Political ghosts of the past
There is no end to history. But, when does it start? All too often it is quoted in political argument to suit the subjective bent of the interlocutor. That is again proving to be the case as the unofficial electoral campaign gathers speed.
References to the past are part of the fear-factor constantly spun by Nationalist exponents, fellow travellers and dogs of war. Under one guise or another, they try to burden the present Labour leadership with real or fictitious sins of the past.
There can be no doubt that Labour’s years in office between 1971 and 1978 contained actions that shamed the party and the government, above all, Labour leaders Dom Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who had the authority and means to stamp them out. Equally, those of us who were part of the government at the time – as I was – are guilty by association, even if most of us had no bully boys of our own.
Nor can there be any doubt that the perpetrators of violence and rowdiness and the police officers who also participated or looked the other way were relatively few, though even one was more than too many. I also retain my belief that they included troublemakers – agent provocateurs – paid by elements who wanted to blacken the Labour Party. I wrote this in my collection of memories.
In a small discussion group that included heavyweight Nationalists, two of them asked me whether I had any evidence. I mentioned a name of a well-known thug. Oh, that one, was the dry reply. The subject was dropped and we moved on to other issues. I do not believe that the top echelons of the Nationalist Party knew what was going on. What I do believe is that no one can be choosey and see only one side of things.
Fifty years ago next Thursday, April 26, Parliament met for the first time after four years of direct colonial rule. The 16 Labour members who had been elected, including me, had suffered both the pains of mortal sin imposed by the bishops as well as personal insults and worse for months on end. We were subjected to further insults as we made our way to the Palace for the opening of the session.
As I entered the Tapestry Chamber to take my seat, a man sitting in the Strangers’ Gallery rose from his place, kicked me viciously in the shin and ran off. Later I learned that he had boasted to a group of policemen that he had kicked “that one-armed fellow” (Il-lostra x’daqqa ta’ sieq tajtu lil dak ta’ driegħ wieħed), in reference to my physical difference. I did not imagine then, or any time after, that the man had been encouraged to kick me by some Nationalist official.
Four years before that I was one of the demonstrators in Queen’s Way, as it then was. We were protesting against the manner the British government was treating Malta, something that the Nationalists too condemned and had historically joined the Labour government in a “break with Britain” resolution. Members of the British forces then based in Malta were kept out of sight.
Not so the police. Hundreds patrolled the demonstrators. A group of them beat up pockets of us ferociously with their batons, severely injuring a number of demonstrators.
Where does history start? Wherever it does one can find instances of senseless behaviour, of violence, of victimisation, some worse than others but all bad just the same.
Mercifully, with sense and God’s help, we have moved on. The rhetoric of politics is still harsh and politicians have not turned into beautifully winged angels. There is a common understanding about not stepping the line into violence. Nevertheless, some speeches and writings coming from or permitted by the top brass are an equally condemnable form of moral violence.
Leaders of the political groupings should lead by better example, using and urging measured language. The competition for office should be carried within the framework of reason, persuasion and decency. The past should be referred to so that we may learn from it, including the lesson that a few individuals could raise the heat well beyond what the leaders want, placing an obligation on them to take corrective action.
The point is that we should learn from the political ghosts of the past in order to move towards a better future. The future is what elections should be all about.