Freedom is not an easy word.
It is hard to obtain freedom, and an even harder quest to manage it.
With freedom come huge rights and huge responsibilities. But as big as the challenges are, as huge as the responsibilities turn out to be, freedom must be cherished all the time.
Freedom is the basis of what we are today.
Malta obtained its de jure and de factofreedom from foreign rulers incrementally. Various episodes and historical figures contributed to this hard-fought quest for freedom. The experience was certainly not an easy one and was in most times the downs were more than the ups.
I am not interested in any discourse aimed at pitching Independence Day versus Freedom Day, or Borg Olivier’s quests as opposed to Dom Mintoff’s. In my view our history is the result of the extraordinary exploits of these two political giants and each of them contributed to the legal and factual independence freedom we have today.
The fact is that Malta, one of the smallest countries in the World, is independent and autonomous is in itself something to be proud of. As generations pass, we might fall in the trap of taking our independence, freedom and autonomy for granted.
That is certainly something we should not do.
Malta is a member of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and countless of other supra-national entities. Malta is also party to a numerous number of agreements which all, in different measures, affect the decisions or position we can take on a variety of issue.
However, it itself this is an expression of freedom and independence. The fact that Malta is, for instance, a member of the European Union is an expression of independence and freedom in itself. Malta could not have decided out of its own free will to join the European block had it not been a free country in the first place.
Therefore the decision of sharing the sovereignty with others for the betterment of the collective good is in itself a strong expression of independence and freedom.
People of my generation felt, for a long time, that Malta was shackled and limited by an overtly conservative mentality that took hold of the island for too long.
The powers that be simply refused to change the status quo even though the people wanted a change and more civil freedoms.
At one point, Professor Joe Friggieri summed up this feeling brilliantly. He tied this sentiment with the decision of joining the European Union. You cannot tell me to enter the car but then not allow me to open the window, he had explained.
That window had to be opened.
The Nationalist Party steadfastly refused. It was Joseph Muscat who opened that window.
I decided to give my all to the Labour Party precisely because I wanted that fresh breeze to come inside our country. Joseph Muscat became leader of the Party and as a young party candidate I saw him as the right person at the right time to do this crucial revolution.
Looking back at the past ten years – five in Opposition and five in Government – you can immediately list the main changes which effectively led to this freedom to happen and in each case there is written "Labour" all over the place.
From the Opposition benches we left no stone unturned to introduce divorce. We managed. It wasn’t easy. At all. But the change happened.
Once in Government we embarked on a very ambitious program. In the first legislature we introduced civil unions and we were alone in Parliament voting yes. In the second legislature we introduced the right of full equality in marriage and it was indeed a moment to remember.
These were not the only changes we did. Vote 16 is another obvious example. But there are others- for instance we amended the agreement between the Government of Malta and the Santa Sede so that the Ecclesiastical Tribunal does not retain the supremacy it had over the Civil Courts in cases related to annulment of marriage. This in itself was a very important reform which carried a lot of weight and I thank Archbishop Scicluna and Bishop Grech for their full support.
Looking back I believe that this is one of the most beautiful experiences I had the privilege to go through in time as Justice Minister. It pushed forward the belief that the State and the Church should fully co-operate with one another but with a healthy and respectful separation between the two.
A second reform was the change to local censorship regimes insofar as culture and the arts are concerned.
From a situation were an author was charged in the criminal courts for a novel he wrote and from a situation were a play was barred on the grounds of being amoral, we changed the laws completely and those same articles which were pressed against artists and culture to stop them from showing their work were thrown out of the window.
Again, on the most crucial amendments we were alone in Parliament in voting in favour and I remember the then Opposition leader saying that this whole exercise was an exercise of “ksuhat”.
Things rapidly changed. When we participated in the Venice Biennale we had a piece of art which was highly controversial. Of course we did not censor the piece but we anticipated that controversy would erupt in Malta. We were wrong. People debated the piece of art but that’s how far it went.
Malta had changed. Not only its laws had changed, but also a whole mentality
It is easy to believe that we are now in a position were the job is done. It is not. There are still reforms we need to undertake, such as a reform of the laws on IVF. The Labour Parliamentary group is in full agreement with those changes and they will be debated as soon as Parliament reconvenes after the Easter recess.
We will keep implementing change. We will keep enhancing our freedom.