Later this month a national conference promoting unity will be held by President George Vella who has been quite vociferous on the need to heal the rifts within Maltese society. This conference will take the form of a number of debates chaired by personalities known from different walks of life, who are not in the political arena. The idea is to steer away from partisan politics as much as possible.

If this noble initiate is to succeed or at least raise awareness, there needs to be broad participation by the people. As the President remarked, national unity is not fostered simply by preaching slogans, but through genuine endeavours from all. Hence, the starting point should be to ensure people participate in numbers and have their say. If such exercise is limited to a restricted group, it will be doomed to fail from the start, even if there are the best brains around.

In the current circumstances such participation will be done through social media such as Facebook. Ironically, this digital platform is being used as a weapon to foment hatred, launch personal attacks, increase prejudices and to incite people against sections of society. Evidence of such conduct are the life threats being made against politicians, bloggers, representatives of organizations and ordinary individuals. On the other hand, national unity does not translate to calling whistle-blowers flagging serious abuse at the high echelons of power, as traitors.

The impression one gets when going through Facebook is that this platform is the reincarnation of Der Stürmer – a Nazi Germany propaganda magazine. Such abuse is happening despite being a criminal offense and the setting up of a unit against hate speech. Evidently, there is not enough deterrent.

National unity also means that nobody feels left excluded or left behind due to their inadequate standard of living. The fight against poverty must also translate to having the necessary safeguards and guarantees that ensure good jobs and adequate payment. History shows that extremist currents have always found fertile ground whenever the socio-economic situation is in decline.

It is thus crucial that prior to start discussing whether the George Cross in the Maltese flag should be retained or not, or whether the official religion should remain Catholic, national unity entails a debate on universal values ​​- tolerance, freedom of expression, the right to life from procreation to natural death, health, justice, meritocracy, the right to work and education. As a society, as a people, as a government how are we practicing these values?

National unity is not achieved by pointing fingers at someone. The success of this conference will be measured through the resulting action aimed at making every Maltese citizen truly feel part of one united nation.