The Malta Independent 12 May 2021, Wednesday

A cremated idea?

Charles Flores Sunday, 18 April 2021, 10:07 Last update: about 24 days ago

I first wrote in The Malta Independent at its inception, way back in the early 1990s, when I raised the case for cremation, until then a pretty hush-hushed issue within Maltese society because of some murmured Catholic Church objections and, inevitably, people’s attachment to traditional modes of burial. But while so much water has since passed from under that bridge, this small, cemetery-choked territory has not grown any bigger.

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I was glad to see my ex-Fleet Street colleague and friend, long resident in Malta, Eileen Ellis, recently seeking to bring up the issue again in the local media. There had been big hopes on the part of many Maltese citizens and expats that cremation may eventually become an option after members of the Maltese Church hierarchy and some Vatican protagonists had made benign pronouncements intimating a shift of policy. Even more hopes were elicited with the change of government in 2013 when the new Labour administration had shown a conviction that the time was ripe for such a much-needed project.

There were several instances when the need for the building of a crematorium was mentioned by high government officials, among them the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health Chris Fearne. I am convinced it was no propaganda exercise, but a genuine belief in providing this alternative to traditional interment once the necessary consultations were carried out. Public opinion was no longer a prohibitive obstacle. For all its strengths and faults, Labour had brought with it this brave new approach to things and matters, which were once thought impossible or unwarranted, from the pre-election divorce issue won from the Opposition side of the House of Representatives to the current refreshing reforms on the sensible use of cannabis, this time from the governing benches.

If my memory serves me right, there was also a design of the proposed crematorium published somewhere after local and foreign companies had shown interest in the project. Ellis actually recalls that some years ago, an acquantance of hers, a well-known English builder/entrepreneur who lived in Malta at the time, offered to finance the building of a crematorium and even brought over a team of experts to seek out an appropriate site and to meet politicians and members of the clergy to discuss the project.

Nothing more was heard and both he and his wife, like many other Brits, especially the elderly within the expat community, left the island because, according to Ellis, they could not bear the thought of the way the Maltese conduct burials and exhumation at a later date “and so went home, knowing that they could be cremated and their ashes scattered within a Garden of Remembrance when their time came”, adding that, to this day, some people are still being repatriated for this reason or are flown to other countries in Europe for cremation, then the ashes flown back to the families, at a very high cost.

Rightly noting that other European countries have been cremating Covid-19 victims within 24 hours, Ellis said “here, some are now even donating their bodies to the university, often because they find the cost of a funeral is out of their reach how sad is that?” A crematorium would have indeed been a most helpful option to the tough, painful and protocol-restricted burials people have had to watch from a distance as friends, loved ones and acquaintances sadly fell to the pandemic.

Again, as in the case of divorce and other so-called sensitive issues, I go first and instinctively for choice. Hopefully the initial idea itself has not been cremated.

 

Is it karma?

Remember the days when all the speculation about a predestined end, impending implosion and inevitable rupture was addressed at a Labour Party coming out of three consecutive general election defeats and a referendum fracas? A party that refuses to change, to reform and to metamorphose into something more credible and trustworthy will always find it is going against the general grind of public opinion.

In truth, by 2008 the PL had already shown an inclination towards changing, but it was still caught by the slowly rescinding rhythm of a political bulldozer driven by Establishment figures on freshly-founded EU tracks. Five years later, a much fresher Labour Party burst out of the ashes to claim not only a victory of historic proportions, but was also to do even better in 2017.

We are now tiptoeing towards another general election, with the polls and a feel-good factor that do not give an unchanged opposition Nationalist Party much chance at the hustings, and this at a time when the pandemic has been undermining governments and economies all over the world. Covid-19 has not tarnished Labour’s standing as a party that is still remarkably open for change and reawakening even when there have been political upheavals and disclosures, which shook the nation.

Is it karma that the Nationalist Party, after a long series of defeats, finds itself in the very same situation that Labour was in 2008, when it was time for heads to roll and new ones to step in? The underlying message is that people cannot trust a party that continues to refuse to admit defeat and to herald real change from within and without, especially since the old, hackneyed scores against Labour, such as those about unemployment, student stipends, Chinese invasions and economic woes, have long been deposited into the trashcan of history.

It is only when the freewheeling coterie currently holding the old party hostage makes way for some new faces and new avenues to roam in, can there be the glimmer of hope genuine party faithful so painfully await.

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