The Malta Independent 30 November 2022, Wednesday
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Independence and Elizabeth’s passing

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 25 September 2022, 08:23 Last update: about 3 months ago

I belong to the last generation of Maltese born as subjects to Queen Elizabeth. From 1964 to 1974, we were a constitutional monarchy and Elizabeth I was Queen of Malta.

Our former Head of State’s passing kindles reflections on the respective advantages and disadvantages of constitutional monarchies and republics.

Republics imply equality and lack of privilege in the eyes of the law. There are no peers, no lords, no titles in a republic – all are born equal. This greatest of the Enlightenment’s and the French Revolution’s achievements has now become the standard in many countries. If it’s reflected in everyday life – that’s a different story.

But, then, in a Republic the President isn’t always super partes. Presidents are often chosen from the political class and, despite their good intentions, not all of them succeed in rising above petty political politics. Apart from that, unlike monarchies, the presidency of a republic is a short-term post; there isn’t enough time for any individual to grow into the office and bring to fruition its potential for symbolic unity.

A constitutional monarchy scores high on symbolism. As the appointment is truly for life, the monarch becomes truly neutral. The monarch neither votes nor comments on politics – the monarch reigns outside the political fray. For this reason, the monarch is the nation’s unifying symbol and serves as a conscience for politicians, a sobering influence reminding short-sighted politicians about the long-term perspective on things.

Queen Elizabeth’s passing also kindles reflections on Malta’s role in the world. Until 1964, history had determined our role, and, to a lesser extent, our geographical situation. In the early 19th century, Britain understood Malta’s utility if it really aspired to dominate the world in general and trade routes in the Mediterranean in particular – this was the time when the Mediterranean became the “British Lake”. Later during that century, Malta, Gibraltar, and Suez allowed Britain to control the chokepoints of the trade routes to the East.

British help, on behalf of the Neapolitan crown, against Republican France in 1798-1800 laid the foundations of our history. Our geopolitical situation cemented it, determining our role in the world. Or, rather, predetermining it. As a British colony. Seeking not our interests, but the Mother Country’s.

Whereas it was obviously a situation of exploitation – our geographical situation was exploited by British imperial interests (and this not even the staunchest of Britain’s sympathisers can deny) – it was also a cosy situation: we didn’t need to analyse the world and to think how to survive in it. Some of our more enterprising countrymen did analyse the world, but for their own private enterprises, not for the community at large. They couldn’t do otherwise, anyway. Our role in the world didn’t depend on us.

All that changed with independence.

Since 1964, we have had to fend for ourselves and find our place in the world. Borg Olivier was determined to keep us in the West, possibly even aligned to it; Mintoff strove to distance us from the West, though still not join the East, and sought non-alignment.

The question today is whether neutrality and non-alignment still make sense. Today’s world isn’t the Cold War in which Borg Olivier and Mintoff steered Malta. It’s no longer the post-1989 chessboard, either. We’re witnessing a new world order taking shape, heavily impacted by the war in Ukraine. A new anti-West coalition is forming, involving China, Russia, Iran, and other states. Indeed, the axis of tension has shifted eastward, toward Beijing; the Mediterranean is increasingly becoming a backwater. Our geographical situation is no longer important – only perhaps as part of the frontier between the developed world and the underdeveloped countries, from which millions want to, and will, escape in search of a better life.

Queen Elizabeth’s passing has meant, for the world, the death of the last British monarch to reign over a global colonial empire. For us Maltese, the death of the last colonial overlord and the last foreign Head of State. Psychologically, it’s a watershed moment. It signals our need to redefine our place and role in the world, as a tiny country that, because of its smallness, can play a big role, as mediator, ambassador of goodwill, and promoter of stability and innovative approaches to the peaceful co-existence of States.

As the new world order unfolds and positions set in, we should keep our eyes on the geopolitical firmament and our ears to the geoecononomic ground. Little by little, we can carve our role in this new world, by trying to be useful to the rest of humanity. Our role in the world can very well be as go-betweens. Our small size means we pose threats to nobody. Our intelligence, on the other hand, means we can be useful to many.

 

 

The Palazzo Intrigue

An Inspector Søren Farrugia story

Inspector Søren Farrugia sat behind his desk, buried under reports, dossiers, notes, and other assorted papers, and unable to come to terms with a splitting headache.

When the sergeant knocked on the door, it felt like a fireworks factory exploding in his head.

“Somebody for you, Sir!”

“Let him in...”

“Her, Sir!”

A beauteous, sinuous, curvaceous angel fallen from Heaven, an incarnation of some Botticelli painting, a creature literally made in the image of pagan goddesses, entered the office, and the inspector’s head throbbed even harder.

“What can I do for you, Miss…?”

“Borg. Missus, actually. Mrs Borg. Unfortunately.”

Mrs Borg seated herself across the desk from Inspector Farrugia. He couldn’t help his eyes landing on her exposed ample cleavage, and she caught him.

“I need you to focus, Inspector. I’m here to report a case of corruption, kickbacks, and filth.”

* * * * *

Two hours and an even bigger headache later, Farrugia was going through the ream or so of photocopies Mrs Borg had handed over to him for him to draw his own conclusions.

“I found the originals in my husband’s safe the day before yesterday. He had to rush to his mother’s to assist her. He was so distraught, he forgot it ajar. His mother always has that effect on him.”

The case looked ironclad. Mr Borg had acquired a centuries-old palazzo with the intention of demolishing it for the usual purpose, and needed to break a vast array of laws and policies to make the project viable. The documents Mrs Borg brought to the Station contained enough damning evidence to prove that money had changed hands and to nail all the people involved.

Farrugia called the sergeant and asked for two extra-strong Panadols and the telephone numbers of the people mentioned in the list he handed him.

* * * * *

One by one, after long hours of questions, answers, transcriptions, and sweat, the inspector managed to interrogate all the suspects and persons of interest Mrs Borg had indicated, and finally Mr Borg himself.

This Borg fellow was a diminutive man who seemed mousy – it took time to deduce what his Junoesque wife had seen in him. Mr Borg didn’t request a lawyer, and didn’t proffer a single answer. Not easy to nail somebody as tough as nails.

And yet, the inspector felt he had amassed enough evidence to convict them all – Borg would eventually break under cross-examination in court. They had conspired to break a few laws, actually broke some of them, were preparing to break some more, and hefty payments had been made (via offshore bank accounts) while some others were in the pipeline.

But before proceeding further, Farrugia wanted to see for himself how the palazzo looked like.

So he drove there.

* * * * *

Despite the Panadols, the headache returned with a vengeance the moment Farrugia lay his eyes on the palazzo. It was to architecture what Mrs Borg was to humanity. Both left you breathless.

Rage flooded Farrugia’s blood vessels, and the headache dissipated. Where did these barbarians hail from who wanted to tear down such a gem, to replace it – as per normal protocol – with yet another soulless block of chicken-coop apartments?

Luckily, Mrs Borg’s imminent divorce – for that was what prompted her to embrace civic-mindedness – would save this national treasure and provide a stern warning to all other aspiring criminals intent on further raping the soul of the country.

But then it dawned on the inspector that he hadn’t researched enough on Mr Borg. Mrs Borg told him she was a Minister’s person of trust and that her husband wasn’t involved in politics. Now he realised that her beauty had distracted him and her husband’s silence hadn’t helped either: he knew next to nothing about Mr Borg’s background.

* * * * *

Upon arriving at the Station, the inspector looked Mr Borg up in the government database and discovered that Mr Borg’s brother-in-law – his sister’s husband – was a Minister’s chief of staff. Mrs Borg had omitted to share this little nugget.

So Mrs Borg was one Minister’s person of trust and her in-law another Minister’s chief of staff. A sort of new aristocracy.

Then the phone rang. It was somebody from HR at HQ: his boss, Mr Zahra, wanted a word. Nothing urgent, no rush, but within the hour would be appreciated.

* * * * *

“How naïve can you be?” Zahra’s welcome was as warm as ice.

“Sir?”

“Isn’t it obvious she’s trying to harass her ex?”

“They’re still married, Sir…”

“What a pedant, Inspector! Fine. Her soon-to-be ex. Happy?”

“Sir…”

“You are aware, aren’t you, that her share in the palazzo project amounts to nought given that their marriage is regulated by the separation of assets regime? Meaning that whatever her husband acquired in his own name during the marriage, it’s his personal property. She has no share in it and will get nothing when the marriage is over. You are aware of this, Inspector, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“And you know that women routinely do it…”

“Sir?”

“Women routinely harass their former husbands or partners… It’s part of female psychology. It’s well-documented!”

“Sir…”

“There’s obviously no case. She’s simply using us in her pathetic attempt to destroy her husband. Let’s not be fooled. Close the case, Søren. We’ve got too much on our plate already.”

“Sir…?”

“And, by the way, Søren… my secretary! My secretary is still waiting, available, interested…”

“Sir, let’s consider a hypothesis. Let’s say I marry her. And then she decides to leave me… Wouldn’t she try to harass me as all women routinely do to their exes, Sir?”

“OK, Søren. I see that obviously you’re not quite yourself today. You may leave. And close both the door and the case file. Capisc?”

“Nice day, Sir…”

But Inspector Søren Farrugia couldn’t stomach such things.

He went home to bed, feeling unwell and upset. The headache had come back.

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