<= UPDATE: You can read all of my columns for The Shift here =>
I’ve started writing a series of articles for an independent Maltese news site called The Shift.
One of the paper’s founders contacted me at the beginning of November to ask if I would comment on things that appear completely bizarre to an outsider, but which are accepted as normal in Malta.
Some of the topics I’m writing about are cultural, and some are devious tactics used by politicians to cast smoke screens of confusion or stir up bitter Red/Blue partisan rivalry.
I’m not a very political person, but I feel able to comment from this perspective because it crosses over into anthropology. And after traveling through more than seventy countries and living in a few of them, I’ve got some basis for comparison.
I don’t know if my articles make any difference. They get a lot of shares, but I’m guessing it’s probably by people who already agree with me. Ploughing the sea, as the saying goes.
Then again, I do sometimes enjoy spitting at fish.
Here’s what I’ve contributed so far:
Politicians never resign in Malta. People who break the law and get caught don’t feel guilty, they just feel unlucky. It isn’t the person who does something wrong who’s to blame but the person who shines a light on it. This isn’t just a political issue. In Malta, it’s part of the culture.
In this instalment, I’ll tell you why “Charlie did it too! Why are you picking on me?” is not an acceptable excuse, even if politicians in Malta use it.
There’s a parallel universe where government officials can say whatever they want and call it “freedom of expression.” It’s a little island off North Africa where every politician is a Doctor, and where public officials are never held accountable, but they’re always very well paid.
Ratings agency reports on Malta, and positive spin from the travel media — including those “best place to live for expats” stories. It’s all paid for by tax dollars. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat uses them to distract attention anytime he’s caught in another corruption scandal that won’t go away. It works because the majority of Maltese voters are totally fine with corruption as long as they believe the economy’s good, and they’re getting a piece of it.
In this instalment, I’ll tell you about a very strange place where cowardice is a virtue. Where children are taught that the best way to deal with a bully is to hide and hope he picks on someone else. And where murder may or may not be wrong, depending on what you think of a person’s writing.
This article is about how parliamentary democracies are supposed to work, and what happens when government ministers say, “We’re in charge and you can’t make us, nyah nyah nyah.”
This one is about non-apologies, and a government official who acted up at the United Nations and called a policy advisor from PEN International a “biased shithole.”
Ever stumble across a dead body? It happened to me once in the Central Sahara. Did that young Eritrean man think of his family as he lay there dying alone in the sand? The migrants shivering in storm-tossed boats and drowning in the seas between Libya and Malta are dying within reach of help, as Malta shrugs and looks away.
Inspired by Orwell’s Animal Farm, I pen a fable about the current situation in Malta, where proof is “just an allegation,” Prime Minister Muscat has mastered levitation, and politics is criminal collaboration.
“Malta has always been the whore of the Mediterranean,” my friend Victor said, “selling its soul for money no matter where it comes from.” Plucky little Malta. Always undermining everyone else, always taking advantage of friends. But what does it contribute to the EU?
I still remember a different Malta, the one I first encountered, though it is fading away as distant memories do. I look through a haze of nostalgia at a very different present, one where Malta plummets from 19th to 38th in The Expat Insider’s 2018 report, a Quality of Life index of living conditions in 187 countries.
It’s a saying I heard often in Malta. What happens within the family stays in the family. But now it’s being used by ruling party politicians to brand opposition MEP’s as traitors. Why? Because they asked the European Union for help in cracking down on local corruption.
The construction industry is out of control, with urban planning driven by kickbacks to greedy politicians, and a Prime Minister whose future vision is a bargain-basement version of some soulless, money-grubbing Dubai. Who in their right mind would want to turn a beautiful Mediterranean island into that? I’ll tell you in this article.
Malta is a very strange case of a Western democracy with massive political party control of the news media. The two main political parties own their own television and radio stations, and both daily and weekly print media. In this piece, I look at why that’s so dangerous.
According to Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, Malta’s financial services aren’t being damaged by shady practices and the complete failure to investigate and prosecute them. No, the damage is caused by these annoying people who keep talking about it — especially in front of foreigners. I’ve come to think of this strategy as The Maltese Look-Away.
How are citizens holding two completely different ‘realities’ in mind, at the same time? The latest Eurobarometer poll reveals a Malta trapped within its own national cognitive dissonance. We’ve never had it so good. We’ve never had it so bad. And it all depends on who you ask.
Patrick Dalli didn’t get the result he wanted in court, so now he’s attacking the judicial system for breaching his human rights. That’s a lot like not studying for an exam and then blaming the teacher for your crappy grade. But there’s more to this strange story than just vindictive lawsuits.
Malta sure has a lot of enemies for such a small island. Everyone seems to be conspiring against it. To anyone outside Malta, this sounds like the sort of nonsense usually associated with chemtrails, the Illuminati, and “vaccines cause autism”. Let’s take a closer look at their claims.
It’s like parent-teacher night in Castille, and this government’s been given a very bad report card. They didn’t just fail one class. It looks like they’re failing all of them. But according to the Ministerial excuse-makers, everything will be okay if we just pretend hard enough.
Serving members of parliament in Malta have repeatedly said that, because they won an election with a majority, they can now do whatever they want. But they are not exempt from the laws. “We win, so tough luck, we’ll do what we want,” is just mob rule.
Malta will go down in history as the “land of contradictions”. We have a Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights whose hobby is to shoot wildlife rather than protect it. An “American” university that isn’t American at all, nor, arguably, even a university, and more. The entire country is trapped in a backwards funhouse mirror, and someone keeps sending in the clowns.
Is writing one’s truth really something which should require risking one’s life? Anthropology professor Mark Anthony Falzon doesn’t think press freedom in Malta is under any greater threat than it was 5 years ago. I’ll tell you why that’s nonsense.
I hope you find them interesting, even if you’re not very interested in Maltese politics.
I’ve tried to give each piece a cultural or anthropological slant, and to illuminate aspects of life in a place that often felt like a parallel universe.
Life on the road sure does lead to some unexpected digressions.
I never imagined a time when I’d be writing political commentaries. But then, I never imagined spending 6 years of my life in Malta, either.
I went there with the intention of writing an island book, something inspired by Lawrence Durrell. I chose Malta because I knew so little about the country, and because no one else had written about it in this way.
I only wanted to stay 4 or 5 years at most. And I didn’t stay so long because I loved it there. I only failed to leave.
I’ll keep writing these pieces as long as I feel I have something useful to offer. The people at The Shift need support. And the people who killed Daphne Caruana Galizia with a massive car bomb need to see the inside of the prison they so richly deserve.