The Times of Malta: A response to my Guardian article on bendy buses

Jessica Abrahams’s article ‘London’s old buses are driving Maltese round the bend’, which recently appeared in The Guardian, was a succinct, accurate look at the transport situation here in Malta, now that London’s discards and castaway bendy buses have suddenly turned up on our doorsteps – quite literally I’d say, especially in the limits of Marsascala.

Apart from making for an entertaining read, I found myself marvelling at how beautifully Abrahams managed to hone in and capture the essence of how completely wrong, ungainly and utterly alien these monstrous buses are to our “narrow streets, winding hills and medieval cities”, causing them to stick out like sore thumbs “with the grace of a rhino stuck in a Wendy house”.

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The Guardian: London’s old buses are driving Maltese round the bend

A traditional Maltese bus before the arrival of the "monstrous" bendy. Photo by Felix O

If you think Londoners are always complaining about public transport, you should try catching a bus in Malta. Travel problems have become so bad that a man went on hunger strike over modified bus routes this summer, a situation that was only diffused when the prime minister paid a personal visit to the aggrieved and convinced him to eat two kiwi fruits. Last month hundreds of disgruntled commuters marched through the streets in protest about the new system.

And now, to add more spice to the situation, British transport company Arriva has shipped its bendy buses over to the island.

The exact same buses, in fact, to which Boris Johnson bid a “final but not fond farewell” when they were removed from London on Friday because they couldn’t navigate the city’s narrow streets.

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The Huffington Post: The Catholics fighting to defect from the Church

A group of disaffected Catholics in Malta have been forced to resort to civil law after they were unable to terminate their membership of the Church earlier this year. They join a string of organisations set up in recent years to push for the right to formally defect from the Catholicism.

Not In Our Name was founded earlier this year as a response to the abysmal behaviour of the Maltese Church during the referendum campaign to introduce divorce, which included refusing absolution to parishioners intending to vote for divorce and pressurising the elderly and vulnerable to vote against it.

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The Guardian: Malta’s divorce debate could do without heavy religious pressure

A billboard reads "Christ Yes, Divorce No". Photo by van brussel

On Saturday, the Maltese people go to the ballot box to decide whether or not their country should make divorce legal.

Malta and the Philippines are the only two countries left in the world where divorce remains unavailable, with the exception of Vatican City. Marriage laws have been a politically contentious issue in the island nation for decades. While it is currently not possible for Maltese courts to dissolve a marriage, divorces obtained by citizens overseas are legally recognised, which is not the case in the Philippines. Those unable to seek a divorce elsewhere have two alternatives. Legal separation enables the division of shared property but partners cannot remarry. Annulment allows for this possibility but then the couple’s own marriage is considered to have never existed. They need to show that it was invalid from the start.

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The Guardian: Divorce, Maltese style

Crowds gather outside a church during the festival of Santa Marija in Malta. The Church's influence on the island is one of the main reasons for divorce remaining unavailable. Photo by Julien Lozelli

On Sunday, Malta Labour party MP Adrian Vassallo announced that he will be standing down over plans to allow couples to divorce.

Let me explain. It may surprise some of you to learn that in Malta, a member of the Commonwealth and an EU state, divorce is still illegal. And this isn’t one of those outdated laws that they somehow never got around to changing, like cab drivers not being able to pick up people infected with plague. Malta was a British colony until 1964, and though divorce has been allowed for an elite few in British law for centuries, and for all citizens since 1857, banning divorce is something the Maltese people chose to do during the 1960s, by omitting it from their new constitution entirely. In the deeply Catholic nations of the Mediterranean this was relatively common at the time. Divorce was still illegal in countries like Italy, Portugal and Spain, and even in the Republic of Ireland. But these places all legalised divorce in the period between 1971 and 1994. Somehow Malta has found itself one of only two countries left in the world where divorce is still illegal, along with the Philippines.

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