Around Europe, the patron saint of hunters is St Hubertus; in Malta, it is St Thomas More. Like More, the Maltese hunter is a man for all seasons.
More is the patron saint of the University of Malta and Maltese hunters can be trusted with objective, disinterested research on bird species. Previous research by our hunters has already made a pathbreaking contribution to the theory of relativity: they demonstrated that while one swallow doesn’t make a summer, a flamingo or swan can make your day.
Besides, More was declared the patron saint of statesmen and politicians by Pope John Paul II, who had visited Malta by then and knew what he was talking about. Some say that, in Malta, the long-suffering hunters and trappers, too, are patrons of statesmen and politicians.
‘Therefore, sovereign Malta reserves its rights — as encoded in the European treaties — to its freedom of religious expression and its own policies of research and innovation.’
I don’t know if those arguments have been formally made by the Maltese government — in response to the Commission’s decision to haul Malta to the European Court of Justice over the dodgy trapping season, opened under the guise of “research”. But we’ve reached a stage where you can just about imagine such arguments being made by the Maltese State in court.
Why, only this week a Maltese court was told by the Attorney General’s Office that it wasn’t sure if the EU gives its former officials immunity from corruption charges — if the alleged corruption took place in the course of that official’s duties. On this basis, the prosecution’s case against disgraced former EU Commissioner, John Dalli, was postponed once more.
For that uncertainty to have a legal basis, strange things would need to be true. An EU official would be exempt from prosecution for murder if, say, she threw a man out of a sixth floor window in the Berlaymont with the intent to ease the passage of a directive, by eliminating an opponent.
Soliciting bribes (which is what Dalli is accused of) would need to be officially counted as part of a Commissioner’s duties. You know, it’s not personal but business.
And the AG’s office would need to believe that when OLAF, the European anti-fraud office, worked with the Malta police on the case, it might possibly have been maliciously leading the corps up the garden path. OLAF would know if Dalli can be prosecuted but, it seems, the AG’s office believes OLAF is capable of putting its resources into an investigation that can’t lead anywhere.
Yet, an argument based on such strange assumptions was made in a Maltese court by the State itself. It largely was given a pass in the media. Over a day later, as I write this, the AG has not explained herself.
One natural interpretation is that the argument is a front for Machiavellian machinations. There’s another interpretation possible, however.
Perhaps, in a country where the government routinely assumes the right to make words mean whatever it wants, the AG’s office has come to assume that the EU acts likewise.
Ours is a government that sells passports and calls it citizenship by “investment” for people who have “established ties” to Malta. Then it solemnly accepts, as evidence of those ties, a parking ticket and a bill for pastizzi. It affects the sovereignty of other EU States by selling the key to their back door and, when they protest, it accuses them of interference in Maltese sovereignty.
It’s a country where an ODZ designation is less meaningful than a traffic sign (themselves widely understood to be mere suggestions). It’s where the education minister can award a contract to her special friend to conduct a “study”; where the prime minister announces the contract has been “halted”; and where the Government Gazette announces the money has been paid out in full anyway.
Perhaps “halting a contract” simply means that the “study” was halted, although not the payment.
In ‘Through the Looking Glass’, Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty told Alice he could make words mean whatever he wanted them to mean. We’re deep in Humpty Dumpty territory, going native.
We scoff at the first peculiar use of a word but most of us end up accepting it. We’ve become a country of scare quotes, except we’re now beyond scares and caring; even the quotes are fading.
Remember the eyebrows raised, in 2019, when Chris Cardona “suspended himself” from Cabinet? Everyone wondered what that could possibly mean but then let it pass as an odd sign of those tumultuous times.
Then it was the turn of Rosianne Cutajar to “suspend herself” as a junior minister. She took the credit for supposedly doing the right thing while Robert Abela took the credit for “taking action”.
No one asked Abela to clear that one up. Instead, within two years of that nonsensical phrase first being used, we have accepted it. The Maltese media today routinely refer to Cutajar as having “suspended herself” before being “permanently removed” (which only makes sense if “impermanent removal” were a thing).
These terms make no sense anywhere else. But our minds have adjusted to accepting nonsense.
When, this week, Alexander Dalli, the former director of prisons, was said to have “suspended himself”, few batted an eyelid. We’re used to following the government down the rabbit hole, just as we’ve adjusted to eye-watering sums in direct orders for cronies.
It’s the best of times for Wonderland, under Humpty Dumpty and other good eggs, who are everything they’re cracked up to be.