“She should be studying for her O-levels, not giving interviews,” Eve Borg Bonello’s mother tells me, in a tone that is at once both exasperated but extremely proud.
It is a timely reminder of just how young Eve actually is. The 15-year-old student was thrust into the limelight at the Nationalist Party’s recent annual general council meeting and delivered an impassioned speech in favour of the free press that belied her years.
And Eve’s bedroom speaks of two sides to the young political hopeful. Photos of Lana del Rey and Freddie Mercury, which wouldn’t look out of place in any teenager’s bedroom, sit side by side on her wall near political quotes, slogans advocating the legalisation of recreational marijuana and pictures of the late Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“I’ve always believed that you should be the change you want to see in this world,” Eve says when, right off the bat, I ask her what interests her in politics. “I don’t like how so many people rant but then go silent when push comes to shove.”
“I’ve had people warn me I’m going to ruin my life or that I should run for the hills if I want to graduate from University because they’ll fail me otherwise, but then others have told me how proud they are that I’m sticking up for what I believe in. Even friends of a different political understanding encourage me, which is something I really appreciate because we must stop this obsession on blue vs red and treating politics like a football match. At the end of the day, we should all be working together to improve Malta.”
A noble aim, to be sure, but it seems that Eve has joined a party which has traditionally opposed issues that are close to her heart – such as LGBT rights and, more recently, marijuana for personal use.
Yet Eve doesn’t see the contradiction, arguing that the PN is more open to liberal minds than it seems while the PL’s progressive agenda stems more from strategic gameplay rather than political will.
“Although the PN is known as the conservative party, I feel that at the end of the day it is very central and open to different ideas. In fact, [PN leader] Adrian Delia was recently questioned about LGBT rights and he responding by saying it’s time to look beyond the law and ensure that LGBT people feel safe, accepted and valued in our society. Times have changed, as they always will, and we shouldn’t remain focused on the past but respect it for what it was and look at what we’re doing now, which I myself am very proud of.”
“I feel the PL’s liberalism is skin-deep. Yes, we have all these new progressive laws but are they really being backed up? The timing of the equal marriage law was quite convenient to say the least, and as such a liberal person, I take that as a huge offence because the things I’m fighting for are just being used to shut people like me up.”
Moreover, Eve is passionately pro-environment and said a truly liberal government would place the safeguarding of natural and cultural heritage on the top of its agenda.
“We were promised a liberal government but we didn’t meet a single EU 2020 emissions target, not a single one! We’re Malta, we’re meant to be the ones that initiate everything, the futurist ones, the ones with the robots! Can we not possibly meet these EU environmental standards that other countries have met?”
“I’m sick of this nonchalant attitude towards the environment and I feel that people are very short-sighted nowadays and only care about money in their pockets. I really want to tackle the idea of ‘Oh, why should I care? I won’t be affected in my lifetime!’. Well, yes, you should care…”
Eve Borg Bonello with other youths in the PN’s Future Leaders programme
However, what really got people talking about this bright-eyed activist was her politically astute speech on the freedom of the press, which managed to touch on the topics of Joseph Muscat, Adrian Delia and Daphne Caruana Galizia without referring to them by name.
“A journalist’s job is to scrutinise politicians, people in power and policymakers for the benefit of the public’s right to be informed,” Eve explains in the interview.
“We need to be cynical, not to the point where we are rendered hopeless, but we need to know what’s going on. I get so disgusted when I see Facebook posts saying critical international press is an attack on the Maltese.”
“I mean, sure, you mightn’t agree with what they’re saying and think it’s complete rubbish, but for heaven’s sake, look what happened when we allowed ourselves to look at the press as something extra, as our enemy.”
This is an obvious reference to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a topic that is so close to Eve’s heart that she was recently inspired to write a poem dedicated to the late journalist in the early hours of the morning.
“Sure, I mightn’t have agreed with everything she said… she was human after all and we all have different opinions, but for heaven’s sake. I don’t have the words to describe how we allowed these things to happen to a journalist and how we’re fine with it.”
Yet while many are praising Eve as a shining example for youth activism, she is all too aware that Malta faces an uphill challenge to attract other youths to her side.
“There’s definitely an attitude of ‘I’m ok, thank you, Jack’ amongst many youths, even though they are very active and full of ideas,” she said. “I feel it’s not very encouraging for youths to speak up about these atrocities in a political climate of trolls, hate and, I’m sorry to say, political illiteracy.”
“It is difficult to scrutinise the government when you get loads of Facebook comments criticising you and labelling you whenever you show the slightest of bias. After my speech went online, I got lots of good comments but also some that just focused on my looks, my clothes, my makeup, asking whether I can afford to go to a hairdresser…I mean, come on.”
“Youths must be encouraged to be activists but this requires good platforms and training, such as the PN’s recent Future Leaders scheme. Yes, there’s a certain amount of apathy but we need to work together to overcome it because complaining won’t solve anything.”