Brussels Blog
Thursday, November 29, 2007
  Siamo Tornati

Brand Belgium: No government, no sunshine, just beer
Welcome back to the blog formerly known as Lanzarote.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
  Entertainment Value
I always thought that we'd know that Malta had come of age when the political catfights made way for other celebrity bust-ups. It's been quite clear to me that all those sober individuals calling for politicians to tone down their act and to 'lead by example' forget that a bit of action is probably what the man in the street is really looking for. Can you imagine the sheer boredom of Maltese politics without the personal jibes and attacks. What would be left? Radically different policies? Once the EU issue was out of the way, hardly. As Harry Vassallo admitted this week, even the Greens risk losing some of their novelty value as the other two parties wheel out the ambjent rhetoric. So, to an extent, the entertainment value of Maltese politics might soon be all that's left of it: the clashing ambitions, personalities and egos of the political class. But there's evidence that Malta might finally be getting bored of the actors on stage and that it's looking elsewhere for its entertainment kick. When Il- Gagga author Frans Sammut and lawyer/columnist Andrew Borg Cardona have a three-week go at each other over something as lofty as literary knowledge (replete with working class versus bourgeois overtones) you know that we've come a long way baby. Malta, welcome to The Age of Kulcher!

We're off to the Cologne Carnival . Viel spass!
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Young, 'daring' Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev contemplates the 'evolving morality and standards of society' in the light of a recent apparently liberal landmark court judgement which implies that, in the eyes of the law, donning a tanga on the beach is more reprehensible than sporting the same garment in a girly club and that the police would have been more justified had they focused their attention on lazy sunbathers.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
  Eugenio Scalfari

Absolutely essential reading for anyone who's interested in Church-State relations. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome one of the grand old men of Italian journalism: Eugenio Scalfari.
Friday, February 09, 2007
  To fart or not to fart...

The summer of 1992, which I spent discovering all the real pleasures of life, marked the beginning of my long love affair with that wonderful country called France. I won't go into the romantic details but I'll just mention one striking characteristic about the country which continues to feed my passion for La Republique. Is it the jealously defended laïcité? Is it the savoir vivre? The women? Yes, all that too. But what continues to amaze me and attract me most is France's capacity to philosophise about literally everything. Yes, they can even philosophise about farting. Unless you take yourself too seriously you've got to lift your glass to that.


Bon weekend a tous with a special dedika to those two French-loving Gozitans j'accuse and pierre j. mejlak. (Naf li ghadek m'ghamiltx press conference Pierre, imma gejt naqa' u nqum did-darba!)
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Just a bit more on Church and State...

Malta is not a Catholic state ruled by an archbishop but a secular republic (Kenneth Zammit Tabona, The Times of Malta, 30/01/2007)

It is deeply insulting and offensive to all those of us who would like to know that we are not living in the Catholic equivalent of an Islamic State. (Daphne Caruana Galizia, The Malta Independent on Sunday, 28/01/2007)

Whatever happened to give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's? Why do we live in a society where these things still need spelling out? (J'accuse)

The problem with the whole debate on divorce, the new Archbishop and the role of the Church in Malta is that people seem to position the discourse in terms of a choice between two opposing poles. On the one hand the "Caesar gets what's his" option (in which case we can call ourselves secular and 'modern'), on the other the "God gets to play Caesar and Caesar gets to play God" scenario (where we end up looking like a Catholic version of an Islamic State).

Things are a bit more complicated and interesting than that. A little voyage around the world reveals that there are 3 main categories of Church-State relationship and several particularities within each category. I find it weird that this stuff didn't feature in our political theory or philosophy of law classes at the good old UoM.

Separation - No official State religion. Private law governs religious matters. As the US experience has shown, this does not preclude political parties from leaning towards religious groups in terms of ideology. Three types of separation can be identified: Pure separation (France, the US, Mexico, Turkey). 'Agreed' separation based on a bilateral treaty between Church and State in which the Church is considered a legal entity governed by public law and is granted public funding (Germany, Austria, Croatia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia). Hostile separation in which the State is based on an atheist or agnostic ideology and eliminates religion from public life (Cuba, China, North Korea)
Association - In which the State upholds a "national" religion (which establishes the identity of the nation) or an "official" religion. This may sit comfortably with freedom of conscience and a secular approach to civil status (civil marriage, divorce legislation, abortion etc) and the full respect of other religions (The United Kingdom, Finland, Denmark and others)

Collusion - The State purports to be the guarantor of one religion which is confused with the national identity. The clergy are civil servants and play a political role, religious doctrine is applied to civil status issues such as marriage, divorce and abortion. In some countries other beliefs are tolerated (Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Israel) while in others they are banned (Saudi Arabia). The Vatican is a case apart since it is the only true theocracy in the world: the spiritual and temporal are joined in the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff.

Malta is an interesting case which, as things stand, appears to straddle the Association and Collusion categories. There are three crucial factors which make this possible.

First, both the Head of State and several members of the ruling class (including the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister but also large chunks of the Opposition) appear to base their ideology on their belief system, projecting these values as national values rather than purely personal ones. This was made patently clear when President Fenech Adami indicated that he would probably not sign a divorce law passed by the House. But let's not ignore the fact that letters in local newspapers are still full of biblical quotations. Representatives represent the represented.

Second, following the Church-Mintoff standoff, the Labour party came to the conclusion that it would be unwise to take on Malta's Catholic majority. Essentially the debate on Church-State relations ended in the 1980s, handed the Nationalists a comfortable lead and 25 years later the 'pragmatic' Labour Party rivals the Nationalist Party in terms of devout Catholic representatives. Alfred Sant, himself an atheist, could face a mutiny if he rocks the boat at this stage. Labour MP Adrian Vassallo has already made it clear that if his party were to pledge to introduce divorce legislation, he would not stand for election. In other words, Malta's socialists are light years away from Zapatero with whom they share seats in the European Parliament.

Third, and perhaps crucially, Malta lacks a convincing and influential intellectual class which is prepared to move the debate and the country forward. Anyone who follows debates in Italy, Poland and Spain knows that the big ideological battles of today still pit liberals against conservatives (and the Church) on issues like the Pacs, gay marriage and stem-cell research. In Italy's La Repubblica, for instance, the extent of the Vatican's ingerenza into local politics is often debated and analysed. Granted, these countries have moved on from debating divorce. However, let's not forget that Spain only got a divorce law in 1981 after massive opposition from the Church and conservatives. Malta is not the only country in Europe where the Catholic Church's doctrine still plays an important ideological role in debates. And it's not a 16th century country just because it lacks divorce legislation. But Malta is the only country in Europe which lacks a convincing and respected progressive 'voice' to challenge and question the predominant conservative world view. Most small countries in Europe (think Luxembourg and Belgium) naturally feed off the bigger intellectual debate going on around them in France, Germany and Holland. Malta doesn't quite have that advantage which makes debates there appear rather surreal - from where I'm standing at any rate. It's enough to realise that the solitary voices of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Salvu Balzan still ring out like some sort of cutting-edge avant-garde anomaly.

The fact that on the ground some people have chosen to adopt different lifestyles and that marriages are breaking down isn't proof that we've suddenly become a secular, liberal nation. A few thousand people sleeping with their lovers and missing their Sunday Mass won't alter the institutional set-up. It takes ideas and free-thinking people who're ready to risk their career to do that.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
  Celebrity Death Match

One of the best things to come out of MTV has got to be the insane and hilarious Celebrity Deathmatch which ran for 75 episodes between 1998 and 2002. The spoof show pitted celebrities against each other in an over the top physical manifestation of their clashing egos . To get an idea of the sort of fight to the death which this parody served its audience check out the list of bouts here. Mick Jagger vs. Stephen Tyler (featuring Liv Tyler) apparently ended with Stephen Tyler impaled on Mick Jagger's 'gigantic tongue'. Celebrities would insult each other during the course of the contest, dissing their opponents' physical attributes, status or failures before ripping each other to shreds.

I've written a short script, based on two articles penned by two of Malta's leading journalistic celebrities in the aftermath of Pawlu Week.


Referee for tonight's match: PEPPI 'I'M EVERYWHERE' AZZOPARDI

PEPPI: Orrajt folks, let's get it on...

: (in right corner wearing priest's habit) The plea of the youngsters has been reflected in that made by thousands of men and women who have been following the footsteps of 'Patri Pawl'. At one level, these crowds made for an inspiring sight, a public unspoken confession of a thirst for a renaissance of the Church in Malta, their own rebirth...This much was made evident before last Friday's Mass of Consecration when thousands turned up in Valletta to share the occasion with Mgr Cremona...(waves fist triumphantly in show of strength)

DCG: (in left corner wearing black Chanel career woman suit and stylish 'intellectual' spectacles) The fever in the streets has been somewhat muted...We have become more urban, more secular, and the very idea of mobbing a priest in a frenzy of religious admiration embarrasses us. We leave the hand-kissing to the old ladies with their rosaries and their votive candles. It’s perfectly possible to live happily and well without a Catholic identity, as thousands of us know after having been told otherwise throughout our school years. (makes pooh-poohing motion with left hand)

CR:(wags knowing finger at the audience) This will be met by cynical opposition from those who have taken over, unwittingly and unconsciously perhaps (or not) from Mr Mintoff, whose determination to see the Church cocooned in the sacristy failed, but not before he had wounded her gravely.

PEPPI: Below the belt - first warning Mr Roamer!

DCG: (signals to refree that she's not at all injured) What has impressed me most about the strong media coverage accorded to the new archbishop is the underlying suggestion that he will somehow reach out to people like me, wave his magic wand, and turn us into rosary-reciting, Mass-going Catholics. He won’t. (throws determined glance at opponent).

CR: "We profess we believe there's God's image in every person... that this image is present in each man and woman; in those that are estranged from God and perhaps appear as if they are getting in the way of the Church..." (gets agitated, a bead of sweat trickles down his brow)

DCG: (says coolly, keeping her composure) The perception of people who are “lapsed Catholics” as being lost sheep, who can be returned to the fold by a charismatic bishop, is really quite annoying. Most of us never belonged to the fold at all, which is why we broke down the fence and left at the earliest opportunity. We were only in that fold because we were popped into it 24 hours after birth. Now we look at the other sheep crammed behind the stockade and all we can think of is what a relief it is that we’re not in there with them, and can roam in the large green pasture outside instead, the one called Christianity or nothing at all. (removes glasses and holds them between lips in clearly provocative gesture)

CR: (agitation and fervor show no signs of abating) If this enthusiasm is penetrated with the spirit of Christ, animated by a sense of obedience and love towards the pastors of the Church, a very rich harvest can be expected from it.

DCG: (glowers at opponent menacingly) Nothing on earth will persuade us back into that fold. If people do not choose their religion, but are raised in it from birth, indoctrinated all the way, and brainwashed about the evils of other ways of life, a high percentage of them will reject it as soon as they are old enough and free enough to think for themselves. This much should be obvious. (removes belt and swings it in lassoo motion over her head)

CR: (opens Bible on random page and regains composure) The new Archbishop may well point us in the direction of the living water the Samaritan woman failed to recognise until it was revealed to her by the person to whom she was speaking that he was the living water - and much else besides. In short, he will place before us as an alternative to thirst, the reception of the Eucharist, the essentiality of the Mass and the need to attend this not as an obligation, not only on Sundays, but as the source for quenching our thirst. (sits smugly in corner looking pleased as Punch)

DCG: (brandishes V-sign in direction of opponent) It is because some people believe Catholicism to be the one true way of life that they think of all others as lost and waiting to be found, or runaways who need to be recaptured.The thousands of lapsed Catholics in Malta are neither lost sheep nor even lapsed Catholics. We would never have been Catholics in the first place, given a choice. We were raised as Catholics, liked nothing about it, argued all the way, were scathing about the unconvincing answers we were given by our religious educators, and were delighted to shed the lot. (starts to remove Manolo Blahniks)

CR: (gesturing wildly) Some of today's secular voices, well-meaning in some cases, not so in others, are attempting to do the same thing, chipping away at values, deriding this or that belief, distinguishing, even divorcing Jesus from the Church - a tactic the socialist leader also employed with some success among his followers. A new indifferentism poses a challenge to the physical and spiritual proximity that the laity is requesting. This request may turn out to be a revolutionary one.

DCG:(removes other shoe) Others, like me, feel no need of organised religion at all. Rather, we feel the need to avoid it at all costs. We are perfectly happy to believe in God and Christ, and even to pray, without constant reference to a rule-book and the words of priests and pastors. (approaches adversary menacingly and buries heel of left shoe into Roamer's cranium)

CR: (miracoulously unscathed) And in the classrooms of the State - what leeway has the Church in the religious instruction of the young and the adolescent? It should be clear that here, following from the family environment, there is much work to be done. There are those who say that youngsters must find their own way, should not be influenced by belief; but this is as ludicrous as saying that youngsters should be left on their own in physical training to get fit as best they can... (now more determined than ever, reaches for rosary beads in cassock)

DCG: (slightly shaken by reselience of opponent) The only way to ensure that those who are raised as Catholics stay Catholic all their lives is to use force or the law, as the Inquisition did in the past. You can also prevent them from becoming apostates through rigid social control, stricture and censure, as Islam does even today. Neither option is desirable. (twists belt around Roamer's throat)

CR: (reveals to audience that not a single scar can be found on his neck) The challenges are self-evident. The response will have to include an understanding that it is in the family, the first Church, and in schools that the faith is threatened, initially. It is in the environment of the classroom and the family that the comeback has to start. (produces Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion from his pocket, hurls it to the ground, jumps on it, picks it up and proceeds to rip in into shreds)

DCG: (with an expression of sheer horror on her face) At 42, and well grounded in my life, I am neither searching for God nor lost in the wilderness, thank you very much...Organised religion is interesting to me only from the standpoint of an observer, and no charismatic bishop is going to change that. (increasingly exasperated, walks towards The Cardinal and looks him straight in the eye).

CR: (totally unmoved by the whole charade and ignoring the glassy stare of his opponent) ...That he will be following in the footsteps of Pope John, whose own smile nobody younger than 50 will remember, he made clear in his address at the end of Mass...

DCG: (now in full swing) The hallmark of a good archbishop is not whether he smiles and is jolly, whether he is an attractive person, or whether he goes down to Paceville on his first official day out and speaks to the kids there. (reaches for what looks like an Air Malta sickie bag and pretends to retch into it in sheer disgust)

CR: Over the past two weeks voices have been raised, in some cases to a point of hysteria, in favour of divorce. The Archbishop's answer to this will no doubt be the constant reaffirmation of the dignity of marriage and the family...(close up on smug look)

DCG: (really getting revved up now) ...The hallmark of a good archbishop is whether he gives unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s. A good archbishop is one who bears in mind all the time that he is a religious leader and not a secular one, that he should stick to God’s business and let Caesar get on with his. He also needs to avoid doing what his predecessor did and the Prime Minister still does today: taking it for granted that all Maltese are Catholics and that Catholicism is our natural state and our default setting, and addressing the nation in this manner. (produces an A4 sized 'family photo' of the entire Maltese political class, writes "TOSSERS" in big red letters in lipstick across it and gets into a shredding frenzy)

CR: (close up on total poker face) ...I imagine Mgr Cremona will make marriage and marriage preparation the centre of his pastoral concern. If he is to succeed, he can do no better than to meet up more and more with young people to convince them of the value of permanence in marriage, the gift of fidelity, the intimacy of the married state and, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, to make them understand that marriage is "not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly". (stresses the last three words in solemn, annoying voice)

DCG: (now at the end of her tether, red in the face but still some fight left in her) It is deeply insulting and offensive to all those of us who would like to know that we are not living in the Catholic equivalent of an Islamic State. The archbishop is free to preach to his flock. He is not free to dictate the rules to the rest of us. (punches the air several times to emphasize last point)

CR: (goes on with a seraphic look on his face as if in ecstasy) The "plague of divorce" as the Council called by John XXIII chose to call it in the Decree on the Church in the Modern World, is just that. Contrary to what its proponents would have us believe, divorce does not preclude co-habitation but spectacularly encourages it. 40% of births in the United Kingdom took place out of wedlock, according to a recent survey and 4.5 million children were being brought up outside marriage.

DCG: (climbs onto the boundary ropes) ...Archbishop Mercieca saw it as his duty to do what he could to prevent Malta from introducing divorce legislation, so that Catholics would have no choice but to stick to Catholic rules. He sees all Maltese as Catholic on the basis that they were baptised and raised as such. He doesn’t have the imagination to think outside this box, or to see why this is wrong. Archbishop Cremona must see it as his duty to explain to his flock that, just as the Church has its duties and obligations, so does the State. (jumps off the top boundary rope and directs a sharp, brutal karate kick towards Roamer's groin area)

CR: (as if by magic, Roamer is entirely unperturbed by this vicious attack on his manliness) ...Evangelisation has to start well before marriage. It is clear, however, that along with prayer it is vital to the union. Which is why, I suspect, on the occasion of the vigil at Mdina, Mgr Cremona encouraged married couples "who do not usually pray together to pray for me tonight. And as you are praying, why pray just for me, pray to the Lord every day. As you pray for the Holy Spirit to descend unto me, also pray for (Him) to come unto you so that together we will build the Church" (close-up on the wide, self-contented smile that takes over his face)

DCG: (now entirely exhausted by the whole impossible ordeal, she has retired to her corner and with her last breath pronounces these last memorable, but ultimately impotent words)... He must spell it out to them in the kindest possible way that the State cannot allow non-Catholics to impose their rules on Catholics, that the State has the right and the duty to legislate for divorce, for example, while Catholics have the right to make use of this legislation but the duty not to do so. If he doesn’t do this, he will have failed not just his flock, but the entire country, because a country cannot be run according to religious laws, as Islam has shown as clearly. Leadership does not consist only in smiling and cracking jokes. In this, the public personas of both the head of the church and the head of the government coincide, but how does that help the country in any way? Leaders are not there to entertain us. For that, we have celebrities. (she passes out in a frenzy of exhaustion, anger and frustration...)

Cheers from the predominantly pro-Roamer crowd ring out. Chants of "u ara x'ghamilnilhom!" and "Viva Pawlu!" reverberate round the hall. Roamer stands in the middle of the ring, calm but radiant, as if he has been touched by the hand of God Himself. Daphne is carried out on a stretcher.

Peppi starts the countdown...10, 9, 8...3, 2, 1, 0. We have a WINNER...


May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / November 2007 /

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