagreed with what he wrote, they are invited to quarrel with the author’s sources, not the author himself.

The Baron Azopardi also compiled a short Maltese-Italian-English dictionary, called Piccolo Dizionario Maltese-Italiano-Inglese, published in 1856 by Vassalli’s children (at the Tipografia S.G. Vassalli). Ten years ago, in 2009, the Għaqda tal-Malti – Università published a facsimile edition of this dictionary. H.E. Ugo Mifsud Bonnici wrote the foreword, and my late father the introduction in which, at one point, he digressed and discussed Caxaro’s Cantilena. He based his interpretation mostly on his intuition to refer to Andalusi Arabic. I wonder whether this publication is still in print.

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