Without a clear understanding of what underpins the challenges that Malta is facing, it’s highly unlikely we’ll solve any of them.
by Raisa Galea
Collage by Isles of the Left
Do you sense the anxiety in public discourse going off-scale? You are not alone. Every day brings new fuel for outcry. Yesterday it was about petrol stations on ODZ land, the day before—about another townhouse being pulled down to make space for apartments or another disturbing highrise that promises nightmares to the residents. Today it is about chopping off trees.
I bet tomorrow it will be about foreign workers again.
In case you haven’t noticed, xenophobia is on the rise as well. Congratulations, it seems that Malta is finally catching up with ‘normal’ countries on the presence of far-right in mainstream politics. Just like in any country in Europe and beyond, more and more fingers are being pointed at foreign workers, who are blamed for anything, from undermining ‘true Maltese values’ to being the prime cause of the housing crisis. And if, until recent, open xenophobia in politics belonged to the domain of small far-right parties with no chance of being elected to parliament, it is now gaining more prominence by the day. Let it sink in: the Nationalist Party is on its way to become Malta’s own Front National or Alternative für Deutschland minus euroskepticism (so far).
I can’t decide what’s more frustrating though—the issues themselves or the reactions they induce. Much as it is unnerving to come to terms with these developments, it’s even more discomforting to see no attempt at an in-depth analysis of their causes.
The lion share of angry comments that follow every news headline are pointless flares of fury.
The lion share of angry comments that follow every news headline are pointless flares of fury which do not contribute to an understanding of the problem in any way. This applies to criticisms of over-development, building on ODZ land, replacing trees with more tarmac or the baffling rent prices. The only explanation for this state of affairs seems to be a sudden outbreak of greed and immorality.
Epidemics of greed just descended onto Malta and infected some of the citizens without warning. Does this ‘explanation’ shed light on the roots of the problem? No, it doesn’t. And without a clear understanding of what underpins the challenges Malta is facing, it’s highly unlikely we’ll solve any of them. Is whining from dawn to dusk helping to magically restore the ‘lost decency’ and prevent the loss of architectural and natural heritage? No, it isn’t.
Worse still is that too many enraged critics are lambasting the very consequences of the policies they approve (or even benefit from), directly or indirectly. Most frequent examples of such inconsistency include:
“I’m all for free market and minimum state intervention”, while exasperatingly stating that “Buying or renting a house has become unaffordable for ordinary Maltese people.”
“It’s great that the economy is doing well. Daddy’s law firm is flourishing”. Next moment: “Oh, no, another Sliema townhouse is pulled down. All this greed! How sad, eh?”
“I like people who dream big, have ambitions and nurture a skill for entrepreneurship! I so admire creative folks who set startups”, but then “AirBnB and short lets are pushing residents out! So much greed, I can’t believe it!”
“Let creative businessmen solve what the government is unable to do”, followed by “Valletta is becoming filled with boutique hotels! I can’t afford staying there any longer”.
“Another large gaming company is moving to Malta. Great news!” Did I hear you say “Oh, no, traffic is becoming unbearable” or “please do not chop trees to widen roads”?
“Let the market regulate itself”, followed by “Why is poverty on the increase?”
Yet, nothing beats the hypocrisy and bigotry of this one:
“Maltese are too lazy and too spoiled to work long hours for 4Euro per hour. Thankfully, foreign workers are not as spoiled”, before fuming about “too many foreigners around. Just doesn’t feel like Malta anymore”.
In other words, it has become fashionable to criticise the consequences without ever questioning the causes or, worse, outrightly approving of them.
Fear that renting a place is becoming unaffordable? Insist on regulating the housing market. Please do not blame foreign workers for pushing Maltese tenants out. Blame it on the savagery of free market! It goes without saying that by being an apologist of the free market rules, you too are responsible for evictions and the escalation of homelessness.
Do you own a thriving business that deals with corporate clients? Then it’s only logical to acknowledge that others too are doing business. While you are making money by providing services to gaming companies or helping clients to avoid tax, developers are making a killing by replacing townhouses with apartment blocks. You are in the same boat: gaming companies need to stay somewhere, investment buyers need property to invest in.
Do you invest into shares of companies like db and Corinthia? Then you too help these companies prosper at the expense of the wellbeing of all residents and the environment.
Admire ambitious, entrepreneurial people? Don’t be too surprised if they turn whole blocks into AirBnB accommodations. That’s what entrepreneurs do. You call it ‘greed’, they call it ‘business’.
Still believe that the private sector offers better, more effective solutions than the government? What don’t you like about all the boutique hotels that are ‘killing the spirit of Valletta’?
If you celebrate more businesses setting foot in Malta and hope the investment keeps pouring in, please don’t whine about construction, traffic and trees being uprooted to make space for roads. It’s all connected: the investment is flowing in, the economy is booming, building sites are mushrooming, traffic is on the increase.
Finally, if you are one of those hypocrites who profit from paying peanuts to foreign workers while complaining about “too many foreigners” being around, please go forth and fornicate with thyself. There is no excuse for a bigot like you who makes a buck by exploiting destitute people while complaining about their presence in Malta.
Complaining alone, without understanding the causes, without proposing socially beneficial solutions does more harm than good. The intensifying public anxiety plays in the hands of xenophobes because it offers an easy target for anger release. If you are supporting the causes and benefitting from them, then please bear the consequences. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
Complaining alone, without understanding the causes, without proposing socially beneficial solutions does more harm than good.
On the other hand, if your slice of the cake is too thin, if you are not benefitting from the causes and you are furious about the consequences—welcome to the club. Some of us have realised that the root cause of this malaise is not foreigners or greed, but the neoliberal economy.
If you truly wish to make a difference, you ought to begin with reflecting on your own role in this state of affairs. The change begins with our priorities. It is important to keep in mind that socially and environmentally just alternatives to the current economic model are possible and, as citizens, we can place these priorities high on the political agenda.
Finally, the least you can do is to be consistent in your criticism. Stand for introducing rent regulation, universal basic income and for prioritising environment and social wellbeing over economic growth that benefits the few.
Help Isles of the Left raise awareness on how free market economy is responsible for the increase in poverty and environmental degradation. In the coming months, we will be discussing more alternatives to the status quo. Join us!