This morning, a Twitter follower asked me if there had been any protests in Malta, along the lines of ‘Occupy Wall Street’, now a global movement of sorts. The question was particularly pertinent, in view of the 15 October marches in 951 cities and 82 countries.
Without much thought, I tweeted back: ‘No.. we’re in a goldfish bowl, blinking out. Via our iPads and HDTVs, of course.’
I kept thinking of why the notion of protest and civil mobilisation is so far removed from the Malta we live in today. It’s quite a Pandora’s box, worthy of study or a chat over a beer. The 14 reasons I list below are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive.
- There is nothing to protest about. Malta is somehow managing to weather the global storm. People still have food on their table. We can watch the Rome protests on TV and the Internet without having to clean up the next day.
- Civic protests are not part of our DNA. We do complaints, not protests. In the safety of virtual pjazzas, on social networks, in moderated Times of Malta comments section. We complain to our work colleagues, families, even to the odd MP. That’s what they’re there for.
- Never again. Some of us are old enough to remember real political strife and street violence. That chapter in this country’s history is firmly closed.
- Doing anything mildly edgy may be used against you. Even sun-bathing in public can get the police ruffled.
- Protests are for radicals. Being radical gets a play banned, a writer taken to court, some kid on Facebook given a suspended jail sentence. Deep down, we are a nation that is respectful of authority, hierarchies and institutions.
- Everyone knows everybody. Protest is about anonymity and critical distance. We may not have the CCTV surveillance society of countries like the UK, but a small place has its own way of watching and magnifying your actions. The chances are that before long you are protesting about the activities of one of your own.
- We lack critical mass. 2,000 people in Paternoster Square in London would proportionally translate into a family picnic at Upper Barrakka.
- Walls have ears and the Internet has a permanent memory. It’s bad enough with Facebook privacy settings and wondering if a friend has tagged you on a photo or put it on someone’s blog.
- To protest, you need a culture of protest. A non-hierarchical education system where a child feels comfortable to voice an opinion, question, discuss, debate and challenge without the covert (or real) chance of retribution. We bring up our children to believe that life is safe and fair – but also to respect the status quo. Someone else will take care of all that messy, political stuff. Just keep your head down, get through your exams, get your stipend when you get to University and the rest will unravel.
- We don’t have a financial district. We don’t have cities, no foci for urban discontent. There is no tangible local institution to blame for the global financial mess. We are more interested in complaining about why the new bus service does not work, and finding someone to blame for it. Blaming a politician in public can give rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories.
- We have enough on our plate, thank you. We have turned partisan conflict into a work of art. Red and blue, those who are ‘with us’ or ‘against us’. Even our so-called fourth estate – the ‘independent, non-partisan, non politically-aligned, non politically-owned media’ is at war with itself. Why bother with hippies singing songs outside Wall Street or burning tyres in Montecitorio when there is so much fun on our own doorstep?
- We don’t advocate anger. Protests need commitment, dedication, organisation, community. We have the Church and the political parties for that sort of thing.
- We don’t pretend to have a world view. You need to have one to protest. Yes, we’ve protested about censorship, Libya and animal rights but we know how far we can go. If you don’t like it, you can always go and protest somewhere else. We’re part of the EU, remember?
- We all aspire to being the 1%. We educate our children to do just that. Why complain because of a momentary blip in a system that is embraced everywhere – from China to the US? We may be small and irrelevant on the world scale. But we are equally sly, resourceful and never humbug.
Photo: courtesy, Robert G. Henderson
Alex Grech says
Thank you all. The article was meant to provoke some reflection, during this rich period of history we are all living through, and ‘mediating’, for it to fit within our own ‘culture(s)’. Just watched this interview with Slavoj Zizek, which has some cross-over with the notion of ‘protests’: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2011/10/2011102813360731764.html
Excellent article Alex, with some very well thought out points. As you said, if we’re fed, we won’t protest. In fact, the best known protests in the history of the island are connected to a rise in the price of bread.
Antonio Anastasi says
An interesting article but to be honest it did scare the shit out of me, as it confirmed my believes that Malta is not a state that encourages, free thought and freedom of speech and due process of democracy’s right of protest.
While I acknowledge the fact that we the Maltese are politically partisan, we seem to have lost our ability to stand up and be counted as we had in those infamous years of the 1970s and early 1980s.
During those days people, particularly our university students stood up for their rights and injustices.
We Maltese have lost our moral conscious and would happily live “… In the safety of virtual pjazzas, on social networks, in moderated Times of Malta comments section.”
To have a “critical mass” we do not need the Church or a political party…to have critical mass we need a society with a moral conscious which Malta sorely lacks.
If one looks at what has happened in our recent history, the building of a new parliament, the debacle of the bus system, the new power station, the project at Hondoq ir rummien, the hunting and trapping issue, and many other environmental and political issues when it would have been important, necessary even for us to talk with our feet we preferred to stay at home.
Over the years many a study has shown that Maltese perceive politicians to be corrupt.
We would more readily attend a street party in the thousands in Valletta to celebrate the World Cup, than Join Nature Trust in a clean up of the Majjistral park, if I am not mistaken our ONLY Nature and Heritage Park.
AAS and other environmental groups have organized many a protest, most if not all poorly attend.
We are petty and readily complain to our friends and colleagues, but the outrage many seem to feel does not translate in protest, for if truth be told we DO have a lot to protest about.
On a concluding note. We are so conditioned to respect authority that when a University student dares to complain to a minister on matters regarding HIS responsibility she is pilloried by apologists in the ” ….in moderated Times of Malta, (and other papers), comments section:”
Its an interesting article Alex, but maybe too reminiscent of the fact that we may be well on the way toGeorge Orwells 1984.. We are after all, already in love with big brother.
Edward Demicoli says
An excellent article Alex, worth pondering upon.
Alex Grech says
Hi David, I actually don’t remember the AD post-divorce referendum protest and may have been away at the time, but I take your point about participation and the three explanations you list above.
David Friggieri says
Interesting, Alex. I asked myself this question when AD organised the post-divorce referendum protest. I guess you know the one I mean. I don’t wish to be too polemical but were you there on the day? After that experience I had come up with three possibly linked explanations which might address your question.
1.) The Maltese aren’t ‘political’ in the true sense of the word. In the sense that they won’t spontaneously protest against a theoretical idea or a system.
2.) To gain the necessary critical mass, any political movement must be taken up by the Church, the PN or the PL. And pushed by their various satellites.
3.) Our generation (25-40 year olds) has not created anything significantly political even within the normal channels. Let alone anything more risky.
Ramon Mizzi says
Excellent thoughts…. Well done….