Tuesday 31 March 2020

Does this country want closure or not?

The very word closure implies that you have closed the chapter which pained you and have found a way of letting it go. It doesn’t mean forgetting (or necessarily forgiving)but it means you have created enough emotional distance to think and remember it without becoming hysterical.

Now before anyone starts spluttering here’s a disclaimer:

The good things Mintoff did, happened

The bad things Mintoff did, or allowed others to do, happened too.

One does not exclude the other – both statements can co-exist.   And yet when I say this, some people are not quite satisfied: they seem to expect that I take sides, that I hail Mintoff as the greatest thing since sliced bread, or that I condemn him like the blankety blank so-and-so that they insist he was.

But I refuse to do either. Is that allowed in this country? Am I allowed to feel neither hate nor adulation?

Watching, listening and reading everything online this past week, I was not gripped by either of the two extremes of emotion which seems to have gripped most of the nation. The man was 96 years old, after all, he had been sick for a long time and his death was expected.

I was watching Mintoff’s funeral cortege on TV, and it felt surreal to me. I can understand admiration and respect for a politician and being sad that he died….but the overwhelming almost disproportionate display of grief (unless for a relative or close friend) was very hard for me to understand.

Similarly, the spiteful, vicious malice directed towards a man who was last in power in 1984, leaves me baffled too. Time does not heal all wounds it seems.

Nationalist supporters mention the violence in the 80s and Labour supporters hit back with their own scars and recollections of the 60s. It never ends.

The lack of mature and accurate perspective is also detrimental to our faithful recording of contemporary Maltese history. The political turmoil in the 80s was no bad of roses,  but Malta was hardly a concentration camp.  The dearth of unbiased, objective information means that those under 35 have a skewed and often incomplete picture – no wonder some of them wonder how we managed to survive at all.

Similarly, the over-the-top anecdotes of how Mintoff  “saved” Malta make me twitch in embarrassment. He was elected to run the country, after all, so if he carried out social reforms and improved the lot of the working class then, good for him, he did his job. It is possible to praise the man without bowing down in demeaning homage, you know.

At one point I become so thoroughly exasperated with the ying and yang of the whole Mintoff argument that I wrote it as a status, only to be regaled with a long, interminable exchange between people with opposing views. Someone even suggested that I should be silent because (with my statement that everyone should get over it and move on) I was “hurting” those who were still scarred by Mintoff – so much for freedom of expression.

By saying this, I am not belittling or trivializing people’s negative experiences; my point is that “debating” it is getting us absolutely nowhere. The two sides will argue until they are blue in the face – you can tell from what happened this week that there are at least two more generations which are ready and willing to keep the feud going long after we are all dead and buried.

So my question is: do we want closure? And I will answer it myself: No. There is perhaps an inherent need for some to keep picking at the scabs from the wounds, making them bleed afresh so that they can go around saying “look, look, how much I’ve been hurt”.  I will not exclude that there is also an ulterior motive behind the constant banging on (and on and on) about the 80s.  It takes so little, as we have seen, to re-ignite social class warfare.  The crazy obsession with keeping alive the hatred towards Mintoff, the diehard Mintoffjani (and by extension the entire Labour party) is,  I have no doubt, a calculated political manoeuvre.

As for those who wish to continue thinking of Mintoff as their saviour, their father and now possibly, a candidate for sainthood, well if that’s what makes them happy, what can I say?  They are free to do so, but they have no right to badger other people into echoing their sentiments.

Despise him, abhor him, adore him or gesticulate in front of his photo – it’s a free country. But let others be free to be ambivalent about Mintoff as well – we too have the right to look back at the events of this last week and feel emotionally distant.

We have the right not to become engaged in the political hate and constant stirring of the pot which continues to drive a wedge of division between the two opposing factions.  Speaking for myself, the whole thing has made me weary and fills me with ennui. How do some people thrive on perpetual antagonism and endless partisan bickering? I would be exhausted.

I think if even Mintoff’s long-time adversary, Eddie Fenech Adami was capable of briefly laying down the artillery and setting aside his personal feelings long enough to say “Mintoff’s good outweighed the bad”, then anyone can do it. Of course, his statement has infuriated hard-core PN supporters who have called him a hypocrite – and that’s the problem isn’t it?  During elections, politicians use “divide and rule” to drum up support for their side, but when someone like Mintoff dies, they have to put on their statesmanlike robes and rise above it. But the man-in-the-street, who has been fed the myths and stories and been pumped up to “hate” the other side, has no such dual function.

Supporters have been brainwashed into seeing the other side as the enemy, and that’s the way they will always see them.  You can’t just flick a switch and turn that kind of thing off, once you have spent decades sowing the seeds of division.

The only flicker of hope for a better nation come during Mintoff’s funeral, which to my relief, was a dignified event with no histrionics. Suddenly, from the crowd came the singing of the national anthem, and for the first time this week, I did feel moved.

I wish, perhaps idealistically and naively, that it could just be like this. That we could lay down the political artillery and say that before we are ‘Labour’ or ‘Nationalist”, we are above all, Maltese.




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