Naturism in Malta: Historical aspect, issues and a legalisation implementation plan

19/3/2014

By G. Camilleri (maltanudist@gmail.com)

The author is the founding member of the ‘Legalize Nudist beaches and topless bathing in Malta’ pressure group.

INTRODUCTION

Despite that Malta shares common European values and aspirations, it is the only European country were bona fide naturists are still taken to court.  In Malta both topless bathing and naturist beaches are illegal and a ‘skinny dipper’ could even be imprisoned (http://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2010/08/malta-in-2010-where-skinny-dipping-gets-you-a-prison-sentence/). Due to the illegality of naturism many Maltese naturists either do not practice this activity or risk doing so. The Nationalist Party (PN) governed Malta for twenty five years and it was only a year ago that the Labour party (PL) came to power.

1) MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT US OR NATURISM:

A)  ISSUE:Because we sometimes criticize the current labour government some media labelled us as a ‘satellite’ of the opposition PN party.

    ANSWER: In our cause we are non-political and we are liberal. Thus we represent members from both political parties. By putting up facts and criticising a government or opposition were duly so, one is strengthening such authority and not weakening it! We criticise PN as well! In fact, many of us voted PL due to its promise to give full civil rights to minority groups.

B)  ISSUE: Naturism is against religion

     ANSWER:Our body was created in the image of God and it is us humans that we sexualized it! Few know that future saint Pope Paul II defended naturism and that baptising and being baptised during the time of Christ was done naked! Please see our blog article which includes input from Reverend Father Dr Mark Montebello (https://maltanudist.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/naturism-the-bible-and-the-catholic-church/)

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God created us in his image

C)  ISSUE: Naturism is linked to sexual activities

ANSWER: This is not so. International naturism follows strict ethical guidelines in which sexual activities at a legal naturist spot are not allowed.  In Malta, I believe that society is largely suppressed (e.g. we have one of the highest porn usage in the world yet we claim that we are strong Catholics) thus yes many Maltese view naturism as akin to sexuality. This is a misconception and is due to a lack of education on the subject.

In order to legalise naturism one needs to discuss and implement ways to educate society and monitor such naturist sites. Once these legal areas are established, societal acceptance of such should follow rather quickly (so did divorce a few years ago). In my opinion due to sexual imagination of a hidden object, there is more lust occurring on normal beaches than naturist beaches. According to the ‘forbidden fruit’ phenomenon there is nothing more to see beyond the skin of a naked body and thus this becomes normal and acceptable. This is so in the case of naked tribes. Nudity amongst tribes does not lead to increased sexual activity as the human body is not sexualized there.  Some Christian naturists believe that the sexualisation of the human body in the Western world is the work of the devil himself. When porn was banned in Malta I bought some pornographic magazines on the black market but when I migrated to Canada these magazines were readily available so I bought none!

2)  POLITICAL

 Maltese governments fear losing votes or creating social turmoil if they introduce legal naturist areas.

Whilst this is so I think that losing votes is purely another misconception (see section on polls), however, there are means to counteract this fear. For example,

A)  By keeping the issue non-political and involving both parties. PN as you are aware did very little for our cause in 25 years, however there was an important step in 2012 when the then Justice ministry in view of common nude offenses, issued a statement which reads’

‘the government was in the process of reviewing all possible offences and some might eventually be “decriminalised”.

“Once this happens, these offences will no longer be dealt with by the criminal courts but by regional tribunals, as is already the case for traffic and certain environmental offences.

“Individuals accused of such offences will also be able to settle fines electronically, by post or at one of the local councils’ offices.”(http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120801/local/View-from-the-beach-.431006).

B)By introducing naturism in a step by step process. For example, one first legalises the right for private enterprises to operate naturist saunas, areas such as roof top swimming pools on hotels and private resorts. These permits must include concessions to give Maltese citizens reasonable entry fees. By this, naturist areas are controlled and monitored by private enterprise. After a period of a small number of years the government considers legalising naturist beaches.

C) By educating the public (through TV discussion and informative programs) on what is naturism and what would be its economic benefit to Malta

3) ECONOMICAL BENEFIT

Fifty five % of all Europeans in a Trip Advisor survey said that they are willing to go nude whilst only 19% said no. Similarly 49% of Americans are willing to go nude. In America the naturist industry is worth $440 million pa. Interestingly a similar ratio of Maltese indicated that they would like the choice to swim at a nudist beach (see poll section).

Croatia generates 15-20% of all its tourist related income from naturist activity alone. In Malta we have BETTER CLIMATE! The argument that in Malta we do not have enough sites or that naturist areas require existing beaches is a FALLACY! For example, there is plenty of space on Comino island or on already existing land such as the currently non-operating Selmun palace hotel with surrounding Mgiebagh bay or the currently non-operating ‘White Rocks’ complex at Bahar ic-Caghaq. I anticipate that with naturist resorts including the development of naturist health spas and public beaches Malta could generate up to 30% more touristic activities with all its ECONOMIC benefit. Hotels such as Golden Bay’s Remisson could built a roof naturist swimming area. Cruise liners that operate naturist areas (such as Mein Shiff) at present cannot enter Malta or have to close those areas before entering Maltese waters. The current government also is in support of land reclamation from the sea and thereby entire resorts could be created by this method alone. The current unofficial naturist beaches already occupy some space so legalising them won’t change anything in terms of space.

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TripAdvisor international survey result on naturism. A significant number of participants said that they have no issue with being naked at a naturist beach.

The leader of a small political group ‘Alleanza liberali’ said that he was approached by a German businessman who said that he could bring over a million naturist tourists per year. That is 100% of the current tourist figures! Unfortunately we do not have adequate facilities and infrastructure to allow for this and such high numbers would be detrimental and not beneficial.

Whilst other countries such as Spain are ‘fighting’ to attract and compete for naturist tourists, Malta is not and thereby it is not benefiting from this ‘goldmine’ industry. Italy introduced naturism not long ago and the main reason to do this was in order to compete with other European countries to attract naturist tourists. Even America, a continent away and some 10 hours from Europe does its utmost to attract European naturists (http://www.naturistcapitalusa.org/eurobird.htm).

As an example of EU countries trying to attract the naturist traveller let’s see what Portugal had to say on the subject:

‘’Spain and France thrive in this market and Croatia is yet again a destination of choice.

12 of the 20 million European naturists buy “naturist vacations” every year. The United States add a potential of 40 million, alongside the rest of the world, including Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, etc, with populations of the upper-middle class that frequently take vacations abroad and where the naturist community is very strong.

A wonderful country, with one of the best climates in Europe, Portugal is one of the 15 most popular destinations in the world – we are talking about a potential of about 80 million possible customers.” (http://portugalnaturista.com/naturism/).

Like Portugal we too have a very good climate. Due to our small size we have limitations but we can adapt to tap into this ‘gold mine’ of opportunity too.

The Maltese culturally are known to resist change but when one mentions that this change will add a significant amount of money to their pocket as well as possibly employ their children either directly or indirectly they quickly forget about their ‘resistance’ to change!

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4) MALTESE POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CULTURE AND LEGAL MATTERS

Article 338 (q) of the Maltese criminal code states: “Every person is guilty of a contravention against public order who in the harbours, on the seashore or in any other public place, exposes himself naked or is indecently dressed.”

I feel that  the term ‘ indecency dressed’  as described here is probably  in violation of article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the alleged ground that the expression “indecently dressed: is vague and uncertain”. For example, G-strings are allowed nowadays whilst the bikini at some point was not.  Many complain that Paceville and other areas are well known for having persons that are ‘indecently dressed’. Due to this ambiguous nature of this article it needs to be changed in order to reflect  modern times! The interpretation of what is indecent is then currently in the hands of a local magistrate. The European Union states that laws need to be clear and understandable and not interpreted differently!

In 2007 a Maltese lawyer Joseph Giglio commenting on the adult industry in an article entitled ‘Is this Malta 2007 or Taliban philosophy’ said

“I want to live in a country where a decision whether to frequent or not this type of club it taken by me… and not imposed by the state… This is why Malta signed so many conventions,”(http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20070202/local/is-this-malta-2007-or-taliban-philosophy-lawyer-asks.27749).

 During PN’s administration in 2009 police acted to remove nude mannequins that had no genitals. These mannequins were set up by a shop owner to protest against sex slavery. Police said that they had acted as some influential person had reported the matter (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20091018/local/police-get-shirty-over-nude-mannequins.277911). This means that at that time not only the magistrates could interpret our ambiguous morality laws but influential persons could too!!! Although Archbishop Gonzi’s stance to have morality police, thank God did not succeed, here in 2009 European Malta we had the police and influential persons acting like guardians of morality as well! The church in those days often acted as morality police. A British lady informed us that once she was told off  by a priest  in Malta for just having bare arms in the street! As far as I know only in Iran similar mannequins are removed!


The mannequins removed by police from a shop window

The mannequins removed by police from a shop window

When a phallic monument was erected beside our airport there was uproar when the Pope was visiting Malta. This monument was hidden with banners for the Pope’s visit and many wanted it removed. It was vandalised many times but it is still standing (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8617305.stm).

PHALLUS

Phallic monument in Malta

The PN government rightly did not remove it. The current Parliamentary Secretary Jose Herrera speaking about the relaxation of the censorship laws in December 2013 said:

“In this area it is advisable to tread cautiously, and I see no reason why we should disturb the present legal framework which deals with morality crimes, but only create an exception with regards to art and culture.” (http://ads.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Herrera-promises-holistic-reform-of-censorship-law-20131130).

By this it means that PL has plans to relax all art censorship laws but not nudity laws. This means that one can see nude images and other artwork of the human body but the human form remains censored from being naked at an allocated legal public spot. Mark Camilleri in his facebook page ‘Front kontra c-censura’ (Front against censorship) said that not even art is going to be fully free of censorship, quoting ‘M’hu vera xejn li ħa titneħħa ċ-ċensura fl-arti kif qed jiġi rrappurtat fil-mezzi tax-xandir jew kif qal Jose Herrera. Li ħa jiġri hu, skont kif qed jgħid Herrera, li fit-teatru u l-esebizzjonijiet artistiċi, ċertu liġijiet ta’ ċensura mhux ser japplikaw. Pass tajjeb imma ma jibda imkien mal-proposti tal-Front Kotnra ċ-Ċensura’, translation ‘It is not true  that art censorship is going to be abolished completely as being reported in the media or as said by Jose Herrera. What according to  Herrera is going to happen is that in theatre and art exhibitions certain censorship laws would not apply, a good step but this is nothing compared to what ‘Front kontra c-censura has proposed.”  PN took twenty four years to be prepared to relax nudity laws by decimalizing them and this government given by what Mr Herrera said, does not want to!  Is PL progressive or regressive?

We believe that liberal MP’s in Malta are always somehow suppressed (by their own political culture and not due to intimidation) from expressing their liberal views. This may be due that in Maltese politics a member of parliament is expected not to criticise their party and always follow up whatever their leader says. This culture is evident in the political party’s media. This media is full of political propaganda that is always against the opposition and never criticise their own. In the case of the PN administration the divorce issue brought out many criticism from some liberal members of their own party. We see constructive criticism and openness as healthy and we hope that this climate evolves in Maltese politics too. To put an analogy, Maltese parliamentarians should not be like a herd of sheep following their leader but also engage in expressing their own ideas even if these do not always are in line with their party’s. On the other hand Maltese society should be educated enough to understand this. Due to this factor the subject of naturism has been suppressed for many years as if it is a big taboo subject that should not be discussed and as if politicians think that Maltese society is too stupid and not ready for it.

Both parties literally did very little to remove persons from illegally occupying public land by building boathouses without permission. In some instances like Armier these look like shanty towns! We agree with a comment from, http://ramblersassociation.blogspot.com/ that reads ”To both leaders..  The only solution is to return the land in its original state & the encroachers have to pay a hefty fine!! Any other solution is unacceptable for the law abiding citizen!!!” We agree and add, how about you take the land from persons who broke the law and give some land to the law abiding naturists?!

CONTACT WITH POLITICAL PARTIES

I had corresponded with the current government when they were in opposition.  The then opposition party had said that they do not think that naturism is a priority for Malta. I had answered that improving the Maltese economy by diversifying and adding tourism figures plus giving more civil rights was a priority under PL’s election manifesto, and naturism does both! That party then said that they ‘understand’. When we contacted the current civil rights minister she said that naturism was not on PL’s agenda. We again agree, not directly on the agenda but the promise of civil rights to all minority groups was! Similarly we had corresponded with members of the then PN government. We are currently in discussions with some parliamentary members of both political parties. These meetings are confidential.

The current government promised reform in the justice system and last year asked the public to submit feedback so that it will be taken into consideration. We did this however, we have so far received no acknowledgment for our input.

5) NATURISM AS A RIGHT

Naturism can be described as ‘a liberating lifestyle and belief which encourages self-respect, respect for others and for the environment, and embodies freedom and a unique sense of communion with nature. Christian naturists see this as God’s design for living. It is purposefully non-erotic and non-sexual and engenders a wholesome appreciation of self and others’. Thus we feel that naturists have a solemn right to practice their belief. Not only that but since we are part of Europe, with shared values and freedom of movement we feel that European and international naturists also have a right to practice their belief when visiting or living in Malta!

The Maltese Constitution gives and protect the freedom of expression and right of religion (naturism as a belief can be fully or partly be a religion as well) to any Maltese citizen yet the law removes that right by making naturism illegal in all areas. The times have changed and what was viewed as immoral in the 60’s such as the bikini is now accepted. Even the G-string is accepted. Naturism is part of civil rights and is accepted throughout Europe. Malta is the only country in Europe were naturists are taken to court, often because they are easy targets for the police.

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6) MALTA AND IRELAND

Malta and Ireland have a similar legal situation that is the result of an archaic English law system that has not been updated to reflect the times, in which nudity is considered immoral. We also share a similar religious Catholic culture.

Quoting from the Irish Naturist Organisation, ‘Despite the unfavourable legal situation, no member of the Irish Naturist Association has ever been prosecuted for bona-fide naturist activities. In reality, despite what the law says, the police are not interested in taking any action against naturists provided we behave in a responsible and considerate manner. If you wish to swim or sunbathe nude please use one of the beaches or bathing places listed here or a suitable secluded area. Please use discretion and common sense at all times.’ unquote (emphasis added by the author), http://www.irishnaturism.org/legal.html).

In Malta, however, police regularly take bona fide naturists to court and keep surveillance on such activities (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20131001/local/Police-use-binoculars-to-keep-eye-on-nudists-.488475). In just one day in September of 2013, twelve naturists were issued with court summons from one spot alone.

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7) POLICE ACTION

During Mintoff’s labour government there was no police action against naturists. Although this may have had to do with Mintoff’s liberal idealism it certainly also had to do with the lack of police surveillance equipment and no mobile phones to make direct reports. During the preceding twenty five years of PN administration, mobile phones and high speed police dinghies became available. Police not always used ethical guidelines when dealing with bona fide naturists. In some instances they told naturists that they should be ashamed of themselves and made remarks such as ‘Do you consider yourself Catholics?!’, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?’  and ‘you dirty man’.  On many occasions police threatened Maltese and foreign tourists alike to take them on their rubber dinghy to their HQ unless they produce identification.  In sometimes heavy seas this is highly unethical. Also of consideration is that many websites cite Malta as having naturist beaches whilst the government tourist information site does not issue warnings that naturism is illegal. Since there are no signs at unofficial naturist beaches that such activity is illegal, tourists assume that nudity there is acceptable only to face the police who issue them with court summons. In some main beaches there are signs saying that ‘indecent behaviour’ was not allowed but for many tourists’ naturism and topless bathing is NOT INDECENT! In many European countries such as Germany, Spain and Denmark, one can strip naked anywhere they like provided that his/her behaviour is responsible and accepted by others! This matter of unethical practice from the tourism ministry and police was raised with the Maltese European Ombudsman some years ago. In this ombudsman case the then tourism ministry had said that they do not need to warn tourists with signs! In European Malta we feel that this (not informing foreigners that naturism was not allowed and then issuing them with court summons and threatening them to take them away on a dinghy unless they produce identification) was highly unethical and directly goes against European conventions of human rights. This is similar to a driver who is driving a car on a highway that has no speed limit signs, being stopped by police and given a court summons for driving at 65 km/hr!   Even in the 1960’s police were told to use ethical tactics when dealing with tourists, quoting:

‘They were also expected to take action against “indecent behavior and extreme kissing and cuddling in public spaces”. But a “tactful approach” was recommended when visitors or tourists are involved as these may genuinely be unaware of these rules, provided that they take immediate steps to cover up the ‘indecent’ bathing costume.’ (emphasis added by the author) http://mt-archive.dev.alert.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Cabinet-papers-Borg-Olivier-s-no-to-Gonzi-s-morality-police-20140209).

During the later years of PN administration and nowadays police seem to be using a more ethical and professional approach and many of them actually tell skinny dippers who are caught in the act that they personally do not believe that the nudists are doing anything wrong but that they, as police officers have to act on reports as the law against naturism is there. We agree! In this same period mentioned,  bona fide naturists that are taken to court normally only receive a warning and no fines are given. The law MUST BE CHANGED!

6) OTHER HISTORICAL ASPECTS

In the 1960’s the only truly radical and liberal PM we ever had, Hon. Mintoff  when he was in opposition based his 6th social change amendment point on making morality in Malta in par with Western standards and this was when skinny dipping in Malta was rather popular, the contraceptive pill became available elsewhere and sexual revolutions were taking place! The then archbishop Gonzi was at the same time putting pressure on the then government to make a moral police force to control amongst other things females wearing bikinis! The then PN PM Hon. Borg Olivier (also a great liberal) refused to set up a morality police on the grounds that Malta would scare tourists away (tourism is our national main income).  Rumours say that Mintoff occasionally skinny dipped and Mons Sapiano in a letter to ‘The Tablet’ Page 19, 11th April 1964 said,

‘Mr. Mintoff has proposed another amendment, to the effect that public morality and decency shall be interpreted according to the principles generally accepted in Western Europe, not according to the morality of one particular creed.’ and ‘The amendment could be so interpreted as to sanction, for example, neopagan nudism’., unquote (emphasis added by the author).

Skinny dipping in Malta has been popular since British forces arrived here and in the 1960’s it was quite common, practiced in more spots than it is today and Maltese were introduced to this activity by the Brits (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100826/letters/my-experience-of-skinny-dipping-in-the-1960s.324024).

Our present Hon. PM, promised that the church should be separate from the state yet the church is still making considerable pressure on politicians and society in general. The divorce issue not long ago and lately gay rights is proof of this. On the other hand the church has a right of opinion and expression.

7) POLLS & VOX POPOLI

Several polls on the acceptance of nudist beaches in Malta show that a majority or a significant percentage of Maltese persons are indeed in favour that naturists have a right for a public beach or beaches. In a poll result issued in June, 2013 (http://www.inewsmalta.com/dart/20130604-favur-bajjiet-an-nudisti) out of about 4000 votes (the population of Malta is only 420,000), 60.42% (2,453) showed that they are in favour and 39.58% (1,608) against. In the same article, shadow minister for tourism Hon. Robert Arrigo said that PN is awaiting PL’s statement on naturism in Malta. Another current ongoing poll by Andrew Azzopardi also shows that the majority of participants would like to have a choice in choosing which beach to go to, by having naturist beaches too!

Some TV and radio programs when discussing naturist beaches asked people on the street what they thought on legalising nudist beaches. Several persons disagreed but when the presenter re phrased the question to ‘ also if these sites do not touch current established clothed beaches?’  A significant number of those being questioned then agreed that naturists should have a right to their own spot! This shows that the population is largely misinformed about the subject and a good educational campaign would eradicate many misconceptions associated with naturism.

8) MONITORING OF NATURIST AREAS

Should public naturist beaches become legalised these need to be monitored so that they comply with established ethical standards such as to ensure that no sexual activities take place and keeping voyeurs away from these spots. In our view, since naturist beaches generate extra income by attracting foreign naturists the government can use some of this income by funding monitoring systems such as the existing police patrols by the use of fast craft. In our view, this method need to be improved and other methods (such as the use of local council wardens patrolling  a few times per week) can be implemented especially during the first years of operation. Once legalised a naturist beach is usually self-monitored as naturists themselves would have the option to report any behavior that does not follow naturist ethical guidelines. At present bona fide naturists cannot do this as they are also breaking the law! Therefore for this reason unofficial naturist beaches  are more prone to behaviors that are not welcome in legal areas.

9) OUR WISHES

We wish that the government immediately sets up a committee to discuss the legalisation of naturist areas. This committee needs to be made up of parliamentarians from both parties and interested members such as ourselves and the private enterprise. The International Naturist Federation (should they agree) are suggested as consultants at some stages of program implementation. Ecological conservation entities as well as a MEPA (local land development and protection agency) representative also need to be involved at some stage.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, we have seen many changes in the fabric of Maltese society.  In the 1960’s there were great ‘moral battles’ that should have affected change quicker but due to factors such as influence from the then very powerful church this did not. Divorce was passed two years ago through a national referendum. Soon parliament is passing legislation to rightly give gay couples the right to form civil unions. Maltese society through its culture initially is known to resist changes to its social fabric, however, through the integration with Europe, communication advances such as internet, increased travel as well as other factors, quickly adapts to social change and modernity.  The Maltese society is thus changing rapidly with liberalism increasing in favour! It is 2014, we are in Europe, we share European values and borders, yet we still do not have naturist facilities! Let’s hope that the current government reverses this! There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH BONA FIDE NATURISM whilst there is many WRONG with the sexualisation of the human body. The Maltese Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and right of belief. Naturists are entitled for their belief and therefore legal naturist spots should become a choice to Maltese, foreign residents as well as foreign tourists. LET’S START THE BALL ROLLING TO CHANGE THE LAW and allow naturism!

To the current PL government we say ‘Naturism is part of the freedom of expression and right of belief and thus it is part of fundamental civil rights, the same rights that in your election manifesto you vowed to defend and prioritize! After all dog friendly beaches were created soon after you came to power and these were not on your political agenda! It DOES NOT take much to create a committee to discuss the subject! After all I am sure that Hon. Mintoff and probably even Hon. Borg Olivier (if the current positive climate and EU integration existed back then) would have done this many years ago! I close by rephrasing Joseph Giglio’s quote and add:

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