The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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Eternal fascism

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 28 April 2024, 08:04 Last update: about 3 months ago

In 1995, Umberto Eco published one of his masterpieces: Eternal fascism - 14 ways of looking at a Blackshirt. Eco lived through Mussolini’s dark years.  He tasted the bitterness of fascism. Five decades later, alarmed by the frightening rise of a new fascism around the world, his essay was a clarion call to all - “Fascism is still around us….eternal fascism can come back under the most innocent disguises”.

Eco shared his deeply insightful analysis of fascism.  He identified the core characteristics and fundamental traits of fascism through his own experiences. He listed those traits to help us recognise that perennial threat to our freedom - and act to stop it.

Malta is not immune.  We’ve experienced repression, intimidation, violence in our recent past.  We’ve known authoritarianism. Our freedom, our very democracy is in its infancy.  It’s fragile. Eco’s pleas resonate loudly with those amongst us who played their part in securing those freedoms for the nation and who now witness the relentless erosion of those freedoms.

For fascists, Eco noted, disagreement is treason. Fascism cannot withstand analytical criticism.  Fascism, symbolised by the roman fascio, promotes “unity”, as an anti-dote to divergent views.  It suppresses dissenting voices and extolls the virtues of “unity”.

“The Labour party is a united party,” Robert Abela bragged in one of his recent Sunday sermons. “Disunity within the PN stagnated the country. In contrast the Labour government is united”.  Abela keeps harping on unity but it’s just an old underhand tactic to demonise and ostracise dissenting voices.  It’s his strategy to isolate and silence critics from within.

“There’s one common theme between the 2019 internal campaign,” referring to his leadership election, “and now - unity”, Abela declared. “My first challenge was to keep the party united, I understand that we had to be united to keep the country united,” he added. “We are strongest when we are united, there is one secret to keep moving forward - unity”.

Abela cannot tolerate any disagreement. He knows that his edifice will come tumbling down once challenged.  There was never any sense in rejecting calls for the Sofia public inquiry. Handing Vitals the hospitals concession was criminal.  Defending Steward was sheer madness.  But Abela gave his MPs no choice.  He tolerated no dissent. They had to parrot his lies - a Sofia public inquiry won’t deliver justice, Steward contributed significantly to the health service.

Those who dare express a divergent view are quickly excluded.  Witness the plight of MEP Cyrus Engerer, banished from ONE, openly attacked by his own party. Even the genuine and honest Desmond Zammit Marmara hasn’t escaped Labour’s retaliation. For Labour, disagreement is treason.

Eco identified another central tenet of fascism - it sees “the people” as a monolithic entity expressing the common will while the Leader pretends to be their interpreter.  For Eco, the party’s portrayal of “the people” is only a theatrical fiction. It is a manifestation of a selective populism where the emotional response of a selected group of citizens is presented as the voice of the people.

Nowhere is that “theatrical fiction” more evident than in Abela’s speeches. “The government is working daily to be alongside the people,” Abela declared.  What does that mean? “The Labour party is given confidence to govern because it works for the people”.  Who else would it work for?  “The Labour government is focused to improve people’s lives,” he commented. “Labour brought stability,” Abela bragged “and through dialogue and conviction put people’s minds at rest”.

According to Eco, no fascist organisation is complete without an enemy.  Hyping up the enemy threat is key to fascism. Abela never misses an opportunity to identify that enemy - the PN, the root of all evil, the eternal enemy of “the people” - and to warn “the people” of the threat the PN poses. “There are those who tried to disrupt and in the coming weeks there will be those who will try to minimise the importance of this pact,” Abela warned as he launched his Stability measures in January. “Those who were in a panic tried to bring uncertainty into the country,” he incited. Before the 2022 election he denounced the enemy and warned that “the choice is between a united country or turning the clock back to a party which opposed instead of proposed”. “Look at what they did to their own, imagine what they will do to you,” Abela cautioned.

“There are those who instill uncertainty, but this government will bring hope,” the messianic Abela pledged.

Abela’s rhetoric is classical Newspeak, the official language of the Ingsoc party in Orwell’s 1984. It belies an impoverished vocabulary, an elementary syntax that renders complex and critical thinking impossible. That is another key feature of fascism that Eco identified in his seminal essay. The repetitive mindless hyperbole - the people, united, success, hope, negative, divided, dangerous, the best, populist - hinders a deeper critical analysis, prevents a search for substance, deters exposure of the emptiness.

In our country today many wonder if resistance matters, whether it has any impact on the course of history or whether it is all futile. Paraphrasing Eco, for our generation the question is irrelevant.  We understand the moral meaning of resistance.  For us it’s a point of pride that we did not wait passively for our freedom.  We played our own small part in restoring our freedom, and later in finding our place amongst our European allies who shared our faith in those freedoms - the freedom of expression, of the press, of political association, the freedom to think.

We watch incredulous as those hard won freedoms are rapidly and relentlessly being eroded. The apathy, if not active whole-hearted support, of those who stand most to lose is deeply disturbing. They refuse to understand that our own freedom and liberation are an unending task.

It’s time for Malta to heed Eco’s warning.  “Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises.  Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances - every day and everywhere”.

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