Wednesday 28 February 2024

What’s the matter with public opinion?

Over the last week, as I looked at the footage of the massive public protests in Romania against the government because of a decree it had issued which would repeal the sentences of politicians who had being jailed for corruption – I asked myself, what would it take for such spontaneous demonstrations here?

The enraged nature of the protests made the government back down (at least for now). And yet, the protests continue because the Romanian PM is planning to present a similar Bill to Parliament which is similar to the original decree.

Here, in sharp and often tragi-comical contrast, people get all riled up, not over cases of corruption, but over the type of stories usually found in scurrilous tabloids, gossip columns or Buzzfeed type of online articles. The pastizzi jokes over Ann Fenech’s contrived publicity stunt in order to do damage limitation over her ill-thought out remarks, rapidly grew stale. The puerile one-liners about Chris Cardona’s alleged escapade were also soon flogged to death. They were soundbites which provided good fodder for the insatiable social media machine, and nothing more.

I remember at the height of the Panama scandal, when many people barely raised an eyebrow at the implications, I had asked an acquaintance (who said he was already bored of the whole thing) what would be considered shocking behaviour by a politician in Malta. He thought a moment and shrugged, “well, I don’t know, maybe a sex scandal”? And yet we have lately been presented by our very own alleged sex scandal (now the subject of several libel suits) and still there are people who are very blasé about the whole thing, saying it really doesn’t bother them that much, even if it proves to be true.

Truly, our ability to accept anything and everything without barely a murmur, never fails to astound me.

Meanwhile there have been plenty of stories in the past few days which should not only have raised eyebrows, but made us take to the streets ourselves in outrage.

A Minister’s wife STILL being paid an exorbitant amount of money for doing what? No one knows exactly.

Lucrative public land practically handed on a silver platter on a 99-year concession for a relative pittance to a savvy businessman who has reportedly “played” both political parties depending on who is in power.

Meanwhile, fresh allegations have emerged which seem to suggest mishandling of public funds at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools.

And as if to prove that this government is suffering from a serious case of lack of credibility, all you had to do was to read the reaction to the two long power cuts between Sunday evening and Monday, which were blamed on a technical fault in the interconnector from Sicily. Most people scoffed at this explanation, not believing a word of it.

Still, like Gone with the Wind, tomorrow is always another day and yesterday’s headlines are soon forgotten.

Of course, I know why people may mutter darkly about these things being “unacceptable” and “shameful” and yet won’t join in any protests. Somewhere along the line, many are profiting even from blatant abuse and corruption or unethical dealings. From the selling of passports (notice how the cries have died down about that one?) to knocking down lovely houses to give way to high-rise developments, you can be sure many are doing very nicely, thank you very much. As soon as those with second (and more) properties realized that the sky was the limit when it came to rental prices, they went giddy with excitement and greed. Where there’s money to be made, people’s desire to protest tends to peter out in direct proportion. And even when one is not directly making money out of it, there is still that staunch refusal to criticise anything done by one’s party in Government purely (a) out of loyalty (b) reluctance to give the other side more ammunition or (c) giving the other side the satisfaction of being proved right.

When you put all these factors together, it really is no wonder that you won’t see any large-scale manifestations of people waving their angry fists in front of Castille any time soon.

And isn’t that just a crying shame for Malta?

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