On the wrong side of history

Published: March 20, 2011 at 11:55pm

That Malta is a nation of cowards is disputable, if the general anger and disappointment at the stance taken by prime minister Lawrence Gonzi and foreign affairs minister Tonio Borg is anything to go on. But that Malta is a nation led by cowards is now indisputable. The lack of moral courage and forthright speech manifested by the prime minister at his press conference on Friday were dispiriting and depressing. He couldn’t even bring himself to mention Gaddafi by name.

At times like this, the role of a national leader is to instil in his people the sense that they are on the right side of history, that they are fighting and will fight for a just cause, for ideals that are worth upholding, for a better future that includes their own, that they stand with the Good against the Bad and that the great effort required is worth the while.

The prime minister’s miserable failure to rise to the occasion left us confused and upset. Some even wondered whether he is threatened, such was his demeanour, and talk of telephone calls from Gaddafi’s man Bagdadi, however they were explained away, only served to heighten that suspicion. Whether justified or unjustified, the suspicion has been created – by the prime minister’s behaviour – and minds have to be put at rest.

There appears to be no sensible explanation for Dr Gonzi’s behaviour other than pusillanimity. Up until now, the prime minister and his foreign minister have sheltered behind Miss Neutrality’s skirt as the excuse for inaction other than in humanitarian efforts. With that skirt stripped away on Thursday night by the decision of the United Nations Security Council, Dr Gonzi and Dr Borg have been left naked and shivering, clutching about for some other garment with which to cloak Malta’s shame, and finding none.

So Dr Gonzi faced the press on Friday with no excuse for staying out of the coalition action against Libya. That’s right, no excuse. The Constitution of Malta states explicitly that we are free to participate in military action, or to allow military forces of other countries into Malta as part of such action, if it is mandated by resolution of the United Nations Security Council.

The prime minister did not explain this to the waiting press, so much so that nobody asked him what would have been the obvious question had he done so: Given that neutrality is no longer the reason why Malta will not participate in coalition action, then what is the real reason?

On Sky News yesterday, Tonio Borg had me shouting angrily at the television for the first time since Alfred Sant’s press conferences in the general election campaign of 2008. He sounded weak, yellow, cowardly and disreputable – why, he even giggled nervously at one point – and came across as somebody who is trying hard not to get involved.

The interviewer’s leading statement was: “Some people say that you are showing solidarity with Gaddafi’s regime.” Tonio Borg, billed as ‘Malta’s deputy prime minister’ and addressed as Mr Deputy Prime Minister, instead of offering up a spirited and indignant reply that underscored Malta’s determination, shared with the coalition, to get shot of Gaddafi, said:

I wouldn’t say so. We did not return the Mirage jets which landed in Malta, and the pilots are still here….. We are upholding UN sanctions…..We responded to a request to supervise the ceasefire by saying it would have to be a decision of the UN….Our prime minister has stated publicly that the time of this regime is over. It is very unfair to say so……What about Germany?… This does not mean to say that we shall allow our country to be used for an attack on another country.”

An attack on another country, indeed: the coalition action is clearly and specifically not an attack on Libya but an attack on Gaddafi’s regime. In choosing his words so unwisely, Dr Borg merely encouraged the perception that Malta speaks Gaddafi’s language.

The inevitable question followed: “Are you saying that you are opposed to the action being taken by the coalition?” Dr Borg responded: “No, not in any way. The fact that we are not participating does not mean we are opposed to the resolution…..Germany isn’t taking part either…..Why pick on Malta?”

And the interviewer said: “Germany did say that in lieu of not taking part in the current action in Libya, it will take on a greater part in Afghanistan. What will Malta offer in lieu of staying out of the current action?” Dr Borg replied: “Malta is the smallest state in the European Union….It cannot offer more than it can offer…It is the sovereign state closest to Libya…We helped in the evacuation of foreign nationals, including British nationals” (you tell ‘em, Tonio) “and will continue to offer humanitarian aid.”

Ah yes, Malta cannot offer more than it can offer, but it certainly can offer less than it can offer, and it has just done so. Because Malta has not offered the use of its airstrips, British jets will now be positioned at Cyprus, which is closer to Benghazi than Malta is. But with Malta in the equation, it would also have been able to position jets close to Tripoli. You can argue until the cows come home that with the US base at Sigonella just up the road in Sicily, Malta isn’t necessary. But Malta could at least have showed willing, only to be told ‘thanks but no thanks’, and it didn’t.

The Sky News interviewer was clearly nonplussed, more so at Mr Deputy Prime Minister’s fatuous remark that Malta is the European state closest to Libya. To somebody living in Britain (or anywhere else, for that matter), the 60 miles between Malta and Italy are negligible. And if our foreign minister were to bother training his eyes along the Libyan coast, he would notice that Greece is pretty close too, in the form of Crete.

The Maltese government is surprised and upset that its position has been so badly perceived, but it has only itself to blame. It is pointless blaming others for its own manifest shortcomings. Whether they are shortcomings of fact or shortcomings of presentation is irrelevant at this late stage.

The performance of all our political leaders, not just the prime minister and his deputy, but also the leader of the Opposition and parliament itself, has fallen far short of what is expected. Malta is a small country, indeed, but there was no reason at all for them to behave like small men.

This article was published in The Malta Independent on Sunday today.

32 Comments Comment

  1. Paul Bonnici says:

    Shame on you prime minister, you let Malta and the Maltese down.

    Malta will never forget this shameful this act of cowardice.

  2. H.P. Baxxter says:

    A Pulitzer for Daphne, NOW!

  3. El Topo says:

    The possible-effect-on-tourism argument brought up by some people is probably the weakest. You’re either put off by the fact that there’s a war going on less than 200 miles away or you’re not.

  4. gaddafi says:

    Issa npattuhielu lil Gonzi fir-referendum tad-divorzju. Tghiduli li qed inhallat il-hass mall-bass. Ma jimpurtanix! Imma la mwegga ma nibqax nirraguna!

    • ciccio2011 says:

      Gaddafi, dwar din tal-Libja, jidher li Gonzi u Joseph jahsbuha l-istess. Allura se tpaxxi lil-Joseph ghalxejn.

  5. Albert Farrugia says:

    I am simply speechless. The “GonziPN” figure, so painstakingly built in long sessions and workshops and meeting, the figure which gave the PN yet another victory, which was given a much needed push only a couple of weeks ago during the evacuations of refugees, is now being dismantled bit by bit by its own creators. I am beginning to feel sorry for Dr Gonzi now. I actually am seeing him as a person who is honestly trying to keep the country united. The shame really is on those who are trying to split the country on this issue.

  6. KJay says:

    The problem is really the influence of businesses who are scared of losing out and the influence of businesses with huge Libyan regime holdings.

  7. *1981* says:

    Tears of shame.

  8. C Falzon says:

    On which side of history is this idiot?

    C Mifsud(2 hours, 25 minutes ago)
    these strikes are illegal and are not part of the resolution which allowed only for a no fly zone. I hope that the Libyan government shoot down some western fighter jets. That should teach the arrogant and terrorist west.


  9. Bajd u Laham says:

    If only I were a fly on the wall during the last meeting between Gonzi and Gaddafi, I am sure lots of things would make more sense than they do today. But then again, if that were the case, chances are that Gaddafi’s thugs would have pifpafed me to death.

  10. fred says:

    Neighbours are being killed and we stand here to watch! Children are orphaned imma we collect for l-Istrina. Gonzi, it’s time to stand up and be counted. One time we were proud to be Nationalists. Malta is feeling the void Guido left.

  11. Our leaders unite in cowardice and call it ‘prudence’:


    And they believe that ‘the least said, the better’ – as though they are counsellors not leaders.

  12. I am sorry but I do not agree with your arguments, the Prime Ministers responsibility is towards his people, i.e. Malta and the Maltese. As much as we don`t approve of Ghaddafi`s regime and it`s repulsive methods we must not enter into this conflict, especially if as usual the west will only do a half baked job like they did in Iraq after the first Gulf war.

  13. e. muscat says:

    ‘the void Guido left’ – This puzzles me a bit. Can you elaborate, please?

  14. Kristina says:

    What a load of tosh. War is no the answer, and it’s not a pas stime for warmongering social columnists to indulge in. Send your children, your husband, yourself onto the field if you want to join the glorious dead. But pushing for war when there is still no real cause for such an extreme response is just primitive beyond words.

    Care for another banana Daphne?

  15. Joanne says:

    I never thought that one day I’m going to be so much against our PM, but this time I cannot agreee with the decisions he took and how he’s making our country look in the eyes of the whole world. It’s really a shame.

    It’s like he’s afraid of something, because to me the logical thing to do is to help our allies to get rid of this dictator who is killing his own people One cannot say that he’s against this regime and then do nothing to help get rid of him. It’s a big contradiction.

  16. freefalling says:

    As always, take and never give back – Prim Ministru bla’ bajd.

  17. pineapple says:

    Well, to be honest I agree with the Maltese government in refusing to act as a military base. This is a very delicate issue and Malta can run high risks.

    One has to keep in mind that as the government said, we only have one airport – and it is a civilian one. We don’t have any military airports. i.e: for example the Greek gov. gave the permission to use bases/military airports near Athens and in Crete, but if for example Greece had only the Athens Int Airport I don’t think the Greeks would have taken the same decision.

    The same goes for the Italians. Imagine Tornados, Typhoons or F-16’s using Malpensa or Fiumicino. In fact, the airport of Trapani which is usually used for both military and civilian purposes, was closed for civilian traffic for now. Italy affords to close Trapani airport since there other civilian airports to serve Sicily. Malta could not afford to hinder civilian traffic having just one airport. (By the way, the Italian minister Frattini just stated that if NATO will not take control of the coordination of this operation Italy will re-close its bases…so jkunu aktar bla bajd, kodardi u inkonsistenti it-taljani f’dal kaz)

    Without any beating around the bush, having a military force stationed here would have escalated the risks of having a retaliation from the Libyan side. This was also confirmed by Italian analysts on the italian media, in which they made it clear that Italy is taking a high risk in opening its bases since they may be a target( of some kind of terrosistic attack). This is due to the fact, that Berlusconi already stated that Libyan missiles cannot reach the Italian penisula (so missile attacks on Italy are ruled out). But what about Libyan missiles reaching Malta? Though the launching of missiles from Gheddafi is becoming highly unlikely due to the recent raids, it is not yet completely of out question.

    Well, having a military hardware stationed here might also hinder tourism. Those who work in tourism industry have already seen cancellations due this crisis, let alone if tourists will come here and whilst sipping wine in Valletta they would hear jet fighters departing/arriving in our airport.

  18. .Angus Black says:

    @ freefalling

    I just read a couple of hours ago that our PM (bla bajd, as you describe him) has just been invited by David Cameron to visit England on May 10, presumably on an official visit.

    I am almost certain that the whole purpose of this visit is to privately chide the PM for not offering Malta as a military base.

    I am also sure that it will be another opportunity for Lizzy to pull his ear and send him to a corner at Buckingham Palace to atone for his unforgivable sin.

    Malta doesn’t give back, you say? But I agree that Malta cannot give back what it doesn’t have.

  19. ciccio2011 says:

    There must be more than meets the eye.
    Sorry for verging on the conspiracy. Am I sounding too much like Kev?

  20. Karl Stagno-Navarra says:

    E intanto nel Mediterraneo qualcuno ha già paura delle ritorsioni di Gheddafi. Il leader maltese Lawrence Gonzi ricorda quanto la sua piccola isola sia vicina alla Libia. – Italy media

  21. gwap says:

    Daphne says: ….”Given that neutrality is no longer the reason why Malta will not participate in coalition action, then what is the real reason….”.

    What coalition action? The only participation possible is granting the use of Malta’s only airstrip – which implies shutting down the incoming tourists meaning shutting down Malta’s economy.

    Other than that I am not aware of any military aircraft available – excluding of course the two mirages recently donated by the rebel pilots.

    [Daphne – We don’t know how long this will take or how it will pan out. That’s why it was both extremely churlish and most ill-advised for the prime minister to announce a blanket refusal even before the coalition action began. He has now backtracked.]

    The provision of troops is not intended – so even that option is not available. Do you recommend shutting down the economy. On another matter – for the first time in a long time (maybe first time ever) Gonzi and Muscat are singing the same tune – a rare bi partisan occurance for Malta. And they are both dammed ! what does that mean?

    [Daphne – Read my newspaper column tomorrow. They sing from the same hymn sheet because neither has an interest in a parliamentary debate about Libya or public scrutiny of their motives. They are not cooperating. They are colluding to prevent parliament from performing its democratic function and doing the same to the press by refusing to speak.]

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