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Are we still truly Maltese? - Anthony Buttigieg

I have just come back from a holiday in Scotland to find Malta in the grips of an identity crisis. On one hand I find a section of our society criticising an 18-year-old lady who has done more to improve the image of our nation with our northern neighbour, Italy, than any other Maltese citizen, past or present. Why? Because she is happier to speak in English and more proficient at speaking it than Maltese.

On the other hand, I find an even larger section of our people willing to let others die at sea rather than further congest these already over-crowded islands. And yet, our government and most businesses are more than happy to legally and in an organised manner import tens of thousands of foreign workers to fuel an over-heating economy in order to increase pro­fits and keep all our wages under control.

So the question has to be asked: What makes us Maltese? Is it the colour of our skin? Well, we all know co-citizens who are indistinguishable from our Arab neighbours, and others with carrot coloured hair, blue eyes and innumerable freckles; so that can’t be the case.

Is it our religion? Although many Maltese refuse to acknowledge the fact, our forefathers were predominantly Muslim for the centuries under Arab rule and long after they were gone; again, hardly the most defining feature.

Then it must be the names we carry. Not really. Over half the surnames we go by are of Italian, French, British, Spanish or Arab origin. As for forenames, the use of true Maltese ones is practically inexistent.

The defining factor must be our language, or is it? Again, for millennia, Maltese was the language of the illiterate and under-educated, all those with an education spoke the language of our masters. Even till this day, the true Maltese words to describe certain body parts and functions are considered vulgar and we use alternatives of Italian origin to sound polite.

We have forgotten the meaning of solidarity, we have lost our Maltese soul

Less than a century ago the biggest political debate in the country was the language question; was Maltese even considered? No, it was between Italian and English. And yet those politicians are now considered giants of our history.

A section of our society, for reasons of where they were educated and the social group they belong to, still use English as their first language and Maltese as their second. They are a part of our people that has contributed enormously to the development of our nation: in the arts, in business, in education and research, and in politics. Are they lesser Maltese because they speak Maltese less? I don’t think so.

Could it be that being Maltese is defined as love for the motherland? Just go outside and see the littering, the illegal dumping of bulky refuse, the wanton destruction of our historical and environmental heritage for profit, the rate of which has increased exponentially since we have become masters of our own land, and the total lack of respect for our neighbours, and try and convince me of the fact. It took a Swedish woman to mobilise thousands of people to  undertake a national clean-up; thousands of which a huge proportion were and are expatriates. Is she and are they the true Maltese then?

So I will return to the question, what defined us as Maltese? I use the word in the past tense deliberately. Well, it was our national character. The ability for all of us to pull together in times of hardship to work for the common good. Through two great sieges we prevailed, not because of some superhuman military prowess, but because we worked, lived, sacrificed and died together as one nation.

Then there was our ability to show soli­darity with those less fortunate and offer succour to those who needed it. We were the ‘Nurse of the Mediterranean’.

There is the fact we have always welcomed and accepted foreigners among us, be they imposed on us without our consent or as refugees from conflict or persecution. It was because we absorbed them and integrated with them, took the best of their cultures and absorbed it into ours to further enrich it. It was because we honoured our ancestors by caring for what they left us. It was because we understood that well-being was more important than wealth. It was because we were friendly, generous, warm and altruistic. It was all this.

By that yardstick the Malta of today and many people living in it fail the test. We are foreigners in our own land because we are changing, not it. We have forgotten the meaning of solidarity, we have lost our Maltese soul.

It is time we all took a long hard look at ourselves and ask the question: Quo Vadis, am I still truly Maltese?

Anthony Buttigieg is the leader of Partit Demokratiku.

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