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News • August 8 2004

Culture Minister keen to keep carnival free of political satire

Matthew Vella
It is a law that prevents carnival revellers from satirising politicians. Age-long, redundant and irrelevant – is the establishment ready for a change?
Earlier this week, a suggestion by Tourism and Culture Minister Francis Zammit Dimech at the presentation of the prizes for the winning participants in the 2004 carnival was that the introduction of satire would be considered for the upcoming edition. But not of the political kind.
The suggestion was first brought up in a seminar held by the Maltese Council for Culture and Arts, headed by Prof Joe Friggieri, and the National Folkore Commission, in which it was agreed that new activities would be introduced for Carnival 2005.
It is a law whose obstacle is acknowledged by Friggieri himself, who finds little favour with the conformist rigour of the official carnival: “I have always said there should be political satire in our carnival. However, there were diverse politicians from different sides who expressed themselves against this. As it is, it’s the law which prevents political satire in carnival, and that’s the point that was brought up in the seminar.”
Joe Friggieri says he is in favour of changing the law which bans political satire throughout carnival, introduced earlier on in the last century: “I don’t see that our official carnival is any relevant to us. All these Walt Disney characters mounted on the floats makes it look as if we are in Orlando. They really do not make me laugh.”
Francis Zammit Dimech is of a differing opinion, and does not agree the law is anachronistic: “We want carnival to be an occasion of celebration for everybody. Political satire offers the possibility for people to be irked or feel annoyed in what should be a festive event.”
That slice of satire the establishment feels, will be satiating enough to be the kind that mocks celebrities and personalities, Zammit Dimech told MaltaToday. Asked whether this would not irk people in just the same manner as political satire, Zammit Dimech kicks the ball into the happily-divided Maltese nation: “This form of satire does not have the same divisive element as political satire.”
It is of course a statement that lacks any coyness, where it is left up to the politically divided Maltese to take stock of their resistance towards humbling Maltese politics to a more humorous level. It all confirms Malta’s paternalistic political culture, in a day and age when the media is constantly pelting politicians with eggs.
But such officialdom remains challenged by the smallest of villages which manage to rein in the raucous and anarchic carnival spirit, with Nadur having attracted nationwide and international fame for its macabre and grotesque celebrations. Political satire in the Gozitan village is a staple of the gratuitous revelry.
Several vicissitudes have characterised the Maltese carnival. Back in 1639, over a hundred years since carnival had been established since the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St John in 1530, was shortly threatened by the tenure of Grand Master Lascaris, who banned women from wearing masks under penalty of being whipped. The Maltese saying ‘wicc Laskri’, which likens one’s sad grimace to Lascaris’s own, is idiomatic of the Grand Master’s sombre reign.




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