Sociologist, local councillor, activist, drummer from Malta

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Green fingers in many pies

Michael Briguglio interviewed by Matthew Bonanno - Insiter Magazine

Politics, drumming, lecturing, parenting. For someone who leads such a busy life, new Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio seems a little too relaxed as we enter an empty room in the Old Humanities building. “It’s all about setting priorities”, he tells me.

Politics has always been a part of his life. Both of his parents and his sister were involved in some way or other in the 70s and 80s. Prior to joining AD in 2000, Briguglio was involved in Moviment Graffitti and Zminijietna while studying at University. It was initially music that made him want to get into politics. “I was inspired by the lyrics of bands like Rage Against the Machine, and eventually starting listening to The Clash. In fact he’s the drummer for not one, but two bands, Norm Rejection and Dripht.

Briguglio has often written that AD need to become more radical. So can we expect to see AD members blocking bulldozers and handcuffing themselves to buildings? “By radical, I think we should be more pronounced about certain issues like divorce and gay rights, which are the major issues regarding secularism in Malta. In recent times, our standpoints have often been too bland and moderate. We were trying to attract votes by trying to please everyone, but the general and European Parliament election results showed that this approach doesn’t work.”

He tells me the question that he’s been asked the most in previous interviews is why he never joined one of the bigger parties. “The answer is simple”, he says, “and that is that principles come first. You join AD because you have principles, not because you want a career.” The 34 year old is the first Chairman who isn’t a founding member of the Green Party. How is he different from his predecessors? “I think I have a more positive and forward looking approach to politics. I don’t agree that we should consider the whole world to be against AD, so to speak. I also believe that the Chairman should not be the centre of the party. I see the role as being more about delegation, giving my trust to other members while at the same time empowering them.”

Before the interview, someone pointed out to me that AD aren’t present at University at all. “Yes that’s true”, he replies when I ask him about this. “Being completely invisible on campus has been AD’s biggest failure. One of my main goals as Chairman is to promote Green politics more among students. It’s good to have Christian Democratic and Social Democratic beliefs on Campus, but I think the organisations should be called PN and Labour, not SDM and Pulse. It’s a bit of a joke. Everyone knows that many of those who were members of SDM a few years ago are now members of PN. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as they don’t deny it.”

Briguglio has been a lecturer in Sociology at University since 2004. I ask him what he thinks about today’s students. “I’m not trying to be patronizing and tell you that in my day things were better, but when I look at the student elections I get the impression that the key issue is who organises the best parties . Nowadays the majority of student politics seems to be more about securing a career. Why don’t KSU protest about the horrible state of the canteen, or the lack of funding for the library? It desperately needs more books. When I was a student, Jacques Renee Zammit (the writer of the ‘J’Accuse’ blog) was President of SDM. He was what a student politician should be all about. He had a vision, he was critical of the government, and he used to form alliances with other student organisations. The irony is that back then SDM and Graffitti were very close and agreed on several issues. Now SDM want to take Graffitti’s office.”

I turn to last month’s ban on the newspaper Ir-Realta’. Briguglio says that he doesn’t agree with the ban, and that Malta’s archaic laws on censorship should be changed to respect individual rights. But he also added that “Realta’ should have put a disclaimer stating clearly that it was a work of fiction for adults only, because at first glance it wasn’t clear what it actually was.” But shouldn’t it be the readers be allowed to judge for themselves? “It’s a very complex issue. The question is where do you draw a line? I think the best way to go about it is to ensure that things which incite hatred are not accepted. There should be values which are common to everyone, like mutual respect and the acceptance of tolerance, diversity and pluralism.”

Finally, I ask him if he thinks his youth is an advantage. “I’m very much in sync with the youth scene. I’m in two bands, and I attend various activities. I know what many of the concerns of young people are. Even though many youths might support Green politics, they are also consumers and associate themselves with the products that they buy. The philosophy of Green politics is that we have to make do with less, not more, so this poses a challenge.

Indeed, the overall impression I get from Briguglio is that he’s up for a challenge. Because of this, together with his down-to earth demeanour and forthrightness, I can’t help but think that the Green Party is in safe, drummer’s hands.

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