Reflections on this year - Petra Caruana Dingli
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Reflections on this year - Petra Caruana Dingli

It is refreshing to listen to messages, whether at Christmas or at other times, from leaders whose role it is to be non-partisan. This is especially significant when it so happens that the messages coincide. It is easy to shrug them off but they are worth listening to.

On an international level, this is fulfilled by personages like Pope Francis, whose Christmas message is widely broadcast and heard by millions of people worldwide. The British monarch’s message also has a very wide reach in the English-speaking world.

Closer to home, we have our Archbishop, Charles Scicluna, and our President, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. They may not reach the same millions but they are very relevant for us, as they know and understand the specific problems and realities that we face here in Malta.

So what can we distill out of their messages and reflections this year?

The President emphasised respect and the need to remember our Maltese values. Be­sides other topics, she spoke out against verbal violence on social media and appealed for respectful dialogue. In her Republic Day address earlier this month, she had already touched upon this, highlighting the importance of ethics in the use of social media by the public, as well as among the professional media. She urged people to be respectful in the way they communicate, and particularly people in public life who have the responsibility to set a good example.

I don’t know which examples the President had in mind but I am sure that many of us can immediately think of several in­stances this year when people who should know better, and who hold public positions, resorted to verbal outbursts that crossed the line of decency and respect. This, of course, encourages others to do the same, and worse, with impunity.

It would be a good resolution for those in power to put a lid on this in the new year. The best way would be for them to lead by example. Christmas is a time for reflection, and this is certainly worth reflecting upon.

This is what corruption is: dishonest conduct by those in power to the detriment of society

As the Archbishop reminded us, the Christmas celebrations continue until January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. He also emphasised the need for reflection and the importance of values.

In an interview with this newspaper he urged: “We need to get our act together to save our public institutions in order to ascertain and guarantee a true democracy”. The Archbishop reminded us of the adage: knowing the value of everything but the price of nothing – “We have put prices on everything – people, passports, our identity, land and environment – but do they have value? Do we have a price list or a list of values…”

He appealed to everyone to remember the Commandments: do not lie, do not steal, do not kill. Taking the first two, again I do not know exactly what the Archbishop had in mind, but unfortunately our public life is currently flooded with allegations of lying and stealing. This is what corruption is: dishonest conduct by those in power to the detriment of society, often involving backhanders. An EU-wide study by the European Greens had estimated in 2016 that corruption costs taxpayers in Malta €725m a year, more than the amount spent on education, and 45 times the entire housing budget.

The shapes of paper

Some fine volumes on Maltese history were published this year, and Christmas is always a busy time in the book world. The festive season offers extra time to enjoy reading.

It is impossible to mention so many worthy publications in this short column, and I will leave the pile for later opportunities and just randomly choose one: Parallel Existences. The core of this book by Kite is a series of black-and-white photos by Alex Attard. He presents fragments of documents from the Notarial Archives in Valletta, focusing not on content but on materials, on the physical shapes and decayed textures of the papers.

The striking images are beautiful and abstract. Attard chooses worn, gnarled docu­ments, damaged by humidity or torn, and contorted into arresting shapes. The old papers reveal themselves in new, unfamiliar ways to the photographer’s sensitive eye.

The volume also contains a series of essays that delve deep into the archive’s content. Editors Joan Abela and Emmanuel Buttigieg divide the essays into two sections. The first mainly explores artistic questions inspired by Attard’s images of the archive, while the second presents a selection of new historical research carried out within the archive by scholars. Their subjects range from medieval notaries and Byzantine manu­scripts to 18th-century sculpture and music, and the property owned by the mendicant religious orders in Malta in around 1600. The archives also reveal nuggets of information on the history of theatre and on women in early photography in Malta.

The field is rich, and new ideas and information provide fertile ground for fresh in­sights. Every work builds on, and fine-tunes, others before it. The continuous stream of Melitensia publications attests to the great interest this nation has in its own identity and roots. And hopefully also in its values.

petracdingli@gmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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