Anġlu Farrugia cut a sorry figure in parliament on Tuesday evening. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky had been invited to address Europe’s most bloated parliament and Mr Speaker was doing the honours of delivering the introductory speech.
The man who, despite his obvious shortcomings, had just been confirmed Speaker for a third term, addressed the head of the war-torn nation and decided to deliver what he thought would be a short lesson in constitutional history and parliamentary democracy.
It was hard not to cringe at the misguided pompousness of it all. Farrugia set off on the usual obstacle race that he performs whenever he is forced to speak in English.
He congratulated Zelensky for choosing the parliament as a forum and proceeded to impart a lesson on the importance of parliaments as a place of dialogue. Ukraine’s parliament and the Russian Duma should engage in such dialogue according to Farrugia. It was the only way to peace.
The neutrality flag was brought out and waved metaphorically as vigorously as possible. We are neutral and bound by a sacred clause wriggled into our Constitution when the world was a very different place. We will remind anyone that bothers to listen to this gaggle of politicians mired in self-importance that we do not do commitment in times of conflict.
Conflict. He did use that word to describe the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation that is costing thousands of innocent lives.
President Zelensky has seen much worse than Anġlu Farrugia in his short political life. He must have wondered who, among the two of them, was the better comedian. He kept calm and composed allowing only a flicker of irritability that he quickly controlled by picking up his pen to take note of what in the Speaker’s speech would have to be corrected.
Not a conflict, Anġlu, but a war. After all, if you want to bandy your neutrality about like some badge of honour then at least have the decency to call the unprovoked Russian invasion for what it is.
Zelensky also made it a point to refer to Farrugia’s entreaties for peace talks between the parliaments of Russia and Ukraine. This is not a war that will be won with words but by the resistance of the people in the streets. Not your empty words Anġlu, nor your neutrality, but the resistance of the people fighting for Europe’s freedom.
Prime Minister Robert Abela spoke after Zelensky’s intervention and delivered the neutrality spiel for a second time. I noticed one mention of ‘conflict’ by Abela that he thankfully changed to ‘war’ later in his intervention. Abela too emphasised the neutrality spin and threw a bit of COVID discomfort to justify Malta’s overall approach to the Ukraine War.
Zelensky had probably been prepared for this constant drumming of Malta’s Cold War neutrality cause and his evocation of the Battle over Malta 80 years ago was sublime. The implied question was: what would have happened then if Malta’s allies had chosen instead to remain neutral? It was not words or neutrality that won the war but strong resistance.
Neutral Malta, Zelensky said, should not allow itself to be abused. He referred to the Maltese-flagged vessels still transporting Russian oil. And the Maltese passport programme that risked abetting Russian oligarchs.
‘Do not abet the invaders’. The President mentioned two effective ways of hurting Russia: providing weapons to those who resist and ensuring that sanctions hit hard. Not words. Not the highfalutin demagoguery of neutrality.
Abela replied that Ukraine is in ‘our thoughts and prayers’. This parliament that starts each session with a sign of the cross and a Hail Mary kept a straight face while proposing politics straight from the Cold War era. Farrugia and his friends might even genuinely believe their neutrality rhetoric, but it was immediately evident how lost and detached from the reality of the outside world they are.
Once again our politicians have proven that their skills are only useful to sway the home crowd with their appeals to themes and narratives that are only understood within the confines of the islands. It seems President Zelensky just wasted 20 minutes of his time listening to a bloated parliament dispatch lessons in democracy he did not need.