No, you may not…


11 April 2014 by Raphael Vassallo

Foreigners be warned. The only thing we want to hear about your stay is the chink of euro coins landing in a cash register. As for your opinions about this country and what we get up to in it… that’s none of your goddamn business.

Kerry and Brian - Malta concert
Got that, Brian? We’re not interested in your stinking opinions about animal welfare and the conservation of wildlife. So just play your guitar and shut up. (Photo: Ray Attard/Mediatoday)

Pesky foreigners. I mean honestly, when will they ever learn? Just because we joined Europe in 2004 – and entrenched the European Human Rights Convention in our Constitution long before that – it doesn’t mean that people have the automatic right to come here and speak their minds, you know. Still less to criticise our cherished cultural traditions.

In fact it is becoming increasingly obvious that it doesn’t mean anything at all. EU or no EU, Malta has persisted in its inherent belief that it is somehow a special place where the ordinary rules of civilised behaviour simply do not apply. Freedom of speech? Bollocks. That may exist in culturally inferior backwater countries such as Germany, France and the UK. But not Malta. Oh no. Malta reserves its God-given right to carry on crapping on anyone who dares so much as express an opinion which is not the liking of one, small special interest lobby group… or, for that matter, to the liking of the government which exists to uphold that lobby group’s special interest.

So foreigners be warned. You’re all very welcome to come here and spend your money like the good little tourists you are… even though, to be perfectly honest, we’d much prefer it if you simply sent over your money by bank transfer, and stayed at home… but don’t even think about doing anything other than spending your money while you’re here. The only thing we want to hear about your stay is the chink of euro coins landing in a cash register. As for your opinions about this country and what we get up to in it… that’s none of your goddamn business.

And please note, by the way, that this is not the opinion of one irrelevant columnist who can safely be ignored. It is actually the opinion of the chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority, former MP Gavin Gulia… which tells us a lot about how the people responsible for tourism in the country actually view the tourists they are trying to attract.

Here, for instance, is Gulia’s reaction to a legendary rock star who dared do more than what he was brought over to do… who, instead of just sticking to the programme like the good little performing artist he is, even ventured to express a private opinion about a matter of international concern.

“Brian May was invited to Malta to sing…” [Note to Gavin: actually he plays the guitar. It’s a stringed instrument with a fretted fingerboard, in case you’ve never heard one before …] “and not to make appeals to the public to vote against spring hunting. His comment was out of place yesterday, and I think he made a mistake to allow himself to be used by others…”

Got that, Brian? We’re not interested in your stinking opinions about animal welfare and the conservation of wildlife. So just play your guitar and shut up. And when the concert’s over, you can ‘spread your wings and fly away’… ideally, taking all your neo-Colonialist ‘we-know-better’ condescending attitude with you. So there, too! Fond regards, the MTA chairman, etc.

My, that’s a fine advert for Malta’s tourism product, is it not? Short, sweet and directly to the point. And it also perfectly mirrors a much wider attitude towards foreigners… an attitude that not only keeps cropping up in association with every single issue of a vaguely international flavour to affect this country – migration (birds and humans), schemes for the acquisition of Maltese citizenship, etc. – but is evidently getting worse which each passing year.

But let’s stick to the issue that Brian May quite rightly brought up last Sunday. Our ‘tradition’ of shooting European breeding birds as they fly over Malta on their way back to their nesting grounds each spring. What business do former Queen guitarists – or anyone else who is not a thoroughbred ‘cittadin Malti’ – have to intervene is such an obviously local issue? I mean, it’s our country, isn’t it? And they’re our birds, aren’t they?

Aren’t they, Gavin? Please tell. Now that you’re craned your neck out this far, you may as well go a step further. Are they our birds, or aren’t they? Don’t we have a God-given right to kill anything that happens to fly through our air space briefly each year on its way back… erm… home?

Home. Oh dear… there goes the entire “our country, our tradition” bullshit in one, measly little four-letter word. Our birds, my foot. We’ve already massacred practically every resident breeding species we’ve ever had – whittling down the number to around 12, and in the process losing such local residents as the barn owl, the kestrel, the peregrine falcon, and many more. Everything else that gets shot over Malta these days is actually a species that is resident in other countries… including, in some cases, Brian May’s own United Kingdom.

Even if we stick to only those species that are permissible to shoot in spring – and to be frank I fail to see why we should, seeing as the hunters certainly do not – the entire defence of spring hunting falls at the first hurdle. Turtledove and quail do not regularly breed in Malta (though in the turtledove’s case, this is not exactly for want of trying). They number among the breeding residents of other countries… including countries which are home to all these foreign Colonialist busybodies who keep coming here to tell us what to do. And as the IIP scheme clearly doesn’t extend to penniless birds of any feather, there is simply no getting around the fact that our ‘local tradition’ actually involves killing off other countries’ wildlife just before the breeding season.

The timing is significant, by the way. The whole idea behind spring hunting is to make darn sure that the fittest and most genetically valuable specimens – i.e., the ones which have already survived the winter migration, and therefore represent the cream of the genetic mix – don’t even get a chance to breed, to the enormous detriment of the species as a whole. And, still sticking to the two permissible species, turtledove and quail… both these species already face serious threats in their own countries of residence.

As I grow tired of having to repeat, these birds are classed as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘in decline’ according to the European conservation index. Ironically the hunters’ association acknowledges this fact: attributing the decline of both turtledove and quail to the use of pesticides in Europe. Exactly how this constitutes a defence of spring hunting is something only the hunters – and by extension, the Malta Tourism Authority – can explain. These birds already face serious, acknowledged threats to their long-term survival in Europe; so I guess it makes perfect sense to heap even more dangers on their heads, and to maximise the existing risk of further depletion by permitting more specimens to be killed at the most critical stage of their reproductive cycle.

That, by the way, is the situation facing turtledove and quail. As the events of the last two weeks have illustrated, these are but two of the many species that are directly threatened by a ‘local tradition’ that is manifestly out of control. In the past few months we have seen storks, black-winged stilts, black-tailed godwits and other supposedly protected species targeted by hunters and trappers. Is it cos they is black-tailed, I wonder? Or is it because the broader hunting/trapping community has for decades been made to feel it can do whatever it likes… seeing as each time hunting is even even remotely criticised, a government spokesman comes rushing to its defence?

Meanwhile, these and other incidents of illegal hunting and trapping have persisted even after the penalties were increased tenfold. This makes a total mockery of the claim – fanned by government sources all the time – that the situation is somehow being ‘brought under control’. In reality the opposite is true… it is deteriorating with each passing week. And again, the reason is not hard to spot. How can anyone expect the situation to improve, when all the national agencies supposedly regulating the issue itself – and all other areas affected by this issue, including tourism – consistently take the hunters’ side? Starting with the Ornis committee, which gave the go-ahead to this year’s spring hunting season even after being informed that the two species concern face serious survival threats… and carrying on with a tourism authority that – unlike all other tourism operators, including the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association – publicly defends an issue which also causes untold damage to Malta’s tourism product as a whole.

And of course, no one has the right to complain about any of the above… least of all, the people who actually live in those countries whose wildlife is massacred each spring with the wholehearted support of the government of Malta. The same, by the way, goes for all the locals who happen to wholeheartedly agree with Brian May, and who have posted online comments to the effect that spring hunting is an aberration that simply has to go. The FKNK has now even taken to suing private individuals – at the State’s expense, if you please – for daring to express an opinion they don’t like. And the way things are going, it is only a matter of time before government starts suing citizens for criticising its hunting policy, too.

But we still have freedom of speech. After all, everyone is perfectly free to agree with spring hunting, and to say so at every opportunity…