The Malta Independent 2 March 2024, Saturday
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Maltese oddities

Mark Said Sunday, 7 May 2023, 08:05 Last update: about 11 months ago

Malta’s population has reached 516,000. Its gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by 4.7% in 2023. It has been ranked first out of 36 European countries for online government services, according to the European Commission’s eGovernment Benchmark Reports 2021. Our construction industry has been in full swing for a good number of years now and it does not appear to wane anytime soon. We boast of a record-low rate of unemployment. MIMCOL’s economic vision for Malta for the period 2021-2031, envisages a future-proof Malta consisting of a nation of courage, compassion and achievement. Well and good, but what is the reality out there?

While all this rosy picture about Malta is building up, we are seeing long queues of people seeking basic things like the food at soup kitchens and food banks or a simple shelter at the YMCA. We have a growing number of people on the brink of poverty in all senses, a continuous brain drain, falling educational standards, exploitation of cheap labour, influencers on the rise and the upcoming generation who barely want to have to do anything with Malta, their birthplace. Are we becoming a national paradox and a land of contrasts in the eyes of the objective observer?

I have a growing feeling that modern Malta might soon end up being a totally incomprehensible country, changed almost beyond recognition from the land I thought I knew. There was a time when I flattered myself and understood the Maltese character. I fancied that, by and large, we were humorous, tolerant, freedom-loving people, proud of our history and traditions and, above all, brimful of common sense.

Yes, of course, there were exceptions, and there was never a time when we all shared the same opinions or cultural tastes. But in my rose-tinted view of the past, we could always rely on a very substantial majority, in the Labour Party as much as among the Nationalists, whose shared values gave us a sense of belonging to the same family.

Once, I would have sworn that as a nation, we strongly disliked being preached at or bossed about. Yet, today, almost every programme on TV seems to carry a nannying message that we should care more about the planet, be nicer to minorities, further promote civil rights and liberties and inclusion, oh, and praise Labour!

These days, I often think I do not belong to the same country where a growing majority think that it is a hate crime to say that only women have cervixes, or who insist that priests preaching from the pulpit should be censored because some of their teachings and attitudes are unfashionable in 2023. Can they not see that opinions like these are stark mad? Nor can I begin to understand those who tell children that it is thoughtless and wrong to call teachers 'Sir' or 'Miss'.

We, Maltese, are known to be very generous when it comes to financially or materially helping others in need, whatever the colour of their skin or their nationality, or creed. At the same time, many of us frequently turn fiercely patriotic. “Patriot” is mildly defined in my dictionary as a “supporter of one’s own country”, and, yet, my thesaurus suggests the word “patriotism” can be synonymous with jingoism, chauvinism, nativism, and xenophobia. Particularly during times of forced insulation from perilous influences incoming from outside, as was the case during the Covid-19 strict restrictions, or is the case with the never-ending saga of illegal immigrants making it to our shores, patriotism does, indeed, seem to go hand-in-hand with the dehumanization of outsiders, as well as intolerance of internal dissent.

Ironically, that is not the whole story. Patriotism frequently also drives the Maltese populace to extremes of altruism and self-sacrifice on behalf of their homeland. Shared support for a country like Malta strengthens social bonds among its citizens and provides an incubator in which trust and compassion can grow among them. Thus, patriotism helps tie us together within our national borders, but there is a catch: it seems to diminish our ability to see the humanity in citizens of other nations. If we feel proud to be Maltese, it should be in the accomplishments of our fellow citizens and in any contributions we ourselves have made toward making our country and community a better place, however small and local. Pride of simply being born Maltese leads to hubris, which leads to bigotry and belligerence. And while we are proud of our national patriotism, we abandon our civic pride by the wayside.

On a different front, then, we have a growing number of Maltese, especially the younger generations, and expatriates who share grievances about Malta being lawless, chaotic, messy, noisy, dirty and dangerous. They realized that this was not life for them and that this could not be their home. Malta is not for everyone, and while international living blogs paint it as a retirement paradise for pensioners, the difficulties of adapting to life in a foreign county, particularly for those who have not travelled extensively outside of their home country, are often underemphasized.

We are not obsessed with having everything in order. You might say we are more accepting or fatalistic depending on your point of view, but there is a general feeling that things will work out, somehow, without excessive planning or control. Social events of all kinds are chaotic affairs with loud music, dancing, drinking, and the ubiquitous rockets that are fired off for every occasion from weddings to church processions, and every kind of celebration.

Malta is anything but sterile. The streets are shared with dogs, horses, and trash piled up for the eventual trash pick-up. Around every corner, one is greeted by a cacophony of smells, the sweet aroma of baking bread and roasting coffee swirling together with the smell of garbage rotting in the sun and pet detritus. The sidewalks are uneven, crumbling on many corners where the local buses repeatedly miss the turn, and the pavements are rough, making every walk through the village feel like a journey through uncharted territory.

Ah, well, I suppose that is what identifies us as Maltese, and I am proud to be one of them.


Dr Mark Said is a lawyer

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