PRESS RELEASE BY THE OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER: Address by the Prime Minister of Malta and Chair in Office of the Commonwealth Joseph Muscat at the Commonwealth Day ceremony at Westminster Abbey

At a time when we may be tempted to despair and to give up, it is imperative that we remember that peace and reconciliation are objectively possible. They can be achieved.

Of course, they must not be understood as goals that can be achieved once and for all, everywhere and at the same time. The long way to peace and reconciliation is a tortuous and difficult one and it is never over.

The world today is characterised by a multiplicity of fault lines between and within states. Tensions along some of these fault lines have reached critical levels. Instability has become the norm and uncertainty is the rule of the game.

Moreover, two factors are contributing to making this a very dangerous world indeed. On the one hand, terrorism embedded in perverse distortions of religious belief. On the other hand, the emergence of an intolerant populism that feeds on lack of knowledge and racism. Both of them shun reason, promote fanaticism and actively commit or indirectly incite violence.

Both of these are the result of political and economic models that have patently failed inasmuch as they are insufficiently inclusive. Both of them subscribe to a vision of history as an inevitable clash of at least two reciprocally incompatible civilisations. Both of them feed on fear of hate of diversity.

What can and what should the Commonwealth realistically do in these difficult circumstances?

One answer lies in the uniqueness of the enduring bond that brought us here today. A complex uniqueness that is frankly not easy to explain. Although we can boast of a combined population of 2.4 billion, although we represent fifty two nation states, our real strength lies elsewhere.

It lies in the intensity of our relationship throughout our modern history.

A relationship that has been by no means an easy one. Indeed the history of this relationship has known joy, pride and communion, but also blood, sweat and tears.

Whilst we have all emerged with a keener sense of our distinct historical national identities and a greater respect of each other’s national identity, we have also grown more wary of cynical attempts to appeal to history to justify aggressive nationalism.

It is an attempt to trawl through the past for moral justification of present immoralities. It is a case, to borrow a verse from the Ghanaian poet Kwesi Brew, when “the past is but the cinders of the present”.

These relationships have taught us that beyond different national interests and in spite of the pain and bitterness that we experienced, there is an irreducible value in peace and reconciliation.

Has it gone all the way? No it has not and it will only have gone all the way when in each of our countries the value of individual dignity regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, social class and opinion will be truly upheld and guaranteed. I want to single out respect for LGBTIQ persons. The lack of it, in a remarkable number of our countries is, arguably, a considerable blot in our family of nations standing. I had conversations and am aware that there are leaders who know things must change, but are wary of how society would react to their first move. To them I say that the Commonwealth will be with them to help them make the first bold steps. History, I am sure, will judge them positively when they do so.

A powerful contribution to peace and reconciliation begins with the micro-dimension of the world. Global and international relations are of course important and so are burning national political issues, but the individual’s immediate social habitat, the home, is fundamental.

There is a certain view, delusional in my opinion, amongst many throughout the world, to imagine that social progress is essentially a top down process, in which case politicians and technocrats engineer macro-change, and the positive outcomes of this change at the top simply percolates down by some sort of social force of gravity.

This is the sort of view that generates social exclusion. It is the sort of view that justifies perceptions of the world that are effectively captured by Yeats’s well known verses:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

It is significant that a great Commonwealth author, Nigerian Chinua Achebe, chose to borrow a phrase from these verses as the title of his classic 1958 novel Things Fall Apart.

There can be no solid and lasting international and national peace and reconciliation unless it is built on the consciousness of millions of individuals who value their own individual dignity, whose homes enjoy the domestic peace based on equality and mutual respect of the genders, and is free of domestic violence where women and children are most of the time the main victims.

Individuals who do not value their own individual dignity, do not value the dignity of others. Those who do not uphold these values tend to fuse into the multitudes that make up the mass base of extremist movements.

These short reflections would be incomplete without observing that in the treasure trove of the wealth of our common experience, we also find such noble qualities as strength in the face of adversity and great generosity.

Certainly, the exemplary enthusiasm with which our motherlands came together to resist the barbaric threat to civilisation posed by Nazism and Fascism in the Second World War is a magnificent example of ultimate heroic generosity and solidarity. Allow me to seize this opportunity to express Malta’s great pride in its people’s valiant contribution to this effort, a contribution we paid for dearly with blood and suffering, as many others did.

There is no scarcity of opportunity today for the world to concretely show its appreciation of those who strive to survive in the face of great adversity and to show concrete solidarity with them. Conflict and economic failure are generating migration flows of biblical proportions, with untold suffering for thousands, many of whom lose their lives in the process.

We are in times of trouble, hours of darkness may confront us at any time but, lest we misunderstand the words of wisdom of a song most of us can at least hum, our response cannot simply be a whispered Let It Be. Our mothers and fathers didn’t.

Source: Government of Malta