Sunday 17 February 2019

Nothing to be ashamed of

Every campaign has its defining moments, and when we look back months from now, Kevin Drake’s participation on Friday’s Affari Taghna is going to be one of them.

And it’s not because Kevin (who used to be so much a part of the PN establishment) had agreed to do the unthinkable during an election campaign and appear on “the enemy’s” TV station– after all, he had already appeared on Bla Agenda the Saturday before.  It is because, despite the fact that M.E.  has taken a toll on his appearance, he delivered one of the most eloquent speeches I’ve ever heard, every sentence punctuated with emotion in his trademark baritone voice.

This was not about voting Labour or about no longer being a Nationalist – Kevin’s speech went beyond partisan politics and delved into the very core of what is wrong with this sick society. When told by an old family friend that “you should be ashamed of himself, your mother is probably rolling in her grave” for daring to appear on One TV, he was shocked and disgusted. This remark (along with Simon’s now infamous phrase, “the face of a Nationalist”), spurred him to speak up on just how absurd the situation is in this tiny nation.

It is refreshing to see people of Kevin’s calibre refusing to be bowed down by this political prejudice and browbeating. This kind of attitude demeans us a country; it makes us no better than white rednecks who used to make blacks sit at the back of the bus.

Kevin’s decision to appear on a political station’s talk show at this sensitive time was, I’m sure, not taken lightly. But as he pointed out, the more his physical strength is affected by the debilitating disease, the more he has time to think with clarity and depth.  As often happens when ill health strikes, the pettiness of what we consider to be problems in this life tend to drop away until we are left to look at ourselves in the mirror and understand what is really important: our hopes and dreams for a better future; our wish to live together in peace rather than waste time over childish squabbles.

As he did on Bla Agenda, he spoke out for those who, like him, have been virtually ignored because their condition does not happen to fall into one of the categories which is covered by free medication.

Disgraceful, isn’t it?  Especially at a time when politicians are telling us that (if you elect them) they are magically going to find enough money for just about anything and everything you can think of.

Aware that his background as an actor would make people doubt his sincerity, Kevin deliberately brought up the possibility that some would treat his message as “bullshit”, but if what we saw was bullshit then he should be in Hollywood right now, raking in millions.

I have been following Kevin’s “rants” on FB for a while now, and the way he spoke on Friday is the type of thing he posts from time to time on various issues – an almost effortless stream of consciousness written in biting irony and hard-hitting prose which pulls no punches. So while I was impressed with the way he spoke, I was not that surprised to hear him say it, because he has been expressing himself in this vein for a while. On TV, of course, the impact is a hundred times greater, especially since Kevin is a natural communicator who speaks beautifully poetic Maltese, every word chosen carefully and precisely.

More than anything else, Kevin’s was a patriotic speech, which reminded us that at the essence of politics there are human beings who need to search for what they have in common, rather than what makes them different. His rendition of the national anthem which he spoke in the form of a poem was electrifying, and led to a standing ovation.

Kevin made another important point when he said that his basic principles have not changed; what he is fighting for now is what he always fought for in the past – a better Malta. It is this, I feel, which was at the crux of his decision to speak out, even at the risk of being shunned and ostracized by those who will probably accuse him of the ultimate betrayal. On Bla Agenda, he drew attention to the parallels between what is happening now within the PN, and the dangerous chaos of the last years of the Labour administration prior to 1987.  Even as Kevin said it, he realized that there would be those who would raise their hands in horror “how can you compare the two!” But I know what he means.

It is, I feel, an inevitable result of any party which stays in power too long and starts to consider itself untouchable. Even the reaction of the relative supporters is the same: burying their heads in the sand in denial, refusing to acknowledge that anything is askew and that we should be “grateful” to the government and not criticize it.

One of the habits I wish we could move away from is the labeling of people as Laburist or Nazzjonalist – a self-adhesive sticker which we are supposed to slap on our foreheads for life rather than a voting choice which may or may not change every five years depending on who we feel is the best choice.  The next step in political maturity would be the ability to accept that criticizing one party does not mean a person is automatically a supporter of the other party. And that if a person criticizes the party he voted for in the past that does not make him a traitor but is a healthy and necessary democratic process which keeps politicians from treating us like moronic fools who clap and chant slogans mindlessly just as long as we get our residential parking and tarmacked road on the eve of an election.

As I watched Kevin Drake mesmerizing a stunned audience with his passionate speech, several things occurred to me. No matter which way this election goes, Joseph Muscat can definitely be credited with drawing towards the Labour party the kind of people who used to be its adversaries. But with this achievement will come a huge responsibility if he is elected Prime Minister.  For if he does not live up to these high expectations of making Malta a more united country; where getting ahead does not hinge simply on “who you know” but on your competence, then Muscat will have a lot answer for.

For it is useless harping now about a greedy ‘klikka’ or the select few if, when the time comes, we will simply be exchanging one set of musical chairs for another.

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