The current protest by Moviment Graffitti in Dingli and Government's reaction exemplifies the role of social movements in democratic societies. Graffitti's protest repertoire is particularly visible in Malta's public sphere.
A society without protests is like an ecology without evolution, but on the other hand governments have legitimate authority through democracy. So how can such controversies be tackled?
Moviment Graffitti's call for dialogue echoes so many other examples of civil society claims about lack of transparent public consultation, particularly on development of land, over the years and under different administrations.
A few days before the European and Local Elections in 2019, Government, through the Planning Authority, announced a public consultation process for social impact assessments (SIAs). It would be highly relevant for policy development and implementation, in different areas, to comprise such impact assessments, which in turn should be deliberative and continuous, and not mere rubber stamping or one-off procedures.
I was one of those who sent my proposals to the SIA consultation process, which, in turn were based on the SIA guidelines of the International Association for Impact Assessment. Unfortunately this consultation exercise was not followed up by the same Government. SIAs will not stop political differences, which, after all are essential in democracy, but they can help deliver deeper and more inclusive public consultation.
This takes us to the concept of 'pragmatic adversarialism' proposed by scholars Ralph Tafon, David Howarth and Steven Griggs, which in their words "highlights the deeply entrenched role of politics in negotiating differences, as rival projects endeavour to impose their wills, while the pragmatic element speaks to the cultivation of an appropriate ethos that should animate those involved in struggle. Adversaries are thus not enemies intent on each other’s mutual destruction, but nor are they just competitors who bargain about outcomes with a fixed set of preferences. Instead, adversaries are encouraged vigorously to espouse their values and ideals, while acknowledging the right of rival forces to articulate and promote their views with equal passion. Indeed, because the expression of divergent ideals can enhance the development and canvassing of a wide spectrum of possible practices, organizational forms and policy outcomes, sharp contestations about outcomes are both inevitable and desirable. In short, in the interests of achieving durable settlements that are legitimate and acceptable to affected citizens, pragmatic adversarialism offers a desirable mode of reaching workable agreements in public controversies".
|Photo: The Malta Independent|