The Pride of Lions

Do you have Independence day hangover? Are you still reeling from the injection of pride in our country and its achievements – especially in its delayed reincarnation as the potential Florence Nightingale of the Libyan Spring? Or are you still feeling rather indignant at the “divisive” call for AST’s resignation? Better still, are you still clutching your aching sides after laughing all night at Labour’s non sequitur style reponse that “if my ex-Foreign Minister was an arsehole then your ex-Leader /PM / President played host to a flurry of arseholes in the early nineties”?

However you may have woken up this side of Independence Day, you will surely have gone through your morning papers and probably, like J’accuse, you’d have noticed the glaring inconsistencies in this proud nation’s dealing with foreigners. Here they are in black and white.

The Black – No to injured Libyans

On the one hand GonziPN’s efforts to weave a new heroic story into the tapestry of our PLPN history books have come under fire from an unexpected source. The (very christian) spokesperson of some Union of Nurses complained that Mater Dei has enough on its hands as it is and does not need to play nurse to any injured Libyans. Paul Pace, head of the MUMN told the government that “bigger countries with more facilities should address such problems”. Boom goes GonziPN’s plans of proud nation humbly serving the weak and the injured. Don’t hold your breath for a Joseph Muscat position on this mess by the way. He either criticises MUMN (read votes) for their tunnel vision or he criticises Gonzi’s plans thus losing cred on his “I love New Libya” mantra.

As for the proud nation sticking its neck out for others – here is the best source to tap the pulse of the nation … the Times online comment board:

Ms Maria Vella

Today, 09:59

Let us stop being all politically correct and call a spade a spade!

Mr. Pace did not beat around the bush and stated the situation as it is. We have enough Maltese patients (who pay taxes and contribute towards the running of this hospital) waiting for treatment, in corridors or at home, or even worse sent home because of lack of space but we find place and resources to treat foreigners.

Whilst my sympathies go towards the injured Libyans, charity should begin at home!

Now there’s a thought Mr. Prime Minister. A sympathy card to Libya and that’s that. Where’s Tonio Borg when you need him?

The White – Yes to rich magnates

Frank Salt, of Frank Salt properties, describes the new conditions for obtaining a residency in Malta as “a large hammer being used to crack a delicate egg” (TOM – Messing with the economic motor). Apparently the new conditions for your average Russian euro-burner to settle down in Malta are “very complicated, extraordinarily expensive, virtually prohibitive” – dixit Frank. It seems that the developers’ apple cart has been upset:

Was it sensible for the authorities to continue to allow new building developments specifically targeted at potential new foreign buyers, to sprout up all over our Islands, when they knew that they were about to unload this bombshell, that would and could, and no doubt will, upset the whole apple cart?

And the property developers are angry. They’re angry at the government that encouraged them to develop land to sell it off to Non-EU citizens (not injured Libyans mind you… for that we have Mater Dei) and then came up with these conditions. Here’s Frank being Frank again:

Today, the local property industry first works its backside off promoting Malta as a safe, inexpensive and pleasant place in which foreigners and their families can come and live in peace. Then, when the market gets off its feet, quality developments are built, foreign residents, permanent and temporary come to Malta to see whether they would like to live here… bang… once again it is time to mess things up.

And then there is the music for the environmentalist’s ear:

Now we have to see how we are going to sell the hundreds of properties that are currently on the market and those hundreds more that have new permits to build.

Dunno Frank. I’m thinking that you should sell some of that space to … lemme see… a Qatari developer who could then invest some of his money into … hmm… a hospital. There would  be some divine justice in that wouldn’t there? An exclusive hospital built to service the wounded and injured from the Arab Spring. The developers would get their money. The nurses would get their break from the influx in Mater Dei and the government would sell this off as some smart move. Lovely no?

Finale

Of course mine is a tongue in cheek suggestion to Mr Salt. What really jars is the existence of this reality on our tiny rock. On the one hand we have those christians who cannot accept the idea that our valuable hospital space is being taken up by “foreigners” (stop bleeding on my soil) and on the other we have those business minded few who are dying to get the right type of foreigner (those who bleed money) to our shores.

It’s normally Joseph Muscat’s job to blame Gonzi for everything under the sun (including tsunamis and world economic crisis). I’d just say simply that our political establishment are getting the “proud” citizens they have nurtured and that they deserve.

What you reap is what you sow. Maybe it’s time to wake up.

 

Labour Loves Libya

George Vella, Malta’s possible future Foreign Minister has drawn his own conclusion about the best possible outcome that could result from the toppling of Gaddhafi. The Times online title says it all: “Libya can boom and ‘absorb’ immigrants“. Nothing wrong there really is there? I mean surely we cannot criticize George for hoping that Libya gets on its own two feet economically and thus act as a magnet to all potential North African emigrants. Let’s see how George put it (our highlights).

Libya could become an investment hub, “the Dubai of the Mediterranean”, and it could also capitalise on its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters to become a front-runner in the tourism industry, he said. Throwing into the mix its oil riches and small population density, if Libya opened to free trade it was bound to begin “absorbing” immigrants rather than remain a stepping stone into Europe, Dr Vella argued.

Right. I guess in the world of Realpolitik this is definitely much nicer and presentable than a plan to round up immigrants and send them back into the welcoming arms of deranged Colonel Gaddhafi (Gieh ir-Repubblika et al). When we remember Labour’s last pronouncement with regards to the Arab Spring  though, it tends to bring out an unpleasant truth about the party that is suddenly become (at least according to some ) the bastion of Civil Liberties. Do we not remember Joseph Muscat’s gaffe that the troubles in North Africa might bring about an economic boost to Malta’s ailing tourism industry?

Joseph was busy holding an “Iftar” with the Muslim community so he might have missed George’s latest solution to Malta’s immigration woes. Pity. It would be good to know whether this reflects general Labour thinking or whether it is just a frijvowt issue – where opinions are like genitals… to each his own.  Here is what Joseph said at the Iftar…

Dr Muscat said he expected that the PL would be criticised  for its initiative to hold this ceremony, but this strengthened the party as an organisation which wanted to bring down barriers and believed in a society which respected everyone.

Respected everyone? Sure. So long as the dregs of the earth and the hapless immigrants find some other economy to drain. Who knows.. if Libya booms and absorbs well enough there might be no one to attend PL’s Iftar come a few years time… I wonder… would that be a bonus or a minus? Don’t ask me.

Ask George.

Or Joseph.

 

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Addendum: other interesting George Vella observations:

  • not too in favour of NATO (old habits die hard)
  • Western countries had always been motivated by their own interests, including personal political interests and the economic interests of their countries. Malta, throughout history, also had to look after its interests, he said (Malta. L-ewwel u qabel kollox)
  • “Malta did not choose its neighbour. Love or hate Gaddafi, we had to do business with him. No one ever agreed with his politics. We are democrats not dictators,” he said. All administrations had to remain close to the Gaddafi regime. (realpolitik revisited)

September 1940

Another from Orwell. This time it’s his diary recording a battle in the skies between the Luftwaffe and the RAF in the middle of the Battle of Britain. The battle was fought in the skies and a few people could witness first hand the dog fights between opposing air forces. Orwell’s record on the 15th September 1940 could very well have been a thought recorded in a Benghazi diary in March 2011 when the fighter jet burst into flames and fell over the city:

It fell slowly out of the clouds, nose foremost, just like a snipe that has been shot high overhead. Terrific jubilation among the people watching, punctuated every now and then by the question, ‘Are you sure it’s a German?

Chilling.

Conflicts, Interests & Elections

Would you believe that the international position of a number of countries is determined solely by the need to win points in national elections? No? Ok. So here goes a bit of speculation:

  • Denmark – enthusiastic participation in coalition wins incumbent many points for imminent election “With general elections set to take place before November, the move is allowing Denmark’s government to score points with the electorate – strongly in favor of the mission – and Washington, said Bjoern Moeller, a specialist of African conflicts at the Danish Institute for International Affairs.”
  • France – Sarkozy, frontman of “immediate action” supposedly refused to handover operations to NATO because NATO is coordinated from Brussels and it would deny him of the valuable chance of grandstanding before his home electors (who have suddenly found some new confidence in Mr. Bobblehead). Some speculate that Sarkozy’s re-election campaign started in Tripoli.
  • Russia – we thought they’d just abstain right? Nope. The Medvedev vs Putin battle has opened up. Putin’s ridiculing of the interventionist approach found a critic closer to home as Medvedev – Putin’s future opponent for the next presidential election opened fire on Russia’s president.
  • Germany – another abstention. The answer lies in Baden-Wurtemburg – an important regional election for Merkel’s christian-democrats: “The main motivation, it was felt, was rather the state election next Sunday (March 27) in the extremely important state of Baden-Wuertemberg, where the Christian Democrats have ruled the roost since 1953 and fear its very possible loss this time. Although it is relatively prosperous (with the main Daimler-Benz works), Merkel’s party lost face after the Stuttgart railway station violence and is also aware that most people, regardless of their views on Gaddafi, do not want any more German soldiers fighting and dying in other continents. Merkel probably hoped that a cool response on Libya might win anti-war voters, even though the USA command is firmly welcomed on German soil.” BW is not the last regional election this year – there’s five others after that.
  • Spain – the commitment of the Iberian nation can also be explained in terms of electoral losses. By getting a quasi-unanimous vote in parliament in favour of participation in the UN resolution implementation, Zapatero ensured that no political party would get political mileage out of the decision: “Of the 340 lawmakers present, 336 voted in favour of Spain’s participation, three voted against – two from the far-left Izquierda Unida party and one from the tiny left-wing nationalist BNG party – and one lawmaker abstained.”

It is impossible to escape the reality that intervention on an international level is never purely altruistic. Whether it is electoral calculations or business interests, you cannot avoid factoring in these “egoistic” considerations.

Conflicts & Interests

Over the past few days the word on the Maltese net/blogosphere/press has been split between the eagles and the doves. It all boiled down to the position Malta seems to be taking with regards to the events in Libya – and in particular the emphasis being made on “Malta not being used as a military base“. Our foreign minister came up with specious phrase: “Militarily Neutral” while others (PM included) have been at pain to stress that Malta will not participate in the “military action“.

At the end of this post I am appending the full text of the controversial “neutrality” article in our Constitution. I would also refer readers to a brilliant article by Prof Richard E. Rubenstein (Maltese neutrality is still a brilliant idea) that appeared on the Times on the 11th March 2011.

Rubenstein argues that the notion of neutrality as entrenched in the Maltese constitution is “neither outmoded, contrary to Maltese national interests, nor immoral”. Rubenstein’s reading of this neutrality is one that “does not imply either passivity or immorality”. J’accuse is very much in agreement with this interpretation. We have argued for a principled approach by the Maltese government. One that does not send signals of yellow submissiveness and wait-and-see approaches.

Our line here does not mean we are plugging for a coalition base in Malta but that we expect a principled – moral even – approach in the development of our position in the international field. Taking Rubenstein’s theoretical approach of a neutral country that is not passive and that is geared towards participating directly by offering a credible platform for conflict resolution (a Guido De Marco revisited) it is not hard to see how the Gonzi/Borg reactive, passive and submissive approach fails even on this count.

The collective action of Malta’s political representatives gave out an impression – and a strong one at that – of a country that was hedging its bets. It was a Malta that still worried about its ephemeral commercial interests with Gaddafi and his government. One that seemed reluctant to condemn the dictator even when his final hour seemed so close. The signs we sent out were not confusing: they were actually quite clear. We gave an unconditional, unqualified message that we would step back and wait: and thank God for all the confusion of neutrality clauses behind which to hide.

Yes, an actively neutral Malta can be a desireable goal for future politicians. Not being on the active “military” side of the UN resolution enforcers is no biggie. Doing everything we can to send out the message to the world that we are actually hiding under a rock until it is all over – when we will crawl out again ready to do business with the next people in power – is a huge huge issue. It is that issue that leads us to conclude that our nation still lacks the balls and a set of clear beliefs.

 

 

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Article 1 of the Constitution of Malta
(1) Malta is a democratic republic founded on work and on respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.

(2) The territories of Malta consist of those territories comprised in Malta immediately before the appointed day, including the territorial waters thereof, or of such territories and waters as Parliament may from time to time by law determine.

(3) Malta is a neutral state actively pursuing peace, security and social progress among all nations by adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in any military alliance.

Such a status will, in particular, imply that:

(a) no foreign military base will be permitted on Maltese territory;

(b) no military facilities in Malta will be allowed to be used by any foreign forces except at the request of the

Government of Malta, and only in the following cases:

(i) in the exercise of the inherent right of selfdefence in the event of any armed violation of the area over which the Republic of Malta has sovereignty, or in pursuance of measures or actions decided by the Security Council of the United Nations; or

(ii) whenever there exists a threat to the sovereignty, independence, neutrality, unity or territorial integrity of the Republic of Malta;

(c) except as aforesaid, no other facilities in Malta will be allowed to be used in such manner or extent as will amount to the presence in Malta of a concentration of foreign forces;

(d) except as aforesaid, no foreign military personnel will be allowed on Maltese territory, other than military personnel performing, or assisting in the performance of, civil works or activities, and other than a reasonable number of military technical personnel assisting in the defence of the Republic of Malta;

(e) the shipyards of the Republic of Malta will be used for civil commercial purposes, but may also be used, within reasonable limits of time and quantity, for the repair of military vessels which have been put in a state of non-combat or for the construction of vessels; and in accordance with the principles of non-alignment the said shipyards will be denied to the military vessels of the two superpowers.

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There are no men in Tripoli

I came across this real story in the middle of a BBC news item about Tripoli eyewitnesses. It speaks volumes and does not need any additional comment.

An old woman, in her late 70s at least, I’m told, entered the bank to collect her 500 Libyan dollars ($410; £253) in state aid announced a couple of weeks ago.

There were two long queues – one for men and one for women. She stood in the men’s queue.

The men urged her to move to the women’s section. “Why?” she challenged.

A man told her: “Ya haja [a term of respect for an elderly woman] this line is for men, women is the other one”.

She loudly replied: “No. All the men are in Benghazi.”

The room is said to have been stunned into silence and she remained in her place until her turn came and she walked out with her money.

It is perhaps a bittersweet private reminder of how frustrated many here are at the lack of efforts in Tripoli in recent weeks to defy the regime and take to the streets.

The joke doing the rounds among the silent opposition in Tripoli is that upon liberation the Benghazi people will bring container loads of women’s underwear for the men in Tripoli.

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On a separate note here is a brilliant article by the UK Independent’s  Robert Fisk exploring the feelings of families who lost loved ones as  “collateral damage” in previous attempts to hit at Gaddafi. Sgarbi and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici might have an opinion about civilians faultlessly involved in this preventive intervention but their opinion pales in comparison to that of a mother who lost her daughter in 1986 following an US bombing in retaliation to the Berlin discotheque bombing by Gaddafi. I for one did not expect this kind of answer from her.

But it was with some trepidation that I called them yesterday. Mrs Ghosain answered the phone. “I hope they get him this time,” she said. And I asked, timidly, if she meant the man with the moustache. Colonel Gaddafi has a moustache. Mr Obama does not. “Yes,” she said. “I mean Ghazzefi.” “Ghazzefi” is the Lebanese Arabic pronunciation of the man’s name.

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