The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Lo and behold

Charles Flores Sunday, 17 May 2020, 10:34 Last update: about 14 days ago

Tiny Malta, its migrant centres filled to the brim with rescued migrants, Coronavirus-infected migrants and recovering migrants, makes a much-needed, inevitable move to contain the drama – upon another drama – occurring right in the middle of the Mediterranean where it happens to be. It is a geographic reality that has, over the centuries, had its advantages and disadvantages. Subjugated into successive empires and unceremoniously taken into their wars was all part of its rich, often sad history.


Today, with the Coronavirus pandemic raging across the planet, Malta is still fighting it at a cost of billions, which were available only thanks to the island’s huge economic success of the past seven years. Our Finance Minister aptly described them as Malta’s shock-absorbers. One really has to wonder what would have happened had we had, instead, half a dozen energy-saving electricity bulbs per household to battle it out, as in 2008.

Against this tense and extremely dangerous background, however, we have seen looming again on the horizon the monstrous head of illegal immigration, and, as Europe’s southernmost frontier, Malta, like the smaller Italian island of Lampedusa (which, anyway, always has one of the world’s biggest economies sustaining it), has to contend with the fast-ticking human time-bomb daily sailing out from the Libyan shores on seemingly top-quality dinghies aided by satellite systems and mobile phones that ensure the NGO boats are there waiting to instantly harrass the nearest European authorities.

In truth and in fact, Malta never shirked its responsibilities. With a SAR by far too widespread for its size – but, yes, that also has advantages and disadvantages – this little island-state has always been there to rescue, to shelter and to process with the aid of only a handful of EU member states out of 27. Suffice to say the Americans have taken a lot more rescued migrants from Malta than all EU countries put together. In this context, the very term Union absolutely rings so hollow.

But, lo and behold, soon as Malta, caught in the stranglehold of these two major crises, announced it could no longer accept to allow in more boatloads of migrants, came the sadly predictable backlash. EU brassheads talk of funds’ suspensions, Commission spokespersons play merry-go-round with the issue and all, but one, of member states prefer to keep mum.

Even the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, comes in flapping her flippers like a walrus with some paternalistic advice. While her country of birth, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is still waiting to become an EU member, one wonders what fraction of rescued migrants it would have been ready to take from stricken member states like Malta, Italy, Spain and Greece. The story so far shows that the Balkan and Eastern states have, in their gritty majority, preferred to build walls protected by armed guards.



A piece of irony

To add insult to injury, we are assisting to a rather amusing, continuing story, this time involving Victor Orban’s power-saturated Hungary. You see, the Malta Police, earlier this week, arrested a 48-year-old Syrian living at Qawra in response to a European Arrest Warrant issued by Hungary on charges of people trafficking. If you think you haven’t heard well, for people just read migrants.

This piece of irony can be hilarious if it weren’t so absolutely barmy. So here we have the smallest EU member state swiftly taking action to arrest the fugitive Syrian at the request of one of the EU’s biggest nations, one that has been rigidly and haughtily declaring itself unwilling to share in the burden of illegal immigration plagueing Europe. Are we stupid? Are we naive? Or are we dancing? Not at all. It just happens that in matters of the heart, Malta feels bound to go by the rule book when it really can. There is both statistical and moral proof.

But again, when it cannot, lo and behold.



A proper gentleman

I was shocked by the sad and sudden demise of Anthony J. Tabone, ex-chairman of the Broadcasting Authority and PBS. I was fortunate enough to have known him since my newspaper days, only to be happily surprised when, several years later, he took over the chairmanship at Guardamanġia where I had earlier set up camp.  

In my 25-year-plus career in national broadcasting I watched chairmen and CEOs come and go with almost monotonous regularity, mostly following in the wake of the political pattern of the time. I could write volumes about each and every one of them. The imperious, the arrogant, the deceitful, the affable, the kind, the guileless, the knowledgeable, the head in the clouds, but they shall remain nameless, especially those who have long since gone. In what had often been such a controversial, albeit colourful, scenario, however, Twannie Tabone, as most of us in the media knew him, stood out as a proper gentleman. Someone with whom you could communicate, with ease, personally and professionally.

My last contact with my former boss took place only last April 17 when I was trying to entice him into contributing to a new book, a collection of personal anecdotes by personalities from across Maltese society, which my friend Tony Barbaro Sant and I are working on as a sequel to the highly successful, Jinżlulek Għasel of a few years ago.

In replying, Twannie was his usual kind self, saying he would try to find the time in between reading a lot more books than he had time for when we were both working full-time and the local and social commitments he retained in retirement.

I replied by saying that I was going to keep my fingers crossed, fully aware of the treasure trove of interesting stories he had to tell. As I uncross them, alas, I can only cherish the memory of this proper gentleman.

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