I feel it is my burdensome duty to attempt to translate Alfred Sant, first from the original Maltese to English and then from the what he says to what he means and in a round-about way to get to what it is that what he means, means.
Timid translation from the original, penned by a literary grandee:
“I’ve had it up to here with the harm caused to Malta by the messages and wrong information spread in our country and beyond about some failure of rule of law. Everyone has the right to say what they feel and to express it in protests. This right applies to everyone. I think it is about time that those (I believe the great majority) who disagree there is some crisis of rule of law in Malta, say what they feel and protest. Why do they not also gather — for example in front of the courts? … calmly, as a civil society as others do, without the backing of the Labour Party or any other party, to declare firmly, and without partisanship, that they believe in democracy, in the values of freedom of expression and in rule of law. They declare that they are ready to defend them to the end, without believing that these values are in any way threatened in our country.”
So Alfred Sant, former prime minister, former leader of the Labour Party, and socialist member of the European Parliament, wants protests to start in order to balance out and outnumber civil society protests currently under-way. Let’s call this the counter-revolution intended to reaffirm the glory of the panglossian status quo where nothing is wrong and people are protesting for no real reason.
He says he’s concerned with the image the country is getting overseas. Let’s take that at face value. What will the world think of large crowds protesting in the streets to declare everything is fine here? What will they make of crowds protesting that Malta’s governance is beyond reproach and criticism? What will they think of crowds waving the flag in celebration of the fact that a journalist was blown up and no one is reasonably suspected for committing the crime and no one is responsible for allowing it to happen because after all the state of Malta is in perfect health?
I’ll tell Alfred Sant what the world will think. That we’re a collection of loons. I know that because when Alfred Sant celebrated ‘winning’ the 2004 referendum on EU membership large crowds in the street enthusiastically celebrating the self-evidently false showed up the collective psychosis of a country where masses of people are willing to act like a rafter of turkeys happily voting for Christmas if their party tells them to.
And here is where I get accused of partisanship. Because as Alfred Sant knows full well, this is a political reality that is considerably more applicable to his Labour party than to anyone else. Alfred Sant got people to applaud him madly in 1998 for calling Dom Mintoff a traitor. Then he watched as Dom Mintoff was lionised again in his life and canonised in his death. And the same crowd applauded right through the maddening transition.
That sort of party loyalty and irrational mob behaviour is looked at very suspiciously in European democracies. Because they’ve seen this all before. Yes of course Alfred Sant is right to believe the majority, silent or not, does not agree with the civil society protesters who are arguing there is a collapse of the rule of law. There’s no doubt in my mind Labour enjoys the uncompromising support of a formidable majority.
Flexing that muscle and taking that angry majority out in the street, is nothing less than an act of intimidation intended to crush the will of any minority daring to seek the protection of a constitution that is supposed to do just that: protect the minority from the abusive footfall of the majority.
Flexing that muscle will remind Europe and the world of how, in the words of Josef Vella at one of the civil society events, democracy can be destroyed democratically. Upon historical reflection, that is the only way democracy can be lost. That is how democracy in Turkey and at a slower but at just as inexorable pace in Hungary and Poland is being crushed under the weight of willful, prosperous, hero-worshiping majorities.
The image the rest of the world is getting of Malta is of a democracy in jeopardy. Alfred Sant’s plan on his Facebook post of today will give an image of a democracy in throes of agony. Of course Joseph Muscat’s supporters have a right to manifest publicly their views, however callous, warped and poorly informed they may be. But if Alfred Sant’s real concern is what the international press is thinking right now, he should really be asking them directly and what they would think if his plan is acted upon.
Truly he does not seem to understand what is meant by ‘harm to the country’.