Malta Diary Where the gun has ruled the ballot box for decades
Malta of course is a democracy, equal to most democracies and in some cases better than some because proportional representation has always been used to determine the real value of the votes of the people in terms of Parliamentary representation.
HOWEVER, for decades the ballot box has been submerged under the rule of the gun to conform to the parameter that democratic Governments put votes ahead of principles when it comes to decision-making and EVERY Maltese Government since Independence in 1964 has been subject to this parameter.
Malta and Gozo have, and always have had, a strong and powerful hunting lobby allied to which is an equally strong bird-trapping lobby. And what do these hunters hunt in islands that have no wild mammals except for vermin rats and mice, a few wild rabbits, some hedgehogs and a wealth of stray cats and dogs?
They hunt birds.
Malta is probably the most bird-less country in the world because over many decades anything that flies has been wilfully shot and destroyed or trapped. There are only resident sparrows and racing pigeons – and sometimes even these are victims when there is nothing else to shoot at. However, during various seasons there is a considerable passage of migrating birds either flying down to Africa or back to Europe from Africa.
During these migration passages, guns crackle constantly, even at night, the countryside becomes a hazard at your own risk and taxidermists work overtime stuffing the terrible trophies. Some hunters even take to the sea to shoot at birds avoiding passage over the islands.
Since joining the EU, hunting seasons have been regulated in periods and also specifications on birds that may be shot and birds that are protected. However, violations have been constantly regular, many of them atrocious and abusive and caused the Government to abruptly close one season recently because of the number of violations.
When a season opens, many people forfeit the little open countryside that is available for fear of being peppered with shot. The hunters take over, many dressed in combat fatigues and bullet belts as if they were hunting wild lions and bears when in fact the targets are mostly small birds.
The problem is that this lobby numbers thousands who regard this slaughter as a “tradition” and something that is of a “natural instinct” to humanity – which is of course a load of sheer bunkum. The Knights and the rich may have hunted hawks and kestrels and did have hunting lodges in the past, but that was 300 years ago.
Hunting may also be excusable when it is needed to feed hungry mouths – but that is certainly not the case today. Nowadays at best it is cruel, arrogant, uncivilised, offensive and a travesty to the environment.
The anti-hunting lobby is also strong but its protests have always been muted because of the over-bearing bullying of the gun-toting lobby and the menacing threats they pose. Conscious of the vast divide, politicians have played juggling games throughout the decades in attempts to appease both sides but also conscious of the vote-bearing capacity of the hunting lobby and have generally conceded to it as a means of winning votes.
When the Government abruptly closed the last hunting season a crowd of hunters organised an illegal gathering in front of the Prime Minister’s office in Castile calling him “a traitor”, and mounting various threats and obscenities before being dispersed by the police.
Members of Birdlife and other organisations have been bullied, threatened and sometimes beaten. Bird preservation areas have been violated, entered and birds shot. The environmental lobby and those against any kind of hunting are regarded as “wimps” and “oddballs”.
Now, things have reached a head. The anti-hunting lobby collected sufficient signatures to legally cause a National Referendum on whether the Spring Hunting season should be abolished. This will take place on Saturday, 11th April and the media, social, printed and broadcast, has been inundated with discussions, debates and interviews.
The hunting lobby strongly maintain they are ardent environmentalists because they “look after” the countryside and respect regulations. The hunting of some species is limited to four killings per hunter in a season and each killing has to be reported via an sms to the authorities. This is flagrantly violated and nothing short of being a total farce because of course the declarations are mainly false and within the limit. There are police patrols making spot checks but it’s a case of too few against the many.
Tempers run high in these Mediterranean islands and debates tend to be voluble, emotional, fierce and pitched in high voices. Temperaments quickly tend to overspill with insults and threats being peppered here, there and everywhere, just like gun pellets.
The anti-Spring Hunting lobby is claiming they are attempting to achieve what successive generations of Governments and politicians have failed to do by standing up to the hunters and preventing slaughter during this mating and egg-producing season. If they achieve victory in the Referendum there will be no Spring Hunting.
The problem is that there is also a considerable number of people who could not care either way and that may prove to be a decisive factor. Both main political parties have declared this to be an “open” vote with their supporters voting according to their conscience.
My stance is that I enjoy nature in its natural element. What right does a gun-toting bully have to destroy a natural and innocent creature to appease a disgusting macho tradition which should have been quoshed decades ago.