The politics of stooping to conquer

“If until then, Scicluna hadn’t caught my attention, he certainly did on that occasion.”

– Michela Spiteri

I was in Brussels last December, around the time Edward Scicluna was being persecuted by that insufferable anti-abortion NGO, Gift of Life, who have that very rare ability to make me think, say and do things I wouldn’t normally. Ten minutes listening to their main man talk is enough to make me want to lead a crusade in favour of something I have always been privately opposed to.

It took us 40 years to talk about divorce and look how the Nationalist Party behaved
– Michela Spiteri

Back then, Scicluna’s supposed crime was voting in favour of a report containing a long list of recommendations principally aimed at fighting the spread of AIDS and HIV. Without actually encouraging abortion, one recommendation out of a list of about 23, sought to make abortion safer in developing countries where abortion was legal anyway.

Like wardens who lie in wait, Gift of Life pounced. Sadly but predictably the Nationalist Party jumped onto their spin bandwagon in an attempt to create the illusory impression that Scicluna and the other MEP Labour bad boys in Brussels, were in favour of abortion. Then we had Lawrence Gonzi singing Gift of Life’s praises and Tonio Borg taking it upon himself to captain an amendment which would see abortion entrenched and embedded in the Constitution – a clear case of a politician trying to impose his personal and private beliefs upon the rest of us.

Apparently this wasn’t the first time a similar clause had been okayed by the Labour MEPs, who mercifully were unwilling to jeopardise and forsake a perfectly sensible and commendable report chiefly intended to minimise poverty and child mortality in African countries.

If until then, Scicluna hadn’t yet caught my attention, he certainly did on that occasion, and earned my respect right along with it. This was his reaction, paraphrased somewhat:

“In principle, I am against abortion but I will not block billions of euros in funds for Africa to fight AIDS. I will not block the funds to be like Pharisee… Not even Christ himself would do that. They can say whatever they like. I declared my position against abortion but I will never vote against programmes to help the poor.”

To me that sums up a human rights champion – someone who will not stoop to conquer even at the risk of being vilified and stultified. Voting against that report would have been ludicrous, to say nothing of pathetic – on a par with refusing to give condoms to people infected with AIDS.

National sore points such as these are every Maltese politician’s delight who will infallibly cash in on whatever they can get in the name of Maltese values. I seem to recall a speech Louis Grech gave on that particular trip to Brussels, which struck a chord. He touched upon that nauseatingly irritating Maltese tendency to pick and choose when to be European and when to assume a self-righteous holier than thou veneer, in the name of Maltese values and interests. As if we are the only ones in Europe who have values or at any rate, who have the best values.

You see our politicians have no compunction playing the Europe card when it suits them, when talking about single market strategies, finance and the environment. But notice how we are not allowed to think, let alone talk about euthanasia, abortion, gay rights and divorce without creating a national uproar and being sent to Coventry.

And this was precisely Grech’s point. Being allowed to discuss ideas without fear of an uprisal, being encouraged to think, debate and to change your mind if necessary, without being labelled or targeted is definitely the most European act of them all. It took us 40 years to talk about divorce and look how the Nationalist Party behaved, the same party which supposedly got us into Europe.

Instances like these genuinely lead me to believe that Malta or perhaps Maltese politics does very bad things to people. I still find it hard to fathom how, someone like Borg, supposed human rights champion, let himself, and especially Malta, down so many times, throughout his political career. I won’t get started on the forced return of the Eritrean refugees or delve too deeply into the matter of our mandatory detention policies, which are the strictest in Europe with our detention centres having the most deplorable conditions. Let’s just say that Amnesty would agree that we don’t belong on the world’s list of valiant human rights upholders.

Borg was Minister of Home Affairs between 1998 and 2008 with the justice portfolio added to his ministry in 2003. As far back as 2002, the right to legal assistance during police interrogation was already tabled as an act, but for some reason it took until 2010 to come into force, by which time it was already archaic and outdated. We all know who was responsible for pushing for that long overdue fundamental human right and it certainly wasn’t Borg

That Borg thinks that creating equal rights for children born outside of wedlock, in 2005, is a feather in his liberal cap and something for his CV, demonstrates how out of touch with reality he is. And I am still not entirely comfortable with the way those Civil Code provisions are couched.

They say that a country gets the government it deserves and I am now convinced it also gets the Commissioner it deserves. Borg’s appointment came as a disappointment to many, who felt he wasn’t quite up to scratch. I have no doubt that Borg will rise to the occasion because he’s intelligent and astute enough to do that. But I do hope he is grilled and given a very hard time.

Not because I don’t want to see him there, but because it might serve as a valuable lesson to Maltese politicians generally. Borg may have a lot to offer Brussels, but I think Brussels has much more to offer Borg. Europe may finally bring out the human rights champion in him, which over the years Maltese politics clearly annihilated and beat out of him.


– : Sunday, 4th November, 2012 by Michela Spiteri


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