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Monday, May 31, 2004

Using the Maltese language for official EU matters

A couple of weeks ago I posted my comments about the situation of the Maltese language in official EU matters. In that posting I said that I'd be looking at the Maltese MEP candidate pool to see who among them holds our native language as a badge of distinction. I'm also doing this in light of the way the European Commission has chosen to tackle translation nightmares.

I don't know all the candidates equally well, so my take on this is skewed not only by my regular biases (whoever is without bias may cast the first stone!) but also by my lack of insight into certain candidates profile beyond what they're telling us at this stage of the campaign. I should also say that while I have every respect for anyone running for an EU office outside the structure of the three major parties in Malta, I will not take any such individuals into consideration here.

It goes without saying that Arnold Cassola, who has worked as a professor in the Maltese Department at the University of Malta for many years, is an excellent candidate in this regard. What's more he has quite a bit of experience on EU affairs and if elected will give Malta a voice within a European political group where he has been quite vocal over the past few years: the European Greens.

As for the candidates of the Nationalist Party, I'd say that the person who holds the Maltese language at highest degree of recognition it deserves would be Joe Friggieri. I'm not necessarily praising him because of his academic credentials here, (he's a Professor of linguistic philosophy, among other things) but rather because his use of the Maltese language in the arts is well respected. Then again I seriously doubt he will get more votes than there are words in this paragraph.

The MLP candidates pose on interesting challenge for anyone attempting to do what I'm trying to do here. Wenzu Mintoff jumps out immediately for having the courage to stick to the Maltese version of his given name, and perhaps he has a good chance of doing well in this election because he can attract the votes of those pro-EU labourites who found themselves at a loss in last year's referendum and general elections.

As you can see, this is not my pick for the 5 people I think will get elected to the EU parliament. That's another story for another day. Still, I actually don't care much for that story other than to say that Malta will have lost out on a great opportunity if it is only represented in the Christian Democrat and Socialist political camps at the European Parliament.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Malta on Amnesty International 'baddies' list

A couple of days ago Amnesty International published its annual report for 2004. Among other things, the report condemns terrorist assaults by groups such as Al Qaeda, saying they posed a threat to security around the world. It also criticizes the response of the U.S.-led "coalition of the willing," saying its powerful governments were ignoring international laws by sacrificing human rights in the "blind pursuit" of security.

Amnesty says that the U.S.-led war on terror continues to be waged using indiscriminate and disproportionate means. Hundreds of foreign nationals remain in indefinite detention without charge or trial in U.S. custody. It also details alleged unlawful killings of civilians by coalition troops in Iraq and allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers.

The Amnesty International report also criticized several European nations, including Malta. The small island nation, which has just joined the EU, was scorned by Amnesty for tough new policies on asylum seekers.

The automatic and excessively lengthy detention of asylum-seekers in Malta has been criticized by national and international bodies. The conditions of detention in facilities in Malta holding asylum-seekers and migrants fall short of international standards.

Amnesty International says that new information has emerged reinforcing concern that a number of individuals among a group of some 220 Eritreans deported from Malta to Eritrea in 2002 were detained and tortured on return. An inquiry is presently being run in Malta about this.

Since the Maltese government is currently giving sway to proclamations from the Roman Catholic church, let's hope that more human compassion is also extended to asylum-seekers than has been offered to them in the last few years.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Beyond the separation of church and state

I can't say I'm surprised by the current drama over the mention of Christianity in the EU constitution. The plot has thickened in the last few days.

Malta has added its voice to that of new EU members Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in supporting a claim originally made by Italy and Portugal, after Spain's new socialist government withdrew its support for this stand.

This insistence that the EU recognize Europe's Christian traditions in its constitution has already met with firm objections from Britain, France and Germany.

I'm hoping that this issue will bring up new discussions about the separation of church and state in Malta. The current political environment over ideas such as reproductive rights and divorce are clearly driven by a lack of appreciation of the subtleties of the relationship between liberty and religious values, from conservative Maltese politicians.

For me this is one of the good things that Malta's membership in the EU has already brought: the possibility to discuss the rights for free thinking individuals. If the price to pay for this is a mention of the Holy Roman Christian Empire in the EU constitution, so be it! I doubt history needs an EU constitution to serve as a banner for the good, the bad and the ugly that came out of Christianity in the last two millennia.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Ready for Primetime?

After four weeks since the creation of my blog, I am now preparing to launch it to the general audience of the MaltaMedia Online Network. So far it has been previewed by subscribers of the monthly newsletter, and whoever read the follow-up comments I made about Malta at the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest on the news service.

I have a feeling that some of the more avid Blogger fans have also been sneaking a peek at my blog. But, alas, no one has left a comment! I'd like to think that this is more out of lethargy than because my posts are of no interest to anyone.

If you'd like to send me your comments without having them appear on this blog, please feel free to contact me directly. There's an easy way to do that, even though I don't give out my email address on this blog. I look forward to hearing from you, especially if you have any constructive feedback for me before I create highly visible links to this blog on the MaltaMedia Online Network.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

No excuses, please!

It's Sunday evening after the Eurovision Song Contest final, and a great time to share some thoughts on this year's show. I must say that I am not surprised that Malta did not do exceedingly well. And I've already really heard enough comments about why Malta did not get a better placing at this year's contest.

Julie and Ludwig did their best. They're cute and they have excellent singing voices. I sincerely believe that they would have done much better with a stronger overall package. Philip Vella and Gerard James Borg have written better songs (they wrote 7th Wonder for Ira Losco), and this year was the first experience for business entrepreneur Grace Borg as leader of the Maltese delegation at the Eurovision Song Contest. Still, they should be congratulated for undoing last year's curse of having to go through the ordeal of a qualifier semi-final round.

I really have no interest in hearing any more comments about how Malta can never do well because other countries vote for their neighbours. This is nonsense! Especially now that all the votes come from the public rather than an elite panel of so-called experts. The back-room lobby games of past years (which I witnessed first hand as a member of the Maltese Eurovision delegation in 1991!) have been displaced by a need for excellent marketing among the voting public in the respective countries.

A great song sung by good singers is a good start, but it is not enough. If Malta ever hopes to make it to the top 3 again, the ideal package should place great emphasis on making an impression on the voting public before the song contest. This takes a great promotional and marketing effort.

Essentially I think we're back on track, but let's learn from the experience of these past two years on what works and what doesn't. Then again we should never forget that the best thing about the Eurovision Song Contest is the awareness it creates among potential tourists for Malta. Other than that, it's just a game!

Friday, May 14, 2004

New Phone Rates Contributing to the Digital Divide in Malta

Last week the Malta Communications Authority approved higher telephone rates for landlines operated by Maltacom, Malta's online landline phone service provider. This price hike came just days after Maltacom announced an 11.8% increase in its operating profit.

The ISP Trade Section of the Malta Chamber of Commerce is now warning that the new tariffs "can only further widen the digital divide that all countries are doing their utmost to bridge rather than widen."

The new rates will undoubtedly have on impact on Internet use in the Maltese islands via dial-up accounts. There will be no more connecting to the Internet for the value of one pulse for several hours. On the up side, however, this may improve the performance of Internet dial-up services after 6pm from now on.

Like the ISP trade group, I am most surprised that whilst Maltacom requested a charge of a pulse per 60 minutes in off-peak hours, the approved charge is a pulse per 30 minutes. I really can't understand why a higher tariff than that requested by service provider was approved by the MCA.

I also wonder if there's a hidden agenda here to move all Internet users to broadband connections.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Mixed Emotions

The Eurovision Song Contest semi-final is on tonight. However, I'm having a hard time feeling good about it because my thoughts are saturated with the horrible events in Iraq. I'm referring to both the atrocities committed by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison as well as the decapitation of Nick Berg by al-Qaida affiliates.

What's more, I will not be able to watch the first hour or two of the Eurovision TV show live this evening because I will be travelling on a train between Long Island and New York City.

Anyway, let's hope that Julie and Ludwig do well tonight. If they do I suppose I'll feel a little better tomorrow than I do today.

Monday, May 10, 2004

The Maltese Language as a Badge of Distinction

I was saddened today to become aware (once again!) of the weak status we Maltese often give to the Maltese language. These feelings were re-ignited this morning by the somewhat apt comments of Joseph Eynaud, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Malta.

In an exclusive interview to, Eynaud points out that "in the last plenary session of the EP in Strasbourg only one Maltese MEP spoke Maltese." I wonder who of the 5 current Maltese MEPs spoke Maltese: John Attard-Montalto, Jason Azzopardi, Josef Bonnici, Mario De Marco, or George Vella?

This should undoubtedly make us (those who love the Maltese language) stand up and take note of the candidate pool for the upcoming MEP elections. In this regard, I am less inclined to be concerned with politics (in the partisan sense) and more with thinking about who of the candidates is likely to embrace the Maltese language during their interventions at the EU Parliament.

Next week I'll come back with a short-list of the candidates for the June election I believe hold the Maltese language as a badge of distinction.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

2 Pop Culture Moments

The two events that will domintate the pop culture scene in Malta this month will be the Eurovision Song Contest and the movie Troy.

Both are in the news today:

  • First reviews of Malta-shot "Troy" very positive
  • Julie and Ludwig fly to Istanbul for Eurovision final

  • I'll be commenting on both the song contest and the movie in the coming weeks. The Eurovision will start on Wednesday, 12th of May, and Troy will be released in the following day, in most of Europe and the Middle East.

    Monday, May 03, 2004

    May 2004 Newsletter from

    I've invited subscribers to the newsletter for an exclusive preview of this blog before we add some more aesthetic touches to it and launch it to the general public over the next few days.

    If you would like to subscribe to the free monthly newsletter simply click here.

    This blog does not have a comment function (yet!) but you can always contact me or anyone else at the MaltaMedia Online Network through any of the MaltaMedia Online Network websites.

    Saturday, May 01, 2004

    My mother tells me I'm an EU citizen now...

    Messages of congratulations from friends and well-wishers have been coming in by the dozens over the past day or so. This is one of the first experiences of having Malta as a full member of the European Union that will probably remain with me for years to come, especially because I was not in Malta to witness any of the accession celebrations.

    I just shared this with the newsletter subscribers, but I'll be back later today or sometime tomorrow with some more thoughts about all this.