The Brussels University Alliance has recognised Daphne Caruana and her family at their 2018 Difference Day event.
The Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression is awarded to a journalist, writer, artist, cultural thinker or any other person, association or institution that has made a vital contribution to protect and promote freedom of thinking and expression in an ever-changing, democratic society. Making a difference as regards these basic values is what the title is all about. The Honorary Title is jointly awarded by the Brussels University Alliance VUB and ULB.
The following is the acceptance speech by Andrew Caruana Galizia:
Ladies and gentlemen,
My family and I are deeply humbled by the honour the Brussels University Alliance has extended to my family and, above all, to my mother, Daphne.
As you’ve probably learnt by now, my mother wasn’t like most people.
Where many of us would first seek security, shelter and material well being, my mother sought meaning in life before anything else.
People would often ask her why she bothered doing what she did – whether it was worth the sacrifice, the hate, the ostracism, the impact on her health and her family.
Her reply was always: what else would I do, mark out the days playing cards at the beach? Because in the Malta my mother grew up in, that’s what women were expected to do for self-fulfilment.
But she took the mould her country gave her and shattered it into a million pieces.
She inspired a whole generation of women – and also men – to demand more of themselves, to demand more of their society and to demand more of the people who make the rules in our country.
My mother always knew she was never free to write. But she wanted to live in a country where freedom of the press and freedom of expression are unassailable rights. She believed the best way to get there was to test the boundaries of her freedom, rather than be constrained by them, despite the clear danger.
When she exposed the connections between a drug trafficker and the chief of the country’s armed forces, our front door was set on fire and our pet dog had its throat slit. My brothers and I were just children. She told us she had a left acandle on outside. And that our dog had eaten snail poison.
When she spoke up in defence of the rights of asylum seekers – who were, as they are now, completely voiceless – neo-Nazis set fire to our family home. Over ten years later, petrol used in the fire still oozes out from a tree in our garden. No one was ever brought to justice for that. Few even demanded it.
When my mother campaigned in the press in favour of Malta’s EU membership, the machinery of an entire political party was turned against her, transforming one young woman into a figure of hate for hundreds of thousands of people who had never once read her work. So great was her perceived influence on voters, that she was turned into a scapegoat for failed policies and a hundred failed political careers.
Since 2013, when she began exposing the corrupt, the cretinous and the complicit who make up Malta’s new ruling class, she found herself taking on an entire government. She was subjected to an abusive tax investigation, her bank account was frozen, and she was hit with dozens of lawsuits – 47 by the time she was killed, 34 of which we continue to fight as her heirs.
Foreseeing the manner of her own death, my mother once wrote that the only thing that would make her stop writing was for someone to take out a contract on her life.
By the time she was killed, she was completely isolated: senior government officials explicitly stated that they sought to deter her from writing. The leader of the opposition was fighting five libel cases against her over his links to organised crime.
Political parties led campaigns against her — always with the same aim: to stop her from writing — to stop her from informing the public and shaping its opinion.
Her last written words were: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”
She meant that literally. There was no one left to turn to. Our country’s institutions had been co-opted and subverted to serve private interests over those of the public. She knew there were no police, no prosecutors and no colleagues from the press standing between her and the dangerous people she exposed and ridiculed.
And yet she continued to write, to report, to mock, to entertain and to educate. She had for almost thirty years withstood everything and anything that anyone could throw at her.
While her readers saw everything they loved and recognised about Malta fall away before their eyes, my mother grew into not only an icon of freedom of expression but the country’s public conscience.
She knew her readers depended on her for their sanity and she knew she couldn’t abandon them, no matter how unbearable the pressure she faced. Instead her writing grew more strident, defiant and devastatingly powerful.
The freedom she won for herself became a threat to Malta’s ruling class and its associates — almost like an act of insubordination: daring them to do their worst.
When she was finally killed, it was like an act of desperation on the part of her enemies. A bomb. The nuclear option; when the threats, the lawsuits and the slander had failed to deter her.
As her son, I’d like to say that I was never prouder of my mother than the day she was killed and I was never more humbled by the example she gave me, my brothers and the world than the day she forced her enemies to kill her, rather than abandon her work.
Few doubt now how dangerous her enemies were. And yet what was my mother’s biggest fear in the days before she was killed? She told an interviewer ten days before her assassination that what worried her the most was that her example might discourage others — women in particular — from becoming journalists. She was worried that her victimisation had transformed her into a negative role model; an example of how wretched your life would become if you followed in her footsteps.
And one of the most tragic aspects of my mother’s assassination is that we cannot tell her how wrong she was: that she died not knowing what a positive example she had become. She died not knowing how many people have been inspired by her courage. And she died before we could repay the debt that so many of us owe her.
By honouring my mother and my family tonight, you are declaring to the world that all of us should look to my mother’s example and say that a life lived for others is worth a thousand selfish lives; a life lived with purpose is worth a thousand lived in indifference; and a life sacrificed in the search for truth is the greatest gift any of us can give back to the world.
So now let’s accept this gift my mother gave us and repay her with justice.