This article first appeared in Malta Today
We have long been hearing the phrase, “go back to your country” and, in fact, many are packing their bags and doing just that. After all, who wants to live in a place where they are openly not welcome? I am sure many Maltese emigrants would do the same if they were met with hostility and antagonism at every turn in their adopted lands from Brussels to Luxembourg to Italy to Australia, the US and beyond. (Although, exactly what we will do when tourists stop coming here and EU nationals and ex-pats start leaving in droves is anyone’s guess).
Now this week the refrain has been taken up a notch because apparently, even if you are Maltese and dare to find fault with what is glaringly and blatantly wrong, the retort you are met with is, “if you don’t like it, leave.” Of course, every country has its pros and cons and there are always trade-offs for living anywhere. You can have excellent infrastructure, but suffer from extreme loneliness because you are away from close family and friends. You can be earning a ridiculously high salary but are forced to live in gloomy weather for 10 months of the year. And let us not even get started on global politics, because as I look around at what is happening in the world, ‘crazy’ is starting to sound like an understatement.
But that does not mean we should just sit back as our own quality of life continues to deteriorate either.
I have always loved my life here. For a long time I have been able to accept a number of the drawbacks in compensation for the advantages of living on a (usually) sunny, Mediterranean island, steeped in history, surrounded by beautiful seas, where you can do so many things in just one day. So I am not referring to the daily irritations which we have become immune to and to which we close one eye in resignation. But when mild exasperation starts turning into daily anger and downright depression at the way the country is being ruined, then one has to be deaf and blind (or else blindly loyal and obligated in some way to the Labour Government) not to speak up. There have been just too many leadership decisions which have eroded our way of life and peace of mind. And these are not things which are impossible to fix either, in fact, they could be easily straightened out with political goodwill, some harsh but necessary measures, and above all, enforcement across the board.
But shhh, you cannot say so. Or that is the impression I got this week as the same feeling of déjà vu swept over me which I used to get when I used to criticise the Gonzi administration. Pre-2013 I was often taken to task and called all sorts of names because I dared to find fault with the way the PN Government was running the country, while being simultaneously badgered about why I was not criticising the Labour Opposition. Hmm, now let me think… maybe because the party in Opposition is not the one making the decisions? Fast forward to six years later and the more things change the more they remain the bloody same. Thou shalt not criticise or thou will be accused of being a covert anti-Government agent.
Apparently, you are not “allowed” to say that Malta is no longer as nice to live in as it used to be, even though everywhere you go that is what most people are saying. The Times’ columnist Michela Spiteri’s cry from the heart about how Sliema has been allowed to fall into a state of dire neglect touched a nerve, evidenced by the many people who commented, echoing her sentiments. Ex-pats who retired here and made it their home are looking elsewhere, not because they want to, but because in areas such as Sliema, St Julian’s, Qawra and Bugibba, the population explosion, lack of planning and the living conditions due to constant construction and uncollected rubbish have become unbearable.
Instead of blaming those who are pointing out these things out and telling them to leave, why is it so hard for some people to admit that it is true? Instead of trying to make inane and irrelevant comparisons with other countries, why not acknowledge that it is not acceptable to have workers falling from unregulated construction sites on a weekly basis, with litter and rubbish everywhere, and residents forced to live overlooking a pool of stagnant water which is a health hazard, because the developer can get away with it? What was once lovely is being demolished and replaced by that which is ugly and soul-less. It is because we all love Malta (but hate the way it has become) that we continue to highlight these things. When you love your homeland, you want it be better and to ensure that it has beautiful surroundings – so watching it fall apart is painful to watch. Those who insist that we are exaggerating these shortcomings need to step away from their immediate neighbourhood which has perhaps remained untouched, and take a good, close look around at other areas.
Because the alternative to not speaking up is…what? Just being complacent and accepting an unacceptable way of life in which money is supposed to compensate for the fact that our nerves are perpetually jangled by constant noise, air pollution and construction? “If you don’t like it, leave”, I was told this week. It’s true that I don’t like seeing Malta ruined (I am perplexed as to why anyone would) but why should the solution be for me to leave the country which is my home?
If you don’t like it, we will threaten you
“Go back to your country” and “if you don’t like it, leave” are bad enough. But in the case of MEP candidate Cami Appelgren, the fury unleashed towards her has manifested itself in death threats towards her and her children. Some have assumed that the threats are related to the fact that she is personally pro-choice (even though it is not part of her electoral platform, and PD, the party on whose ticket she is running, are pro-life). But it could also be because she is seen as a “meddling foreigner” who has had the audacity to offer solutions about making Malta better and possibly represent us at EU level. Whatever the reason is, these threats are despicable and cowardly and I trust the culprits will be caught.
Social media has become a glaring illustration of how difficult it is for some to accept that others have different opinions which clash with their own and to simply leave it at that. But it is also through social media that some unpalatable truths can be voiced. Those who want to clap for every decision and kiss the hem of the Leader are free to do so – but those who refuse to sit back as our Malta continues to be defaced, are free to say so as well. That is what you do when you really love your country.