Call it authoritarianism, autocracy, dictatorship or just a rule of law in disguise; all members of the same family consistently gaining ground globally from the Americas to Europe to Asia. Orban, Erdogan, Maduro, Zuma, Duterte, Trump to mention a few. And yet Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College, opines that even in the United States and Europe, while it would be “both empirically incorrect and unhelpful” to describe them as sliding into authoritarianism, there are worrying signals.”
All new authoritarian ideologists practice a sometimes raw and at times more refined versions of the dictator’s handbook depending on geopolitics, alliances, regional trade envelopes, the population innate idiosyncrasies – history, religion, culture and education, and the personal traits of the ruling elite as personified in the person charged to lead.
The exercise of such power revolves on the vertical and horizontal strategic formulae: co-optations with the country’s influential elite (institutional and private) and the subtle, at times violent, coercion of masses with a view to keep in check possible threats. Attack on journalists, blame natives, considered alien dissidents, and “paid protestors” – civil resistance, scapegoat minorities and vulnerable groups, weaken checks on power, reward loyalists, use paramilitaries (police, security and trolls), and generally try to reduce politics to a question of friends and enemies, us and them.
Speaking publicly in terms of a democracy threat – as we speak of groups on the verge of poverty – is nonsense, rather cowardice, rather possible vested interests. And yet one could consider Malta’s autocracy as a benign disguise for a population that is experiencing the best of years. Since the premises of the trickling economy cannot be challenged on statistics in the hands of a manipulating statistician. Since the rule of law cosmos and all its collaterals cannot be judged by the Statute of Laws but rather by the enforcement of the same.
How illuminating and what foresight was the Italian writer/philosopher Pier Paolo Pasolini exposition in his political tragedy Calderón when he describes Power not as stupid or a pin cushion, but rather as eminently elegant! A power vested in the political leader, in the head of the institution and/or in the “friendly” entrepreneur that can make the masses believe that documented and evidenced criminal acts never took place and that in endeavouring to retain power it uses its own “children” to recreate itself.
But Harold Pinter, the British dramatist sums it all in his 2005 Nobel Prize address delivered from a wheelchair: “… since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us, therefore, is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”
But perhaps it was Aldo Moro, the Christian Democratic leader in Italy who in 1977 in Mantova when discussing the perilous political situation in his country declares that both government and the opposition parties are equally responsible in the face of difficulties of the country. His often repeated utopia for political and civil reconciliation was the tenet of civil liberty itself that enshrines benevolence, dialogue and respect.
Since I often distance myself from discussing the day to day ad nauseam acts of government I would rather invite the learned and the knowledgeable, politicians, civil society, professionals, academics and artists, literary and media groups to delve in the causes and effects of the evolving developments embarked upon by a charismatic leader who carries on with his business in a meta-theatrical series of “happenings”.
It is not just the talk of native traitors that something is rotten in the state of Denmark that is known abroad as a land full of drunken swine. These are the conclusions of foreign media, of international institutions, of foreign governments who diplomatically extend smiles when face to face with the guy at the helm.
One cannot but envy the successes of the party in government in delivering its agenda without undue harassment. On the other hand, the government machinery does intelligently and effectively harass the parties in opposition and civil society at large. This in no way translates into a fact that the palisades minutely constructed along years by the party in government still provide their original comfort. They project a distorted impression of sustained resistance due to the use of the “whip,” irrespective of its form, that comes along with extraordinary rewards that leave the receiver speechless. A sister of this abhorrent whip is cleverly used on the country’s vast silent majority.
This vast silent crowd consists of those who know the present well and can foretell the future while considering feeble the experiences of last year. It also consists of those who without traces of cruelty, frighten with their actual knowledge those who overshadowed by anxiety, need to have, in their relationship with the world, a high degree of patience and resistance. Only those in good health and with no sorrow can live looking forward to the future. The rest – sick and full of sorrow – are just there, in the middle of the street, without certainties, without conviction and perhaps even now, victims of this conformity, they who have battled so hard against injustices in the past, if they were to participate in these new fights, they would do so without confidence, devoid of optimism. – Again Calderón.
And yet civil resistance is a human right enshrined in the United Nations charter. Because the just distribution of wealth is not limited to the “necessities of life” we read in the Jungle Book. It is summed up as the putting into act legislative and procedural acts that provide for greater transparency of the government’s operations to enable the public to hold government bodies and politicians to account. But disclosure is not on the books of this government. This in itself calls for action.
Civil society activists, in their multifarious mushrooming forms, including this blog that in a relatively short time has been transformed into a platform for some intelligent debate, could lead the way but would not contemplate any imagery of civil disobedience. Because civil resistance would take us back to the seventies and eighties of last century and it would require the endorsement of influential groups: the businessmen, the investors, the constituted bodies, the unions. One would expect the party in opposition to be the source of enlightenment, not necessarily calling for civil resistance, but to act convincingly and lead by example a crowd that has forgotten how to express dissent because of the state’s coercive employment of the dictator’s handbook.
The inherent problem of the party in opposition is not the valuable factions within its fold. The problem is the lack of concrete credible and convincing political thought. The party day in day out dishes out journalistic, rather than political, onslaughts against the noble Castile elite and its numerous friends on issues of corruption, money laundering, lack of transparency in procurement of services, the unfair distribution of wealth and attacks on freedom of the press. But this is not a fragile situation that one would not find in liberal democracies too and that the vast silent crowd of these islands now takes as gospel while idle about stalking shadows in the middle of the street, lost, desperate and confused.
And yet, it cannot be but recognised that those leading the party are convincingly acting in good faith; a good faith that is not the much-needed prescription for the ailments of a vast silent crowd. The party is also responsible for the problems of the country. And hence as I had stated long months back its permanence on the opposition benches should be considered the best years for the party. The years that should lead to its rehabilitation and its transformation whilst adhering to its Christian democratic tenet as would need to be employed in such ways that reflect the realities of today’s socio-economic and political realities. Discussing and defending the various predicaments of societal cells is welcome but the vast silent majority is yearning for political discourse on a much higher level.
Other than the focus on the individual as described by Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher who dwelt at length on “personalised” (the individual) political thought; other than the usual discourse on solidarity and subsidiarity et al, a broader all-encompassing interpretation of the Christian democratic thought would consist of the principles of civil liberty itself, mainly benevolence, dialogue and respect. And it is sorrowful that the leadership of the party in opposition has thoroughly failed in its implementation of these socio-political mainstreams.
But irrespective of the party leadership oft criticised approach in doing politics, these same cardinal principles are concretely enshrined in the party’s statute. In other words, it is the statute that matters not the leadership. A vote for Partit Nazzjonalista is a vote of endorsement of the party statute not of its leadership.
Like other Christian Democratic parties worldwide the past decades were difficult years; challenged by extreme socialism, neo-liberalism and populism. Rallying electoral support may take time but the opportunities are there for the taking. The Christian Democratic Appeal party in The Netherlands had spent long years in government coalitions. Dire years followed. Yet now it is again gaining ground, becoming more relevant to today’s societal and economic needs.
In the coming elections, the vast silent crowd needs to take account of the possibility of change. It is the responsibility of all who would wish to call it a day with this present party in government, irrespective of personalised or communal reasons, to rally behind the party. The cry out there shall be the notion of damage limitation with the conviction that the best years are yet to come. This requires conviction.
Those who oppose the present government, those who may have different but well-founded opinions to the leadership of the opposition party shall keep concentrating of the fact that these are not enemies but adversaries that need to be defeated in accordance with the principles of benevolence, respect and dialogue.