The Malta Independent 2 April 2020, Thursday

Post-Muscat Stress Disorder

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 26 January 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

"Muscat's sarcasm and cynicism had of late become nauseating. At least now, the sarcasm and forced smiles have evaporated. The country has breathed a sigh of relief. There's still a lot to be done, but the country has already breathed a sigh of relief."

I'm quoting from a Franco Debono Facebook post. I think he's right.

The sarcasm, the forced smiles... everything had really become nauseating.

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But, apart from breathing the sigh of relief, has the country also got rid of Muscat?

I don't think so. Prime Minister Abela seems to be doing his best to distance himself as much as possible from Muscat's legacy. Even newly-installed Education Minister has taken two important steps: terminating Anthony Degiovanni's consultancy contract, after the well-known online commentator was caught tampering with the Council of Europe rapporteur's Wikipedia page; and initiating an investigation into a tender won by a company belonging to Keith Schembri. (We are also interested, and probably more, in the direct orders, Minister.)

Will this be enough to cut the ties with Muscat's legacy (wirt not legat)?

No.

If Robert Abela wants to cleanse his Government, and Malta's reputation, he has to ensure that top political actors assume their political and criminal responsibility for their acts.

Otherwise, it will just be Act II of Omnivores: The Farce of the Few, The Tragedy of the Nation. In the sense that the protagonist of Act I would have been Muscat; of Act II, Dr Abela.

(I say the "Omnivores", because these people eat everything they see, as a friend has suggested to me recently.)

It is true that the country needs to return to normality. But it's equally true that the institutional and psychological trauma the nation has been through needs to be addressed.

Treating the trauma and the ensuing stress will make the return to normality not only speedier but also permanent.

I'd like not to be misunderstood: I certainly don't mean that what Muscat did was in any way politically comparable to what the Nazis did; not only the scale but also the substance were infinitely different.

That said, there's a striking psychological similarity. For the Germans, the Nazi period is still traumatic. After the war, they needed to come to terms with the fact that they had momentarily exited civilisation and started inhabiting another space, governed by an alien morality. When, after the war, they expected to be re-admitted to civilisation, they had to come to terms with what they, as a nation, had done.

The Germans have a word for this process of coming to terms: Vergangenheitsbewältigung and it means "public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history". "Problematic" refers to traumatic events that raise sensitive questions of collective culpability; in Germany, it refers to embarrassment about and often remorse for Germans' complicity in the war crimes, the Holocaust, and the other atrocities of the Second World War.

As I said – and I'm repeating particularly for the sake of the (now-unemployed?) nitwits who post silly comments to try to deviate attention from the main point – I'm not implying that what Muscat did is politically comparable to what the Nazis did. But what happened under Muscat has been traumatic to the country. Malta needs its own Vergangenheitsbewältigung but this has to be done in an environment in which it is tangibly felt that the country is being run like a normal country.

Indeed, the Labourites have to shoulder most of the responsibility. But they're not alone. Those who embraced the "Moviment" have to shoulder their responsibilities too. And even those of us who refuted the crazy "Moviment" and the Labour Party that passively allowed itself to be manipulated, even we are involved in this "coming to terms" process. Because we share in the national embarrassment caused by the acts of the others. They did things, but their actions embarrass both them and us.

In practical terms, however, criminal investigations have to be put in place to investigate the role of Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and possibly others not only in Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination but also in rampant corruption, collusion, and prevarication. All dealings with government entities involving Schembri's companies have to be investigated, and criminal action initiated where foul play is suspected. Most if not all of the big government contracts have to be investigated, as the stench feels strong and the deals feel dirty.

Muscat now wants to get involved in Italian Serie C football. My foot! The man has a lot of questions to answer. Many deals struck on his watch stink, and they should be investigated. If need be, he should be prosecuted, like Nicolas Sarkozy in France. Getting involved in Italian football means he will be constantly flying out and in purportedly to see to "his" Italian football club. While investigators probe into stinky deals struck on his watch, Muscat should be kept under watch. For many (obvious) reasons.

January 22

On Wednesday January 22, I delivered a public lecture in Valletta on a new discovery I've made regarding Mikiel Anton Vassalli, on a point that's been baffling researchers for the past 70/80 years.

The following day I was talking on the phone to a friend who attended the lecture and who also researches on Vassalli. I remarked that Vassalli had been baptised on May 4th and that my father, who had written Vassalli's fictitious autobiography, died on May 4th. My friend quickly retorted that his birthday was... May 4th. Simple coincidences? The power of destiny?

On January 22, the day I delivered the Vassalli lecture, Muscat was celebrating his birthday. That this was a coincidence, I can vouch for.

But also on that day, January 22, pro-choice maniacs in the US were celebrating the Roe v. Wade anniversary.

Roe v. Wade is the US Supreme Court judgment that legalised abortion in the United States.

Muscat is the former Prime Minister of Malta who seems keen on legalising abortion in Malta.

That Roe v. Wade was decided on January 22 and Muscat was also born on January 22 (but a year later), is a coincidence about which we're all free to speculate. Is it a simple coincidence? Is it destiny?

Twenty-two. According to the smorfia – the Neapolitan tradition of interpreting dreams by associating them with numbers and then betting on those numbers in the state lottery – the number 22 is associated with the madman, the maniac.

However, the tarocchi, the tarots, have a slightly different meaning. Some tarot systems refer to the madman by the number 0, meaning limitless energy that has no particular shape. Other tarot systems assign a meaning to the number 22 that's similar to that assigned by the smorfia. In this latter tarot interpretation, the madman can be seen as a beginning, as will and action. The madman in Muscat's case could be the will to a new start, in football, a game in which 11 men play 11 other men, adding up to 22 players on the pitch.

In Italian, dare i numeri (literally, "to give numbers") means "to talk nonsense".

Mafia

I believe it is universally accepted that the greatest Mafia movie of them all is Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather trilogy based on Mario Puzo's bestseller. I consider it a long movie divided into three parts.

The main theme, to my mind, is intergenerational transmission of power, first from Mafia kingpin Vito Corleone to his son Michael, and then from Michael Corleone to his nephew Vincent Mancini.

There are other themes, such as the corrupt Senator who demands a bribe to grant the Corleones a casino licence, and is then set up by them when he goes to a brothel they run.

There's a corrupt Chief of Police, who ends up shot in the face by Michael Corleone.

There's the mutual betrayal between brothers, when Fredo sides with Casino owner Moe Green against his brother Michael, and then Michael has Fredo shot when he's out fishing on the lake.

There's the theme of abortion, when Michael's wife tells him she has aborted their third child because she didn't want the child to come into their world of mafia, killings, and crime.

There's prostitution, which, like gambling, isn't considered serious enough to burden the otherwise easily-troubled conscience of Vito Corleone, who doesn't accept to take part in a drug deal because they don't deal in drugs.

There's the Commission meeting when Vito Corleone threatens his colleagues from the other four of the Five Families after his son had been riddled with machine-gun bullets.

There's the theme of big real estate business and corrupt bankers.

There's Michael's visit to the future Pope.

There's the repeated theme that the transmission of power to a new Godfather means the retirement of the old Godfather, a veritable hero.

And so on and so forth – there are so many themes in those 539 minutes of cinematographic genius.

But then you stop reminiscing as you realise that the themes masterfully elaborated in the trilogy are the very same themes that keep recurring when one thinks of Muscat's six years in office: casino tenders (see the letter the doctor delivered to Yorgen Fenech while he was "in the can"), politicians and brothels, Police Chiefs, betrayals among fraternal friends, abortion, prostitution, hypocrisy toward drugs, real estate business, corrupt bankers, tense threat-characterised meetings of the powerful sitting round a table, visits to the Holy Father... and the ritualised transmission of power to the new boss while the former boss' retirement is portrayed like that of a hero.

It's as if these people watched The Godfather over and over again, and then scripted their political lives according to Mario Puzo's and Francis Ford Coppola's script for the movie.

True, the Corleones are Sicilians. But I have to refer to the Neapolitan smorfia: madmen! Mad to think they could get away with murder. Literally.

On second thoughts, they still can. Unless Robert Abela proves his mettle and makes sure that tainted politicians and their henchmen end up "in the can".

My Personal Library (84)

Catch-22 (1961), a satirical war novel by Joseph Heller, is considered among the best novels of the twentieth century. Although the narrator seems to know everything about everything and everyone, the narration does not follow a straight time-line; it describes events from the angle of different characters and the reader has to work out the story-line by him- or herself.

It is set during World War II, even though critics have found that that is an excuse to allow the author obliquely to refer to the Korean War. He ultimately wants to show the absurdity of war and military life through the experiences of the characters, as they strive to keep their sanity while carrying out their military duties with their ultimate aim being homecoming.

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