Divorce, change, continuity

Divorce, change, continuity Michael Briguglio

Malta Today Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The divorce referendum result is very much welcome. Judging by value surveys on the referendum in particular and family life in general, I must say that I was mildly optimistic on a positive outcome, though, of course, I was wary of a possible ‘no’ victory.

As Chairperson of the Green Party, I am proud to be in the only party that to date has a pro-divorce stand and to be in the only party to have been on the right side of history in the divorce and EU referenda, which were both so important for Maltese society. I am proud to be in a party that set the ball rolling on the divorce issue since it was founded in 1989 and to have sent the draft law to parliamentarians in 2010, which subsequently led to the creation of the YES movement.
The outcome of the referendum confirms that Maltese society is undergoing changes which are irreversible. The individualized society is here to stay. In this regard, people are more likely to construct their own biographies than previous generations. This does not mean that class, politics, beliefs, gender, level of education and other factors no longer play an important role in Maltese society. Yet, people are less likely to construct their lives simply upon inherited tradition. Choice and everyday situations are likely to play an increased degree of influence in our life-course. Whether such reflexivity will be reflected in general elections remains to be seen.

Yet, society is characterized by change and continuity at the same time. Labour’s attitude following the ‘yes’ victory are a striking example of the latter.

Upon the ‘yes’ victory, the Labour Party, through its media apparatus, immediately attempted to create a new look, where it suddenly pronounced itself as the winner of this referendum, as the party we all have to thank for such an achievement. Of course, had the ‘No’ camp been victorious, Labour would have depicted a different image of itself, emphasizing that the party did not have an official position on divorce.

Following the result, leading Labour exponents also spoke of the importance of civil society and cross-party alliances. Yet, in practice, Labour has acted otherwise. For example, it did not invite any Green Party representative for its post-result live transmissions on One TV. Even, worse, I, as AD Chairperson was dumped from the panel of One’s programme ‘Inkontri’, hosted by Joe Grima.

Indeed, as early as 20th May I was invited to form part of the panel of ‘Inkontri’ edition to be aired live on 30th May (a day after the referendum result). Yet in the morning of 30th May, I was suddenly informed that I will not form part of the panel and instead will be given an interview. Of course, I refused to be party to such shameless inconsistency and unequal treatment. If Labour thinks that we Greens are hungry for its bread crumbs, it really must look elsewhere for lackeys.
Many Labour-leaning persons contacted me to express their sympathy for such degrading treatment, but, surprise surprise, to date I have not yet been shown any sympathy from those Labourites who made sure to have their face appear in every activity of the ‘YES’ movement. With friends like these, who needs enemies? It would be interesting if One TV tells us who took the decision to dump me off the panel.

If civil society is to keep struggling for the introduction of further civil rights (such as anti-censorship, LGBT rights, fair electoral systems etc) and for the further modernization of Maltese society, one should not get carried away with the idea that Labour is the ‘natural’ party for such change. Devoid of any sense of reciprocal respect, Labour simply acts according to where the wind blows, and uses and dumps its temporary allies as it deems fit.

Of course, the Nationalist Party is not so different in this regard, and neither are its media allies, but at least the PN had a stand on divorce, albeit archaic, confessional and out of synch with the aspirations of thousands of people. The PN now has to decide whether its rupture with liberal new middle class voters was something temporary, or whether it will seek to ally itself with this politically-important category once again. Surely, with Ministers who base their opinions on ‘holy’ visions and allies who think that Malta is some form of ‘presepju fil-Mediterran’, I cannot expect the PN to become a secular party. On the other hand, adaptation to the current scenario is inevitable unless the PN wants to lose the next election.
Hence, the further modernization of Maltese society is not something that will simply happen automatically. With a stronger progressive civil society (the Green Party, NGOs, media etc..), Malta can only move closer and closer to a more inclusive and pluralistic democracy and a cosmopolitan society.

In the meantime, I urge members of parliament to respect the result of the referendum and avoid any manouvering as regards the introduction of divorce legislation.

The issue is simple. Over 53% of voters want the introduction of divorce in Malta. Parliamentarians, who did not have the courage to take a decision on divorce and shifted the responsibility onto the people through a referendum, should stand by the result of the referendum. Any manoeuvering is simply unacceptable. Alternattiva Demokratika will be carefully analysing the situation and will make sure that parlamentarians do not take the Maltese electorate for a ride.