Friday, 23 October 2009

Throwing Stones

Throwing Stones


23rd October 2009

The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

Alfred Mifsud

Gospel, John (8) “However, when they persisted with their question, He raised Himself up and said, Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. Then He bent down and went on writing on the ground with His finger”.

Those who are not satisfied with MLP’s leader expressed regret for the events of 1979 Black Monday, which events happened when he was a toddler, have started throwing stones.

There are no two ways about it. The events were a grave offence to democratic values. They were a denial of all that Labour had worked for in its quest to modernise the country, to up-grade its economy and to free it from its dependence on the economic value of the military base. The burning of The Times and the attack on the personal residence and family of the Opposition Leader are condemnable without reservation.

PL leader Joseph Muscat made a statement in this sense but some quarters who are never satisfied with whatever Labour does, expect him to walk on his knees till wounds expose his bones and beg forgiveness till he turns green in the face.

Analytical examination of why what should not have happened did in fact happen must adopt a broader view to understand why Mintoff, who had nothing to gain politically from these abysmal events, had either allowed them to happen or was careless or powerless in not preventing them from happening. One has also to configure what Mintoff had to gain by adopting a soft posture in bringing the perpetrators to answer at law for their misdemeanours.

These events in themselves weakened Labour and strengthened the national profile of the PN and of its (then) new and unproven leader. So while the immediate impact was shocking and fearful on Labour’s adversaries, on a longer perspective they were a month of Sundays which turned their political fortunes and gave them a near monopoly at the polls for the following 30 years, and still counting.

So I am still searching for an answer to a question which unfortunately few are interested to ask, let alone to discover a true answer for. I cannot for a single moment accept that Mintoff instigated, let alone master-minded, these and other similar shameful events. But being the strong leader he was, such an assertion leads to the obvious question of why he was apparently impotent to prevent these shameful events.

This is the crux. This is the question I continue to search a sensible answer to. I can only conjecture but I conjecture with logic that links the historical dots.

Chapter one of Mintoff’s political history spanned from 1947 to 1979. His achievements during this period need no recital. But in toiling to gain his achievements Mintoff had to struggle against a powerful network of interests that were bent on defending the status quo. This network include the colonial government, who wanted to give us independence on the least expensive terms, the Church, who wanted to retain earthly authority and privileges by invoking its celestial mandate, political adversaries, who wanted to see Labour as a permanent opposition, commercial interests, who traditionally cashed in their influence much more effectively with a conservative government, the media, who had commercial and political interests to defend, and the upper segments of society who had privileges to safeguard.

Mintoff’s first brush with violence was in the uprising of 1958. But this was clearly not a terror type of event. It was the violence of liberation forces against their foreign occupier. It was brief, proportionately dimensioned and it was led with bare faces from the trenches by Mintoff and his high ranking colleagues, many of whom were disciplined by prison sentences.

During the period between 1962 and 1971, when Mintoff was in Opposition mostly thanks to the mortal sin imposed by the Church, violence was no issue. It was after Mintoff gained government in 1971 that gradually violence started re-surfacing. And I can only conclude that it became a real issue after the conservative network tried to nullify his long fought and hard won political mandate by bribing one of his parliamentarians to cross the floor, just months after his June 1971 victory at the polls. I think that at that point in time Mintoff realised he needed his unofficial ‘republican guard’ as a threat to keep discipline and to protect his electoral mandate.

Keeping the ‘republic guard’ as a mere deterrent rather than as an executive force demands commitment and discipline. And in time the ‘republic guard’, who must by necessity be kept hot all the time, wrestled out of Mintoff’s discipline and switched from mere deterrence to actual execution. This happened in the celebration of the 1976 election victory and it certainly happened on 15 October 1979 when the ‘republican guard’ sparked from hot to boiling by the events which happened at Castille that morning.

In time somehow the network against Mintoff started trading fire for fire but in a finer less obtrusive manner. They did not attack Labour Party Clubs, the GWU printing press or the residence of Labour senior exponents. They attacked whoever was helping Labour to maintain its political power. This ranged from the case of Karen Grech, to bombs left behind doors of several non political executives serving under Labour, to confrontation with Labour’s republic guard at Zebbug, Rabat and Zejtun in the run-up to the 1987 election.

Thankfully we have matured enough to exclude violence or the threat of violence from our political exchanges. I am not sure we have matured enough to allow the proper alternation of power without sabotage by the network of power who traditionally support the PN to stay in government. The happenings of 1998 seem to indicate otherwise but there remains an element of doubt about contributory negligence on Labour’s part for the events of 1998. The true test will come next time Labour regains government.

Ok, Joseph, ignore the broader picture, get on your knees so that the network can throw their stones.

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