It has often been observed that Malta seems to lead a double life. On one level, there is the public sphere to which we are all exposed via the media; and which has increasingly come to be dominated by politics, politics and more politics. Separately, however, there is also the Malta in which people of all opinions and backgrounds tend to rub shoulders at cafes and in bars, watch football or the Eurovision Song Contest, and generally go about their business with little regard to the heated political debate of the moment (until, of course, an election comes along… in which case the public sphere once again takes over).
As someone who takes an interest in what makes this country of ours tick, I have always been fascinated by the thin red line that divides these two Maltas. How much of our apparent obsession with party politics is, in fact, real… and how much of it a figment of our collective imagination?
It looks like I am not alone in asking this question. Andrew Azzopardi is a senior lecturer at the University of Malta; his area of specialisation ‘media, youth and politics’. A journalist and broadcaster in his own right, he has often publicly questioned the extent to which political perceptions match up to the situation on the ground.
“It is a curious phenomenon,” he begins in his University office, as I ask him for his views on Malta’s endless fascination with party politics. “First of all, we have a love-hate relationship with politics in Malta. Just like we have a love-hate relationship with the Church. We can do without the Church, but at the same time… we can’t do without the Church. Same with politics: we can live without it, but in fact we choose not to. You can interpret this phenomenon in different ways. One interpretation would be that the Maltese people have a strong sense of civic duty. They love their country… and they are so keen to shake off the yoke of colonialism that they get involved in politics: and because we look at politicians as part of the machinery that can move the country forward, we want to be close to them. That’s one way of looking at it, at any rate…”
There is, however, another less rosy interpretation. “I would think that the truth is somewhere in between: but the other interpretation is that we are so insecure as a nation, that we need someone to ‘hold our hands’, so to speak. If you feel unsafe or insecure, you will want to rub shoulders with people who wield power – or who transmit the message that they wield power – for your own security. It’s a bit like cavemen: if they gathered together, it wasn’t because they liked the smell of each other’s fur… it was a question of survival, of safety in numbers.”
Read the full interview in MaltaToday