Some things are so absurd that they manage to survive our instant scorn. Having scoffed, we think we’re done with them because our ridicule has made them go away. In fact, they linger with malign, compounded effect. For when surviving absurdity is added to absurdity, something altogether sinister emerges.
Take some of the absurd things we’ve been told about our public life. A public official or politician targets regular people? We were told that’s part of their freedom of expression. It’s an absurd interpretation of human rights, which protect private individuals against State power, rather than consolidates the power of the State to intimidate individuals.
Yet it remains the official position of this government. It was enunciated by Joseph Muscat as prime minister. He is disgraced but the position was never retracted. Nor was it only muttered for domestic purposes, although that would have been enough. It was articulated by Owen Bonnici, then minister of both justice and culture, to a Dutch audience.
The Dutch were incredulous but Bonnici thought he was Voltaire. The doctrine remains the official one. Public officials continue to target private individuals.
Communication aides at the Office of the Prime Minister, now under Robert Abela, have justified their behaviour at the Caruana Galizia public inquiry. They would do it all over again. And Abela hasn’t said a word to correct that impression. He should be asked.
Now combine that position with the absurdity uttered by our Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations, Anthony Abela Medici. He’s been silent ever since he tried to shut Repubblika up. He’s not returning questions from the press (including this website). He’s obviously in the wrong.
But that doesn’t mean he’s retracted his position that NGOs shouldn’t discuss political issues.
Nor has anyone in government corrected the Commissioner. His take remains the official one. Repubblika replied hard but actually still pulled its punches. For the only thing that should concern the Commissioner, as far as politics is concerned, is that no NGO becomes a front for a political party to enable the Party to circumvent the laws that govern its behaviour.
Otherwise, it is in principle open for an NGO not only to tackle intrinsically political issues but also to give itself a political name. An NGO can call itself Socialist or Liberal or Conservative or Christian Democrat, and so on, just as it can call itself Green. Political parties don’t have patents on political traditions. Why else would Graffitti coexist alongside Alternattiva Demokratika (and, now, ADPD)?
What makes an organisation an NGO, and not a political party, is its statute and legal constraints, not its philosophy.
When Abela Medici claims that Repubblika is transgressing into politics, he’s not merely trying to shut up a government critic. Nor is he simply enunciating a principle that could be used to shut up any NGO whose remit sets it on a collision course with one government policy or another.
He is actually claiming that politics — all of it, not just party politics — is the remit of political parties only. Outside political parties, there would be only private life — even though our private lives are being rattled to their core by political decisions on construction, environment, schooling, health privatisation, and so on.
Hence why it’s not enough to scoff at Abela Medici and his retreat into silence. We should demand a retraction of that position. Otherwise, it’s still the official position, and can be cited by a future Commissioner.
There’s more. These absurd positions add up. Consider these two absurdities together: Regular people cannot organise themselves as an NGO to tackle public issues of a broad political nature (something that other Europeans take for granted); and regular individuals cannot spontaneously come together in public to protest without risking being targeted by a public official (or photographed by another public official).
They cannot organise themselves. Ad hoc gatherings come at a risk. What about voicing your opinion as an individual on social media? Ah, in that case: You risk being targeted by organised partisan wolf packs on the public payroll (another official arrangement that has not been renounced). And, if you’re a journalist, you might even be reminded about what happened to one of your kind.
The Commissioner will protest that he’s being linked to positions to which he’s not a party. True, he has nothing to do with the other public officials (nor they necessarily with him) or the wolf packs. All true.
But we, ordinary citizens, are linked to all of them. Together they are degrading our civil status and rights. We have every right to link them and demand that the government clarifies its position on each. Ridicule alone won’t make them go away.