What was billed by government officials as the Maltese people’s ferocious answer to months of international criticism and anti-government protests turned out to be a more subdued affair than one may have expected.
Around 20,000 people showed up to celebrate Workers’ Day with the Labour Party in the triumphant and newly refurbished Triton Square. Packed like never before, this was the much-hyped event that many Labourites had been waiting for.
Parents used the warm spring holiday as an opportunity to take the family out, with kids entertaining themselves all over the square. Some people were drinking, and the tailgates in the car park in Floriana wouldn’t have been amiss outside Liquid Club on a Saturday night.
While the area in front of the main stage was the party’s epicentre, with the young ‘uns dancing to the lively music, head a few rows back and all you’d see is a mass of older people, arms crossed, awaiting the main show.
Labourites had been urged by party officials to attend the Workers’ Day event to show their support in Joseph Muscat and the government. And they did, but the feeling on the ground wasn’t one of a party per se.
2018 isn’t an election year, and the electorate seemed to be suffering from a bit of political fatigue. It seemed like most Labourites had really just come to see their leader speak, music and DJs be damned.
They stood with cautious optimism, trying to enjoy the sun, and were reluctant to clap too loud as if they too would be caught stepping out of line like their leaders have been.
The massive party many were expecting was not much more than a cathartic mass meeting with a few new policy points and some hearty chants.
1. Warming the stage up with a mixture of choice songs
A flurry of classic techno, mainstream EDM, and Queen might seem an odd opening act for the Prime Minister of a Republic, but it’s practically a Maltese tradition by now.
Hearing an MC shout “grazzi Joseph!” before dropping into Robert Miles’ “Children” is the exact thing that gets a crowd pumping and ready for political discourse.
Between tracks like Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’, Tiesto’s ‘Lethal Industry’, and regular calls to put your hands in the air, there were rumblings in the crowd.
Booties began to shake, and a few people even began singing out loud.
The hype was beginning.
2. Tears of joy as the supreme leader emerges
Of course, every person assembled in Triton Square was there for one thing and one thing only: the Prime Minister’s speech.
Right before the main man came on, two features were played in succession. One was the trailer for Joseph Muscat – The Movie, which suitably brought the hype train to the next station.
Halfway through the second feature (starts around 17:30 in the video above), a group of men near the fountain set off some whistles.
Across the square, a chant of ‘Joseph, Joseph, Joseph’ had started up. Soon after, the wave crescendos: Viva Labour Viva Labour hey hey.
Joseph Muscat steps onto the stage that had been set for him. The crowd loses it when he becomes visible, and no less than two women near me began to cry.
“I just can’t help crying whenever I see him,” said one woman, wiping the mascara away.
3. Making the party as child-friendly as it can get
Two men nearby set off their own set of loud whistles. Both were over 40, and were raising their whistles-in-hands to the air like they just didn’t care.
They had both the naughtiest and happiest looks on their faces, and stared proudly at the loud exploding thing emitting a deafeningly loud screech from their hands.
“Cut that out, you’re scaring the kids here!” a nearby mother chastised the men, pointing at her two terrified children.
The men put the whistles out.
The two men’s exact facial expressions
4. Waiting for your personal freebie
Joseph Muscat began talking about pensions. He said that the Labour Party had increased pensions for pensioners, and would continue to do so more and more.
In the ensuing ovation, one young man nearby cheerfully slapped an older, white-haired gentleman on the shoulder.
“He’s talking about you!” he shouted at the older man.
The older man’s exact reaction
5. Jokes that get funnier the more times they’re said
Joseph Muscat made three jokes throughout his speech. He barely needed a punchline – he would just change his tone, end his sentence in a slightly higher pitch, and people would still laugh – they know he’s a funny guy anyway.
He relished in leading the crowd to finish his paragraphs. He’d regularly structure his sentences in way that would allow the crowd to know exactly where he is going.
For example, he said the sentence: “Ix-xogħol jiġri wara n-nies u mhux in-nies jiġru wara x-xogħol.” (Work runs after people, and not people running after work.)
As soon as he got to “u”, the crowd were singing along with him. Talk about unity…
6. Going to great lengths to remind everyone you haven’t changed
Even though some of their modern policies might say otherwise, the Labour Party is considered Malta’s traditional socialist party. And just in case you forgot, Joseph Muscat was here to remind you.
Talk turned to social housing, and Joseph Muscat expanded upon plans to invest more in social housing, build more social housing, and pledged to help out those who really need it.
After talking about social housing for a good five minutes, he turned to the crowd and roared, “This is how you really celebrate the First of May!”
Karl Marx would be so proud.
BONUS: L-Innu Malti
You haven’t seen confusion until you’ve experienced the Maltese National Anthem played as 20,000 Maltese people rush to beat the crowds and get to their car first.
It turns out wanting to get home vs being a patriot isn’t as easy a choice as you’d expect.
Cue people randomly stopping and turning around, hands on heart, to sing Malta’s national anthem while giving massive side-eye to anyone who kept on power-walking to their cars.
Lil din l-art ħelwa…