This article appeared on the Malta Independent on Sunday on the 28th December 2008.
The year that was
It’s that time of the year then. The time when sums are made, conclusions are drawn and when the audacious come up with those dreadful things called resolutions. As you read this article there are still three more days before the calendar year comes to an end and a new one begins. The 31st December is no different from any other day of the year but we like to use it as a marker to assess a year that has passed and to express our hopes for the year that is about to begin. If worst comes to worst, New Year’s eve is always a good excuse for a party (remember to party responsibly).
I have spent New Year’s eve in New York, in Paris, in Luxembourg and in Malta. I can vouch that the switch of the year is as exciting as you make it out to be. If you can overcome the pressure and anxiety of joining your peers at some party you will find that spending the evening at home alone in the company of a good take away, some good booze and your favourite series will do the trick just the same. In any case we still like to give special meaning to this kind of event. We still bring out the abacus and the scales and analyse how the year has been for us while looking ahead with eager anticipation.
This is the time of the year when even the most sceptical person will not hesitate to peek at the most scam-laden of astrological predictions for the coming year. It is the time when resolutions are vouched for with optimistic expectation – when habits are kicked and sobering routines adopted. It is the time of the year when the infamous “last hangover from hell” is experienced and the words “never again” will echo around the groggy head only to be forgotten as soon as the pain and fear are over. It’s definitely a time of the year when the news is not really news… so we really have to dig out the albums and scrap books and see more about the year that was…
First an electoral frenzy
Being a blogger does have its perks. You get to look back at the year through the eyes of your blog and the result is a sort of scrap book for the 21st century. The first quarter of the year was definitely dominated by the National Elections. In truth the most historic event in this quarter must have been the switchover to the Euro. The trials and tribulations of adapting to the new currency now seem to be light years away and once again it might be safe to say that the doom-mongerers were forced to eat the proverbial dirt. A conspicuous part of the population would contend that Morena at the Eurovision would be a landmark moment of the first few months.
Others who are more politically obsessed would shift the spotlight to the Joe Said allegations or to the heat of the electoral campaign. We witnessed an electoral campaign that was quite a groundbreaker in many respects. The means of communication shifted from the traditional standards as blogs and blogging (and online videos) broke new ground in interactive politics. Blogs like J’accuse helped in breaking new ground and create an awareness locally as to the power of the blog. The blogosphere expanded temporarily as others jumped onto the interesting bandwagon with mixed formulae for success or failure.
Politically speaking, the elections produced the usual bland affair of black versus white. We had some unforgettable moments as the “Wasted Vote” debate could no longer be swept under the carpet thanks in no half measure to the forced discussions on the net. It was this very paper that opened a window onto discussions that were happening elsewhere for many. While the stink of censorship still hung around other papers it was the Indy that embraced a philosophy more akin to the bloggers’ idea of publish and be damned thus creating a symbiosis that persists to this day.
We also saw an ugly side of the political debate. We had what was probably one of the saddest lines in the campaign – apart from the Wasted Vote label of course – which was yelled in the direction of all those who questioned the black and white philosophy: “You are setting yourselves up as objects of hate”. This was coupled with electoral shenanigans by a party that was proving to be an expert in spin but fast losing its moral backbone. There was the “Vote Harry, Get Freddy” joke, there was the incident of a One TV cameraman held prisoner against his will, and of course there was JPO.
Of course we now sit on the comfortable side of the temporal plane. We look back with hindsight and we can smile and nod at how sly Joe Saliba was to take a gamble on JPO and reinvent him as a journalist, dentist, politician and what not. Even the people swallowed the tears and some sided with JPO when he bumblingly confronted Alfred Sant while sporting his journalist badge. Hindsight can play dirty tricks on you. You could sit smugly and claim that you were on the right side of the Wasted Vote argument – that what this country needs is politicians who feel accountable to the electorate once again… but sadly even thought these lessons are there to be read by all they will soon be forgotten and come next election we will hear the same old story.
Then a slippery spiral
The election came and went and left us with the funny aftertaste of a relative majority. It was all relative. Relatively satisfying for the nationalist crowd which could go on patronising the bloody rest for another five years. Relatively tumultuous for the labourite crowd who could then embark on reinventing themselves or trying to do so as much as possible. Relatively reassuring for all the rest in a “plus ca change” kind of way. At least we were guaranteed one of the immutable truths of our nation – that the alter-nation was here to stay for some time yet.
Before and after the elections we had some funny business with the so-called pressure groups whose default state of inertia is normally prodded into some form of reactionary action whenever the government announces one measure too many. The carnival of politics by knee-jerk reaction meant that we had the fireworks community in a commotion following the more than unfortunate incident in Naxxar. This was followed by the lovely hubbub regarding the Hunting Regulations which very predictably provoked the “Namur jew Intajru” crowd to no small extent. Surely the most memorable protests of all the year will remain the transport protests.
Transport is to Malta as cholesterol is to American diet. It is an ugly problem that is in everybody’s face and that everyone seems to be reluctant to solve. We had those moments of threatened anarchy as the public transport ground to a standstill. We had a government trying to look headstrong and determined and then we ended the whole business by paying out part of the transport coalition using tax payers’ money. It was a tear jerking experience – just like the months and months that we had to wait before the Manoel Dimech bridge was finally completed.
Labour had been busy all this time trying to reinvent themselves out of the unelectable image that they had got us used to throughout the last few decades. Inhobbkom Joseph broke onto stage round about this time promising love, peace and reconciliation. The maquillage is still a work in progress but early signs have been disappointing, at least insofar as j’accuse’s eye is concerned.
Above all the humour
I could go on trying to chronicle highlights of the year local and foreign. It is not my job to do so though. You will probably have seen more than your fair share of summaries by now. Allow me instead to take you on a short trip through the little nothings and facts that made the year for J’accuse the blog and J’accuse the blogger.
I must say that one of the greatest moments of blogging this year must gave been reporting Peppi Azzopardi’s line “Nikkonfermaw li Norfolk tezisti” (We can confirm that Norfolk exists). You will find this in an April post (the 7th to be precise) and it chronicles the moment when Peppi confirmed for the benefit of his audience, that there is a Norfolk in England. This kind of blog post does sum up what J’accuse can be about – the highlighting of what can seem to be a trivial point to many but one that speaks volumes about us and what we are about.
To me Peppi’s “Norfolk Moment” epitomised all that is our Malta-centred approach to reality and the world. It was Maltese Relativism in action. That same relativism that is triggered every time we venture abroad and assess other peoples’ habits and customs using our very special rule and measure. The Norfolk moment only got a few hits and comments, quite unlike the period during election time when J’accuse really hit the roof with discussions of all sorts taking place.
It was at election time that the blogging world took on a new tinge as more people ventured into the realm of free speech and learnt the hard way that respect for the interlocutor is an important part of the netiquette by which we live. It was also thanks to the elections that J’accuse met Bertu and adopted the cartoonist as official cartoonist for the J’accuse posts.
Accompanying this article you will find the first Bertoon Personality of the Year award. For 2009 we have chosen none other than Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. The man did have quite an advantage over the competition given his multiple roles and personalities. He will remain a symbol of the year reminding us not only of the elections but also of the planning ills and intricacies of our nation. Whether or not he is finally vindicated JPO remains a symbol of how difficult it is to put words into action when it comes to environmental policy.
2009 – Year of the Blog?
2008 as a blogging year has brought us our fair share of new bloggers as well as some part-time bloggers. The ether remains an interesting fertile ground for exchanges of ideas and opinions. The death of the blog as the preferred tool of individual communication has been announced in some quarters. It would seem that networking tools will gradually supersede the blog as a medium of expression. I very much doubt that this will happen in the short term future and am ready to bet on blogs becoming a stronger more powerful tool as portable technology for reading the net becomes the norm.
The next year promises to be interesting in this aspect. J’accuse will be revamping and restyling itself sometime early in the new year. This will happen just in time for us to follow the EP elections closely. J’accuse has been chosen as one of a number of blogs to be reporting the EP elections for the European Journalism Centre as part of the “Think About It” Campaign. That is as far as the first semester is concerned.
Not much remains for me to say except that I hope that like me you will be recharging your mental and physical batteries and sharpening your skills in eager anticipation for the coming year. I look forward to a year stock full of controversial and bloggable items, full of new readers and surfers of the web and our blogs and full of all the good things that you could wish for.
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
So here’s the toast to all of you readers out there…. may the worst day next year be like the best day in the year that has just ended and may we meet again this time next year to contemplate another year that has passed… for auld lang syne!
Jacques has been busy enjoying the sights and sounds of Malta. https://jaccuse.wordpress.comis in Festive Hibernation. A Happy New Year to all Jaccusers!