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The discrete charm of Malta’s bourgeois democracy

Those of us who could see an election approaching like a car crash in slow motion, anticipating an ensuing cacophony that would drive the Dalai Lama to absolute distraction, cannot help but aim for levity, especially when everything else becomes unbearable.

Given that I am old enough to remember what happened in the 1980s, and having had my own fill of history from my late father who lived through the 1960s, I have to look elsewhere for distraction, even when I actually live and work thousands of miles away from Malta where it seems that herd instincts and the hatred of the other have come back with vengeance as a sign of a serious tribal ailment in our young bourgeois democracy.

Here I say “bourgeois”, rather than “liberal” democracy, not to betray my love of 18th and 19th century theorists like Adam Smith and Karl Marx, but because the term befits the attitude by which we seem to have adopted a certain charm, which Luis Buñuel’s genius captured beautifully in his (in)famous 1972 film, The discrete charm of the bourgeoisie.

Alas, my take here is far less genial that Buñuel’s. After all, I can only take refuge in the shade of such giants, whom many have chosen to forget because of the uncomfortable truths they risk to unveil.

My issue has to do with the frivolity, as much as the pretence by which we seem all charmed by the “maturity” that we seem to hail in Maltese democracy, until that moment when the whole situation degenerates into a tragic farce.

Thus, as some are so keen to protect the wealth by which politics has become the beacon of ambition and merit, they go and seek to denigrate everyone else. They ride high horses and declare everyone a ħamallu. They deride everyone else’s English accent.

They attack anyone who happens to be in the way with a sense of impunity which often reminds me of those who would go with democracy until they feel unsafe enough to conclude that their privileges could be touched.

A sense of irony cannot be helped, as claims and counterclaims keep contradicting each other — saying in one instance how awful it is to sell passports, while at the same time claiming that ultimately such industries remain important to us once they are “reformed” and somehow made “honest” under another guise (as if such services could in any case be justified in any way, shape or form).

One must be forgiven if one still wonders what is it that actually is worrying Malta’s bourgeois sensibility. Is it corruption per se, or is the fact that corrupt practices are being done in the open and where they could be seen?

One must be forgiven if one still wonders what is it that actually is worrying Malta’s bourgeois sensibility. Is it corruption per se, or is the fact that corrupt practices are being done in the open and where they could be seen? I don’t recall anyone complaining when many (Nationalists and Labourites) were given an amnesty after being found out to be indulging in a spot of shady offshore investment.

Then again, is this a justification? I hear someone say. No, just observing that the law for animals and humans is alive and kicking, notwithstanding the desirability by which it has now adopted a somewhat postmodern tone.

As we speak of the postmodern, many are now showing off their self-styled revolutionary credentials. In the 70s we had champagne socialists. Now we have colourful revolutionaries who look like Che in a wig, cite the floating signification of populism as if those who originated these theories were defenders of the financial classes, or would join Fanfani and Andreotti to beat Craxi. Even Berlinguer is now beatified in certain quarters where being called a communist was a derogatory term.

Somehow, I am starting to feel jealous of those diehard PN and PL supporters whose politics is a fixed feature. Love them or hate them, they simply follow the leader because they know “where they are”. They won’t come out with any frivolity — whether bourgeois or proletarian. They still repeat what their caudillo would say.

It is the meandering middle which is now in crisis. After the Orange-men and women of Malta’s own Democratic Party decided to run under the Maduma, experts in the theories of historic blocks and failed alliances are attacking the Greens for indulging in a political form of coitus interruptus. Strangely, these critics never vote AD anyway. Others are showing a newfound love towards Cassola and Cacopardo’s lot, even though they will not vote for them. Such indulgencies cannot be wasted on a budding Maltese Buñuel.

Somehow, the significance of that most mature moment of getting together and become a Republic in 1974 has been wasted on many Maltese. Also, many have forgotten how when Malta hit the abyss, Dom Mintoff and Guido DeMarco decided to break the impasse by resorting to logic and reasoning.

Remembering very well those dark days, I would have thought that from then on, Malta will be mature enough to at the very least laugh in the face of its failures and pick itself up and move on when it encounters difficulties. I expected that we learnt the lesson of unity through diversity. And yet here we are again, hating each other’s guts, intimidating each other. And this time on Facebook and Twitter. (So much for progress!).

Since the election was declared, I decided that I would not write a line before June the 4th. Somehow my friend Herman Grech, editor of the Times online, encouraged me to make an effort and try to reach out beyond the mayhem.

Probably here I have failed to get anywhere, but I hope readers get the drift and perhaps stop for a wee while and seek the Buñuel within them. As they find their own Buñuel moment, they should look again at this rock to which Byron could only “stare from out [his] casement” and wonder “for what is such a place meant?”

Maybe, being an aristocrat, Lord Byron could never figure out Malta’s bourgeois predicament.

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