The Malta Independent 22 January 2021, Friday

A state in crisis

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 5 July 2020, 10:53 Last update: about 8 months ago

The conception of the modern state is based on the idea that those in power aren’t above the law. Despite all the theories and declamations of principle, the temptation’s always there for the powerful to think of themselves as closer to the gods than to lesser mortals. Despite all the checks and balances, the powerful find ways of cheating the system, bending the rules, and trying to get away with murder. Sometimes literally.


For powerful states it doesn’t really matter. In the sense that powerful states do not have to account for their internal politics to others. Less powerful states have to behave as if their existence depended on the goodwill of the powerful states. Which in actual fact it does. In Realpolitik, ethical principles exist on two planes. On the national level, they are the cornerstone of the “middle-class constitution”; on the international level, they are the excuse for superpowers to intervene.

When Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Francisco Franco imposed dictatorships on their respective countries, there wasn’t much that the democracies could do, because Germany, Italy, and Spain were powerful States. Things haven’t changed much since then – mostly because they cannot. Small states, like Grenada, Iraq, Libya have had their dictatorships overthrown, because there wasn’t much they could do to prevent it. North Korea’s is still there because it’s protected by its superpower neighbour. It took the democracies long decades, and the moral support of one of the greatest popes of all time, to topple the Soviet dictatorship. What this means is that, despite the legal fiction that all states are equal, in reality, all states are not equal. Powerful states survive their internal crises; small states depend on the benevolence of others to survive theirs.


Our state is in crisis

Which is why it is so worrying for us that our government is engaged in a never-ending dog’s breakfast. (Apologies for that, but messed-up situations demand messed-up idioms.) Our little state has no real power and its independence depends on the goodwill of the international community. It is obvious for medium-sized and big polities to expect self-determination as a “natural right”. Smaller polities have to make their case, over and over again.

This was understood by the previous generation of Maltese politicians who, having witnessed first-hand Malta’s attainment of independence, understood that independence for a small polity is neither obvious nor irreversible. The awareness of the precarious nature of the existence of small states prompted Guido de Marco probably to overstep the limits of his institutional role as President of the United Nations General Assembly to forcefully defend Kuwait upon its invasion by Iraq in 1990. When Professor de Marco passed away – ten years ago next month – The Guardian said that “many Kuwaitis still remember and cherish de Marco’s stand for their country.”

Guido de Marco’s crystalline understanding of Realpolitik has clearly failed to pass down to present Government members, particularly those born when Malta was already independent. They can’t see that, for a country the size of ours, institutional dysfunction can mean the demise of the independent state. I’m not saying we risk invasion; what I’m referring to is more subtle.

Like the hydra, this problem has many heads. One head is obviously Joseph Muscat, and his shallow understanding of Politics but very deep understanding of politics. I’m beginning to see Muscat as unconsciously being a sort of Cain, envious of his brother Abel and intent on causing mayhem. And though it does seem tempting, I’m actually not using this Cain-Abel image because of “Abel/Abela”. What I mean is that I’m beginning to perceive Muscat as being (un)consciously driven by a class-related urge to cause mayhem to a middle-class state. I’ll elaborate this idea in future articles, even though I have already hinted at this mejjet-bil-ġuħ mentality in previous ones. The corruption that proliferated under Muscat is unlike its predecessors. It’s not just a greedy appetite for money; it’s also a greedy appetite for destruction. Cain didn’t only covet Abel’s prosperity; Cain wanted Abel to pay for being God’s favourite. Who is Abel in Muscat’s case? Probably all those whom he met whom he thought were of a station higher than his.

This puts Robert Abela, another of the hydra’s heads, between a rock and a hard place. He understands the damage his reckless predecessor did to the Maltese state, but he equally understands that an admission would seriously damage his own image. He’s unable to solve the dilemma. One of the biggest problems with Dr Abela is that he comes across as a weakling. The body-building of his youth seems to confirm that deep down he feels weak and insecure. I’m not talking about dysmorphia here, but about the impression Dr Abela gives that he’s unsure of what to do next. During the campaign Dr Abela’s co-contender for the leadership, Chris Fearne, was adamant he wanted to clean up the mess, but Dr Abela seemed ambiguous. Now his behaviour seems more reactive than pro-active. Is this because he acquired knowledge when he was still Muscat’s advisor that would now make his position as Prime Minister untenable?

Muscat’s mess and Dr Abela’s insecure leadership send out two dangerous messages: that it is problematic to govern Malta, a country where everybody is too familiar with everybody else, and more generally, that a small State shouldn’t exist, because smallness (like too big a size) engenders governance problems.

At the moment, only the Opposition and Civil Society are saving the Maltese state from oblivion.


Bedingfield v. Arrigo

The hydra has another head: the tendency to sputter accusations without thinking things through.

Robert Arrigo doesn’t need me, or anybody else for that matter, to defend him. I think that he’s made his case with precision and clarity: his company dealt with the late George Fenech, in 2013. So, it was (1) not Yorgen and (2) four years before the assassination. Conclusion: there’s nothing that he can be criticised for.

This silly accusation came from Labour MP Glen Bedingfield who not only shot from the hip, out of political desperation, but also further tainted the country’s image. Being careless is a luxury only the powerful afford; the others have to be continually on their toes. Mr Bedingfield’s comment further confirmed to onlookers that it’s legitimate to question whether Maltese can govern herself.

In the ultimate analysis, our financial services industry depends on our ability to convince the world that, despite our size, we’re able to do things properly, we don’t lose our head, we respect the law and, more importantly, we respect that notion so fundamental for a modern state: the rule of law, that’s to say, that nobody’s above the law. In practice, it means that even if you’re friends with the powerful you can’t break the rules, by for instance using the country’s business registry to create companies to launder dirty money. This is what it all boils down to. The powerful states don’t want a Tortuga in their backyard. The hydra born under Muscat, and now seemingly beyond Dr Abela’s control, is just that: a haven for pirates, outlaws, and those who operate in the grey areas between legality and illegality.

We’re risking big time.


The President

In this moral melee, one’s got to ask about the President’s role. The incumbent formed part of the team that brought this plague on our common house. He might think that “the Republic of Malta is far bigger than the gang of people who brought shame on our country”, and I respect him for that. But it’s the opinion of many that he lacks the credentials to restore respectability to our country. He should probably bow out.


Martha l-Maltija

The abuse hurled at Miss Malta contestant Martha Attard was despicable. Not only because of its racist nature but also because of the utter ignorance it betrays.

Ms Attard is a Maltese citizen of Ethiopian origins. For this reason, some people think she shouldn’t participate in the Miss Malta competition.

The only reason to ask a young, beautiful woman like Ms Attard not to participate in a beauty contest is because she’d be the object of lust. Otherwise, if she’s ready to live with that, let her enjoy herself.

The fact that some people don’t understand the notion of nationality can mean only one thing: the complete failure of the educational system. Instead of teaching children about gender theory – which has been proven to be bogus science, incidentally – teach them that belonging to a nation is spiritual not biological.

Who is “pure breed”?

What is “pure breed” anyway?

Even if we go back to the ideas that motivated Adolf Hitler, the arguments of the racists fail in Ms Attard’s particular case, given that some 70% of Ethiopians are actually dark-skinned Caucasians! When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Hitler sent 10,000 rifles to help the Ethiopians!

But we needn’t entertain such arguments.

Instead, “nation”, as the French believe, is a spiritual community, independent of skin colour and other biological attributes. Accepting a nation’s way of life, makes you a member of the nation. And that’s that.


My Personal Library (96)

As I usually do, I try to find books that continue the threads woven in my article.

Though he focuses on the United States, Noam Chomsky, in his Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006), illustrates the generally-applicable observation that in international politics the more powerful ignore rules and impose their will on the less powerful that don’t toe their line. Professor Chomsky’s scandalised by the obtaining state of affairs; I agree with those who think that it cannot be otherwise.

Ganesh Sitaraman’s The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution (2017) argues that European constitutions (unlike America’s) accept economic inequality as inevitable and are designed to prevent class divisions from spilling over into class warfare.

In Eric Nguyen’s Les Nationalismes en Europe (1998) I found Ernest Renan’s beautiful definition of “nation”: “A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things which, in fact, are one, constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is in the past; the other is in the present. One is the common possession of a rich legacy of memories; the other is the present consent, the desire to live together, the will to continue to make use of the heritage which one has received undivided” [my translation].

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