Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Letter To W

Dear W,

I should have seen the dark clouds gathering on the horizon.  I should have been able to forecast the massive storm that was unleashed in early October 2012. The signs had been there since, at least, Christmas 2011. 

Christmas is normally a time when family members make an effort to be with one another. It is a time when millions of people around the world celebrate friendship, peace, and love. It was one of our favourite times of the year. Do you remember how excited we used to be as we decorated our home? And how we looked forward to opening our gifts? Beautiful memories!

You surely knew how much I loved the Christmas season. You were definitely aware of how I yearned to spend it with you. Sadly, you ignored all that and thought only about your own interests. Although we did not have the funds to go abroad as a couple and in spite of the fact that you knew that I could not take vacation leave in December, you insisted on wanting to spend Christmas Day abroad. Ignoring all my objections, you decided to leave me alone on Christmas Day. 

Leaving me alone on one of the most important days of the year was not enough for you. Where did you spend your Christmas Day? At the place of one of your ex-boyfriends in Spain!!! As you very well know, he was not any guy. He was the guy with whom you had lost your virginity! Even just writing about it makes me feel sick! The total lack of respect shown by your actions is still so hard to believe! I was so ashamed that when I attended a family party on the evening of Christmas Day, I told my inquisitive relatives that you were unwell in an attempt to explain your mysterious absence.

Why did I endure your Christmas abandonment? I seriously cannot imagine too many guys putting up with such behaviour. I decided to let it slide since I genuinely loved you. And true love is hopeful; it never stops believing that things will get better no matter how bad they are today. Sadly, you never saw love in the same way.

2012 was expected to be a great year for us. Among other things, it was the year during which we both hoped you would be able to acquire your citizenship.  You were granted citizenship in August 2012. Do you remember that last interview prior to becoming a citizen? Do you remember talking favourably about our relationship? Most importantly, do you remember asserting that you would get married to me again if you were given the choice? I wonder if you still ever recall that interview whenever you think about the disgusting actions that occurred less than two months after acquiring your citizenship.  

It was certainly during the summer of 2012 that you started removing one brick after another from our marriage until the whole thing collapsed. During that time, your work circumstances brought you in contact with the guy with whom you are presently living. He already had a girlfriend and they were supposed to get married in 2013. They had been together for 10 years! 

Having talked to two girls who allegedly witnessed the way things developed between you and him, you were the one who seduced him. Even though you were married to me and although you knew that he had a steady girlfriend, it seems that you went after him like a heat-seeking missile. When you were at home, he increasingly dominated your conversations and I regularly found you chatting with him online. 

The farcical birthday celebration of his girlfriend should have continued to alarm me. Instead of sitting next to his girlfriend as well as the person that he was supposedly planning to marry, he went to sit a few chairs away from her! It was such a blatant act of disrespect that practically everyone present commented about it. 

As time went by, things got worse for me. One of the key moments when I noticed that big trouble lay ahead of me was when you had called at around 8pm one evening to tell me that you were keeping him company as a friend following his decision to break up with his girlfriend. I had prepared dinner for you that evening and I was so hurt by the fact that you preferred to stay out till almost midnight! I remember storing your dinner away in the fridge. You never ate that food and it became such a terrible symbol of those dark days that it took me around 2 months until I finally got rid of it. Every time I used to see it in the fridge, I just did not want to touch it. 

I cried so hard that evening. I looked at so many of our photos taken during our trips abroad and during various celebrations. We looked so good together. So many happy memories! So many sacrifices endured together in order to build a better life for both!   

The next few days were characterised by your spending more and more time away from home. I was terribly worried and I made it very clear that I was not happy about the time you were spending with him. You kept insisting that you were just friends. 

As you pursued your interests without showing much concern for my welfare (lack of respect once again!), I was getting ready for the holiday to Florence and Pisa that we had planned a few months before. We had been to Florence in 2011 and it was surely the best holiday of my life! We had celebrated your birthday there. We were both so happy and we returned to Malta committed to return there the following year.   

Sadly, the holiday that I had been looking forward to for several months turned into one of the worst nightmares of my life. We left Malta on the 4th October. Contrary to our holiday in 2011, I ended up making most of the travelling arrangements on my own. You slept throughout most of the flight. Furthermore, you were quite cold as well as distant as we walked around when we got to Florence. 

The 5th October was our last full day together. We went to visit the Uffizi Museum. I remember that I was holding your hand at one point in time and I told you how happy I was feeling. In the evening, you were very cold once again and you did not hesitate to rush to chat with him on the iPad once we got to the hotel. It was the iPad which I had given you for your birthday and which took me a year to pay off! 

On the 6th October, after visiting the convent where Fra Savonarola had lived, you told me that you wanted to talk to me. I immediately sensed trouble. Very big trouble. Without betraying any sadness, you informed me that you were no longer happy with me, that this other guy was very much in love with you, and that he had bought you a ticket to join him on his holiday in Spain. The shock was so great that I could not hold back the tears. Devastated by the pain, all I wanted to do was to return to the hotel. Once we got to our room, I just locked myself inside the bathroom, fell to the floor, and cried my head off. I could not believe that you were capable of doing something similar to me! 

Before you left the hotel to go to the airport, you told me that you would make a choice at the airport about whether to go to Spain or to return to me. I cried until I had no tears left and then forced myself to go out to eat something. My eyes were so red that everyone was looking at me strangely! Even though I was so hurt by your words and deeds, I hoped to open the hotel room door and find you there saying that it was all a big mistake and that you wanted to be with me...that we would stick together through thick and thin...that our love would help us to fight against all the problems that we had! Alas, this did not happen. I opened the door and there was nothing but darkness. The darkness of an abyss. 

As you know all too well, I spent the rest of the "holiday" on my own. I forced myself out of bed to try to visit some places and to continue eating properly. As I toured places that we were supposed to visit together, I was often overcome by a tremendous feeling of sadness. For instance, as I walked through the beautiful Boboli Gardens, there was - at least - one occasion when I had to sit down to cry since the pain was too strong. All this pain whilst you were having a wonderful time in the company of your new partner.

When I returned to Malta a few days later, I cried for a long time when I saw the two pillows on our bed. More specifically, I looked at your pillow and realised that your head would never grace it again. I grabbed the pillow and held it close to me, hugging it tightly. It still had your scent. My body was shaking as I cried on the bed.

During the first few weeks and months following your hasty Florentine exit, I went through pure hell. You might recall that my manager had left the company I was working for in October. This meant that apart from dealing with your loss, I also had to find ways to cope with an increasing workload (by December, I had over 150 emails in my inbox!). Every morning, I had to pull myself out of bed to go to work since I had to earn my daily bread. It was either that or face total collapse. 

The evenings of those first few weeks and months were among the darkest in all my life. Whilst you were enjoying yourself with your new partner and draining our credit card to furnish the apartment you were living in, a heavy stream of tears normally flowed down my cheeks onto my clothes as I saw the many beautiful photos we had taken together, read the first emails we had exchanged with one another when we decided to get together romantically, and thought of all the plans we had made for the future...On those lonely evenings and nights, I remembered how we had both clawed our way up - making countless sacrifices - from the poor days of 2006 to the relatively comfortable lifestyle that we enjoyed at a later stage. Do you remember how we were so cash-strapped in 2006 that a colleague of mine had lent us a pair of trousers for you to wear at my mum's funeral since we could not afford to buy one? We had come such a long way since then, but you clearly could not care about the achievements we had made and what they represented for the future!

When recalling your many acts of disrespect towards me, it is quite amazing to think about how you tried to brush all the pain you caused me aside and expected us to still be very close friends. When you came over on one occasion to collect some of your things from the place which was our home for a number of years, you even asked whether I could prepare a burger for you! On another occasion, you tried to hug me before leaving, but I refused. Just because your love for me might have died ages ago did not mean that I shared the same stance towards what had happened between us. Notwithstanding all the hard times, all the acts of disrespect, all the fears and anxieties that we faced, I never stopped loving you. Even when I felt terribly wounded by your behaviour, I kept believing in a brighter tomorrow since I always thought that true love never gives up.   

Where exactly did I go wrong? Yes, there was an intimacy problem which became harder to resolve as I felt increasingly under pressure to "obtain results". Till this very day, I cannot pinpoint the exact cause/s of my problem. It was probably the result of performance anxiety, stressful work conditions, boredom with routine, and a state of mild floating anxiety when confronted with the fact that we were so vulnerable here for many years. You should know that for most of my life, I always felt the need for an external support system - whether it is family or some type of organisation. Like most other human beings, feeling relaxed and confident of having that support system would have surely helped me to feel less tense in my everyday life. I am also quite convinced that the ways in which you reacted to my problem together with the fact that you never made an effort to make certain changes which could have led to some progress contributed significantly to my intimacy issues. I know that you will strongly deny this last point stating that just because certain things happened in 2005, they could have continued to happen in the same way without the need for any particular changes. All I can say is that every time you failed to listen to my feedback and every time you decided that only your analysis was correct represented additional acts of disrespect towards me. Over the years, your pride and self-righteousness became so inflated that you could hardly ever admit making a mistake. You always had to have the last word. 

There is no doubt that the intimacy problem plagued our marriage for many years. It is, however, a total lie to say that we lived like brother and sister. Brothers and sisters would not usually have been sexually intimate with one another. And they would not normally walk around holding hands or massaging each other intimately. 

We spent over 7 years together. I was often anxious about the fact that you were very unhappy about the intimacy problems, but I always believed two things. First, I strongly believed that the solution to the problems had to come with the work of both partners with little to no external help. Second, equipped with the hope that things would eventually get better, I thought that the rest of the marriage was strong enough to ward off the possibility of a total collapse.  

In retrospect, I believe that my problems did not necessarily have to lead to the breakdown of our marriage. I think that our relationship broke down gradually as you stopped showing respect towards me. Your decision to spend Christmas away from me in December 2011, your insults and threats whenever we talked about our problems, your reckless spending, your total lack of interest in making the slightest effort to help me overcome my difficulties, your lies during the summer and autumn of 2012...those are the factors that brought our relationship to an end. You frequently said that you tried to find a solution by taking the initiative to see a psychotherapist. True, but as I had told you on many occasions, a psychotherapist was unlikely to be able to resolve the type of problems I had. Just to give you one example - if fairly long hair was very important for me on a woman, how was the psychotherapist going to deal with that? It's not as though I was living with her! You ignored the feedback that I had been giving you for so long that there was even a time when you cut your hair really short notwithstanding the fact that you knew all along how important long hair was for me! Once again, your interests came first. To hell with what I believed or told you!

Before I forget, do you remember how you had sometimes remarked that some of the problems in our relationship might have been due to the fact that our courtship was limited to the phone and to the Internet? You occasionally complained about the fact that we started living together without the chance to date for a while before deciding to live under the same roof. Notwithstanding all that talk, what did you do after you left me? You immediately moved in to live with a guy that you barely knew! Indeed, by the time you started living with him, you had only "known" each other for around three months!!!! And you went straight from me to him; there was no interim dating period!    

To conclude, we could argue for months about who should have done what and when. The bottom line is that you and only you were the one who threw in the towel. You were the one who disrespected me once again by making plans to go to live with another person. A most disgusting form of selfishness prevailed in your life. You withdrew over EUR 2,000 from our credit card account to sustain your new relationship and never repaid that money. You initially made promises to continue paying your share of the debts which we had accumulated over a period of time, but you then quickly found a number of excuses to avoid honouring those promises. As you withdrew money from our credit card to go abroad in December, you surely never spared a thought relating to my financial welfare. You just thought about your own interests without giving a damn about the person who had stood by you through thick and thin for several years. 

You and I are clearly extremely different when it comes to our understanding of what it means to love a person. To me, love is best expressed by the following words written by St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." I was willing to be patient, to be kind, to avoid pride, to avoid disrespecting you, to trust, to continue hoping, and to persevere in spite of all the difficulties. You, on the other hand, were surely not willing to act in the same way. 



Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Last Photo

The photo shown above was taken in Sicily on the 26th August, 2012. It is the last photo that was taken showing my ex-wife and I standing close to one another. 

I still have very nice memories of that one-day trip to Sicily. Although I had woken up with the symptoms of a cold in the morning, I had such a great time that I returned to Malta fully healed! 

Our sixth wedding anniversary was only a few days away. I could have never imagined that my ex-wife would be living with another guy less than two months after this wonderful trip to Sicily!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Keeping In Touch

The 6th of October is not far off. On that day in 2012, I was on holiday in Florence. I went there with my wife. 

It was the third day of our holiday in Italy. After a good breakfast, we went to visit the monastery where Fra Gerolamo Savonarola had lived many centuries ago. It was shortly after leaving that place that the horrible news was delivered to me. The person with whom I had been married for just over 6 years and the close friend that I had known since I was around 20 years old informed me that she was no longer happy with me. She then added that a guy she had only known for a few months was madly in love with her. Aware of how miserable she felt, he bought her a plane ticket so that she could join him whilst he was on holiday in Spain. To my horror, she accepted. When we returned to the hotel, she packed one of the bags with her things and left. As one may imagine, the rest of my time in Florence was characterised by a terrible sense of sadness and loneliness.

Almost one year later, my ex-wife and I met yesterday in the presence of our respective lawyers. The terms of the separation agreement were read to us inside a small room in the Family Court. At one point, the atmosphere seemed a bit surreal as the person who read the conditions to us asked about how we met. When I gave her the brief version of the story, she said "How sweet!" Talking about how we met and evoking memories of those happy times did not appear to be particularly appropriate behaviour whilst reviewing the conditions associated with the dissolution of a marriage! 

After we left the Family Court, my ex-wife asked me to have a drink with her. At first, I wanted to decline the offer, but I then said to myself that exchanging a few words might somehow contribute to my healing process. 

We went to the Charles Grech coffee shop in Republic Street. We did mention some of the main developments that occurred during the last few months. I, however, refused to disclose anything which I considered as too personal. 

On more than one occasion, she expressed the desire to keep in touch. I told her that I saw absolutely no point in doing so, especially after all the suffering that she had caused. I added that once the separation goes through, there would be no further contact. I said that she would die alone and that I would also die alone with no additional involvement in each other's lives. When I uttered those words, her eyes seemed to fill with tears for a few seconds.    

Shortly after leaving the coffee shop, she repeated the desire to keep in touch. She said: "You know that I care about you!" I told her, "It is too late for that now!"

It still hurts very much whenever I remind myself that in October 2012 I lost my wife as well as one of my dearest friends. The decision to avoid further contact with her is painful, but necessary to protect myself. Given the current circumstances and especially the way in which she ended the relationship, there truly seems to be no point in keeping in touch. To talk about what? Her present life with her new partner? No thanks! 


Monday, 19 August 2013

Will Soon Be Back!!!

Dearest Blog Readers,

Have been away for several months following various storms that hit me since early October 2012. Things are getting better now and hope to be able to post several articles more regularly...

Keep visiting! :)

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Minimum Wage: To Increase It Or Not?

Over the last few days, a lot has been said and written about the issue of increasing the minimum wage in Malta. As an employee with various debts chained to my feet, my first reaction would be to give my full support to any initiative aimed at increasing the minimum wage as soon as possible. Yet, upon giving some more thought to the matter, measures that would surely affect the lives of thousands of people cannot be decided on the basis of an individual's whims. 

Whoever knows me well would be acquainted with my political beliefs. To those who do not know me, I am a fervent Socialist. I believe that a society is judged on the basis of how it cares for its weakest members. I believe that hard-working, successful individuals should be helped to contribute their skills to create a better world. Yet, I am against the notion of huge power imbalances in society since these could easily constitute a threat to democracy and to social harmony. I have diverted a little here to make it clear that my position regarding the minimum wage issue is linked to my political beliefs.

If one had to analyse the amount of money that is required in our times to live decently, there appears to be little doubt that anyone earning a minimum wage would have a fairly hard time trying to make ends meet, let alone living decently. As time goes by, the typical person requires more items to enjoy a decent standard of living. Compared to life several decades ago, having a mobile phone and Internet service could be said to be a must-have in the 21st century. Depending on the job one has, a number of things might be necessary to satisfy the company requirements. 

In order to bridge the gap between the amount of money being earned and the amount of money that is necessary to live decently, it is possible to list two options. Increase one's income (by, for instance, increasing the minimum wage) or reduce the price of a number of essential commodities such as electricity, water, and gas. The reduction in price of such commodities could, of course, be carried out by means of State intervention. More specifically, government subsidies could be utilised to ease the burden of the thousands of people who are on the verge of falling into the pit of full-blown poverty. In principle, I would prefer to opt for the second option, especially when we are living in times characterised by a huge economic crisis affecting several countries.

As far as Malta is concerned, many businesses are fairly small (employing less than 30 employees). Furthermore, numerous businesses are family-owned and a handful of non-family members are usually employed to help provide a service or sell certain products. Compared to a number of other nations, Malta cannot boast of having corporations whereby hundreds of thousands of Euros are paid as bonuses on a yearly basis to a group of individuals. There are the factories and the i-gaming firms, but these do not represent anything close to the full picture of the Maltese economy.       

Given the specific characteristics of the Maltese economic landscape, simply increasing the minimum wage could mean the loss of a certain number of jobs. This applies particularly to family-run businesses whereby the families already have to deal with the increase in price of several services or items. If they are forced to choose between their own survival or that of their employees, it is quite likely that they will opt for the former and let their employees go. Do we want to witness a drastic increase in the unemployment rate in our country?

In the case of those companies that are doing well enough to be able to absorb an increase in their expenditure without firing any of their employees, it is plausible to think that the directors would not just sit there and see their income plummet. They would probably want to recover the income lost due to the increased expenditure. And one way of doing that is by increasing the prices of their products or services. They would argue that if people are earning more money, what harm would there be in increasing the prices? Such a situation would probably lead to a vicious cycle whereby the minimum wage would have to be increased very regularly to keep up with the increased prices. In all likelihood, given such a scenario, the country would witness a spectacular rise in inflation. And how would lives become easier if the increases in the minimum wage are matched by inflated prices?  

I would like to conclude with an observation about many of the organisations that are campaigning in favour of an immediate increase in the minimum wage. I have noticed that some of the most vocal organisations demanding an immediate increase have very little contact with local businesses to understand the full impact of an upward adjustment of the minimum wage anytime soon. One specific organisation seems to be making a great deal of noise in order to attract some votes in the next general election. The sad thing is that the representatives of this organisation fail to state that they barely have any funds to run a political party and that they do not have a team of individuals working on a full-time basis to meet both employees as well as business-owners to obtain a more realistic understanding of the many facets relating to the minimum wage issue. Many fancy words might be noticed in their press statements, but no studies of their own are published. No concrete plans are advanced to substantiate their positions. 

It is all too easy to say that one has to either choose to support the workers or the business owners. In the real world in which an economy consists mainly of private companies, any rash measures that ignore the circumstances of the business owners could lead to the loss of countless jobs. And if that happens, how would all the press statements and the nice words be of any help to the unemployed individuals who do not know where the next meal is going to come from?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Need for A More Planned Economy

"A university graduate, Liam Gauci, said only two graduates out of 15 from the University of Malta's history course had found jobs, but none related to their field of study. "The government prizes IT students because their jobs are in demand by the industry, by paying them higher stipends. But graduates like myself haven't managed to find jobs except in some secretarial posts.'"

I was not surprised by Mr Liam Gauci's observation quoted above. I was not surprised at all! According to an article that appeared on the maltatoday website, Mr Gauci expressed his concern during one of the recent Labour Party Congress sessions held at Ta' Qali.

One of the saddest things about Mr Gauci's comment is that this situation has been with us for a fairly long time. After four years of very hard work and countless sacrifices, I graduated with an Honours degree in Psychology. Philosophy was my subsidiary area of study. Short of getting a scholarship to further my studies abroad, it was extremely difficult to find a decent job related to my degree. A small number of my university colleagues found jobs working in the HR (Human Resources) industry. Many others ended up working in areas that were almost totally unrelated to their studies.  That was in 2001.

I still clearly remember that after a few months of job-hunting, I was eventually accepted for a government job which did not even require a university degree! Once all taxes were deducted, my monthly salary amounted to approximately € 815.00. It was painful to witness other people who had spent pretty much the same amount of time studying at university finding jobs quite easily and earning more money. Of course, the difference was that they had studied Accounts or Computer Programming. Till this day, it seems that most of the job vacancies in Malta are related to accountancy or IT skills. If you have pursued your childhood dream of studying, say, Archaeology, you might have a very hard time finding a decent job related to your studies!

In view of a situation whereby the time and the effort spent at university are far from being sufficient to guarantee easy access to the job market or to land a decent job that is somewhat linked to one's studies, a number of questions come to mind. First, what is the point of telling people that they are free to study whatever they want to when we are living in a society which clearly discriminates between individuals who study different subjects? Second, how exactly does an individual and society benefit when a person graduates from a course that is largely subsidised by public funds, only to spend a number of months unemployed or working in an area which does not require the skills acquired during the university years? Third, if our government was a truly caring one, wouldn't it take a more active role to ensure that ALL graduates could find decent jobs that could be somewhat linked to their studies? 

Compared to other countries, the Maltese Islands are very small. It baffles me to see that in spite of our size, the present government is still unable to come up with a better strategy to deal with the problems mentioned above. I would say that there is a lack of political will to improve the situation. The Nationalist Party opposes the notion of having a more planned economy. As long as it is in power, it prefers to deliver the following message: "I am not here to guarantee jobs. I am only here to ensure that as the private sector thrives, it is able to comply with local laws and regulations. If you cannot find a decent job because of what you studied, too bad! Just keep trying to find something! I can put up a lot of vacancies all over the ETC offices, but I will not go into the match between those vacancies and the skills you have. If you studied something and are unable to find a related job, try to find someone to support you as you study something new for another two or three or more years! Good luck, mate!" That is pretty much the Nationalist Party's philosophy when it comes to helping university graduates to find good-quality jobs. 

I believe that a Socialist government would be far more caring towards the country's university graduates. After years of hard work and sacrifice, such people deserve to be rewarded with decent jobs which could help them to grow as individuals. Jobs which could also help them to make a bigger contribution to society. For this to happen, the country would need to have a more planned economy. Without such an economy, many more graduates will surely continue struggling to find a decent job linked to their studies following graduation. Is this what we want for our country's graduates? Do we want to continue witnessing a situation whereby some graduates find good jobs fairly easily whilst many others are simply forgotten or deserted?



Wednesday, 19 September 2012


How many times have you heard someone say something and disagreed with the contents of that person's statements? How many times have you nurtured a view that differs from that of an entire group of people? Did you ever express your disagreement? If so, what reaction did you get? Was there a debate that led to the taking of some vote? Was there any negotiation in order to reach a compromise? Or were you considered as "odd", "crazy", "stupid", or "disloyal" when you mentioned your differing beliefs?

Whilst reflecting about the issue of dissent within Maltese society, I almost immediately developed the impression that most people in Malta are not brought up to challenge or question the positions taken by various authority figures. Although Maltese schools are excellent at promoting cut-throat competition as well as the memorising of a staggering amount of details, relatively little attention is devoted to analysis and debate of several phenomena. Such an educational system leads to a situation whereby countless individuals could quote Shakespeare or read a balance sheet, but are then usually totally unwilling to express an opinion that could be regarded as a threat to the preservation of the social and political status quo.

Dissent is probably as old as the human species. I believe that ever since human beings were able to get together to make plans regarding the best way forward for a community, the clash of a number of individual wills must have always existed to a certain degree. Whoever has a knowledge of history will surely be aware of people such as Martin Luther or Giordano Bruno. Such individuals challenged the institutions that they belonged to and Bruno was even killed for doing so. 

As a phenomenon, dissent is probably best understood when analysing the relationship between an individual and the organisation/s he or she belongs to. Throughout life, most people would normally drift in and out of various organisations. These organisations could range from one's family to school, the workplace, a religious group, and even a political party. It is fairly difficult to move ahead in life without being involved in some type of organisation. Fr Mark Montebello, a Maltese Dominican friar as well as one of the country's most prominent philosophers, has analysed the relationship between the individual and the organisation/s he/she belongs to. Indeed, in 2010, Fr Montebello published a booklet entitled The Redemption of Anarchy (Il-Fidwa Tal-Anarkizmu) which sheds a great deal of light on this matter.

As organisations grow, they tend to develop a set of rules. Depending on the organisation's views regarding change, its rules could become extremely rigid. In such situations, the group's members are expected to accept all the rules without showing any hesitation or doubt. The organisation's objectives would normally become associated with certain people who mould the group's identity on the basis of their personal beliefs. Everyone else must simply suppress any differing views and toe the line to avoid being labelled as a "traitor".

It is no secret that whenever one belongs to an organisation, certain benefits or rewards are expected. If, however, the organisation feels threatened, measures could easily be taken to ensure that the person challenging it no longer enjoys the fruits of membership. With reference to Fr Montebello's aforementioned booklet, he wrote that "The individual in Malta and Gozo, especially the one who wants to function within an organisational setting, would still be considered as forming part of the social and political structure as long as he/she does not behave in a way that challenges the supremacy of the values that are held as sacrosanct by the organisations to ensure their preservation. Indeed, till today, the organisations in Malta and Gozo still give more importance to their own welfare than to the individual's well-being. Whoever poses a threat to an organisation's ability to achieve this goal would be pushed out from the organisation and excluded from membership" (pp. 14 - 15).

During last year's divorce referendum campaign, I still clearly remember that when divorce was being discussed within a small Catholic group, any views in favour of divorce were crushed by the conservative group leader in a very dogmatic way. There was no real debate. And it seems that those individuals who held differing views were eventually pushed out of the group.

When it comes to the working world, each company could be perceived as an organisation with its own culture and rules. In those companies where there is very little co-operation or unity among the workers, there is often a great deal of fear to express dissent. Even though many employees would easily grumble or complain about certain work-related practices or issues in hushed tones, the pressure to obey together with the fear of being fired from the company would usually lead to the repression of dissent. Taking another look at Fr Montebello's booklet, he wrote that "In Malta and Gozo you would come across many people who would - in a private setting - talk very openly. But when you invite them to write something in a newspaper, to sit for an interview or to participate in a public discussion to express their views...they refuse to expose themselves due to the fear of exclusion, which could affect them directly or their loved ones" (p. 31).

Turning to Maltese politics, one could also identify some examples of the ways in which dissent was handled. In 1998, when Dom Mintoff voiced his disagreement with many of Dr Alfred Sant's policies, he was called a "traitor". Apart from being accused of treason, Mintoff was also brushed aside by many people within the Labour Party.
During the last few months, Dr Franco Debono was also accused as "mad" and as a "traitor" following his various criticisms of the work of several Nationalist Party Members of Parliament. With reference to a recent article that was published on the maltastar website, Dr Debono summed up the way in which he was being treated as follows: "if you don’t obey the rottweiler comes barking at you. The scheme goes like this: either you obey and shut up or else you have to face the rottweilers. Simple. If you shut up and be quiet we keep you comfortable. If you don’t shut up there are no rights. It’s useless invoking rights. My message was: I am not afraid of the rottweilers. I am invoking rights. I want meritocracy not favours from Gonzi".

To conclude, there is still a lot of work to be done in Malta and Gozo so that more people could learn how to deal with dissent in a healthy way. The educational system must surely devote more time and energy to the teaching of skills that would allow countless individuals to question a number of things in order to build a better society. Organisations should make a genuine effort to become more inclusive and to avoid the rush to crush dissent or to expel any members who have differing viewpoints. If dissent helps to improve the workings of the organisations which make up a society, it is definitely something that should be encouraged more regularly.