When the Minister of Justice and Culture intentionally uses both his portfolios to suppress the free expression of civil society, then we need hardly any more evidence of why the rule of law in Malta is in jeopardy. And it is in jeopardy, not because people like me speak of it as being so, but because government continues to thwart concepts and constitutional, social and political rules according to its own ends.

Owen Bonnici’s reaction to the memorial for justice kept alive by civil society reflects this government’s warped understanding of freedom of speech and culture.

While labelling civil society as ‘protesters’, he believes he has the ministerial power to shape or limit the parameters within which they may express their civil demands to government.

It’s as if your right to freedom of expression, which in this case is a demand for justice and a beacon for that very freedom itself, can only be expressed in timed, short episodes of protests and that civil society cannot express its demands or remembrance in a continued manner. 

Trying to impose restrictions on how civil society decides to express itself is already a warped way of interpreting one’s own ministerial powers.

It is his responsibility to take stock of the memorial and protect the expression of feelings that citizens want to objectify

However, stating, as Dr Bonnici was reported to have said, that the Great Siege Monument is not a monument to Daphne Caruana Galizia, and claiming that civil society has appropriated a national monument and changed its meaning to something else, is really a Culture Minister barking up the wrong tree.

Nobody claims that the Great Siege Monument is a monument in memory of a murdered journalist.

The activists are clearly using the monument symbolically. They are not stuck in the fear of attacks by the outsider, but it seems the minister is and for him the outsider are the activists.

Then comes his other claim of civil society having appropriated a national monument and changing its meaning.

Well, culture is a living and vibrant process, so why should the Culture Minister try to stop that process?

Is it so terrifying to our government, that a community of Maltese citizens are expressing themselves by creating a memorial at the foot of the Great Siege monument? Is the peaceful expression of emotion by that community, one expressing its demand to see justice fulfilled and to ensure that freedom of expression continues to be effective in Malta so threatening and foreign to the government’s own culture? 

As Culture Minister, it is his responsibility to take stock of the memorial and protect the expression of feelings that citizens want to objectify. It is not a work of art but a form of expression from Maltese citizens which he simply should not ignore nor twist its meaning towards and against the Great Siege monument. The activists are symbolically using the monument for their own cause.

Faith, civilisation and valour – three allegorical representations that are far removed from this government’s sense of any values.

Therese Comodini Cachiais a Nationalist MP.


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