If you’re a non-Maltese person living in Malta, it must be quite confusing right now. You’re basically on a pendulum swinging between “welcome to sunny Malta, please apply for a job” to a very aggressive “go back to your fucking country”.
And this isn’t just about the delusional Holocaust-denier or the ‘patriot’ party. Let’s focus on the supposedly more reasonable Prime Minister instead.
There was a time when his message was fairly simple, even if outrageous: we only want people moving to Malta if they can afford to spend a small fortune on buying an overpriced passport. Everyone else should be pushed back to Libya.
Today, Muscat seems to have flipped the other way. Now he’s practically begging foreigners to come to Malta… but only if they do the ‘dirty’ jobs like picking up garbage and “working in the sun”. I guess why waste all that man power on Libya?
Muscat has since apologised for this “insensitive” remark, which he made during his very controlled debate with Opposition leader Adrian Delia. Probably one of his people reminded him there are actually thousands of Maltese people who work in the sun and do manual jobs similar to the ones he was belittling.
But beyond apologising to Maltese manual labourers, Muscat should also start paying more attention to the way he speaks about the tens of thousands of non-Maltese people who are making this island their home and who we desperately need if we want to keep growing our economy while reducing the number of babies we have.
What exactly is Muscat’s message to these people? Do they have a long-term space in his grand vision for Malta? Or does he just see them as a never-ending army of unsullied who may or may not survive the deathtraps that have become Maltese construction sites?
If he were really enlightened by the past 15 years of EU membership, Muscat would not see ‘foreigners’ as mere pawns for the Maltese people to exploit. He would see them as future citizens of a cosmopolitan Malta: citizens who could contribute at all levels and integrate fully. People who could make Malta, and the entire experience of being Maltese, richer, not just in terms of GDP. People who will one day have the right to vote and will remember how the various parties and politicians spoke of them.
And if he really were a socialist - as the Opposition leader keeps insisting on calling him - Muscat would be concerned by the wellbeing of all workers in Malta, not just the ones of pure Maltese blood (if such a thing even existed). Yet Muscat seems unshaken by the avoidable deaths happening on construction sites every month. Perhaps he writes off the victims as being mostly non-Maltese.
He is also unfazed by the impossibly high cost-of-living facing most workers today. Tellingly, whenever he's asked about the exorbitant spike in rent prices, Muscat begins by saying 80% of the Maltese own their own property. So let the others live in stables I guess.
There was a time when Muscat seemed quite revolutionary, especially when he took on the Church on issues like divorce and gay rights at a time when the Curia seemed untouchable. But today, his vision seems to be limited, traditionalist and downright confusing at times.
While it was quite amusing to see Muscat fall onto his own inelegant wording at the only televised debate he accepted, our analysis of his unfortunate comment needs to go beyond the schadenfreude. We need to view his comments for what they are: words as poorly thought out as his policies for economic growth.
It is no surprise that these comments come from the same person who thinks the best way of boosting an economy is to sell passports and let the construction sector loose. It’s the same thinking crystallised in the Malta F’Qalbna campaign which views the EU as something to exploit rather than contribute towards. Muscat doesn’t ever talk about what Malta wants to change at a European level. He is only interested in what Malta can suck from the EU’s nipples.
And the same applies for foreigners in Malta. Rather than looking at mutual collaboration and contribution, he sees them as mere tools, perhaps to be eventually replaced by robots. But when you’re building an economic vision that depends on tens of thousands of foreigners, that kind of thinking is probably not the best approach, especially if we want to avoid some of the cultural tensions we see in other parts of the world...
Then again, Muscat won’t be around in a few months’ time, so these are pleasures yet to come for whoever takes his place.
In the meantime, if you’re a foreigner living in Malta, please ignore those who think you should just stay quiet, pick up garbage or go back to your country. Your contribution at all levels is valuable and welcomed, even if our leaders fail to communicate that effectively.
If you show respect to your community, you deserve the same respect in return.