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Being liberal: then and now

In the aftermath of the divorce referendum, the word ‘liberal’ has acquired considerable currency, especially within the Nationalist Party, vaguely implying that a person in favour of the introduction of divorce would be ‘liberal’ while one who is against divorce is ‘conservative’.

Having voted No in the referendum, I felt the need to carry out a reality check to see if indeed I am no longer liberal as I had considered myself to be before the vote.

To my mind, I was liberal when, in the 1970s and in the 1980s, I campaigned hard with so many others for the socialist government to stop infringing fundamental rights such as the right of association following such condemnable incidents of violence as at Tal-Barrani or the freedom of expression when, in effect, the state took control of the entire means of public broadcasting forcing the PN to transmit its views from Sicily.

Then, to be liberal was to stop the state from controlling every single aspect of our lives even of threatening the closure of Church schools in Malta.

I felt liberal enough to campaign in the streets against the state taking control of every tap of economic wealth forcing us to mercifully plead any kind soul travelling to London or Palermo to buy us toothpaste or chocolate to avoid using those produced locally by monopolistic entities.

We were liberal by wanting to roll back the frontiers of the state to allow for private enterprise, which would compete in a liberalised economy putting theinterests of the consumer first and foremost instead those of the central government.

We were liberal by wanting a judicial system freed from the continuous government interference, where courts were closed for months simply because a judge had the effrontery of deciding a case against the socialist government of the day.

To be liberal meant wanting each and every Maltese citizen to have the right of appearing before the European Court of Human Rights against their own government for a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

We also wanted the same convention to become part and parcel of our law as it did when we had our ‘regime-change’. This measure has already allowed new rights, such as the eliminationof any discrimination againstillegitimate children.

To be liberal meant that democracy would be strictly according to majority rule as expressed at elections free from violence and intimidation. We liberals refused to recognise a government elected by a minority of the voters denying for five whole years the right of the absolute majority of voters to have the government they freely elected

Above all, we wanted Malta to extend its horizon beyond its insular shores and join the community of free democracies and economies that united the free Europe through the EU, creating the single market and the euro. The liberal in me told me this was the correct road.

Some intellectuals credited the introduction of divorce to Malta’s entry into the EU. What has Malta’s entry into the EU got to do with the divorce issue?

I proudly represented Malta on the EU’s agency on human rights and am committed towards a Europe that does away with homophobia, discrimination in all its forms, especially of minorities such as the Roma, and for a proper treatment of the migration issue.

However, do we become conservative the moment we question the wisdom of divorce as an end to itself or that divorce be not inevitable unless socially proven otherwise?

The EU charter of human rights puts the family, not divorce, at the very centre of its human rights policies and leaves each member state a margin of appreciation on such issues as divorce, abortion and the family.

If we are truly liberal, we must accept that MPs have every right to vote freely and conscientiously on divorce, taking into consideration all national, politicaland social aspects, not least the referendum result.

The vote last week showed a pro-divorce majority in Parliament, yet the liberal in me means I will not take out the exorcist’s cross!

It only makes me sad that the family in Malta has suffered another blow and, arguably, unnecessarily so.

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