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Cross purposes

Naturists in Malta are facing huge challenges in gaining acceptance for their lifestyle choice.

The next time you complain about the ‘difficulties’ of being a naturist, spare a thought for your compatriots in Malta.

Hard to find a naturist beach, venue or swim club near you? Afraid to tell your boss or your neighbours about your pastime? Worried that people in general might think you are a bit odd?

Luxury, as the Monty Python team would say.

A dedicated naturist website - www.maltesenaturism.com - has been launched, but gaining acceptance or even tolerance for naturism in Malta is still very much an uphill struggle, and the fact that for the purposes of this feature, one of its leading advocates only wanted to be identified by his first name, Ian, speaks volumes.

Even the home page of the website comes with an ominous caveat, as those involved describe themselves as “an informal group of naturists trying to raise awareness and promote initiatives to encourage naturism in Malta, which as of date remains illegal and subject to criminal prosecution if reported to the authorities.”

“We have yet to develop a formal naturist organisation,” explains Ian, who discovered the joys of naturism about six years ago on holiday in Crete, “as it is very difficult to find people willing to be associated publicly with such a venture. We were on the verge of registering a naturist association with the government authorities but withdrew the application after we realised that doing so requires many annual bureaucratic compliance procedures, and there appeared to be little interest or enthusiasm from local naturists that we knew of to participate in the organisation.

“It is not hard to see why. Public nudity is outlawed and subject to criminal prosecution if caught, and even greater embarrassment if reported in the media. The general Maltese mentality is just not naturist-friendly. Whenever I have tried to initiate discussion on this subject with friends and colleagues at work, I am always painfully reminded how naturism is treated with scorn and ridicule and even as a weird thing to do in public.”

Attitude

Malta of course is Catholic, but so too are countries like France, Spain and Portugal, which have a much more relaxed attitude to naturism. So why does Malta in particular face these issues?

“Many local naturists I know of,” says Ian, “are quick to blame the Roman Catholic religion, which we know retains a strong hold on the local culture, upbringing and education of our citizens, even though Malta over recent years has - like many other developed countries - become more secular, and belief in religion has dropped considerably, especially among young people.

“But it is not that simple. Roman Catholic philosophy does not make an issue of public nudity as such, nor does it link it with the perceived problems caused by sexual freedom. In my opinion, the problem of naturism in Malta boils down to four main factors - the small size of the island, its dense population, the conservative mindset of the Maltese, and the familiarity of the islanders. Malta is the tenth smallest country in the world and the fourth most densely populated, with around half a million people spread over just 316 sq. km. The islands only have a handful of sandy natural beaches, which are easily overcrowded during the peak summer months. We have our share of remote coastal beauty spots that are not easily accessible and can afford some privacy to naturists, but again, in the peak of the holiday season, there always remains the possibilities of ‘textiles’ also discovering them, or private boats anchoring close to the shore.

“Malta also has a problem with social nudity due to the conservative nature of many of the population, who regard the public display of the naked body as a taboo. Nakedness in the Maltese mindset is perceived in the same way as it is in many Muslim states and is reflected in the upbringing of children. For many Maltese, it is a no-no if parents are seen naked in front of their children, and a mark of great disrespect if one undresses in front of others without covering themself.

“The final factor is the sense of familiarity that is prevalent on the island, whereby almost every person knows each other through family, work or social connections. By just revealing your surname, family roots and place of work, you become easily identifiable, and therefore too conscious of each other, and uncomfortable if seen publicly naked with people you are familiar with.”

All of the above, believes Ian, generates a deep sense of fear for most local naturists to go public or fight for the cause in the open. “This is why there is a general sense of apathy among Maltese naturists to organise themselves into a lobby group that can push for the cause of naturism. Consequently, the subject is conveniently shunned by both major political parties and the media, who argue that in their experience, there appears to be no demand for naturism. It is a Catch-22 situation.”

Effort

So where does naturism in Malta go from here?

“Over the past three years,” says Ian, “we have tried to organise some informal gatherings at the beach. We never succeeded in attracting more than ten people. For every event that is planned, many people will somehow always find an excuse why they cannot attend, citing work duties, family responsibilities, and so on. After all the effort that is involved, you realise that any attempt to organise something locally is barely worth it. Why not just take advantage of the naturist travel opportunities that exist beyond our shores, of which there are plenty?

“However, despite my despondent outlook on naturism in Malta, I have to mention a positive factor in this struggle - the support and encouragement we have received from the International Naturist Federation (INF), who offered to act as an intermediary, as they have also done in over a dozen other countries which have so far been unable to establish a naturist federation.

“They have sent an official communiqué to the Prime Minister of Malta, recommending two small measures that can help pave the way for the establishment of naturism in the country - the declaration of an official nudist beach (there is already a beach known as an unofficial nudist beach) and the de-criminalisation of public nudity. Sadly the Prime Minister’s Office to date has not even acknowledged the communication, let alone bothered to reply, but the INF will keep pressing.

“In reality however, I see only two possibilities for the naturist scene to take off here. One scenario could be an initiative by a future politician who believes in the beneficial effects of naturism and personally experiences it. Acting out of self-interest, this politician will fight for the cause, either on an individual basis or through the political party he represents.

“The other possibility could come from a person with vested business interests who would like to open a naturist resort, and believe that they can generate a profitable return from the venture. Such a businessperson would almost certainly have to push indirectly for the de-criminalisation of public nudity to offer naturist public facilities alongside the resort, especially if it based by the sea. With the right pressure and arguments for a strong business case that will be seen to help both the tourist industry and the Maltese economy, the government authorities would surely concede to any requests. After all it has to be pointed out that controversial business projects such as internet gaming, sale of passports to non-EU residents, gentlemen’s clubs and Chinese massage centres have all been given the green light to operate in Malta in recent times. Naturism, which does not have negative or harmful moral consequences, should not be a problem for the Maltese authorities to accept.

And if all else fails?

Ian smiles ruefully. “I can always book another holiday at Vritomartis…”

© PAUL ROUSE


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