This week I had planned to write about my recent trip to Malta. I had some good things to say about the islands, but also many questions. Then, on 16 October, the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb. No one has claimed responsibility and no one has been arrested. Her son, Matthew, who is also a journalist, wrote a post on Facebook almost immediately saying “This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated.” He pointed the finger at the
Prime Minister saying “First he filled his office with crooks, then he filled the police with crooks and imbeciles, then he filled the courts with crooks and incompetents. If the institutions were already working, there would be no assassination to investigate.” Under these circumstances, I find it hard to talk about the many positive things that Malta has done to grow the economy since independence from the British in 1964. Clearly there is a lot going on behind the scenes and I would need to spend more time there to understand.
After Malta, I spoke at a conference in Turkey. First, I had some time in Istanbul and the next day I flew to Ankara.
Following an attempted coup d’état on 15 July 2016, 50,000 people have been remanded in custody and 170,000 suspects investigated. Furthermore, 21,000 teachers were fired and 1,577 university deans asked to resign. Dinner by the Bosphorus was undeniably spectacular, but there was a reminder that not all was well when we were unable to settle an argument and I learned that Wikipedia is blocked in Turkey. For the most part, the atmosphere on the street was very normal but every so often, you would be reminded that you needed to be careful. People were happy to stand in for photos, but then asked me not to include their name when I posted it to Twitter. When I visited the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, there were people beside me weeping openly. Atatürk is known by Turks as the father of the nation. No person did more to establish modern Turkey.
He made decisions about religion, language, gender and politics that are still the basis for the way the country is organised nearly eighty years after his death. The basis for the conflict is that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current President, does not share his secular vision. The situation is not helped as Turkey is home to over 2.5 million Syrian refugees when its refugee camps are designed for around 200,000.
Institutions and their importance are central to the debate now in Spain over Catalonia. The day that the Catalan parliament voted for independence, I appeared on the Six-One news with Sharon Ní Bheoláin. My message was to say that this escalation was a dangerous way to go without EU support. I got a message afterwards from my old Latin teacher to say he has seen me. I replied immediately with words from the Aeneid Book 6 “facilis descensus Averno” (best translated as “stuff can go bad, real quick”). There is austerity and unemployment in Catalonia and I can understand why people are looking for answers. Yet how have we reached a point where nothing short of independence is promoted as the solution?
When institutions such as the courts, the police, tax officers, etc. are asked where their loyalty lies then a unilateral declaration is not the best way for a new state to be born. Instead of promoting division, Carles Puigdemont should use the election on 21 December as a reset. If he must, he can continue to advocate for Catalan independence. But any way in which he brings the existing institutions into conflict should draw our criticism, not our support.