29 March 2006

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Business Today

‘Amoral familism’ root cause of ‘your problems’ Boissevain tells the Today Seminar

Dutch social anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain’s stock-take of Malta, 50 years since his seminal work on the island, attracted great interest at the Today seminar organised by Mediatoday, held last week at the Palazzo Capua.
Boissevain told an audience of politicians, academics, entrepreneurs and other professionals, which included President Emeritus Guide de Marco and former Labour minister Lino Spiteri, entrepreneur Anglu Xuereb, and MPs Jeffrey Pullicion Orlando and Evarist Bartolo, that Malta was in urgent need for systematic thinking about social trends. “Thirty-two years ago I gave a talk to the Institute of Directors, pointing to the urgent need to examine the likely long-range effects on your quality of life and of the steady increase in tourism. My conclusion then is still relevant.”
Boissevain’s analysis painted an unchanging picture of Malta’s growing landscape of development, which had sacrificed countryside and coastal areas for the profit of a few: “Your countryside and architectural heritage, your coastal zone, the sea surrounding you, even your underground water supply and the air you breathe, quite literally have been and sill are being raped, to put it harshly. They are being exploited for private gain.”
The anthropologist said the high-speed change from the latter days of the Labour government, where planning regulations were regularly flouted, to the change in government which led to the uncritical introduction of the free market, brought a greater privatisation of the environment. “In the course of this expansion, regulation were and are still being flouted.”
Boissevain attributed this reality to a widespread European ingrained habit of regarding all public space as a no-mans land. He also delved into one of his familiar themes – amoral familism – which condones the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish beyond one’s front door, in public spaces. Other factors he listed were a weak sense of heritage, the friends-of-friends syndrome, and the fear of retaliation for reporting against illegal activities.
Boissevain said academics in Malta generally maintain “quite a distance” from involvement with government policy. “Is this by choice or by design? I suspect that this reluctance to become involved has much to do with the more general endemic apprehension, if not fear of falling from grace with one of the parties, fear of some form of retribution for taking a stand against the policy of government, of party, fear of offending or jeopardising the careers of relatives. Perhaps not without reason, for the past has demonstrated that retaliation for taking a stand is not imaginary.”

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