The fierce urgency of now

Some 150 artists have signed a petition calling for the dismissal of V18 chairman Jason Micallef. Hardly surprising given Micallef’s propensity for foolishness and recklessness.

However what really caught my attention was a footnote at the end of the petition which said “Another 24 artists endorsing the letter have requested for their identity to remain confidential and not to be disclosed publicly.”

Why would an artist want to remain anonymous in the 21st century baffles me in more ways than one. After all, the present administration liberalised laws on artistic freedom and sells itself as a liberal, moderate and progressive movement. So why would artists shy away? What is it that they fear?

Art in its nature, is inherently political and in times of conflict artists should lead the way and push the boundaries of public opinion, stand up to injustice and shape people’s dreams of a different world.

Artists should be at the forefront, their voices should be the loudest. Shakespeare wrote about monarchies and republics, Nina Simone refused to pay her taxes in protest against the Vietnam war and Ai Weiwei uses his art to expose corruption and human rights violations in China.

Artists who choose to remain silent at a time when democracy is under threat suggests that they are privileged enough to ignore injustices occurring right under their nose.

Many artists had the decency to stand up to Micallef publicly, but many others remain silent or allow themselves to be compromised by the system of cronyism and intimidation which has been devised to stifle criticism and entrench power.

Unlike selfless activists and journalists who put their name and face to investigations which could potentially endanger their livelihood, and in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s case her own life, many artists (and citizens) live in fear, leaving the few who dare stand up to injustice, corruption and authoritarianism in isolation.

Not only are the few activists and critics left alone but they have to face an onslaught of hate by spineless mercenaries and party fanatics who defend the indefensible, turn truth on its head and sell their souls for a fistful of euros.

These fall in two categories. First there’s the Labour partisans who cannot come to admit that their party is hijacked by a small crew of opportunists who will stop at nothing to make more money. These poor souls believe their own lies because they see everything in red and view any kind of criticism, genuine or not, as a benefit for the opposition. Their irrational loyalty to Labour and their dated dislike of the PN opens many doors. Not of perception, but of financial reward.

The second category is made up of the mercenaries who switch from one party to another according to the principle of material gain. They’re excellent at predicting which way the wind will blow. They lead the line shamelessly and are reference points for the throngs of vassals who will flock to Valletta on 1 May. They are the face of Labour on TV and social media. They lend their face to the campaign of lies, deception and intimidation devised in the Castille war room in return for fame and fortune.

They terrorise and dehumanise activists, such as Il-Kenniesa’s Tina Urso who had her personal details splashed all over Facebook and was called a “sorry bitch” by V18 artistic director Mario Philip Azzopardi. In truth, it is these bitter mercenaries who are prostituting themselves and their principles. But introspection is alien to them.

Artists, journalists, academics, public figures and citizens who turn into cheerleaders for whoever is in power are as guilty for the imminent collapse of democracy as those who hold power.

Whoever looks the other way in the face of a comatose democracy is as guilty as the corrupt and repressive feudal lords who ru(i)n the country.

The same goes for those who allow themselves to be used by the current regime occupying Castille to alienate the people and neutralise dissent. If they have any decency left inside them, they will one day look back at these troubled times and chastise themselves. Not for what they failed to do, but for what they did.

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