The Malta Independent 19 January 2020, Sunday

Healing an injured nation

Timothy Alden Sunday, 8 December 2019, 08:16 Last update: about 2 months ago

Sometimes we do not realise the extent to which words alone can cause injury. Malta and Gozo suffered serious divisions in the 1970s and 80s, made worse by street violence and leading to a sense of injustice and lasting friction between communities.

Despite attempts at national reconciliation, those wounds ultimately festered on both the side of the Nationalists and that of the Labourites, with many years of feeling oppressed by a Labour government led Nationalist administrations to entrench themselves and guard their pie. The ensuing years of practically uninterrupted Nationalist rule led Labour supporters to feel unjustly excluded from the decision-making table and at times they felt belittled and made to feel they were inferior.

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When, at last, Joseph Muscat delivered Labour from Opposition to government once again – with such a sweeping victory, the euphoria was understandable. Surely, after being marginalised for so many years, at last they could feel vindicated. Past Nationalist crimes were then used to justify new ones – because in modern Malta, the Nationalists had written the rulebook and Labour felt it had no obligation to change the system that had made others so rich, fat and comfortable.

The new Labour movement felt that it was time for their place in the sun, for their years of plenty. Having felt ridiculed, excluded and ignored before, it was now justified to do the same to the Nationalists who had oppressed them.

In the end, violence was used to silence Malta and Gozo’s most critical journalist, and many Labourites actively cheered what they saw was the felling of an enemy who had threatened to return them to Opposition. The death of a hated enemy can only be celebrated through dehumanisation, which is what propaganda then did to Daphne Caruana Galizia. She was dehumanised – in order to make the hate appear reasonable.

When Joseph Muscat set the terms of reference for the Egrant inquiry to absolve his family of responsibility, without discovering who actually owned it, he was able to create and project the image of a victim to the country, feeding into the narrative of Nationalist oppressors.

The Nationalists – suffering the same treatment they received when last in Opposition – found themselves back where it had all begun. Thus the cycle of hatred had reached its peak once again. The wheel that is the tribal war between Nationalists and Labour was allowed to keep turning, despite the promises of an inclusive movement for all. The oppressed had become the oppressor. Labour supporters, feeling that they were justified in being above the law, closed their eyes to scandal after scandal and renewed Labour’s mandate in 2017, fearful that – should their side lose power – they themselves would return to being oppressed and marginalised. Justice came at too high a price.

With Daphne Caruana Galizia’s brutal political assassination, the divide in the country became a chasm: a deep and black abyss. Blinded by hatred, even in death, Daphne Caruana Galizia was demonised and ridiculed. Outraged that a human being could be subjected to such comments, that her son could be blamed for her murder, the spite was returned to those who proved themselves so vile. For whatever grievances many had with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s style, to lash at her in death after the manner of her execution is inexcusable.

One of her greatest critics, Saviour Balzan, recently said: “Let us all accept that we did not see eye-to-eye. But we still talked to each other and disagreed with each other in our writings. And let us also agree that she was not exactly careful with her choice of words. Murder is murder. And what happened is beyond all this.”

He has also said: “I have never been an admirer of Caruana Galizia. Many others shared my utter distaste for the manner in which she punched down anybody who was a critic of the Nationalist government and, of course, those associated with Labour. Yet those who say she was a hero are right, even despite the recklessness of her work.”

The recent revelations should put an end to this sorry chapter in our country, not divide us further. Yet, by extending his stay in power and playing to his cult of personality with an opinion survey and a tour of the country – in the face of overwhelming international criticism – Joseph Muscat is protecting himself at the expense of the country. His attempt to call a mass meeting in Zejtun, and the accusations of protester violence, only play into the narrative of ‘Us v Them’. What Malta and Gozo need is to turn a new page – but for this to be possible, there must be truth and justice. Labourites and Nationalists alike need to punish wrongdoing wherever it originates from, and set aside old grievances. Amends must be made to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family for all the injury and hurt they have suffered – and will always suffer.

In the end, Labourites must learn one crucial thing: they do not need Joseph Muscat or any Labour MP to make them feel proud and strong and free. Within them is the fire and the humanity to rise above the petty differences that set us aside, and reach their own conclusions and judgements.

To achieve this new chapter, however, the chains of control wielded by the political elites on both sides must be broken. There is no greater way to do that than by ending party-controlled media stations such as ONE and NET News, which feed biased narratives that do not reflect reality. Labourites and Nationalists must remember that they are all Maltese and Gozitans first, and members of a party second.

They must learn that the State is not one and the same thing as the political party that governs it. The State and its institutions stand above any party and, if abused for partisan gain, will only lead to hurt and suffering and a sense of injustice. Everyone must benefit equally from the system, and everyone must work together for a better Malta and Gozo.

Striving for this better chapter in our history will require difficult truths to be accepted but, in so doing, we will come out of it all the greater and more united, should justice prevail.

 

Timothy Alden is a founding member of the Partit Demokratiku

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