Tista’ taqrah bil-Malti.
“Let’s not disturb graves and hurl bones at one another,” Jose Maria Aznar, Spain’s former prime minister once said. Aznar’s popular party harboured most of General Franco’s unreconstructed supporters. Franco, Spain’s brutal dictator had ruled the country with an iron fist for almost four decades right up to 1975. In the wake of his death came the ‘pacto del olvido’ – the pact of oblivion, Spain’s choice to forget Franco’s crimes.
The problem is that when forced to forget, one does a lot of remembering. Robert Abela is on a campaign to force the nation to forget. Abela is trying his damnedest to obliterate the past. Labour’s past carries the powerful stench of corruption and the blood of a journalist. Abela himself has too much to hide.
“Expect now that our friends in opposition will talk more about the past – that is what those who have nothing to offer for the future do,” Abela declared on 6 February. His words echoed those of Pablo Casada, the leader of the right wing Spanish popular party, the continuation of Franco’s Falangists: “I would like to speak about the Spain of my children, not that of my grandparents”.
Abela and Casada both have one objective – to bury the past before the past buries them.
Labour attempts to annihilate the past by maligning those who dare recall it. “Bernard Grech is a representation of the past,” Abela announced on 1 March at an event in B’Kara. “Grech wants to take the country back to the times of Tonio Fenech”.
ONE chimed in, “Grech continues to use the face of the past”, “Grech speaks to the young about the past”, “The PN of the past against everything and everybody”, “PN anchored in the past”, “PN continues to embrace the extremist ideals of the past”.
In 1977, Spain passed the amnesty law that brushed away the crimes of Franco’s regime. This allowed Francoist politicians to get full amnesty, stay in power and remain in government. Spain chose not to condemn its former caudillo, the leader. After all, Franco had brought Spain huge prosperity. Besides Japan, Spain was the country that enjoyed the biggest economic growth between 1959 and 1974 – the Spanish miracle.
In 2020, Malta’s own leader, il-Mexxej, was deposed after the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the revelations of the close links of his office with the middleman and alleged mastermind. Like Franco, Muscat was a deeply divisive figure, adored and reviled. Like Franco, Muscat boasted that he brought Malta prosperity, with its economic growth exceeding that in most EU countries – the Maltese miracle.
And like Spain, Malta chose not to condemn its former leader. It was a clever way of allowing Muscat’s own consultant, Robert Abela, to become the ‘prime minister of continuity’. It ensured that Muscat’s close allies got full amnesty, stayed in power and remained in government.
Now Robert Abela is emulating Spain’s model of impunity with his own pact of oblivion. He wants to obliterate memory. He threatens the judiciary not to pursue Muscat for his part in the hospitals’ scam fearing what it will reveal. He threatened the Caruana Galizia inquiry to shut it down to avoid exposure of the truth.
He doesn’t want the nation to remember Rosianne Cutajar’s deals with Yorgen Fenech, Melvin Theuma’s phantom job, Refalo’s VR looting, Lawrence Cutajar’s information to the middle man, Zammit Lewis’ relationship with Yorgen Fenech.
He doesn’t want anybody to remember Nexia BT, Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Keith Schembri, Adrian Hillman, Pilatus bank, Ram Tumuluri. He won’t have anybody denouncing Konrad Mizzi.
He won’t allow Joseph Muscat to participate in his campaign. He completely loses his rag when anybody mentions his €17,000 monthly remuneration from the Planning Authority. Or his direct orders with ARMS, Air Malta and the environment ministry. Or his links to the Maksar brothers.
He frantically escapes the media fearing the repeated questions about his stinking deal with a suspected money launderer, kidnapper and narcotics smuggler.
Pedro Almodovar’s award-winning documentary, ‘The Silence of Others’, recalls the epic struggle of the victims of General Franco. It offers a cautionary lesson about the dangers of forgetting the past.
Malta must learn that lesson too. It must resist with all its energies Abela’s frantic attempts to bury the past. Seeking the truth is not treason. It is a responsibility, painful and difficult as it might be, to serve justice.
Let’s not collaborate with Abela’s call for silence, the silence of injustice. When his Party’s, the country’s and his own history is dug up it is not for looking at the past. It is about fighting for the future.
It is hard enough to stash one skeleton in the cupboard. What chance is there for an entire nation with a cupboard bursting to stop the skeletons tumbling out?
In 2007, three decades after Franco’s death, Spain awakened to its past. It passed the Historical Memory law to investigate the crimes committed under Franco’s regime. It finally condemned Franco and his rule. After decades of repression, Spain was able to look at its past openly and honestly, able to prosecute and condemn those who abused their power at the nation’s cost.
The decades of imposed silence could not extinguish the nation’s burning desire for justice. In 2019, Franco’s body was finally exhumed and removed from the purposely built mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen and buried in a family cemetery. Those who abuse power do not deserve shrines or glorification.
Abela attempts to hold back the tide. By erasing the past he draws attention to the impunity still enjoyed by those close to him and his Party. He cannot break from the corruption of Muscat. He is ensnared in it.
The real problem is that the current leadership is a seamless continuation of the previous. The more Abela tries to make us forget, the more we remember. The urgent duty of every decent citizen is to keep that memory alive.