Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Giving in to blackmail

It is now painfully official. Following Labour deputy leader Toni Abela’s spectacular volte-face yesterday afternoon, Paul Vincenti has emerged as arguably the single most powerful political force in the entire country.
Either that, or Abela must be the most extraordinarily pusillanimous deputy leader the Labour Party has had since... um... I don’t know, exactly. When was the last time a high-ranking PL official was so weak, so pliant and so utterly frightened of his own shadow, that he would simply collapse into an untidy heap of tears and contradictions (‘I’m pro-life! I swear! I swear!’) no sooner was he placed under a tiny, weenie bit of pressure from an utterly unremarkable NGO?
No, it has never happened. This is an entirely new phenomenon for Malta (though less so for places like the United States, where Vincenti clearly cut his lobbyist teeth), whereby ‘real power’ now lies in the hands of lobby-groups with powerful international financiers; and is exercised not through any recognised democratic process, but simply by threatening to let loose a violent lynch-mob of religious fanatics.
Gone, therefore, is any notion that ‘policies’ are somehow drawn up by political parties. Oh, no. In this new and vastly unimproved landscape, ‘policies’ are now forcibly rammed down a party’s throat, usually at gunpoint, by lobbyists who owe their entire influence (as well as their seemingly bottomless bank accounts) to sinister international rightwing pressure groups.
I suppose some of you might well argue that this represents an enormous improvement over the Labour Party some of us remember from the 1970s and 1980s – but as for myself, I’m not so sure. I somehow doubt it’s such a good idea to have a single country split so evenly between two equally mindless political organisations: both of which are evidently held to ransom by the exact same sort of religious fanaticism that, in other countries, is so often responsible for homicide.
Besides: there eventually comes a point when our country’s wholesale regression towards mono-culturalism becomes so ubiquitous and all-pervasive, that it is virtually impossible not to acknowledge that are we now manifestly less free than we were before Independence.
What? No, no, you heard right. I did indeed say ‘less free’. Not ‘less rich’, or ‘less pampered’, or ‘less empowered by Italian pasta and foreign chocolates’... or even ‘less vulnerable to diseases such as cholera and undulant fever’ (for which I suppose we should be more grateful than we actually are). I said ‘less free’... and I meant it, too.
For if there is one undeniable fact that the unsightly Abela debacle has illustrated this week, it is that people are simply no longer free to utter even the most mundane and commonplace of opinions – opinions which are shared by literally billions of people the world over, I might add – without being immediately bullied and bludgeoned into a humiliating retraction, then forced to act out their penance in public on the Church zuntier.
Nor is it any coincidence that this visible erosion of our right to a simple opinion – different though it may be from the ‘official’ opinions of our political and church bigwigs – comes at a time when editors are being hauled to court for publishing controversial short stories in campus newspapers; or when Carnival revellers are arrested and convicted for having impersonated Biblical figures; or when award-winning foreign stage productions are banned outright, by a censorship board that has become infinitely more stringent in the exercising of its powers in the past two years alone.
In a nutshell, the country’s entire notion of individual rights has now receded so far into the background that it is all but entirely invisible. And in case you still haven’t worked it out, this is (roughly) how this disquieting situation came to pass:
In 2004, Lawrence Gonzi became leader of the Nationalist Party, and (by proxy) Prime Minister of Malta... and from practically day one of his tenure of office, he embarked upon a strategy to exploit the last remaining ‘no-go area’ Malta’s tortured political scene had left to offer, and shamelessly wring it for every drop of political mileage he could possibly muster.


In vain his closest allies urged him to reconsider: advising him, among other things, that by putting abortion on the national agenda he would only expose the existing hypocrisy of the true situation regarding unwanted pregnancies in our country... in the process, opening a can of worms that could quite probably never again be forced short.
But to no avail: Gonzi, so wishy-washy on other issues, proved to be implacable on this one... ignoring his intelligent advisers, and listening instead to a po-faced army of religious bigots, who appear to be ignorant even of the fact that the same ‘Great Satan’ they have vowed to eliminate, is already illegal and has been so centuries.
Of course it’s not at all hard to figure out why Gonzi would insist on a political strategy as dangerously unhinged as that. After all, what else could he have possibly banked on? The EU was by that time already old hat. And the Old Labour ‘Babaw’ – such a foolproof device in years gone by – could hardly be expected to work any longer.
So what election-winning trump card did that leave Gonzi with? The dazzling brilliance of his parliamentary group? Um... sorry, but a cursory glance at the its current composition will promptly put paid to that little idea (so much so, that Gonzi deliberately cut them all out of his last election campaign... which is arguably the only reason he won). And for much the same reason, the same old ‘GonziPN’ motif has already been successfully employed (a never-to-be-repeated experience, as most will agree).
No indeed: the only long-term strategy left was to polarise the entire county on the basis of a new religious fault-line – just like his own uncle had done in the distant 1960s. Well, this strategy is due to ripen now, ahead of the 2013 election. So enter Gonzi’s not-so-secret weapon, the Gift of Life Foundation: a supposedly autonomous NGO, whose members (with the exception of the omnipresent Paul Vincenti) remain cloaked and daggered in mystery... and who seem to serve only one purpose in the current political set-up: i.e., to exploit an irrational, superstitious and largely ignorant abortion phobia, not for the purpose of defending human life (after all, the unborn child is already well defended by the Maltese Criminal Code), but rather to keep up the pressure on all Gonzi’s opponents.
So lo and behold: where Gift of Life Foundation has absolutely nothing whatsoever to day about (for instance) air pollution – well-known for its harmful effects on the health of the unborn child – it suddenly goes into overdrive to bully, blackmail and harass Labour candidates such as Sharon Ellul Bonici and John Attard Montalto.
And no sooner does Gonzi find himself pilloried over utility bills and other such issues... hey presto! Out springs Paul Vincenti like an overgrown foetus, just in time to distract public attention from Gonzi’s many woes, and instead channel them into a frenzy of religious aggression directed at the Labour deputy leader.
Anyway: I invite you all to examine the precise sequence of events surrounding the entire Toni Abela affair this week: that ‘spontaneous’ little question, sprung on him by Reno Bugeja on TVM; the subsequent bullying tactics by Paul Vincenti to force a pro-life statement out of Labour; and above all, the visibly orchestrated way in which Net News, Maltarightnow and the rest of the PN propaganda machine collaborated with Gift of Life to maximum the pressure on Abela, just as the Labour general conference got under way.
Honestly, you have to be deaf, mute, blind and catatonic – if not altogether dead – not to come to the only conclusion possible... i.e., that Gift of Life is itself just a cog in the well-oiled PN election-winning machine, and exists for no purpose other than to neutralise any conceivable threat to the Gonzi regime.
Meanwhile, extend the same dynamic into the near future, and the makings of the forthcoming electoral campaign should by now be visible to all. Gonzi has invested far too much of his political energy to precipitate a ‘conservative versus liberal’ divide – with the unwitting aid of Joseph Muscat and his ‘progressive’ movement – to be able to now resist the temptation to milk the devout Christian majority for every last vote.
The upshot, my droogs, is that just when we all thought the era of political violence and hatred was finally behind us: well, it isn’t. It’s actually looming dead ahead, beckoning us all onwards with its ghoulish, bony fingers... and of course, like the idiots we all really here, we are about to fall headlong into its clutches.


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