Malta, the European Union and the Mediterranean provided the key elements of the main performance that dominated the opening of the Maltese Presidency of the European Council that took place on Wednesday at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in the capital city of Valletta. The historic ancient site dates back to the 16th century when it was built by the Sovereign Order of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John to serve as a hospital that was regarded as the best hospital in Europe up to the 18th century.
Bahr the ancient Arabic word for sea and which recalls the Maltese word bahar also meaning sea is the name given to the 40 minute performance that saluted the thousands of immigrants who lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea during their desperate crossing hoping for a better life on the first European shores. The show sent a clear message and a declaration of the main priority of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the upcoming six months, predominantly the crisis and challenges of immigration.
For Khoo, a world-renowned international artist from Malaysia was the artistic director of the performance. For him migration has always been a topic of research in his studies even though he claimed that through Bahr he sought to discover other layers and meaning underlying the movement of migrants from one country to another. In a local Maltese newspaper he said “as an immigrant myself, migration has always been a topic of interest, but this time I was forced to dig deeper and uncover different layers: it’s where I encountered the message of hope, that determines each migrant’s journey – he added – hope places a huge responsibility on all of us-whether governments or individuals-to determine whether the story has a happy or tragic ending”.
Presented in three parts Bahr displayed a walk through the different stages underlying the phases of entry, encounters and hope whilst at the same time exposing the sense of helplessness, loss of identity and eventual displacement and relocation.
The theme was echoed in all the speeches addressed by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Jean Claude Junker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the Council of Ministers of the European Union.
This was the clear message sent by the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who at the end of the official ceremony congratulated the symphony orchestra and the synchronized dancing troupe and stated that it is his wish to see that their presentation gives a clear signal to all of Europe to stand united provided a sense of harmony to its populations notwithstanding the challenges and current ordeals that first need to be confronted.
Within the context of the chosen theme for the Maltese Presidency “REUNION” the Prime Minister of Malta claimed that in the coming months the European Union has to toil harder to seek minor solutions for major problems. “These are necessary actions that need to be effected and continued over the years if we want to ensure that that the people are convinced that their politicians understand their needs”.
The Prime Minister remarked that Malta is still in its adolescent phase within the European Union. “60 years ago, when the European Union was formed Malta was not even an independent country during this time. The ideal beliefs and ideologies are indeed magnificent and superb, but one cannot survive on ideology alone”.
Within this framework of finding small solutions to complex problems, the Prime Minister insisted that this is the main challenge presenting itself to the Maltese Presidency and the European Institutions. “Today’s work needs to be carried on by future generations. It is necessary that everyone understand the current realities. Whilst the common man in the street is affected by the lack of employment opportunities, the increased cost of living standards, the influx of foreigners, he observes politicians are advocating and debating the European economy, politics and directives. This leads him to view politicians as detached and lacking in the understanding of problems accompanying their citizens”.
The Maltese Prime Minster claimed that is his wish to see that the European Union takes the necessary actions following the six months of the Presidency and commits itself to continue with the work in the future.
Jean Claude Junker, President of the European Commission linked the service that was provided by the Sacra Infermeria, the venue of the inauguration ceremony hundreds of years ago with the service that Malta has always provided over the years contributing to the history of the European continent. He stated that unquestionably Malta is prepared to run the Presidency of the European Union Council and sent his best wishes in Maltese language and encouraged unity amongst the European people.
The President of the Council of Ministers, Donald Tusk exclaimed that it is a privilege that the Maltese Presidency coincides with a period in history of serious challenges such as immigration. Whilst referring to Malta as a “symbolic anchor” he stated that the opening ceremony is an example of how Malta is still hosting guests thousands of years later. At this point he quoted an excerpt from the bible referring to the shipwreck of St. Paul from the Gospel of St. Luke where the apostle said “and later we learned that the island was called Malta. And the people who lived there showed us great kindness, and they made a fire and called us all to warm ourselves”.
Donald Tusk also mentioned Brexit and stated that it is an advantage that the Maltese understand the British people as this would facilitate negotiations with the United Kingdom when exiting the European block.