On October 16, 2017, a journalist, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter was assassinated as she drove her car from her home to her bank.
On October 15, 1979, a building with workers, journalists, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, was attacked, torched and destroyed by an angry mob.
These two events may seem random, separated as they are by 40 years. But they are, in fact, closely connected.
They are the product of a political system built not on policy, but on rabble-rousing, built not on honest robust debate but on the logic of ‘might is right’. Then it was “ma tagħmlu xejn,” (you have no chance) now it’s “erbgħin elf” (40,000).
It is the same mindset created by Vladimir Putin in Russia and Donald Trump in the US, a recipe that corrupts the very fabric of society.
The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the burning down of Times of Malta are important not because they are tragic and a stain on our history, but because they demonstrate that 40 years on, we still do not understand the meaning of democracy. Even worse, they point at the inherently rotten state of our institutions. Many still silently condone these heinous acts because, they will argue, the victims “had it coming”.
How could we still be here?
Some say it may lie in our colonial past. That whoever we are, whatever class in society we aspire to, ultimately, we kowtow to those above us. Our very national anthem refers to our leaders as ‘rulers’, “il-ħakkiema”.
This has bred a nation, whether blue or white collars, professionals, lawyers, judges, journalists or politicians, that find it easy to succumb to the loudest noise in the room. And that loudest noise is always the government, the prime minister, the minister... This is why Robert Abela bears a huge responsibility.
We cannot have another Times of Malta tragedy, we certainly cannot have another horrendous assassination like Caruana Galizia’s. And more importantly we cannot have the political environment which encourages this psychological and physical violence, troll farms, fake sites, and scam phone calls. It is true that some of these are not directly controlled or created by political parties.
While Europe united to mark the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Labour politicians were conspicuous by their absence in making any comment
But it is also true that political parties have allowed them to become a major part of the ecosystem.
Suffice it to note that while Europe united on Saturday to mark the murder of Caruana Galizia, Labour politicians were conspicuous by their absence in making any comment. Who cares about saying what is right when there’s an election round the corner? Is it not enough that political parties also use their media outlets as a vicious weapon to target their critics?
Fortunately, there are some green shoots of change trying to stop the rot. The voices of NGOs are getting louder and together with the independent media, are shedding light on the inner workings of this country and its questionable web of collaborations.
These organisations are looking beyond cadging for votes and unlike politicians, their vision transcends the next election.
But it is going to take more than civil society and the media to make the changes we need. The recent recommendations from the public inquiry into the assassination of Caruana Galizia are all well and good. But it is important to remember that the tragic events were allowed to happen because people in high places refused to take action.
When the police, the judiciary, attorney generals, chairs of state entities, educators, journalists and more importantly, politicians, look the other way, no amount of reforms will change things.
Unless and until we, the electorate, put truth before partisan politics we are doomed to repeat history in four or 42 years’ time.
To misquote the slogan of this year’s budget: ‘Is this the Malta we want our children to inherit?’
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