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  • Writer's pictureSean Buhagiar

Little steps towards a New Republic

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

4th December, 2019

I was in Amsterdam these past five days, representing the National Theatre of Malta during the European Theatre Convention. Well, trying to.

I will not go into the merits of the case which has brought Malta to the brink of a post-millennial civil war, and I will not go into the facts of such because there are already many more informed journalists, recognised organisations, chambers and legal experts out there who are explaining this conundrum much better than me. What is crystal clear is that all is not well in the state of Malta, and probably the best thing that came out of all this is poet Immanuel Mifsud’s wish for a New Republic. If you haven’t read it, read it here:

Some of my fellow international thespians compared our situation to the theatre of the absurd. Alas, absurdity can discourage us from understanding the very real complexity of all this, leading to a dangerous societal nonchalance. This, to me, is not absurd; it is a Greek Tragedy. These days are the peripeteia, the selfie an act of hubris, and there’s a whole lot of Hamartia. Whilst the country hopes for a Deus Ex Machina, we are all yearning for catharsis. And catharsis comes because of apologies, because of justice, understanding and bringing together - not because of tribalism. As many have said before me, fuelling tribalism is terribly, terribly dangerous. I am also not really in favour of pelting other human beings with eggs in 2019. Gandhi’s technique of non-violent non-cooperation comes to mind as a prime example of conflict resolution, and it worked better in 1920.

I honestly cannot understand the partisan blame-game between fellow citizens. This is (probably) not your neighbours fault. This is happening because a number of people were paid around €50,000 each for a murder that was woven in the council of princes, as T.S Eliot so aptly put it. This was seemingly co-organised or hidden by people inside the highest office on our island in order to protect top-drawer corruption. This is as scary as hell. It is not red and blue. It’s not even purple. It’s just black. It’s sad if you’re protesting, it’s sad if you’re betrayed, and it’s sad if you’re watching. I honestly cannot fathom why anyone is celebrating. The recent protests seem to have included many different parts of society. From Movement Graffiti to KSU. This is about uniting a front against injustice and confirmed corruption. I mean, the accused are asking for pardons and ministers are uttering words like “shocked” and “betrayed”, is it that difficult for everyone to understand that their own voters might feel that way too and want MP’s to do something about it? If the opposition unites with these people, it doesn’t make these people the opposition. So, I would like to appeal to all the Members of Parliament on both sides who are making this about partisan politics, either by making a fuss to get the cameras to immortalise their presence at a civil protest, or by making public statements using dangerous partisan terminology whilst victimising themselves at protests: Please Stop. This is an insult to democracy and European values, this has no place in Europe, and definitely no place in Mifsud’s New Republic.

Back to this being scary as hell, I believe it was John F. Kennedy who in paraphrasing the third Canto in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, said the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. In fact, what makes this even more tribal is the deafening silence of some of today’s most powerful speakers: Influencers. False gods of consumerism and neoliberalism with paid opinions. Be influenced by people like Immanuel Mifsud, you’ll be better at life. But that’s a conversation for another day. Moving forward, I will make three very simple non-partisan points for now. These points are inspired by the hats that I wear - theatre and the arts. These are, in my opinion, two small steps towards this much needed new republic.

Step Two

One thing this whole shebang has shown is the danger and irrelevance of politically owned channels. How many good-willed people followed the recent events on these ridiculously biased news portals? I strongly believe realities like NET TV and ONE TV and their respective radio stations should be legislated against. Political parties cannot fully own stations with national broadcasts in self-respecting countries like the UK, Holland, and many other European and Nordic countries. Some countries, like Canada, have political broadcasting only allowed during elections. It is a travesty that in Malta these TV and Radio stations are allowed to present biased, outright propaganda as daily news.

For the sake of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the channels could be privatised and lean towards political parties. In a world were politicians can communicate socially through various channels, politically owned TV and Radio stations only serve to be a hypodermic needle to the less educated and the vulnerable who are usually more prone to tribalism. However, as I grow up to a more cynical understanding of our little island, I doubt that any of the parties will agree to revoking their licence any time soon. Therefore, I have another proposal. Can civil society make them redundant? What if we were to refuse to advertise on politically owned channels? What if no artist performs or produces on these channels? At least the ones that dream of this New Republic. Step two: Make partisan, politically-owned media unsustainable.

Most importantly, Step three.

Let us not forget the huge responsibility of the elite business class in all this. There are the corrupt, the corruptible and the corruptors. This is a web. Let’s not fail to remember the faults of TUMAS Group and all the big business which someway is or will be involved in this fiasco. Their owner and former CEO asked for a pardon, did they? And what about their partners? Can SOCAR, SIEMENS or GASAN come out sweet-smelling from of all this? Albeit indirectly, they are part of the reason why a journalist was murdered. They have caused part of the irreparable damage to our country given rise by this corruption. If TUMAS Group and the rest do not apologise and tangibly try to make a difference, there should be protests, demonstrations and installations outside their walls too, no?

If you are listening - your corporations are, in fact, the reason why I am writing this in English - you too should be accountable to the nation. Admittedly, I’d like to think that not all of you are like Mr. Yorgen Fenech. I’d like to think that a lot of you want to do what is right. I am hereby publicly asking you to fund a National Arts Trust, based on the American Model of Arts Funding. This would change the whole artistic ecosystem of the island. It would make a huge difference, shaking up the whole sector. I recommend that you fund €5,000 a day, in two accounts. One account would be used to fund Literary & Performing Arts and the other would fund Film & Audiovisual Projects. In a couple of years, that would give us millions of clean funds to make good, unrestricted art. This would be a start, a small step to help heal the pain your connections or inactions caused this country, this could be a way to apologise. That way you can help unshackle the cultural sphere from the central institutions and help Malta experience many more artist led initiatives that can educate, entertain, protest, and tell stories freely. That way, we can try create beauty out of such as a horrible chapter of our history. A board of cultural practitioners from different sectors of civil society can be appointed to manage this Trust.

Step three: If her family second this, this fund could be called the Daphne Caruana Galizia Trust.

As for Step one, that's pretty obvious, isn't it?

Sean Buhagiar

Photo: Sibna ż-Żejt, Teatru Manoel, 2015, Darrin Zammit Lupi

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