Sunday 19 September 2021

Want to hold a private party? Relax, just tell them it’s a football celebration…

This column first appeared in Malta Today

I normally suffer from low blood pressure but Friday morning it was threatening to shoot through the roof when I saw photos of hundreds of Hamrun Spartan fans celebrating their team winning the championships. No masks, no social distancing and forget any rules about 6 only gathering at a time.  

The video shown on our national station of the actual trophy presentation was more of the same: everyone mask-less, embracing and jumping for joy, while parading the club President Joseph Portelli on their shoulders. As for the constant “No’s” which event organisers keep being met with any time they suggest increasing their capacity audience  – well all that mealy-mouthed, schoolmistress strictness flew out the window. Forget a limit of 100 people and forget seated audiences only: frankly, it looked like Covid had never happened.  

We really did not need yet another example of the constant, blatant unfairness and injustice in this country, but with the photos and videos going viral it was pretty hard to avoid.  What exactly are the health authorities and the Police trying to tell us?  That they will keep the rest of us in check because we follow the rules, but will allow anyone else who is hard to control (or has political connections and clout) to do what they like? I suggest we all keep those photos and videos handy, saved on our phones, just in case a Police officer or warden tries to slap a fine on us for a trivial (or non-existent) reason.

The pattern is too depressingly familiar. If you are loud, macho and a bully (who goes around in groups with others who match this description) you can flaunt the rules because the Police won’t dare touch you.  It’s become patently clear that a crowd of 100 burly men (because the majority are usually men) is harder to control than a few people who are quietly going about their business but might have forgotten to wear their mask or who are on a table of 7 instead of 6.  We have seen this happening time and again with other issues, but this is really the final straw.  After so many months of having our lives curtailed, contorted and constricted by the measures required to curb the pandemic, we are restless, fed up and just want to lead normal lives again. We were patient, we complied and most of us dutifully obeyed the rules because we knew they were for our own good and necessary, but seeing how certain specific interests (football, festas, hunting, bars) are somehow always excused and their transgressions allowed to slide, it has now come to the point where you wonder why we even bother. 

The ultimate indignation will be if the numbers spike because of these illegal gatherings and we are all forced into lockdown again because of them. 

I am not usually one for flouting rules, but this situation is beyond ridiculous. When I see scenes like that from Hamrun I feel like telling people to stop asking health authorities whether they can hold a get together with their large extended families (even if they are more than 4 households) and to just go ahead and do it.  Want to hold a party? Go ahead, then if anyone comes knocking on your door, just tell them you are all Hamrun football fans, and it will be all hunky dory.  Want to organise a concert or a play with a full capacity audience so that you can get back to work as a performing artist?  Sure, no problemo (just give every one a football jersey to wear and tell them to burst into a typical football anthem if they spot a cop).

This situation makes me so livid that if it were me, I would contest any fine given, by showing photos and videos of these street parties and tell the tribunal that if you are going to fine me, then you will have to fine every single person in these photos (I have since learned that 150 people and the organisers have been fined).  But I would also demand that every police officer and environmental health officer pictured, who stood by and did nothing, is suspended from their job.  I’m sorry to have to say that, but you are not serving us at all by gazing with arms folded at those breaking the law and then going full Rambo on law-abiding citizens. 

By the time you read this, the arts and entertainment industry will have held a protest in front of Castille which they said would adhere to all the rules, and since I’m writing this before it happens, I cannot say how it will turn out. However, the rebellious side of my nature is whispering devilishly in my ear and I know that if I were involved, it would be gloves off.  Why bother discussing and trying to argue one’s case reasonably; why bow down to the rules when others are simply ignoring them BECAUSE THEY CAN?  If it were me, I would have rallied all those in the industry to show up for a proper protest as if it were 2019, and then the authorities can stuff their mitigating measures and their police permit.  Sometimes only drastic action will do, and this is one of those times. 

Because you know what, I will bet my bottom dollar that the restrictive measures for people to hold mass events will only be lifted when the PM announces the election date, to coincide with the organisation of mass meetings which will start in earnest. The way it is looking, the Government is not going to allow us mere mortals any chance to enjoy normal life as we knew it, before plunging us into the madness and mayhem  of the vitriol of campaign and political stridency.  

It is unacceptable. And we should not be accepting it.

We need to be more like the Swedish

I recently learned a new word which is used in Sweden, “Jantelagen”, which means the law of Jante, and which is used to describe a concept which is quite alien to a lot of Maltese people, especially politicians and other public figures.  Basically this unwritten law, which the majority of Swedes live by is that, “You are not better than anyone else“.

The Jantelagen stems from a novel by the Danish author Aksel Sandemose, in which he states the eleven rules from the village of Jante, a fictional place in Denmark.

Put simply, the Swedes do not show off, and they look askance at anyone who does. They are less prone to bragging no matter who they are, whether it is a member of the Royal Family or pop royalty such as ABBA.  In fact, I learned this word while watching a documentary about pop music which traces the actual brains behind many well-known pop songs to Swedish lyricists and composers. 

Why did we not know this? Because in most cases, the pop star gets all the credit, even though the musical genius is often a long-haired, low-key Swedish guy who dreams up the catchy tunes, which are churned out with astonishing regularity from a humble music studio.  

Many of the hits by 90s boy bands such as I want it that way by the Backstreet Boys were, in fact, written by Swedes. In this case, Carlsson Andreas Mikael and Sandberg Martin Karl whom I had never heard of – but google their names and a string of familiar hits will pop up.  

I watched them being interviewed, almost squirming with shyness and embarrassment at being in the spotlight, and the thought occurred to me that we need to learn to be more like Sweden.  A healthy dose of the law of Jante would do this island a world of good, with its schizophrenic inferiority/superiority complex, always thumping its chest to proclaim that it’s “the best” in the mistaken belief that by saying so, it means that it actually is so.  But being the best does not come without hard work, dedication and commitment, and it certainly does not come out of thin air.

Just ask Neil Agius, who has managed an impossible human feat by setting a new world record for the longest non-stop swim from Limosa to Malta which took him just over 50 hours. I could not wrap my head around what that kind of endurance entails, but what I do know is that we need more people like Neil, not only because it is an impressive achievement in itself, but because we are in desperate need of positive, altruistic role models whose main goal in life is not to drive a Lamborghini but to create environmental awareness.

So please Prime Minister and members of your Cabinet, let us have less boasting and more humility; less bombastic talk and more concrete action.  Yes, Malta has a lot of talent and brains, and in some areas it even excels, but anyone with a modicum of emotional intelligence should be aware of that wise, old adage, “self praise is no recommendation”. 

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