This article first appeared in Malta Today
It’s a good thing Malta is not directly involved in any warfare or conflict, because from the way some people react whenever there is an ongoing issue, I think they would just shrug and resign themselves to being killed. Contrary to the bravery our forefathers demonstrated in the war, It’s like there is no gumption left in this country any more, and in my mind’s eye I can even visualise the reaction to any potential threat: forget putting up a fight, we would just roll over and play dead.
This thought often occurs to me whenever I see certain online reactions. Take the appeal filed against the DB group project at Pembroke. There were 17 appellants which include residents, NGOs and three local councils – Pembroke, St Julian’s and Swieqi. Despite the fact that so many were ready to throw in the towel, there were others who were determined to keep fighting this monster earmarked for the former ITS site. But to file an appeal like this you need funds (to the tune of €20,000 or more), so they turned to the public for help and guess what? It worked. The crowdfunding was a success and the money was raised pretty quickly.
The appeal itself required hours of donkey work – you know, getting your hands dirty (rather than just talking about it) and actually knuckling down to doing what needs to be done in presenting reasons why the DB project should never have been approved. In all, 18 reasons were found: including alleged conflicts of interest by two members of the very board which approved the project.
This week, the planning appeals tribunal ordered that all the works at the site be halted until the appeal is concluded in March.
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, this was a very important victory. We are talking about really powerful people here, with real muscle both figuratively and literally, so to force them to halt the works was no mean feat. And yet, despite the fact that blood, sweat and tears were poured into the appeal by those working indefatigably behind-the-scenes, the defeatism and cynicism I read online were enough to make you give up as well.
And it occurred to me that the reason that the powers-that-be, as well as the strong business lobbies which are dictating everything with their cash, feel that they can get away with doing what they like is precisely because of this attitude. Now I know it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by it all; that there is nothing we can do because ultimately they are the ones calling the shots. But this brings me back to my initial paragraph. Is this what our reaction would be if we were ever invaded? Despite the scaremongering and fighting talk about ‘foreigners taking over’, sometimes I think that if it were to really happen, we would be too busy stuffing our faces with burgers and fries while driving our SUVs from one shopping mall to the other, to really do anything about it. To put it bluntly: as a nation, we have become too soft and malleable. There is a lack of fighting spirit, and no willingness to even try to oppose what is wrong. The pervasive sentiment is: why bother? They will do what they want anyway.
There is also the often mistaken belief that by ‘venting’ online we are actually being proactive. In a way, Facebook is to blame for this because the knee-jerk response for a lot of people is to post something indignant and work themselves up into a (virtual) lather and stop there. That, of course, is the seductive lure of social media because it makes you think you have done something when in fact you have not done much except in many cases, shared your indignation within your social bubble.
Others do not even go that far. During the recent panel discussion held with authors at the National Book Festival, Arnold Cassola pointed out that he receives a lot of photos and information from people who are loathe to post the things themselves as they do not wish reveal their identity.
This is a very ‘Maltese’ way of doing things which I have often noticed. People will whisper and moan among themselves about something they do not like but are very reluctant to actually step up and confront the person whom they are annoyed with. Many prefer to lay low rather than take the bull by the horns and as the colloquial saying goes ‘jidher ikrah’ (look bad) in front of the person concerned. It happens at the workplace and every other sphere I can think of. They will push and urge others to speak up but they do not want to be the ones to actually be the face of the complaint for fear of being labelled as troublemakers, or simply not liked. So instead, they prefer to complain relentlessly behind the backs of the person or entity they have an issue with, rather than actually doing something about it. Moving from talk to action, in whatever way one can, is essential.
For example, in the above-mentioned discussion led by Mark Vella, the participation of Emmanuel Psaila, Alex Vella Gera and Wayne Flask brought forward three very different perspectives about the role of authors in society. I was particularly intrigued by Mr Vella Gera’s viewpoint, because he no longer lives in Malta and chooses not to vote here any more, describing himself as completely disenfranchised. And yet, because of his roots, he continues to be drawn to what is happening politically and, as an author, feels an overwhelming compulsion to comment and make his observations public. Not doing so, he said, would be remiss on his part, because he feels it is part of his ‘duty’ or obligation, especially as someone who has written novels about his native country. Speaking truth to power is a crucial element in a democracy, and as all three authors agreed, sitting back, giving up and letting it all slide, is simply not an option when one is part of a country’s political and social fabric.
And, as the tireless activists fighting against the DB project have shown, we should never under-estimate how strong we can be when we join forces.