Standing up to the bullies.
The rabid witchhunt unleashed following the Prime Minister’s reluctant dropping of the co-cathedral underground museum project is shocking and shameful. The orchestrated smear campaign against officials of Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar will cause more damage to the Prime Minister than his own mismanagement of the situation before his scuttling of the project. In both cases, the prime movers are evidently unaware of the ongoing sea change in public opinion. Or they are too desperate to care.
Public opinion is – slowly but surely – turning against the arrogance of power. We are, traditionally, a people whose tolerance for the arrogance of the powerful is incredibly high. We grumble, clench our fists and chew our innards but, ultimately, we bite our tongue, bow our head and kiss the hand that beats us. It is a characteristic feature with deep historical roots but things are changing. There are, I believe, clear signs that more and more citizens across the political spectrum are no longer willing to be led by the nose and to vote one way or another because of something akin to a tribal instinct.
This concerns both parties in Parliament. Labour (PL), in this context, enjoys the bitter benefits of opposition. It has had no choice but to reflect hard on its own and its competitor’s experience in government. Twenty-two years have gone by since 1987, of which 20 were spent in opposition. Sufficient time for Labour to think about its achievements and its sins.
The Nationalist Party (PN), on the other hand, has had no such advantage. Evidently, the two years of opposition, 1996-1998, were not sufficiently long for the PN to examine its conscience on the matter of arrogance.
The vile attacks on environmentalist Astrid Vella and her colleagues indicate that influential elements in and around the PN have yet to realise that arrogance is just not on anymore. Attacking those who dissent will not strengthen the bullies. On the contrary, undignified displays of arrogance such as we have been witnessing will only make matters worse for those who support the bullies, directly and indirectly. The least the PN can do to distance itself from the bullies is to condemn the current hatred campaign against those who opposed the co-cathedral museum extension project. Better still, it ought to apologise to Ms Vella, the FAA and all those who supported them.
• The members of the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation, who should ideally have resigned after their project was effectively killed by the joint statement of the Prime Minister and the Archbishop, should also – at the very least – distance themselves from the witchhunt by condemning the smear campaign against Ms Vella. If they feel they cannot do it jointly as a body, they should at least do it individually.
On February 16, commenting in this newspaper about the failure of the members of the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation “to resign gracefully”, Lino Spiteri asked: “Why was the foundation so pig-headed?” This query synthesised three other ones posed earlier in the text: 1) “Why did it take the Archbishop to be embroiled in a clear political move to sink the proposal?” 2) “Why did the foundation, on its own intellectual steam, not realise that so many sectors and notable individuals were against their proposal that there had to be something fundamentally flawed in it?” 3) “Why did the foundation, acting with due humility, not withdraw the proposal itself?”
The article’s bottom-line was that “It is for not doing so that the foundation members should resign”.
Evidently, they lacked the humility needed to admit that – to put it very mildly indeed – there was unequivocally not sufficient support in the country for the project. Evidently, they lacked the humility to admit that there was sufficient reasonable and expert doubt about the wisdom of the project.
Not surprisingly, therefore, they could hardly be expected to have the graciousness to resign. They seem not to have considered the possibility that their failure to resign could have been interpreted as sheer arrogance.
• Only last December, many Maltese and Gozitans congratulated and patted themselves on their back because a Maltese was awarded the special jury prize for the most deserving work in the International Volunteer Day competition organised by the Fédération Francaise du Bénévolat et de la Vie Associative (FFBA). That Maltese was Astrid Vella. She won this European award and received 12,000 votes from different countries in recognition of work carried out by the FAA, especially for the battle against development in the Tal-Papa area in Birżebbuga, the scheduling of the area around Villa Bologna in Attard and the protection of the Gozitan scenic sites of Ramla l-Hamra and Hondoq ir-Rummien.
One expects all those who, less than three months ago, were made proud by Ms Vella and the FAA to speak out now against the bullies who cannot forgive her and her colleagues for having dared to oppose the co-cathedral museum extension project. It’s not enough for them to merely grumble. They need to stand up to the bullies if they do not wish to be their accomplices.
This article appeared yesterday, March 2, on The Times of Malta. You may access the original at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090302/opinion/standing-up-to-the-bullies