The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

Together on this pale blue dot

Evarist Bartolo Wednesday, 18 May 2022, 09:40 Last update: about 2 months ago

Due to COVID-19, the climate crisis and now the war by Russia against Ukraine, the old times are dying, and the new times are not yet born. We are in a turbulent transition to a more anarchical global (dis)order. The pandemic has left nearly 15 million people dead, global hunger is doubling, and we are facing the most severe economic crisis in these last 90 years.

Russia’s colonial war in Ukraine joins other wars and military interventions by other major powers like the US and NATO in other parts of the world in the last decades to weaken the United Nations and other multilateral institutions like the Organization of the Security and Co-operation in Europe. The more we need to work together to tackle global problems that can only be addressed together, the more we are tearing each other apart.


Even though COVID-19 has reminded us how tiny our world is.

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of Earth taken Feb. 14, 1990, by NASA's Voyager 1 at a distance of 6 billion kilometers from the Sun. The image inspired the title of scientist Carl Sagan's book, "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space," in which he wrote: "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us.”

Carl Sagan said: “there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

Looking at that dot, we can distinguish no countries ... all countries are small in our tiny world. And no country on its own can solve our biggest global challenges: climate crisis, the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, the sustainable development goals to eliminate poverty, illiteracy and diseases. Some countries are much smaller than others, ours among the smallest in this tiny world.

On this pale blue dot all countries are small even though some are smaller than others. Over the years, countries bigger than ours, have been bullied in different ways by countries bigger and stronger than them.

The war between Athens and Sparta around 2,500 years ago remains emblematic of how major big countries, even those that have liberal democratic systems continue to treat smaller countries. Athens invaded the small island of Melos (about three times the size of Gozo). It wanted to use Melos’ port for its galleys. The people of Melos protested. They wished to remain neutral and to live in peace: both with Athens and with Sparta. But Athens had other ideas.

It said to Melos: give in. You are small. It is not what you want that counts. But what we want. The strong do what they want. The weak have to bow to their will.

Melos still didn’t give in. Athens invaded the island and won. All the men were killed. The women and children were taken slaves. It is no wonder that the way Athens treated Melos is still cited as an example of how big countries can treat smaller ones.

I served as Foreign Affairs Minister for just over two years. In most meetings I participated in with other colleagues after January 2020 the language often used towards other countries with which they had issues was the language of confrontation, hostility, condemnation.

Frequently I felt I had to be apologetic when I gently appealed for de-escalation, dialogue, engagement and negotiation. I used to tell myself: “Am I a faint-hearted sentimentalist, a fish out of water, and should I go back to education rather than remain in the brutal playground bullying world of foreign affairs?”

But I refused to give up, encouraged by brilliant Foreign Ministers like Andrey Gromyko (USSR) and Robert Mc Namara (USA) who were certainly not faint-hearted sentimentalists:

McNamara had finished his famous San Francisco speech with these words: ‘In the end, the root of man’s security does not lie in his weaponry, it lies in his mind. What the world requires in its third decade of the Atomic Age is not a new race towards armament, but a new race towards reasonableness. We had all better run that race.’ Those words have never been as relevant as they are now – in the eighth decade of the Atomic Age and with a new global arms race generated by the Russian war on Ukraine.

In the words of Andrey Gromyko: "Better 10 Years of Negotiations than one Day of War".

Sadly, we do not learn from history. The German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) was right after all: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

Media for a healthy democracy

The US based Committee to Protect Journalists says that 2,026 journalists (including Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta) have been killed since 1992 worldwide. Many of them have been killed in conflict, but more of them have been murdered for investigating corruption, economic crimes, political wrongdoing, human rights abuses and environmental scandals.

Due to COVID 19, thousands of journalists worldwide have lost their jobs. Unless we take steps to help media organisations survive in the post-pandemic world, our democratic societies will emerge severely damaged. Journalists are the weakest link in the media. Power lies with the owners and their links to the political and economic systems.

The poorer the working conditions of journalists, the weaker their legal protection, the easier it is to turn them into cogs in the machines controlled by their owners, advertisers and sponsors.

The health of our democracy depends also on the investigative work of journalists to hold powerful people in every sphere to account.

We need to invest in the lifelong learning of our citizens to be open-minded, critical, wanting to base their world view on evidence-based news reports. More and more citizens are getting their information through social media. The media landscape has change radically with the mass media long dead and buried and audience fragmentation emerging instead.

The Medill Media Industry Survey conducted at the end of 2021 among 1,500 members of the U.S. news media found that more than nine out of 10 believe that social-media platforms have not only hurt their industry but are also contributing to inaccurate and one-sided news accounts by exerting too much control over the mix of news that people see. The survey also found that nearly eight of 10 said harassment of journalists on social media is a “very big” or “moderately big” problem.

State institutions and civil society need to work together to nurture a political, social and economic eco-system to enable journalists both offline and online to do their work protected from a wide range of crimes against them. 



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