The venom story

▪️ The venom story ▪️ Thalidomide justice ▪️ Red sore thumbs

Political venom is not strange to us. Old-timers used to talk about the pre-World War II years when Italian fascism was fast growing roots in the “fior del mondo”, as Mussolini had called our island. This happened to the detriment of a population still ignorant enough to think that personal and collective venom, along with false religious rhetoric, were the accepted thing in politics, creating sad instances of violence and unjustified hostility even among families.

As historians will tell you, the war provided a welcome respite as the population – the vast majority, anyway – joined in the effort to beat the fascism-nazism, tandem always in the hope of a new beginning.

Sadly, the same situation developed in the late 50s and early 60s when, again, political venom came to the fore, splitting families and creating overall anxiety and hopelessness. Again, the Church trudged in using the same, old mortal sin weapon against innocent people whose only goal in life at the time was finding work and a decent job. In the end, thousands had to literally flee to places like Australia and Canada, away from the venom and the spleen.

Maltese immigrants land in Sydney from the SS Partizanka, 1948.

Politics has a way how to shed the old and bring in the new. The 70s brought about another respite. People suddenly found they had houses, plots, and jobs they could partake of in creating a better quality of life for them and their families. During the same time, what was a feeble and misconceived model of independence was uprooted, “republicanised”, and remodeled to mean real freedom.

Come the 80s, however, and it was soon back to the arch old enemy of any people in the world – political venom. The hatred and the animosity this time sadly rolled into one big, explosive package involving people from all layers of the political spectrum, resulting even in political killings, bloodshed, and a scenario no one in his right mind would want to see ever again on these islands.

A book published by the Nationalist Party in 1981 and distributed abroad.

Peace returned when the small army of vipers could relax and silently concentrate on what could be had for them and their familes. Their venom retreated back into its kangaroo pouch until, well, surprise surprise, 2013, when the people, no longer ignorant and illiterate, overwhelmingly opted for  a new chapter, triggering an incredible movement for progress in all its aspects, from the economy and employment to civil liberties and sustained (at first not so sustained) modernisation.

It has been more or less like that since. EU survey after another reflect the country’s wellbeing, its obtainment of a practically zero level of uneployment, increased salaries, and social benefits and initiatives that are the envy of much of Europe and the rest of the world. Opposition forces, abetted by the descendants of that ever-present Establishment which had caused the horrors of the 30s, 60s, and 80s, suddenly found they had hardly a leg to stand on.

Out comes that old immoral piece of war ordnance – political venom. Personal vendetta, indecent allusion, and bare-faced debauchery sprouted every time the perpetrators needed some sort of secret weapon to gain ground, only to be rebuffed, in historic numbers, when it came to seeking the people’s verdict on things as they stand for the working people of Malta and Gozo and the new middle class.

The case continues. In a fortnight’s time we should know how deep the venom has gone and how effective it has been, but the people have shown more than once they have become immune. Lilliput has learnt its lessons.

Thalidomide justice

Can justice be too late? Very often it is, alas. But how pleasant and rewarding it was to see the recent compensation to Maltese victims of the thalidomide scandal in the sixties. They had been a silent minority for decades, accepting life’s fate and trying to fit in with the rest of society as closely as their disabilities would allow.

The scandal occurred at a time when the politico-religious dispute was at its worst. However, in Parliament it had to be the then Opposition leader Dom Mintoff to bring up the issue, appealing – in 1961 – to the Nationalist government to ban the internationally condemned pill that was still being prescribed to Maltese pregnant women. Ironically, the House was that evening discussing the inclusion of some additive to make butter tastier!

The defenders of the faith and the patria chose to ignore the appeal as more and more babies died or were born with deformities. While most countries in the world quickly withdrew the pill and even gave compensation to mothers and their unfortunate offspring, Malta Cattolicissima was left to wait until 1968 to take action.

So many decades later, Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli has been the catalyst of a Government move to seek justice for these Maltese citizens, by not only making a long-overdue apology but also in providing compensation funds. Justice has at last been done and the thalodimide babies, today grown-ups, can really feel like a genuine part of the population of these islands.

Red sore thumbs

Do we really need this many of the old red telephone boxes in our towns and villages? Yes, some will tell you, they are part of Maltese history, but they are not bastions, castles, palaces, and other historical infrastructures. They just stand like big red sore thumbs in the middle of village and town squares, presumably because someone thinks they attract tourists. I bet not a single visitor to this island has ever come to see the silly, old, unusable contraption. One existing sample in Valletta should be more than enough.

Photo: Efrem Efre
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