The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: Freedom, but from what?

Saturday, 1 April 2023, 09:55 Last update: about 2 years ago

Yesterday, Malta celebrated Freedom Day, commemorating the anniversary of the withdrawal of British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta in 1979.

It is one of the various holidays which crops up in the perennial argument of when Malta truly became an independent country: was it in 1964, when Malta gained independence from the British? Was it in 1974, when Malta became a Republic and therefore no longer had the British monarch as its head of state? Or was it on 31 March 1979, when the last of the British troops withdrew and closed their naval and military base in Malta, leaving the country to fend for itself?

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It‘s an argument that will likely go on for many years and decades to come, with no definitive conclusion being reached.

In looking at Freedom Day, the very name of the holiday gives off certain connotations: that Malta became ‘free’ from its previous reliance on a foreign power, that the people were now truly ‘free’ to make their own way in life without pre-conditions from an ‘overlord,’ and that the government of Malta was free to work for the good of the Maltese people.

Even the term ‘Freedom’ itself is much easier to relate to as a concept than ‘Republic’ or ‘Independence’ is. But now, 44 years on from Freedom Day, one can question – what exactly have we achieved freedom from?

That question is posed because in more ways than one, Malta feels as if it is more constrained than ever.

From relying on British money in the 1960s and 1970s in order to prop up the economy, the government now largely relies on the whims of three major industries in particular: the construction industry, the gaming industry, and the tourism industry.

As a core principle, these are all essential parts of any economy, and this is no way a means of saying that any of them shouldn’t exist – but one cannot help see some shred of irony in the fact that each industry, in its own way, contributes to the loss of some part of the people’s freedom to enjoy life and the country.

The construction industry, for example, is important, but at the same time is responsible for the wanton erosion of the little that is left of Malta’s environment and, as some argue, for keeping wages low by employing foreign nationals en-masse.

The gaming industry is likewise important as a high-value economic sector, but on the flipside, from a moral perspective, bases itself on taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of people who may be prone to addiction.

The tourism industry is a cornerstone of the economy, but at the same time, the country is going down the path of over-tourism, leading to some of the most beautiful areas of the country – such as Comino, for instance – becoming so overcrowded that nobody can enjoy them.

In the meantime, rather than having a government which must manage the country while remaining beholden to a colonial overlord, we have a government which must manage itself while remaining beholden to the overlords that are big businesses.

The recently leaked WhatsApp chats between Labour backbencher Rosianne Cutajar and Yorgen Fenech – who hails from one of the biggest business families in the country, and who is also the alleged mastermind behind the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia (though the messages are prior to his arrest) – only serve to prove this.

Beyond all the sexual innuendos in the chats, there is an instance where Cutajar asks Fenech for information about governmental appointments (in this case, the country’s next European Commissioner).

In what world should an elected government MP be asking a businessman for information about government decisions? It only goes to show the closeness which the government has developed with big businesses, to the point where there is an indelible link between the two.

So yes, we can celebrate that we achieved ‘Freedom’ in 1979 and argue about which national holiday brought about true freedom for Malta, but at the same time, let’s not forget what is in front of us, and ask: are we truly as free as we want to be?

 

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