Friday, 22 th October 2021: Message by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna on the launch of the photojournalism exhibition ‘People Power’.
Message by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
First of all, I would like to thank the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands for organising this event. I have been asked to offer some reflections. They are going to be very personal reflections probably not in a very orderly fashion but reviewing the extraordinary photos, which are the highlight of this exhibition, and also the title chosen, one realises that it is the people who become the real players in all this, in situations of great difficulty and even danger.
But when you look at the title ‘People Power’ we realise that it is close to the etymology of democracy because democracy is made out of these two roots: emos (people) and kratos (power). So when we are talking about people’s power, we are talking about the root and principle and basis of democracy. Democracy that is not based on the power of the people is a false democracy; it is a charade. And I think that in order to empower people we need to also reflect on our structures of democracy and realise, as the Honourable Minister José Herrera said, that without a free journalism, a journalism that is free, respected, guaranteed safety and also the right to life, we have no democracy.
Democracy that is not based on the power of the people is a false democracy; it is a charade.
Our recent past has gone through the great tragedy of the assassination of a journalist: Daphne Caruana Galizia. If we are going to recognise our fight for freedom in 1919, we will have to also realise the great cost of freedom paid by a lady in our recent history. We cannot ignore the very, very strong conclusions of the investigations that actually have called the responsibility of our State structure and of each and every one of us.
I would like to quote Pope Francis from his more recent document Fratelli Tutti that talks about the brotherhood of humankind. When he talks about the power to the people as a basis of democracy in some close and monochrome economic approaches, for example, the Pope says: “There seems to be no place for popular movements that unite the unemployed, temporary and informal workers and many others who do not easily find a place in existing structures” (Fratelli Tutti, 169). If you look at these photos and you look at the process in Algeria, not only Tiananmen but also so many other situations you realise that they are protests by people who have been left on the side, on the periphery, as Pope Francis was trying to say.
“Yet,” to continue with the quote from the Pope, “those movements manage various forms of popular economy and of community production. What is needed is a model of social, political and economic participation ‘that can include popular movements and invigorate local, national and international governing structures with that torrent of moral energy that springs from including the excluded in the building of a common destiny’, while also ensuring that ‘these experiences of solidarity which grow up from below, from the subsoil of the planet – can come together, be more coordinated, keep on meeting one another’. This, however, must happen in a way that will not betray their distinctive way of acting as ‘sowers of change, promoters of a process involving millions of actions, great and small, creatively intertwined like words in a poem’. In that sense, such movements are ‘social poets’ that, in their own way, work, propose, promote and liberate” (Fratelli Tutti, 169). And this, I think, has also been our experience in recent years.
Now I would like to stop with a personal reflection before continuing with what Pope Francis proposes. It is that one of the dangers of popular movements today is that they create their own bubble and I am often reminded of the beginning of the initial pages of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Saint-Exupery where the little prince meets so many individuals on their own planet and it seems that this is a danger today with social media and even with journalism that we inhabit our own planet, our own echo chamber, and there is no real popular movement but we are simply nourishing and nurturing our own narrative, our own resentment and there is no real dialogue. This is a great danger of journalism today: that we are simply a group of shops that are not interconnected and this is something that the Pope addresses when he talks about the need to empower all these players into interconnectedness and dialogue.
These popular movements, the Pope says, “help make possible an integral human development that goes beyond ‘the idea of social policies being a policy for the poor, but never with the poor and never of the poor, much less part of a project that reunites peoples’” (Fratelli Tutti, 169).
The Honourable Minister talked about our colonial past and one of the hallmarks of our colonial past, which is almost part of our DNA, is this benevolence of our rulers. It is a talked down movement that we are there as passive players accepting the benevolence of our rulers and we have no initiative and not even a sense of the common good. And this is something that we need to reflect upon because unfortunately, as a young democracy, we do not have the sense that this is our country and it is not that government is far away. We used to say, “Well it is the Crown’s problem” and even if you pinch something from the State, “Dik mhux tar-reġina?!” you’d say or “Dik mhux tar-re?!” It is the king’s property, so it is OK to damage it or to abuse it.
Governments do the right thing because it is their job to do it. Our gratitude is a question of courtesy but we do not owe it to them, they owe it to us to do their job.
There is a crisis of this feeling of the common good that we need to have a critical attitude towards and this comes from our colonial past. We are always grateful for what we receive but this benevolent despotism is almost still with us, in a system where everything is granted as a favour and you have to be grateful to the government for doing their job. I think that is poison for the common good. Governments do the right thing because it is their job to do it. Our gratitude is a question of courtesy but we do not owe it to them, they owe it to us to do their job.
The Pope says that these popular movements, “may be troublesome, and certain ‘theorists’ may find it hard to classify them, yet we must find the courage to acknowledge that, without them, ‘democracy atrophies, turns into a mere word, a formality; it loses its representative character and becomes disembodied, since it leaves out the people in their daily struggle for dignity, in the building of their future’”.
Without education, we do not have real democracy because it is education that empowers people to have a critical attitude to power.
I think that if you go through this exhibition, you realise individuals who are actually addressing the yearnings of a whole population. I am struck by the fact that they do not always portray crowds but even individuals. But those individuals, before situations of injustice, are actually expressing the yearnings, the desires, the dreams of immense groups of people. And this is something that remains with us.
I would like to conclude my short reflection with two important aspects that will make democracy work especially when it comes to real freedom of information. First, it is education. Without education, we do not have real democracy because it is education that empowers people to have a critical attitude to power. Without education, power becomes oligarchy, the principle of power for only the few, whereas demoscratos, democracy, needs people who have the education to develop a critical mind and also to be able to elaborate and express their true yearnings.
The other thing is solidarity. I think there is no democracy where there is reciprocal resentment, hate, and also anger. I think that the more we dialogue, the more we open ourselves to each other, the more we get away from our echo chambers and our bubbles, the more we work towards a true democratic feeling. Because at the end of the day democracy is not monochrome; the beauty of democracy is a variety of attitudes, opinions, and also social theories that come together, trying to vie together or with each other, to promote the common good in the concrete circumstances of time and place.
I would like to thank again the Embassy for bringing this to us in this beautiful environment. I must say that it is the first time I visited Valletta from this vantage point and I have to say that whatever you see is always very intriguing and beautiful.
But I would also like to thank you for your presence and I would like to say thank you to our journalists. It is not an easy job. As we know through our recent history, it can be quite a dangerous job, but as the Hon. Minister says, it is vital, and this is a service that we cannot live without.
I would also like to thank certain people who dedicate their life to photography and bringing images to us, and bringing live pictures to us, at times with great sacrifice and also endangering their own life and limb.
My prayer is that our journalists go outside their own bubbles, give us a taste of the world outside as it is, and that they may be always free and safe.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta