The authoritarian and populist repression perpetrated by the Joseph Muscat regime has now entered a new, ever uglier phase. The death of Daphne Caruana Galizia has removed from Labour’s sight the obvious focus of their derision and demagoguery, forcing them to scatter their attacks wider.
Of the many things Daphne Caruana Galizia was wrongly accused of, there was the unforgivable crime of writing in the English language which that very specific Mintoffian breed of sectarian prejudice particularly despises. I doubt any of the attacks she got about that preference were really from people who were frustrated they could not understand the original as I would be, say, for not being able to read the Illiad in the original Greek.
The real indictment was that “jarawh il-barranin”. And the modern version of that was “u jagħmlu gugil u jaraw kollox”.
One of the most horrifically callous things said about her death that I have seen, and I have seen plenty, was a genius suggesting she may have faked her death or perhaps inflicted it on herself because she had some terminal illness. The intent would be to logically extend by the act of dying what she did throughout her living: to harm Labour and by extension what they perceive as the image of the nation they want to project.
This is the classic accusation inherited from Dom Mintoff’s days. There is a picture post card illusion of Malta that is the product of the government’s official story. No doubt a service-based economy is particularly sensitive to the reputation the country enjoys. But when Labour policies damage the reputation of the country, the government expects everyone realises it is their patriotic duty to cover for the government.
Love of country and loyalty to government are bound as indivisible principles. One is dishonest and untruthful without the other. You cannot claim to be Maltese – or rather to use positive terms, you are a traitor – if you express disagreement with the government, particularly outside the country.
Facing Robert Musumeci and to a lesser extent Charlon Gouder Friday on Xarabank I was charged with this indictment. Like Daphne Caruana Galizia I am critical of the government. This harms the country because outsiders get an image from my writings that is inconsistent with the official spiel the government projects.
In place of the pomp and circumstance the government invested millions in during the EU presidency, they get an image of a prime minister seeped in and trapped by corruption. In place of an exemplary economy, they get an unsustainable gamble patched over by the immoral sale of passports. In place of the ‘best in Europe’ image we project, they find that the fundamental European requirements of equality before the law and institutional autonomy are in serious jeopardy if not crushed under outright suppression.
But the message from these government spokesmen is that the fault for the harm caused to our country’s reputation abroad lies with the government’s critics not with the government itself.
In truth the international journalists that came to Malta did not fly in on the instructions of Simon Busuttil, Petra Caruana Dingli, Andrew Borg Cardona, me or – the horror of the idea – Daphne Caruana Galizia. They flew in because in the paradise they thought Malta wa,s a car exploded with a journalist inside. And that is a story in itself.
Then they needed to ask what was going on.
The deeply wounding damage to our reputation was done when the government shrugged off the incident. When the police refused to brief the press for four days after her death. When the political parties failed to take the cue and lead the country’s grief. When, while the fire was barely out, Labour politicians started spinning and victim-blaming. When the prime minister went on CNN of all places to speak about how much he had suffered at the hands of the victim. When the President forgot the dignity of her office and ran the errand for her government to try to strong-arm the victim’s relatives into ‘endorsing’ the reward the government offered. When the prime minister took time off to sell passports in Dubai.
What somehow mitigated that damage was that the international press found people who spoke honestly and openly about their grief and critically about the political class. They saw marches and protests and demonstrations that happened in spite of the political parties rather than because of them. They met an Archbishop who would not mince words about the need for transparency, justice and clear public administration. And they met journalists who did not cower in fear after what happened but took on the solemn commitment of continuing Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work.
What dampened the encouragement derived from these signals of life for our democratic culture, was the renewed heat of the venom and the aggression. Less than two weeks from when a journalist was killed on the last day of a lifetime of threats, arsons, a failed attempt on her and her family’s life, the venom, the hate and the dehumanisation started again. It was as if nothing happened. Same hate, scattered targets.
Someone sent me a piece Daphne Caruana Galizia had written after one of the many biċċa blogger speeches in Parliament by a male politician with a foot in private practice and another in parliament, financially and politically secure with the infrastructure of a party having his back, attacking a one-man show of a journalist working in her kitchen on her own dime and calling her out for “hate”.
Take the time to read it all again but in the meantime here are some pointed extracts:
“Only the very secure and completely self-assured can do what I do in such a hostile and dangerous climate, and withstand such tsunamis of malice, gossip, poison-writing, venomous pot-stirring, constant invasion of my privacy, ill-wishing and deliberate sabotage for TWENTY-SIX YEARS.
“I have had my house set on fire twice, the first time when I was just 30, the second time a full-on conflagration involving jerry-cans of petrol and several truck-tyres packed with bottles of petrol, set against a row of glass doors leading to the bedrooms at 3am – not an arson attack, but attempted murder. And those Labour w*nkers think they’re going to stop me by howling about “hate blokkers”, calling me names and discussing the various aspects of my physical appearance.
“I have been doing this for so long that my sons, now all aged 30 or thereabouts, know nothing else. One of them was in nappies when I started writing a newspaper column, the other two in kindergarten. They grew up thinking it was completely normal to have your mother’s name all over the newspapers and on the tip of politicians’ tongues, to have your house set on fire, to have police at your gate either to guard your mother or arrest her, to have her check the underside of the car for bombs before taking you to school, to answer the home telephone to find some anonymous nutjob spouting obscenities at you when you’re only eight years old, to find parcels of human excrement in the post, to see your mother ripped to shreds on Labour Party television, portrayed as a witch in Labour Party newspapers and gossiped about endlessly and viciously by people you know, and their parents, on Facebook.”
The world press have become aware that this is happening in Malta because they were not watching before now. Even as Daphne wrote in English.
They are now.