The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

The second could have been the first

Charles Flores Sunday, 22 September 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 26 days ago

As my friend Trevor Zahra was telling a section of the Maltese Language media the other day, during the past decade or so it has become fashionable to expressly describe Malta as a bilingual nation, some even presenting it as a gift from the gods. This is no linguistic breakthrough. The Maltese have been bilingual for centuries which, if one goes through the history books with a purpose, is the secret of our economic survival in times of both war and peace.

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What is certainly new in this 21st century is the growing tendency to use one of the two official languages to the detriment of the other. It is an issue that I have long brought to the attention of the authorities as they surfaced hitherto in my life, from teachers and village social leaders to chairpersons, ministers and politicians of all colours and creeds. It is the direct result of that old colonial decision to give Malta two official languages - Maltese and English - by way of burying the more natural Italian trait. It did not make of us a bilingual nation, for we had long been willing and able to communicate with two and more languages.

Having two official languages gives everyone the right to use one and ignore the other. In other countries where commonsense prevails, such as Ireland, Belgium and several regions of ancient Europe, the reality of two languages being used simultaneously has been achieved a lot more efficiently by ensuring that both are treated equally by the authorities at local, regional and national levels.

Here in Malta, no, we have to witness the National Council for the Maltese Language having to fight tooth and nail with different authorities for Maltese to obtain even a symbolic presence in our lives, as we happily observe every day in the case of public transport destinations and signposting.

A timely case in point this past week was that of the primary school headmaster who solemnly announced that, due to the ever-increasing number of foreign students, his circulars to parents/guardians were henceforth to be in English only. This declaration was immediately greeted with a massive wave of protests - the vast majority of Maltese do love their national language. As if to rub salt into the wound, the headmaster's notice to parents/guardians - ironically in Maltese - added that if anyone had a problem, or needed some explaining regarding the circular, he or she were free to contact the school administration or secretariat.

 

Problem solved? Hardly. The headmaster concerned, a self-declared lover and qualified student of the Maltese Language, blamed everyone but himself for the absurdity of the circular, insisting it had been misunderstood for yet another disservice to the National Language. It is why, he told an up-in-arms media, he quickly went on Facebook to clarify matters and pacify the protesters. And what did his new post say? That all circulars will be issued in both Maltese and English.

Hue and cry for celebration, when all that was needed to be done was to issue the second notice first! There would have been no objections, our practical bilingualism sees to that. There would have been no time wasted and there would have been instant respect for the decision. Is this so difficult for some people to understand? Is it why it is still so common for civil service employees who, despite repeated instructions, communicate with you only in English even when you write to them in Maltese?

The National Language needs to feature prominently in the forthcoming Constitutional talks if we are to take the politicians' words of support for it seriously. If it is too late - or too easily subject to misinterpretation - to have only one official language, Maltese, the Constitution should at least ensure that the two official languages are considered and treated equally. There is no such safeguard at present, which is why we have a situation where one is free to irresponsibly just stick to one language and ignore the other when addressing a bilingual public.

There has also been enough lip-service from everyone and everywhere, the literary/linguistic confraternity included. I would have expected them to come out vociferously against this latest example of (hopefully unintended) disrespect for the National Language. They would have, had it been something emanating from the Ministry! It is time for all of us to stop being Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burns.

 

1978 -  A pre-Rhodesia Summit meeting at Castille between Prime Minister Dom Mintoff and American UN Ambassador Andrew Young. Catch your old columnist in the background....

Malta's role in Zimbabwe's history

The recent passing away of ousted Zimbabwen President Robert Mugabe, the fearless freedom-fighter against colonialist white rule in what was chillingly known as Rhodesia, brought back immediate memories of the Malta Summit of 1978. Prime Minister Dom Mintoff  had welcomed to Castille the then UK Foreign Secretary David Owen, America's UN Ambassador Andrew Young and the two protagonists in the African nation's fight for freedom, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

I was a DOI officer at the time, watching closely the goings-on as Zimbabwe's road to freedom unfolded, dramatically culminating in independence just three months later. Six years earlier, Malta had been through her own long-winded diplomatic wrangle over the closure of the British military base, an event that was suddenly only a year away from fruition.

Inevitably, you become attached to a story you have seen flowering. Thankfully back in full day-to-day journalism, I kept following Mugabe's Zimbabwe as the new nation strove to make its presence felt in the rest of Africa and the world. Freedom-fighters finally in power never get sympathy from the Anglo-Saxon media, and the West seemingly never forgets instances when it has had to bow its head and accept reality (vide the current turmoil in China's Hong Kong), but Mugabe did not help himself.

It was so sad watching an icon of liberation, as Mugabe undeniably was, gradually turning into a dictator until his dramatic exit in a military coup two years ago.

 

Free Julian Assange

British citizens have been vehemently insisting that the UK has been acting unlawfully over the Brexit affair, with Parliament and the Head of State being taken for granted, even lied to.

The same arrogance of power is being shown in the case of Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and activist who, in 2006, founded Wikileaks which came to international attention four years later with the publication of a series of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning.

An Aussie compatriot, the award-winning journalist John Pilger, has taken it upon himself to push for Assange's release after visiting him in jail. He has rightly insisted that plans to hold Assange in detention after his unjust sentence ends is an outrage and that Britain is increasingly behaving like a tin-pot dictatorship in its dealing with him.

The international media keeps mum while a fellow journalist, suffering from severe ill health, is kept imprisoned by way of appeasing the Americans. Imagine the UK and its revamped poodle role with the US after a no-deal Brexit.....

 

 

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