Coming at a moment when historic Bormla (one of the ‘Three Cities’ of Malta’s magnificent Grand Harbour facing Valletta) is just possibly beginning to shake off decades of neglect, this is a very timely book indeed.
Bormla: A Struggling Community is a very good book, impeccably researched (through a questionnaire addressed to co-operative local residents) and packed full of useful statistical data. All this material is sobering, confirming as it does that Bormla, after the depopulation caused by the tragic aerial bombardment of the Second World War and the sad later decline of the Malta Docks, has indeed been struggling socio-economically in the modern world – struggling both to survive on a daily basis and to prevail more heroically in an unfair world towards a better future. It is a serious document, at once academically objective and warmly committed to improving the quality of life in an area that once was (and could still be) so vibrant and attractive.
I found myself reading the book – it is most lucidly written by the way – with a mixture of hope and frustration.
Frustration that so much needs to be done right now to support the many good and long-suffering people of the community. Frustration too that the equally pressing and connected matter of the systematic restoration of the entire city’s infrastructure and architectural fabric has yet to be seriously addressed. Bormla possesses baroque palaces and convents and medieval streets rivaling and even exceeding more fortunate areas of Malta, not to mention arguably the largest and finest system of 17th century double fortifications anywhere in existence.
But hope too that the winds of change are finally beginning to blow. Dr Cutajar’s admirable and brave book blazes the trail, suggesting that proper employment and education/training opportunities now need to be put in place, and that individual self-worth and community-wide empowerment merit immediate encouragement at the highest level of Maltese public life. Past injustices and stigma cannot now be easily ignored, if only because Bormla’s wonderful history and cultural potential could so obviously become a cornerstone of Malta’s re-vamped tourism package. A far cry indeed from ‘Cisk n’ Chips’ on an overcrowded beach.
The difficulty here is of course ‘kick-starting’ this whole process of local regeneration, especially in a country like Malta where most things are run on a ‘top-down’ basis. Small businesses, as Dr Cutajar explains, will simply not put down roots in Bormla, let alone flourish, until the ground has been properly prepared by central government. But will central government make that move if it chooses to see only the familiar scene of dereliction? Catch-22. Who makes the first move?
This is a book which will appeal to all impassioned advocates of Bormla, and yet serve as an eye-opener to those others, both foreign and national, who think that they know and love the rest of Malta. It will also appeal to students of sociology as an excellent field study in its own right. Most of all, it is required reading for Maltese politicians of all persuasions, and any others solemnly charged with the public good. Will they take up the challenge? I hope so.