A day or two after the election result from last June I wrote an essay to try to make sense of an election result I could not understand. Daphne Caruana Galizia read it and linked it on her website. She said it was the analysis she intended to write but had not found the time for.
The hours following June’s election results were not exactly happy days for me. But I admit Daphne’s remarks on her blog about that article excited me and made me want to write more.
I did not know Daphne personally very much at the time. In my previous life working in politics I had a handful of brief conversations with her. But there is no other way to describe my admiration for her work than geeky fandom. Her writing, the wit, precision, turn of phrase and sharp, incisive economy of it was world-class. The clarity of her thinking, the cogency of her arguments, the elegance and dread silence of her blows were inimitable.
I was amused by her elitism because it was not propertied or emanating from a caste haughtiness. She was fastidious about manners, posture, appearance, behaviour and etiquette and though many criticised her as anachronistic and colonial, her seemingly disproportionate peeves reflected a deeper moral sense of propriety.
She had no patience for fakery, superficiality and that shallow and giggly bonhomie that is not the preserve of the rich or the poor, the urban or the rural, the patrician or the proletarian, but the prerogative of the sneaky and the disingenuous. She could not stand dishonesty wherever it came from and she fished it out intuitively even as everyone was besotted by the offensive charm that she was pathologically immune to.
Across all those years of her journalism if there is one single underlying theme connecting the subjects she pursued and the interests she explored that would have to be separating sincerity from deception. Her transparent aesthetic passions as well as her toughest political fights were about digging out the real and discarding the rest.
In 1995 I was 19 years old. She had written an article on her Sunday column that had shaken the country in a way that no newspaper piece ever had before or since. It was called This is no normal democracy.
Distilled to its refined essence she was calling out the impropriety of political incest, the flimsiness of administrative Chinese doors, and the dizzying swirl of multiple hats on bald, old, controlling hands with fingers in way too many pies.
Those words – this is no normal democracy – were the theme of her journalistic career. Because her ambition for her herself, her sons, her country was, at the end of all things, a humble, humbling desire for normality.
But she lived and died in a country where a police inspector who held her in a dingy cell and tried to put the fear of God in her when she was a young student activist, would eventually become Speaker of our parliament.
She lived and died in a country where writing every day, researching and taking risks and protecting sources would not be called journalism but blogging, used as a deprecating moniker to describe her as a fraud stripped of the basic protections reserved for professionals. Where her professional colleagues called her “queen of bile” and “biċċa blogger” and “saħħara tal-Bidnija” because the dehumanisation of holders of opinions here is not the purview of desperate politicians but actual colleagues in the press.
She lived and died in a country where 30 years of excellence and uniqueness of unequalled journalistic quality did nothing in the hegemony’s eyes to stop thinking of her as an upstart whose proper place is to fuss over Sunday dinner and matching curtains not pretend to be a man in a man’s world.
She lived and died in a democracy where corrupt politicians won elections and where evidence of graft did nothing to sway popular opinion and voter behaviour.
Every day she reminded us this is no normal democracy. Every day she was right. But even as she knew it she never gave up. And she kept reminding us right up to the moment she was no more.
And she would have said this is no normal democracy again if she could bear to sit through the speeches of Adrian Delia and Joseph Muscat that put aside the budget debate to discuss the significance of her assassination.
She would have brought out her sharp surgery scalpels to carve out the insincerity.
She would have railed at the banal rudeness of MPs finding reasons to applaud in that schoolboy banging of the table they do to congratulate their leader when they feel he’s scored a rhetorical point. She would have scolded them for even finding a reason to break the requirement of basic decency of avoiding rambunctiousness at what effectively was her secular funeral.
She would have remarked how Adrian Delia said all the right things but inevitably sounded hollow as he attempted to radiate anterograde amnesia and cancel from everyone’s memory the fact that the central theme of his election to the new office he was occupying was the wiping of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s “agenda”. By adopting wholesale the slander long spewed by the Labour Party that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s writings possessed a zombie PN, Adrian Delia handicapped the moral authority of the opposition to hold the government to account.
But she would have said he was right. The prime minister should go. Ministers Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona should go. Keith Schembri should go. The attorney general and the police commissioner should go. But that was true way before Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed. If this had been a normal democracy.
And then she would have turned on Joseph Muscat. His revoltingly self-assured smugness, his schoolyard fixer wiliness, his supreme confidence that any revelation, any catastrophe will do nothing to damage his reputation with his party and his supporters for as long as the money keeps flowing.
He sat through Panama papers. He’ll sit through the tepid flutter in reaction to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s execution like you and I would sit through a sleepy lunch.
She would have linguistically eviscerated him for predictably exploiting the self-inflicted vulnerability of the PN opposition by convincing his gullible audience that as with anything unpleasant that happens in this country this is the Nationalists’s fault.
Once again she would have despondently reminded us this is no normal democracy.
And once again she would not have given up.