Cami Appelgren is Malta’s most beloved environment campaigner and founder of Malta Clean Up, who recently ran for MEP elections on the Partit Demokratiku ticket. In the wake of news that Cami received death threats this past week, we have a chat about how Malta has changed for the worse, how her activism led to politics, what her favourite parts of the island are, and her future in politics.
1. What is it that you love/loved about Malta? What did Malta look like and feel like to a Swedish native? Has your perspective or opinion of Malta changed in your time living here?
When I stepped out from the airplane and met the Maltese host family I knew this was going to be my home one day. I felt welcome, I felt mutual respect, I found the Maltese to be curious about knowing more about me and how I saw things in life from a foreigner’s perspective. Bear in mind that these feelings where of that a 14-year old. But I never felt unsafe and was always very well looked after. I remember that I felt that Malta was paradise; blue sea, cliffs, sweet Maltese houses with people outside drinking tea and talking to their neighbours.
The last couple of year this changed, and fast. Most friends I had since I moved here have now left Malta due to over-construction, change in hospitality level, and also the cost of living is no longer very competitive. To put it simply – the unique quality of life has been lost.
2. … but it wasn’t until your children were about to start school that you decided to move to Malta permanently. Why was that?
I wanted my children to settle in one place and that’s why I decided to take that decision there and then. Bringing up children in Malta as a single parent was hard when having a 3 year old and 5 year old – imagine having toddlers. If you ask me there is not enough support system for working single parents, shift workers in specific, but that is changing and I’m sure it will look very different in some years time.
3. What pushed you into environmental activism in Malta specifically and what has the journey been like so far?
I became a diving instructor in 2012 and saw what many didn’t, the degradation of the seabed. It hurt seeing a decline in marine life and also the lack of willingness from the government to really effect change. So I decided to at least do my part. It has been one interesting journey and I am not joking when I tell describe it as one of “blood, sweat and tears”.
But they have also been years of joy, we have created big changes and effected many new legislations in this country by showing the decision-makers that we are to be listened to – or you won’t get my support in the election. We are finally standing up to be counted. I have got to know the most amazing people on this journey and I cherish each memory. It is empowering and encouraging to realise children regard you as role model, as well as adults. It makes me tear up at times, because I really just see myself as a normal resident doing what we all can do. I’m not more special than the rest of the humans in Malta.
4. You’ve mentioned that Malta’s size and the closeness of people to each other has helped you in your mission to clean up the environment and you’ve said that the local councils are helpful (you’ve even remarked on having a mayor’s number in your phone), but now that you’ve run for MEP, what more do you think the government should be doing?
Well, I have more than a mayor’a number on my phone 😉 But the most important numbers I have are those of the many volunteers whom I work with daily to try to meet society’s needs. No changes come from a political party. All changes are created by people and always start with one. True change develops from empowerment of the resident.
The government has to acknowledge this element of empowerment. But of course, having a nation with a free mind, and more so a critical mind, is a threat towards the greedy few…. and I will leave it there.
5. It was widely publicised that you left Facebook because you’d received death threats, what does this say about Malta’s relationship with progressive values in your opinion?
I strongly think that we have an issue in Malta with distinguishing between freedom of speech and hate speech. Every newspaper, political party and so on are enabling a breeding ground for hatred when they don’t know how to differentiate between these two. You can have a discussion about immigration without judging a whole group of people based on their origin. It is totally possible, and I had many very healthy discussions with people from the far right who understood this limit. The dangerous thing is when we allow hate speech, and even defend it by calling it “freedom of speech”. The line to threats is blurred and trespassed way more easily than it would be in a country where there is a clear stand against this behaviour.
6. What does a “perfect day” look like for Cami Appelgren?
I have a full time job of course and then I love spending time with family and friends. And the best part is to have healthy discussions with people offline and online about how I as an environmentalist can empower them to take steps towards being a better version of themselves when it comes to safeguarding the environment. Every end of the day I wish to feel that I have given something back to society.
7. What’s your favourite part of the island?
I love trekking so I would have to say the area around Ghajn Tuffieha or the totally other side of the island, coastal area of Siggiewi, Qrendi or Zurrieq. Wherever there is greenery literally, where you can take a walk and clear your mind without breathing in construction dust.
8. Why did you choose PD as opposed to any other party?
I am liberal leaning and have always been. ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) has always been the group I identify with, hence PD became the obvious place for me. I see them as a party of doers and also very tolerant in the way that they allowed me to have my liberal views and were up for healthy discussions. Being an environmentalist doesn’t mean you have to belong to a specific party, all parties have to be “green” if we want a future.
Being an environmentalist doesn’t mean you have to belong to a specific party, all parties have to be “green” if we want a future.Camilla Appelgren
9. Cami Appelgren is obviously more than just an activist or politician, what are your others interests and aspirations – do you have any other ambitions?
I nearly died of meningitis as a teenager. I remember one thing even though the memories are quite blurry, and that is the feeling of not wanting to die without having given my utmost to the world.
I promised myself at that point that if I’m ever laying in a hospital bed in a similar situation, I will be able to tell myself I did what I could. This has become my life motto. No one can do it all, hence we have to choose a bit of an area to concentrate on. Being brought up with nature around me and therefore being very connected to it, I decided that I will dedicate my life to this purpose. I’m a keen diver, dog person and outdoor geek. All of these goes very well hand-in-hand with my life mission to safeguard the Maltese environment.
10. What do the MEP results tell you about Malta and the Maltese and their understanding of the environmental problems plaguing the island?
I think we still have to wake up. I am very pleased with the results I got and it shows that the status quo is being challenged slightly. But “being the change you wish to see” has to be challenged further. We can’t only be the change, we need to encourage others to walk alongside while we are being the change. We need to speed up the process, we don’t have much time and to change the world we have to change human behaviour. That is where our energy has to be spent, and my knowledge in that area most likely led to the result I got – although I did a 100% online campaign (not accepting any private funding). When you communicate in the correct way with people and have in mind the receiver of the message and not so much about how I feel about what I’m saying, they will understand the message better. We have no time for greenwashing or 10-20 year goals. We need change now.
I got 5154 votes in total. I am dedicating all my posts to these voters, one by one, to honour their trust in me. By the time of next election, I will have honoured them all. Let’s see my result in the next election, I will stick to my online campaign with the strategy I’ve had up until now.
I believe in people, not money. I don’t want people to ever feel that they don’t have money to influence or that no change happen without money. Change starts with them, that is my message and how I lead. I’m also willing to take the hit, that’s my mission as a leader: I “eat last”. I lead by raising new leaders.