Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Times: On the verge...

Tuesday, 19th May 2009 by Kenneth Zammit Tabona

The MEP elections are just around the corner. Already the candidates are on the hoof soliciting votes. This is no mean feat. Each candidate must garner a colossal amount of votes from every district in Malta, Gozo and Comino to be elected. Under their various colours the candidates are everywhere. I do sometimes wish that I could vote for this candidate or that without having to consider age-old partisan politics and diehard prejudice and I am sure that many of you readers do too. There are people who I like and admire in all camps and strongly feel that for once, we can all afford to throw blind loyalty to one party or another out of the window and vote for the person who puts forward the most plausible agenda and who has the experience necessary to effectively milk the Brussels cow with its bureaucracy and byzantine systems in Malta's favour for all its worth.

Everyone has different priorities; mine happen to be the liberalisation of social definitions, the stepping up of a beneficial pan-European cultural dialogue and increased support by the EU to cope with the seemingly unstoppable haemorrhage of boat people with all the attendant tragedy and fear that it engenders. One candidate is outspokenly against hunting and yet I am in two minds even about this stance for although I do not approve of hunting, privately one has to consider the law despite it being an ass.

Naturally primus inter pares is Simon Busuttil who has, since the YES campaign, been at the forefront of anything EU connected. His clear, incisive and analytical mind has provided a sort of Ask Jeeves human website for the last six years as his encyclopedic knowledge of the workings of the hemicycle in addition to his hard work has made him indispensible to Malta and to him should go our topmost votes.

No candidate has pronounced himself or herself as committed to the promotion of culture. Despite our having been a member of the EU for five years (how time flies) I have seen no dramatic cross fertilisation here.

That wretched stretch of water between us and Sicily is our curse making it that much more expensive to either import or export culture as the case may be. This enforced insularity in addition to the wretched credit crunch has recently produced outcries in certain quarters that the more so-called elitist art forms should be axed for economic reasons. This attitude is perniciously dangerous and could lead to us becoming a cultural desert in just a few years. Cultural awareness is what really distinguishes a civilised country from a jungle. Being an island enforces all those who eschew living a blinkered existence to interact with the best in Paris, New York and London. Happily, enhanced modes of communication have rendered this instantaneous. Historically we have always been a microcosm of the rest of the world albeit a bit late, however without proper nurturing this cross fertilisation could cease to exist; and then what?

No candidate has mentioned divorce or same sex partnership as yet, at least openly; possibly for fear of repercussion from the pillars of the establishment who are quite willing to accept the most bizarre variations in relationships as long as they remain socially tolerated and not legally sanctioned which ergo proves that we are complete hypocrites.

The Today Public Policy Institute Think Tank has presented a paper to the government which has already been criticised in certain circles as trying to ride with the horses and run with the hounds. Joseph Muscat has promised a free vote should the divorce Bill come to pass. Would the Nationalist Party offer it too? Although in Brussels some progress has been registered in that direction at present the divorce issue is still being treated like the age-old schoolboy definition of a virgin, "always on the verge and never in", with politicos pussyfooting to hopefully find a way to get around the issue without "frightening the horses". As for gay issues; the very word still seems to cause heebie-jeebies in political circles. Joseph Muscat has once again pronounced himself publicly on this issue and has kept his word after attending last year's Gay Pride march in July. That certainly will help tip the scales the Labour Party way, at least in more liberal circles; unless...?

Our biggest collective problem is illegal immigration. We have recently got into a pretty uncomfortable situation with our largest neighbour Italy and received some very damning international press which we found impossible to counter because of our insignificance. It was like the frog challenging the cow in Aesop's fable. The Médecins Sans Frontières report found its way to Mr Frattini who could easily use it to make our detention centres as notorious as those at Guantanamo Bay! Going along with Italy's hard line policy without upsetting the humanitarian and human rights organisations including the Vatican, takes guts but then what choice do we have? None whatsoever. Meanwhile Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici fights bravely on... almost contra mundum.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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