Among the first things I expected myself to be doing at the start of 2024, watching prime minister Robert Abela’s cringeworthy New Year’s address at 2am was not one of them.
I was expecting to ring it in hungover and sleepy, just like everyone else. Perhaps a little bit worn out and in need of rest, in spite of the fact that the holidays are meant to be a period of said rest in and of themselves and not an additional layer of stress on top of the chaos that unfolded throughout 2023.
But, as fate would have it, here I am alone in the dead stillness of the night, unable to go back to sleep. Given that I had better things to do than watch the address when it came out on New Year’s Eve, I am now sitting in disbelief in my living room as I watch our prime minister gesticulating his goodwill like a child imitating a Serious Adult Doing Serious Things.
While I most certainly would rather be doing literally anything else, I will make the best of my sleeplessness to altruistically spare you, my dear readers, the torment of sitting through those 12 minutes of agony. Consider this a belated Christmas gift.
The footage starts with what purports itself to be a touching piano rendition of the Maltese national anthem while several nondescript ‘artistic’ things happen on screen. While a bunch of teenagers perform this cult-like shadow dance behind a veiled screen, for some bizarre reason, the footage of the dance is interspersed with footage of a middle-aged man writing out the lyrics of the Maltese national anthem, like we weren’t all indoctrinated into memorising it in primary school.
While this man painstakingly plagiarises Dun Karm’s tedious ode to servitude, one of the shadow dancers behind the screen throws what seems to be a fishing net. You know, presumably to represent Malta’s largely criminal fishing industry, the same one that has intimate ties with high-ranking former and current members of the Labour Party, all the way up to prime minister Robert Abela himself.
Shortly before the dancers spring forth from behind the screen – this wrist-slitting sequence goes on for one minute and 42 seconds – we get another reference to another local industry that the Labour government happily screwed over to favour people closer to its own interests: agriculture.
By the 1:47 mark, Abela appears on the screen. At this point, I
do not know whether to sigh with relief or prepare myself to tear my hair out further. Scratch that – I know it’s going to be the latter.
Abela’s opening sentence, you may ask?
“In spite of the challenges around us, we can look towards the New Year ahead of us with optimism.”
Here we go, I sighed. What shall we be optimistic about, I wonder? The expected conclusion of the Vitals inquiry in which his predecessor disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat is expected to be absolutely dragged over the coals? Two separate Labour Party bloodbaths in which rabidly ambitious loyalists will be busy knifing each other to determine who gets to replace that fossil George Vella as president and Chris Fearne as deputy leader?
No such thing.
“Our country will keep moving forward. Together, we will keep working to reach people’s aspirations for a better quality of life. In these particular international circumstances, we kept and will still keep providing stability, certainty, and peace of mind. Around us, economies stagnated, due to the severe inflation which impacted them and the austerity measures that were taken.”
“Besides these economic woes, there was also an increase in the sorrow over seeing so many lives being taken and so the lives of so many families getting completely turned upside down.”
This was interspersed over what seems to be footage from the aftermath of some sort of natural or man-made disaster, because you know, the best way to frame complex international crises is as an alternate nightmare scenario to our idyllic Mediterranean life.
“This wasn’t what we were hoping for while we were going through the pandemic. In spite of all this, not only have we not given up, but we have yet again risen to the occasion.”
What does that even mean – what is a prime minister going to do, throw his hands up in the air and say ‘well, screw it boys, we tried, but this isn’t working’?
“Together. we showed our strength and our values. We chose the road of investment and progress, not of giving up and austerity.”
Ara aħna kemm aħna aħjar ħi! Best in Europe. Not even going to bother going into the merits of just how little investment or progress this country saw over the past decade because by now, it really should be obvious to anyone who doesn’t have euro signs for eyes. It’s about quality of investment and expected returns in the long-term, not ‘how much money can I stuff in this duffel bag’.
“We even managed to come to an agreement with all stakeholders so we could have the biggest increase in the national minimum wage in history. As a government, we announced a budget in which we will continue providing assistance to everyone.”
This, while failing to account for the fact that his government is willfully enabling market racketeering that makes it impossible to survive on a minimum wage, even with said increase.
“When we have these challenges which families are facing, we cannot be indifferent. We need to take all the necessary steps to ensure that nobody falls behind. We did not choose the path of indifference when it comes to the international situation, either. Yes, our country is a neutral state, and we are proud to be a neutral state.”
Ah, I seem to have forgotten that letting people die or otherwise actively inciting conflict was an option at this stage.
“But this does not mean that we will be indifferent when faced with suffering.” Oh good, never mind about the letting people die bit, then. Except if you’re a refugee on a drowning boat in Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone. If that’s the case, you can go fuck yourself.
“We are deploying our active neutrality as a powerful tool in favour of peace and against aggression. We moved forward as promoters of dialogue and reason (this bit was hilariously interspersed over footage of Abela paying a visit to the Austrian chancellor within the context of that country’s irate anger at Malta’s scandalous decision to shield gaming companies from overseas court rulings) in all international fora that we were present in.”
“I did all this as the prime minister of a European member state and as a father, with all the values that I espouse for my own family. Everywhere I went in your name, I spoke in favour of peace. As a country, we are against wars, irrespective of who decides to start them.”
Everywhere he goes, that is, except for his own damn country, where enemies of his party are ridiculed, harassed, threatened, and in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed.
At this point of the address – the text above more or less outlines the first two and a half minutes of the prime minister’s speech – I honestly couldn’t be bothered to continue transcribing the rest of it word for word and deliberating on just how ridiculous it all is. Abela goes on to do his best to convince us that Malta is trusted on the international stage because we’ve been trusted with important roles, we get a bit of a highlight reel of smiling politicians, and yet another affirmation that we are trusted because we have such a strong reputation.
This notion on its own couldn’t be more laughable if he tried. Respected on the international stage? Sure, if we’re talking about a stage that was built to audition for Europe’s smallest kleptocracy.
The video (along with the rest of Abela’s uninspiring speech) then goes on to wrap us all up in the cosy, warm blanket of Labour’s omnipotent love for us all, elucidating the wonders of their great, big, open hearts and how they steadfastly stood by us in our perfect little Malta while the rest of the world dies of misery and envy.
If there were such a thing as slapping a grin clean off of someone’s face, at this point of my very early morning (it’s 4am now), I would be very tempted.
As if right on cue, the prosperous, optimistic New Year which Abela promised us began with a street murder in broad daylight. Japan was hit by a significant earthquake. The earth continues to turn red in Palestine and Ukraine. AI and misinformation threaten to upend the remaining, tattered bits of democracy we have left throughout the upcoming mega-election year. Life is set to become more difficult for everyone and existential threats like climate change loom large over our heads as complacent authorities continue to sleep at the wheel.
2024 is going to be another year of blood, iron, and fire. We don’t need a patronising prime minister who fails to realise the gravitas of the great challenges that we face and instead attempts to placate us with narratives that simply aren’t true.
The country doesn’t need the equivalent of a father figure who lies to their progeny to make them less anxious about the future (‘don’t worry about the dentist, it’ll be fine and nothing bad will happen’, right before something bad does in fact happen).
The country needs to be represented by individuals who are not afraid of the truth, who champion it and fight for it to emerge at all costs, not by brazen liars who have nothing tangible to contribute.