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MEP lambasts political interference in Maltese cultural scene 

Francis Zammit Dimech calls for more opportunities and less suppression for Maltese artists

Francis Zammit Dimech

MEP Francis Zammit Dimech has once again hit out at political interference in the Maltese cultural scene as the European Parliament adopted a new European Agenda for Culture which will help drive forward a number of artistic and cultural initiatives throughout the 28 Member States.

“Our role as politicians is to boost the cultural sector through concrete policies and not through political interference. The new European Agenda is an opportunity for the Maltese cultural sector as their proposals have been fully endorsed,” he said.

Zammit Dimech also insisted that culture should empower citizens and should not used to denigrate activists, silence people, prohibit right to protest or demean murdered journalists.

As the EPP group rapporteur, Zammit Dimech met several stakeholders in both Malta and Brussels to push forward a number of proposals. These proposals include increased funding for festivals, and an increase in accessibility of the Creative Europe Programme in favour or smaller organisations such as band clubs, to encourage renewed public interest in culture. 

The PN stalwart also expressed the importance of encouraging collaboration between professionals, avoiding excessive or double taxation for artists, and an increase in funding to areas that are not given as much attention as they should, such as poetry.

When addressing the European Parliament on the matter, Zammit Dimech expressed his concerns about the current situation in Malta, drawing attention to increased censorship of independent media and activists for political purposes.

“I believe in a thriving cultural sector because culture is a ‘soft power’ that enables and empowers its citizens to be responsible leaders of society, having integrity, enthusiasm and empathy. Unfortunately, this is not what the government of Malta believes. Now our government and officials are using culture and heritage as an excuse to denigrate and attempt to erase the memory of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Specifically tributes at her memorial in Valletta have been repeatedly torn down on the pretext that the monument and the surrounding area were being restored. This is the antithesis of what culture is all about”. 

As a former culture minister, Zammit Dimech was involved in a number of initiatives to boost the cultural sector such as the opening of St. James Cavalier and the evolution of Malta Philharmonic Orchestra from its chamber beginnings. 

“These are the measures which artists expect from politicians and not interference and politicisation of the cultural and creative sectors” stated Dimech, highlighting the fact that art and culture should remain free from any political influence.

Following the disastrous Valletta Capital of Culture 2018 that saw its head, Jason Micallef mock murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and vehemently oppose any memory of her, it was hoped that the government might start taking Malta’s cultural scene a little more seriously. 

Over 134 local artists petitioned the government for the removal of Micallef from his position and PEN International sent an additional letter to the Prime Minister protesting the lack of action against taken. This letter was endorsed by 72 members of the European Parliament and 100 local artists. 

Supporters of the ongoing condemnation of Micallef and his behaviour include Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie amongst a number of other well respected international figures, but instead of being punished, he was promoted to Chair of the Valletta Cultural Agency.

Zammit Dimech made an impassioned plea to halt the way in which the cultural sector in Malta was being politicised through the appointment of unqualified political persons into cultural posts, but also through political interference on key decisions. He pointed to the recent NAO report that stated the Arts Council financial statement was still not yet finalised and had issued  €2.1 million in direct orders. 

Daphne Caruana Galizia

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