The importance of the divorce debate lies not within the favourable outcome of the referendum, but rather in the off-shoot debates it generated. Some subjects that were touched upon included secularism, child welfare, women’s rights, the contentious Article 2 in the Maltese Constitution, even Mintoff and Eddie Fenech Adami were mentioned in passing too – unsurprisingly enough. As much valid points were exchanged, irrelevant tangents were also drawn to make sure the issue got convoluted to such point as to discourage people from voting. Such is the power of misinformation nowadays.
Probably unbeknownst to ourselves we have also been putting the issue of Maltese identity under scrutiny, possibly in a subconscious manner. Not all Maltese, in fact, identify with and/or abide by what a particular institution insists upon, at times with certain vehemence. Whether this institution is the Church in Malta or the party in government or both, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
Could be that ever since our accession into the EU Malta has been undergoing a crisis of identity? It is highly ironic for Malta to be seemingly resistant to one principal idea of the EU, which is that of a communal, tolerant togetherness, and opt for the separatist (divorcist?) mentality of “us and them”. What happened to the fear of being left behind?
In all fairness, this “us and them” concept is a current issue throughout all of Europe, which just goes to show that, for want of being different from the rest of the world, we really aren’t, especially in a highly globalised setting.
Certain remarks coming from the ‘No’ camp bear witness to this innate need, as Maltese, to overly distinguish ourselves from this “sinful”, “chaotic” world. It is this “us and them” concept which aspires to monopolise values to reserve privileges to one particular group of society while the rest are condemned to perpetual patronising. In fact it only ensures that, as a friend of mine aptly put it, the għonnella of conservative, confessional attitudes is kept on at all costs. It is a concept which reduces complex arguments to simplistic black-or-white contestations, resulting in rash decisions being taken (the mysterious Cohabitation Law, for example). It provides an easy way out (where did I hear this phrase before?) of rational, open-minded thought and problem-solving. Thinking at long about an issue which requires serious consideration was, is, and never will be an easy task, but it is high time we pull up our socks.
Maybe this identity crisis was already there in the first place, always feeling ill at ease as to what role Malta plays in a globalised context. What the divorce debate has done was to push this crisis to the forefront even more – I stop myself short from saying even more than the Libyan conflict ever did.
Apart from pastizzi and being the happiest country in the world after Reagan, what makes me and the rest of us Maltese now – at this present moment – in 2011? How are we relating to each other, before questioning our relationship with the world? Are we, or can we be, truly Maltese and truly Catholic? Are the two as mutually and culturally inclusive as some might want us to believe? Have our European citizenship and deeper awareness of the reality around us created a rift or conflict between these two aspects, or was this rift already there to begin with? And, ultimately, is the over-zealous faith in God compromising faith in ourselves and our capabilities, while alienating us (mostly our MPs for that matter) from taking social responsibility?
These are questions which have long begged to be addressed properly, now more than ever before. I cannot emphasise enough how this is no longer a need, but an urgency. Failure to confront them will only subjugate the Maltese to an unnecessary prolonged process of liminality (being neither here nor there; neither “us” nor “them”) with regards to the reassessment of identity, that it transforms into a limbo. It is a failure that is only contributing in the generation of more confusion and fear, at the expense of progress, empowerment and education, just for the sake of keeping the status quo for the convenience of the few.
Franco is a student finishing his studies in a BA in History of Art and Theatre Studies.