Bashing foreigners, are we? How very Mintoffian...

Is today’s PN is ready to back up all its tough anti-foreign talk with equally anti-foreign policies, of the kind it had itself fought against so hard (and so successfully) 40 years ago or more? If it does, its metamorphosis into Old Labour will be complete

PN leader Adrian Delia
PN leader Adrian Delia

I’ve often started articles with the observation that ‘history repeats itself’. Only sometimes, it repeats itself in the most bizarre ways imaginable.  

One recent example is the Nationalist Party’s sudden aversion to ‘foreigners’. I have lost count of the number of times Adrian Delia has stood on a podium, and solemnly declared that ‘foreigners’ represent a ‘threat to our traditional way of life’... or to quote from his latest, completely inexplicable tirade, that the ‘foreign influx’ is indirectly responsible for Malta’s soaring asthma rates, “as a result of increased car exhaust pollution”.  

Erm... personally, I was una- ware that only foreigners were allowed to drive vehicles in Malta. (It certainly doesn’t look that way, whenever I’m stuck in traffic behind a giant truck with the words ‘Elvis is King’ emblazoned on the chassis.)  

But then again, this is actually one of Delia’s less alarming complaints about ‘foreigners’ these days. It’s not just that they’re poisoning our lungs because of all the cars they drive; they’re also “one of the reasons why depression, anxiety and stress have increased in recent years.”  

OK, perhaps it’s part of some ingenious political master- strategy that I’m just too stupid to understand. But from where I’m sitting, it sounds a whole lot like a direct echo of Old Labour in the days of Dom Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. (You know, the sort of thing we once voted PN to get rid of...)  

With two crucial differences, however. In the first instance, slogans like ‘Malta L-Ewwel U Qabel Kollox’ did indeed pay spectacular dividends some 40 or 50 years ago.... largely because Malta was still emerging from its colonial shell, and ‘attacking the foreigner’ was still an ever-dependable way of drumming up instant grass- roots support among a paranoid population.  

In second place, Old Labour’s unbridled xenophobia in those days was not an isolated, spur- of-the-moment phenomenon. It was part of an entire ideological package that also included – among many other things – an analogous protectionist mindset: seeking to boost local industry by simply banning foreign products altogether. It was not just ‘the foreigner’ that was targeted by similarly inflammatory rhetoric back then, but ‘foreign-ness’ in general. And for better or worse, the xenophobic mental- ity of the 1970s and 1980s fit neatly into a political narrative that made a lot of sense in its time... and also shaped Malta’s entire economy (not to mention national identity) all the way until 1987.  

Ah, that’s the thing... until 1987, when the Nationalist Party came into power on the promise to ‘open up’ Maltese markets to foreign competition; and, later, to join the European Union... which is in turn based partly on the ‘freedom of movement of people’.  

In case you ever wondered what that meant... well, it’s basically that foreigners would be allowed to come here, buy property and open up their own businesses (just as we can do in other member states): the same thing that the current PN leader suddenly seems to think is the main cause of all this country’s problems.  

Hence the spectacular irony that now opens up around us on two diametrically opposed fronts. On one hand, the same Labour Party that had opposed EU accession tooth and nail – primarily because it would flood Malta with foreigners (remember all the scare-stories about ‘an invasion of Sicilian hairdressers’?) - is now so enthusiastic about foreign labour, that it feels we need to import at least another 50,000 workers from overseas.  

On the other, we have the same Nationalist Party that once campaigned to open Malta up to a ‘foreign influx’, now complaining about all the foreigners who flocked here precisely because of the success of its own campaign. It’s almost as though the PN and PL have agreed between them to simply swap ideologies and political platforms: Adrian Delia has adopted Mintoff’s 1970s anti-foreigner rhetoric; and Joseph Muscat has borrowed Eddie Fenech Adami’s pro-EU vision, and made it his own.  

Makes you wonder what the same two parties will be telling us in 20 years’ time (provided they both still exist... which is beginning to look rather doubtful). In what mysterious ways will they both totally and utterly contradict their present positions? And what sort of sense would their new political platforms make, when viewed against their current socio- political backdrop?  

Ask that question about Delia’s newfound aversion to foreigners today, and... um... I’m at a loss, to tell you the truth. If any of you can see any rhyme or reason in any of it, feel free to enlighten me.  

Let’s start with the fact that – apart from contradicting the PN’s former position... at a time, please note, when the PN was an unstoppable political force in its own right – Adrian Delia also tends to contradict himself, sometimes from one sentence to the next. At the same GWU conference where he made all the bizarre claims quoted above... he also concluded that: “if the country had to bring in foreign workers, they should at least be from the European Union".  

Huh? What? Just a few sentences earlier, Delia had argued that ‘foreigners’ were somehow increasing air pollution, and having a measurable impact on Malta’s depression, anxiety and stress rates. So... are we suddenly to understand that it’s only third-country nationals who have all these unpleasant effects? That – miraculously – a car driven by the holder of a Polish or Austrian passport (who, for all we know, could just as easily be originally from Pakistan or Brazil anyway), causes less pollution than a car driven by a Nigerian, Syrian or Filipino national? Or even, for that matter, a non-EU European citizen? (They do exist, you know: look under ‘Norway’ or ‘Switzerland’ for further details.)  

More worryingly still: is Adrian Delia suggesting that people get more ‘depressed’, ‘anxious or ‘stressed out’ by the presence of black or Asian immigrants in their neighbourhoods... than when surrounded by nice, shiny and suitably white ‘EU nationals’?  

If so, Delia will find that... yes, there are numerous people in Malta who do share his clearly neurotic concerns. But they’re not the type who have ever traditionally sup- ported the PN before. Nor have they any reason to do so now. No, the blatantly racist demographic is already amply catered for by Malta’s more overtly and ideologically anti- immigration parties... like the Ghaqda Patrijotti Maltin, or Norman Lowell’s Imperium Europe (which has just announced it will be contesting next year’s MEP elections).  

Not that it’s a choice I will ever have to make myself; but if I were to base my own voting intentions only on visceral hatred for foreigners... I would certainly not waste it on a Johnny-Come-Lately like Adrian Delia (whose party was responsible for most of this influx anyway... precisely by making it legal for foreigners to come here to live and work in the first place). No, I would cast my vote for a professional immigrant-basher like Nor- man Lowell, who has a long and spectacularly consistent record in that particular department.  

The same goes for the candidates who are echoing Delia’s anti-foreigner rhetoric further down the PN food-chain.  

Like Dione Borg, for instance: who kickstarted his own MEP campaign by warning about ‘immigrants’ opening shopsin places like Hamrun and Marsa (as opposed to sleeping in cardboard boxes on the street, which is what he would presumably prefer).  

“One of the main changes in Hamrun and Marsa is that previously Maltese-owned businesses are being taken over by immigrants. Undoubtedly this affects the communities here,” Dione recently said in a video blog... while standing outside a Hamrun food shop called ‘Taste of Africa’.  

Well, oddly enough I was in Hamrun myself this morning, and I happened to walk past that particular shop (and many others like it) on my way back. Around three doors further up the same street, there’s a small eatery named ‘Sapori di Sicilia – Cucina Italiana’: one of around half a million Italian-owned restaurants and cafes within a radius of around half a mile.  

And that’s just Hamrun. In my own neighbourhood – Gzira/Ta’ Xbiex/Msida – nearly all the restaurants and bars are now foreign-owned. Mostly Italian, but by no means exclusively. There is a Serbian eatery, a Korean restaurant, two Chinese takeaways, three Indian restaurants, any number of Turkish kebab houses, and at least one Asian food market... and if you enter any of these establishments at any time of day, you will find that most of the patrons are just as foreign as the people behind the counter: mostly employees of around three dozen, equally ‘foreign-owned’ betting agencies that have also taken over the entire area in the past few years. 

Strangely, I have never seen Dione Borg standing outside any of those ‘foreign-owned businesses’, complaining about the ‘effect’ they must surely have on local communities. Which is odd, because these same businesses – especially the betting companies – have had an infinitely greater impact on ‘local communities’ than any number of shops or restaurants opened by African immigrants in the same area. Why do you think the cost of renting an apartment in Gzira – previously considered a ‘cheap’ area – has skyrocketed by something like 5000% in recent years? Is it: (a), because a couple of refugees from Somalia or the Ivory Coast happened to open a take-away further down the street? Or is it (b), because of an entirely new contingent of ‘immigrants’ – mostly white, and from other parts of Europe – who com- mand much higher salaries than most Maltese workers have ever dreamed of? Hmm, what a difficult question...  

But perhaps the most pressing thing to ask both Dione Borg and Adrian Delia at this stage is... well, what do you propose to do about this ‘foreign influx’, anyway? It was a question Mintoff could certainly answer in the 1970s... even if some us didn’t like the answer at the time, and would like it a lot less today. So I guess the real question is whether today’s PN is ready to back up all its tough anti-foreign talk with equally anti-foreign policies, of the kind it had itself fought against so hard (and so successfully) 40 years ago or more.  

If it does, its metamorphosis into Old Labour will be complete; and I need hardly add that what didn’t work for Old Labour in the long term, is a lot less likely to work for the Nationalist Party today. But still, it’s Delia’s party, not mine. And like I said earlier: this may all be part of a grand political strategy that I’m just not clever enough to understand... 

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