Michale Falzon | Sunday, 27 September 2009

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More emotion than reason

The Independence Day anniversary has once again brought to the fore that old chestnut about which day should be Malta’s national day.
Malta became a politically independent state for the first time in its chequered history on 21 September 1964 and for me there should be no doubt about that day being the one that should rightly be our National Day.
My opinion is based on 100% logic, but logic does not always win the day – not when an issue is inundated with emotions, as in this case. The great political divide that separates this country into two tribes and a minority of bewildered citizens who refuse to be identified as fanatical supporters of either side – as is their right – leaves little room for reason when emotions run so high.
Leaving things as they stand – with our having five National Days – is perhaps the best solution for the time being. The political fanaticism that still inspires highly-charged emotions will, in time, subside and then perhaps the country could be in a position to make a logical choice. Time heals all wounds, it is said. In this case I reckon the issue should not be reviewed before at least another two or three generations.
And isn’t it peculiar that 45 years after Malta’s attaining political independence, there are rumblings on the issue of the George Cross on our national flag? The myth on the origin of the red and white flag is too old to be challenged by anyone, but the “imposition” of the George Cross in the top left hand white corner of the flag is another matter: it still raises hackles and rankles our emotions.
Emotion is, of course, the name of the game; although I must admit that a recent contribution in the opinion columns of The Times (‘A siege Malta did not need, Paul Calleja, 11 September) was an interesting and valiant attempt to divorce the issue from the emotional viewpoint and base the argument against the George Cross on logic and reason. Even here, however, the premise was an interpretation of history with which many – myself excluded – would probably not agree.
I am sure that the retention of the George Cross on Malta’s flag in the Independence Constitution was a clever Borg Olivier stratagem: a sop to those who were terrified that political independence would sever our ties with Britain more extensively than was necessary. Writing this today may sound a bit silly, but such was the atmosphere in those days 45 years ago.
Many today are too young to remember this. In my case, it was at the onset of my last teenage year when we stood in awe in the newly renamed Independence Arena seeing the Union flag being lowered with the Maltese flag replacing it at the top of the mast. The country was in trepidation not knowing what was in store for it in the future. The first 25 years or so after independence were indeed, turbulent times. No surprise that issues such as the George Cross on our flag are coming to the fore, now that the dust seems to have settled. Even so, I think that is too early to view this controversy without the shackles of emotion.
Unsurprisingly, the issue was raised by Dom Mintoff in the discussions that led to the Constitutional amendments of 1974 and the declaration of Malta as a Republic. In this case, the upshot of that historical compromise was in itself a quaint compromise. The Constitutional article establishing the National flag was split into two parts: the first part simply says that the flag consists of two equal vertical red and white stripes with the white in the hoist while the second part says that a representation of the George Cross edged in red is carried in the ‘canton’ of the white stripe.
The devil is in the detail: only the first part is entrenched with its alteration needing the support of at least two-thirds of all the members of the House of Representatives. The second part can be altered by a simple majority; making it, in practice, subject to the foibles of the government of the day.
With Dom Mintoff having ‘won’ the day, the matter was laid to rest without any political party ever venturing to suggest the removal of the George Cross from the Maltese flag. Our country was spared the indignity of changing our national flag with every change of government, as happened for some time, with Malta’s coat of arms. Yet, there are a small number of people who, every now and then, raise the issue in the correspondence columns of the press.
From a logical point of view a medal given to Malta by the British – for its efforts in a war between the powers of Europe – on the Maltese flag makes no sense in today’s circumstances; especially now that Malta is a fully-fledged EU member state together with Germany and Poland, as well as Britain and Italy among its equal partners.
But this is a purely emotional issue. Again: many decades have to pass before this emotion subsides enough for reason to stand a chance of having its day.


The reaction in the correspondence columns to my contribution two weeks ago (The greening of Lawrence Gonzi) contained the usual barrage of red herrings, non sequiturs, inherently contradictory statements and inane attempts to put words into my mouth. I would have ignored them were it not for a particular gross misrepresentation in a letter penned by the PRO of an NGO that felt aggrieved by what I wrote.
According to him, “Mr Falzon says that the Prime Minister ‘cowers’ when Astrid Vella or Lino Bugeja open their mouth.” What I actually wrote was that as a result of the mishandling of the NGOs “the Prime Minister has come across as someone who cowers whenever the likes of Astrid Vella and Lino Bugeja open their mouth. This is actually not true at all, but truth is irrelevant in this game. It is perception that counts.”
This disgusting falsification of what I wrote is the result of either sheer malice or crass ignorance. Whichever it is, it reflects poorly on the NGO that chose the writer of the letter as one of its officials; more so when this is of those NGOs that think they can criticise everybody while they themselves are above criticism.
Once again emotion – in this case abetted by a barefaced untruth – has left no space for a reasoned debate.


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