For the past week this monument behind me has been the theatre where ultra-partisan pro-government supporters felt entitled and emboldened to harass and assault people daring to place flowers and candles for truth and justice.
Contrary to the relentless propaganda pushed the government of Joseph Muscat and his fanatical supporters, this particular monument was not singled out by civil society in order to score tactical points, but arose spontaneously a day after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia when we were in the throes of shock and disbelief. We still are, to be perfectly honest. If memory serves me correctly, the first flowers and candles that were placed here in substantial numbers was the work of schoolchildren who were brought here by their teachers to instil in them a sense of civic awareness. Out of the mouths of babes, so to speak.
We did not choose this monument. The monument chose us. To be perfectly honest, any monument would have served its purpose but the fact that this monument here embodies faith, fortitude and civilisation is an unexpected bonus. We did not take over this monument as a substitution for a grave or to commemorate a historical figure. Daphne would have probably frowned at such an ostentatious display of devotion. We are not her supporters or fans, as some conveniently depict us, even in the press, for Daphne abhorred the cult of personality. Therefore, our flowers and candles are the expression of our condemnation of the killing of a journalist and the attack on the institutions that should safeguard freedom of expression. Even though we deeply mourn the loss of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it is but one element of our protest for we are driven by other forces: the demand for justice, the demand for journalists to work in freedom, the demand that institutions react without fear or favour when a journalist uncovers corruption in government or elsewhere.
Opponents of our ongoing civic action in this public space helpfully suggest that we should move our protest to Bidnija. In their warped thinking, we are only mourning the loss of a private person, and thus grieving is a private matter that should be conducted out of sight.
This won’t do.
The location of this square in central Valletta is not only relevant because it is visible. It is also relevant because of two other important reasons. It is firstly a protest about fundamentals that are so crucial to civic and public society – justice, democracy, rule of law – and thus they deserve to be expressed openly in the principal public square of the administrative capital of Malta. Secondly, this monument is located opposite the Law Courts. This is where we congregated for the very first time barely 24 hours after Daphne’s assassination, a place that has since sustained and buttressed our protest. This is because the Law Courts building is not only the physical place where justice is demanded and served but it is also the tangible symbol of justice: it is the secular cathedral where we take our legitimate demands for redress when our rights are being trampled upon by others. In the context of the killing of a journalist who quite alone sought that people in power are held to account for their crimes, the protest site opposite the Law Courts is not a coincidence either.
It is poetic justice.
Yesterday Valletta 2018 came to a close with festivities and fanfares billed as L-Aħħar Festa. I wonder why it wasn’t billed as ‘L-Aqwa Festa’. Maybe because Jason Micallef knows that he has forever tarnished what could have been the best showcase for Valletta as a city of culture; not only with the highly dubious taste of some events, but with his mockery of a murdered journalist that drew the ire of artists, both at home and abroad. This square and this monument ultimately unwittingly embody V18’s legacy. The boarded up memorial was the best ‘art’ installation of what this government really thinks about freedom of expression. Hide it, trample upon it, and when necessary assault it.
Our flowers and candles are not provocation. It is a right. The right to protest. Even though the government is eager to sweep the only assassination of a journalist in our history by the relentless giddy propaganda of L-aqwa zmien, we will continue to protest until justice is served.
Joseph Muscat takes his boasting to be the ‘Best in Europe’ at everything very seriously indeed. So seriously in fact, that he has bested Putin’s record of 192 clearances of a memorial to a slain journalist by some margin now. Undoubtedly, his supporters will continue to see our flowers and candles as a provocation and act accordingly. But as my dear friend and fellow warrior, Lizzie Eldridge wrote yesterday, “We must resist this, and by peaceful means. The alternative is to be led, with violence, through a dark and deathly night.”
We do not provoke people to assault us for standing up for our rights, yours and ours, day in day out, in spite of the fear of reprisal. We do it even for the Helen Cutajars of this world.
If anything, our actions should provoke more people to stand alongside us in the fight for the soul of our country.
Onward to the next year. Joseph Muscat, you will still find us here with our candles, until justice is served.