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A time for masks

‘Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.’ – V. Hugo

In this time of revelry and foolishness we may be forgiven if we set aside the quest for truth, if only for a fleeting instant. The colours and satire that pave the streets of the villages and towns in Malta are an occasion to forget the day to day stress.

From Nadur to Hamrun the feast of prinjolati is celebrated before the time of fasting that traditionally follows. “Carne levare” – to remove meat – is one of the supposed etymologies of the word. Interestingly, carnival is anthropologically viewed as a reversal ritual where social roles are reversed, and behavioural norms suspended.

The wearing of masks is the ultimate detachment from daily routine as we indulge in pleasures prior to the period of Lenten rigour. This year, the year that Malta lost its “King”, the festival of insanity might find a new king to crown – one last coronation before reverting to our daily, more mundane, masks.

Deceit

The public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia continued last week with the hearing of various employees from the Office of the Prime Minister. The interviewees seemed to anticipate the carnival season as one after another they presented themselves before the inquiry with the blank mask of ignorance.

Their position went far beyond the notion of Befehl ist Befehl (an order is an order). Instead, we were regaled with an absurd description of the day to day workings of a Castille under global scrutiny. The people responsible for the communications from the prime minister’s office want us to believe that they not only never spoke about the elephant in the room, they just were ignorant of its existence.

Their masks are obtained from the same bulk-purchased stock that must be hidden somewhere at Mile End. You know the ones of the kind that Prime Minister Robert Abela wears whenever he drags out his “normality” mantra. All is well, all is normal. There is nothing to be concerned about. Move on.

It was Kierkegaard who once warned of the midnight hour that comes when everyone must take off his mask. “Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”

The danger, apparently, is that we get so used to some masks that when we finally are forced to remove them, we end up having to remove some of our own skin.

Sanitary

Serie A matches in the Lombardy and Veneto regions were cancelled this Sunday. Italy began to brace itself for the worst as the first local cases of coronavirus deaths were registered. The fear of the spread of contagion was palpable and for once the divided parties of government and opposition sat together to outline a plan of action and containment. This plan includes the possible cancellation of public events and activities, while under new emergency laws a commune can be segregated should an unsourced case of the virus appear.

There is undeniably a growing sense of apprehension across the continent. The mortality rate from the common influenza virus far outnumbers that of the coronavirus, yet the attention being paid to the new virus is disproportionately high. Maltese authorities announced the thermal screening of all entries into Malta from next week (why not immediately?) presumably to build an early preventive wall.

I cannot help but wonder whether our health infrastructure is sufficiently prepared for the possible arrival of the coronavirus on Maltese shores – and more importantly, for the probable panic that would ensue. This is, after all, the business of proper government – competent planning and execution.

In any case, be prepared to see more of the Wuhan-manufactured sanitary masks hit the streets. We may still be early in the year, but I am prepared to bet that the mask will be this year’s top selling gadget.

Financial

Finally, discussions on the EU Budget for the next seven years are proceeding at a very slow pace. Malta will have a tough time arguing its package this time around.

Abela and his team are faced with a very delicate conundrum. On the one hand, the mask of Europe’s most successful growing economy is useful when selling the lie to the home crowd. Wearing that mask while simultaneously justifying the need to retain, or better increase, European funding. Yet, it will be quite a juggling act to perform.

Meanwhile, politicians from all sides would do well to keep away from giving the wrong impression on what the EU Budget is all about. There is more to EU funding than the feeding of roads, tunnels and infrastructural projects that only contribute to the uglification of a nation. Our tomato producers are rightly complaining that they are not getting their due for the fruits of their labour. EU funding notwithstanding they are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to equitable distribution of profits in the industry. Maybe that is what our politicians should be speaking about.

Anti-corruption protest in Valletta, Malta, in December 2019

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