This article appeared yesterday on The Malta Independent on Sunday.
The Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook (Euphemisms)
On the 14th of August 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan delivered a surrender broadcast on the radio during which he announced that “the situation has developed, not necessarily to our advantage“. The broadcast was henceforth known as the “Gyokuon-hoso” or the “Jewel Voice Broadcast” – and marked the first time the Japanese Emperor had spoken directly to the common people.
In the light of the fact that an ally-less Japan faced a host of enemies demanding unconditional surrender (the Potsdam Declaration) and of the recent atrocious use of the ultimate weapon, the phrase “not necessarily to our advantage” was a tragi-comic understatement to say the least. Then again an Emperor must never be heard to say: “I’ve led you up a creek full of excrement and I can see no sign of a paddle on the horizon”, so I guess euphemisms for “we bloody well lost it” were very much in order. Hence Gyokuon-hoso and a dignified euphemism to give the impression that even in defeat, the Emperor was in control.
I was reminded of the Emperor’s speech a couple of times this week. There was the PM’s speech at the end of the Transport strike. Then there was the government’s inspired move to “open the debate about divorce”. Once John Dalli struck the first notes, the rest of the song and dance followed in a gradual crescendo that reached the usual choir of faux-libertarians. These suddenly developed the “I told you the Nationalist’s are liberal” tick and reprimanded the pre-electoral sceptics for having been Doubting Thomases for so long.
Of course the whole idea of a working democracy does not even register in the faux-libertarian agenda. They ignore the fact that the electorate does not vote for a party in the blind hope that once in government it will wake up one morning and implement a particular policy without ever having mentioned it in the electoral programme. You might as well vote a Kinder Sorpresa Egg into government and hope for the best: that once you chew through the sweet promise of chocolate you will find a package of positive reforms and not come across cronyism, uncontrolled development or knee-jerk, unaccountable governance.
The Ministry of Silly Talks
So there we have it. It was supposed to be obvious really. Corollary number 3456 comma 1 of the “Wasted Vote” theory includes the inimitable tautology “those who wished to see the introduction of divorce should vote for those most able to introduce divorce, and not for those who spoke about it but who had no chance of being in government“. You either have to be blind or dumb not to see through the absurdity of this statement in terms of democratic representation.
A voter has a choice. Choice A is a small party that has spoken about divorce for a very, very long time but that thanks to the machinations of the MLPN crowd will in all probability not end up in parliament. Choice B is a big party called PN that externally, and for the purposes of an electoral run up gives all the signs of being the Vatican Party in disguise insofar as divorce is concerned. Only in Malta will the pro-divorce voter vote for the party that gave out the most signs of being against the introduction in the first place.
What we tend to forget is the Nationalist party’s knack of transforming “defeat” into victory. In this case we have a party that ran for government on a non-agenda, basically on a vote by default and counted on sniffing the air for the right wind once it was confirmed in the driving seat (pardon the transport metaphor). What we sometimes fail to see is that the latest string of “achievements” are knee-jerk reactions provoked by external forces.
The list is beginning to grow long but if it’s a taster you need just ask yourself these questions: How many people needed to be blown up before concrete action was taken with regard to fireworks? How many EC deadlines were needed before the government put its foot down on spring hunting? How many years of Alternattiva pressure has it taken before we finally have a blueprint plan for Rent Reform? How many more MEPA scandals will it take before real reform is undertaken? How many more elections will be contested under an unfair system that encourages bipartisan mediocrity before we see real signs of change?
And finally…(and answer this honestly), how long did it take you to recover your breath after laughing till your sides split when hearing the government announce that it was “opening” the debate on divorce? Opening the debate? Where the hell has GonziPN been in the last fifteen or so years? I’ll tell you where… sucking up to the tin-pot conservative vote that’s where. At least even the most dedicated of apologistas will have the guts to admit that the debate has long been closed with a hands-down victory for the argument in favour of the introduction of divorce.
The Dead Parrot Sketch
Somehow, as with the transport liberalisation issue, you get the impression that all this talk about the Party with a Plan is really a lot of marketing hiding an empty vessel that moves on in spite of the need of change. Iron Man Austin Guts literally admitted that were it not for the rash action by Victor Spiteri’s Band of Merry Men, liberalisation would have been on the back-burner for quite a while yet. Not exactly steamrollering our way through the necessary changes are we?
Did I hear you mention rent reform? Which part of the Alternattiva suggestions did you miss over the past years? Ah but AD are unelectable – thanks to you know who… PN you can elect… then sit on crossed fingers for five years hoping that something will happen to prompt them into action. Electoral reforms? So long as the going was good and no one apart from the irritant band of misfits and objects of hate were stirring the waters, nobody dared consider reforming our system that encourages the race to mediocrity. Now that Joseph (he’s not the Messiah) has jumped on the wagon of the discontent, PN sense that it is time to appropriate the agenda.
Then there are the environmental credentials. Suddenly we’re all green and thoughtful imagining windmills and underwater whatnots. It did take us over twenty years of nationalist government to notice that something must be done… but better late than never. In fact electing the nationalists to government was a bit like buying the dead Norwegian parrot. It was the only one in the shop and it stood glued to the perch promising an evening of interesting noises in the company of a lovely plumed bird. In the end it turns out that the marketing was mostly a dupe and we have to be prepared for the unexpected!
The Man Who Contradicts People
Yes, we’re an irritating bunch, us critics of the establishment. It’s tempting to tell us to grow up. We just can never be pleased can we? We complain when the government excludes discussion and we complain when it opens the discussion. What do we want anyway? What’s the problem with the Kinnie Generation? It’s not that difficult to understand where we are coming from. It’s not about the results which promise to be on the table soon but it’s all about the how and why we reach them.
We are expected to stand up and applaud a government that has finally decided to stop feigning ignorance of a problem and notice the elephant that has stood in the room all along. That is the problem. We are not comfortable with this “trust the government because it’s PN” issue. We want transparency and accountability. We want an equal playing field where parties are clear about what they promise and can be monitored with regard to delivery. No we are not arrogant when we say that this state of affairs is still not right. Arrogance is expecting us to vote blindly and hope for the best. The position of the “wasted voters” before the election has not been defeated but vindicated.
For heaven’s sake, it is August 2008, Michael Jackson turns 50 and we are supposed to applaud the government for thinking of “opening the debate” about divorce or finally moving it’s finger to try to improve the transport system. How dare we not ? Do you know what the nationalists have done for you? OK. Not the roads, not the irrigation and not an efficient sanitation system but you get the gist.
Once again J’accuse yells about these warning signs: we are here because the MLPN system encourages mediocrity and mollifies us into accepting mediocre achievements as though we just landed on the moon. We could be far ahead… exploiting our potential as a sly, entrepreneurial people… instead we get used to the world of backhanders, permits that fall from heaven, and pre-electoral manifestos that read like Aesop’s fables. Well, so long as “In Gonzi we Trust!” – even the liberals can have their field day (once every twenty years or so).
The Fish Slapping Dance
The race to mediocrity means that we cry victory when we take steps towards the obvious. It also means that a strike breaking 230,000€ becomes a triumph instead of a costly buyout. Who do you think you are kidding Dr Gonzi? On the international front we are witnessing the birth of a new partnership with a huge potential – The Union for the Mediterranean has finally kicked off with 40 members on both sides of the Mare Nostrum.
Cooperation within the new organisation will focus on environment and immigration among other things. I have not seen signs of Maltese enterprise rising to this occasion. France has already cut deals to provide nuclear power, Italy announced on Thursday that it has agreed to construct a coastal road in Libya and you can bet your last euro that other European nations will soon hook on to the synergy. OK We are not the largest fish in the tank but surely we could be jumping at this opportunity of expanding our trade base? Do we have anything to offer apart from complaints?
Ten Seconds of Sex
That’s the last sketch for this week’s Python themed article. I’m back in the Duchy and already missing the beaches and the sun. I was positively surprised by the cleanliness of the sea and even of the beaches. Of course there are still oafs who have absolutely no idea what a dustbin is for. In a pragmatic world they should be shot on sight.
Transport strikes apart I also found driving much smoother than I last remembered it. Few traffic jams barred my trips from Paceville to the beaches up North. Of course some planning still baffles me – who was the genius who decided that traffic lights were just what was needed at the Xemxija end of the St Paul’s Bay bypass (after a corner of course)? Another thing, it should be obligatory for trucks intent on blocking a road for unloading to carry a sign that will be placed at the beginning of the road BEFORE other cars drive in behind them.
The food fare in Malta remains excellent in most places I visited. I was pleasantly surprised for my Penultimate Supper (to keep the Monty theme) when I visited Birgu during the San Duminku feast. We dined sumptuously at an unpretentious Don Berto’s on the lovely waterfront – and everything from the good food to the waitress’ smiles (“l-Aqwa Nisa il-Maltin” – il-Bamboccu) made it a very pleasant evening. I’ll be back!
One tip though. I have noticed that quite a few eateries seem to be convinced that people want to hear loud music while consuming their food. That’s really not the case… we’d rather hear something completely different!
Jacques blogs daily (we’re back in business) at https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Comment is free.