Think back three years ago today. Joseph Muscat had been confirmed four months earlier as prime minister having trounced the opposition party in spite of the scandals of the year leading to the 2017 elections. Konrad Mizzi was still the minister responsible for all the government’s major projects. Keith Schembri was ensconced in Castille, the ultimate wielder of power in the country. Adrian Delia was the new leader of the Nationalist Party with a promise to turn away from the boring battle against corruption.
It seemed there was no stopping the drugged avarice of l-aqwa żmien. The battle for the soul of Malta was lost and won and most people wanted to stop thinking about it.
Then Daphne was killed.
Think back two years ago today.
Muscat congratulated himself for “solving” Daphne’s murder. The case, as far as he was concerned, was closed. He also pitied himself for being the victim of “the biggest lie in Maltese political history” as the then unpublished Egrant inquiry report absolved him of any accusation of wrongdoing. Mizzi was laughing. Chris Cardona was dodging the court to avoid the inconvenience of confronting location records of a wild night in a brothel the year before. Schembri was dodging the court to avoid answering questions about his Panama imbroglio.
We had learnt about 17 Black, about Yorgen Fenech owning it, about payments promised or made to Schembri’s and Mizzi’s companies. It seemed no revelation could shake the stubborn support Muscat enjoyed. Even pointing out the lies, the contradictions, the inconsistencies, the inexplicable gaps of logic was rubbished as treason.
Think back a year ago today. Actually, let me do that. I was sitting next to one of my co-authors in the book we published last year: Murder on the Malta Express, Who Killed Daphne Caruana Galizia? Carlo Bonini told the audience at the launch of the book that when we would meet for the third anniversary of Daphne’s killing, it would be nothing like the previous two. This story was now ripe. Many of our questions would start being answered.
There was electricity in the air. It felt like all those protests, those vigils, the daily toil of renewing the protest in Great Siege Square, the hard work with foreign journalists, making documentaries, writing books, lighting candles and marching and marching and marching were at last going to yield some result. We felt the elation of miners who have been digging for years and now, at last, the rock started shimmering in the light.
The battle for the soul of Malta was lost and won and most people wanted to stop thinking about it. Then Daphne was killed- Manuel Delia
Tell yourself from a year ago that Fenech would be charged with masterminding Daphne’s murder, Schembri would resign before the first of multiple arrests, Mizzi would be booted out of the Labour Party, Silvio Valletta would be forced to retire in disgrace, Lawrence Cutajar would be fired and eventually subjected to a criminal inquiry and Peter Grech would call it quits. While at it, tell yourself from a year ago that Delia, he of biċċa blogger fame, would lose his post as PN leader and would spend his time touring pocket-sized teleshopping channels to harangue Daphne’s family’s lawyers while nobody’s watching.
What a year it’s been.
After all the shocking changes of the last three Octobers, it would be silly to predict what October 2021 will bring. All we have is hope, strengthened by the long path we’ve traced, threatened by the mindless resistance of the forces of evil.
No jury has yet heard any evidence against Daphne’s killers. Schembri cannot pay his lunch with a credit card but he’s still roaming freely. Mizzi and Cardona sit tight hoping for time to rub clean their reputations.
And Muscat is still a god for tens of thousands. A retired god but a god nonetheless. That’s also because Robert Abela fights for his own political survival by protecting the skin of his predecessor in whose reputation, such as it is, the Labour Party remains fully and irrevocably invested.
The thing about Muscat is that it was not just his supporters who thought him invincible. The party that was supposed to oppose him, challenge him and promote itself as his replacement was besotted by him, in awe of him and flattered him by imitating him. Poorly. A consensus grew that Muscat could choose the manner of his own leaving: its timing, its terms, his timing, his terms.
But like any trick of prestidigitation, look close enough for long enough and it will fall apart.
Here’s the trick Muscat played on this country. He convinced us we were all crooked. He made us speak of ourselves as a nation of amoral fixers, avaricious, egoistic, unconcerned with common good. We lowered expectations of ourselves as a people so that he could represent those expectations and fit within them.
He convinced us it was just right to have a crooked prime minister and corrupt ministers with stashes in Panama and underhand payments through the misnomered British Virgin Islands because they’re exactly what we deserve.
He persuaded this country to give up on itself so that it would not think to look for someone better than him. And for a while it worked.
But then one of us proved to be inconsistent with this cartoonish image of ourselves he made us paint. One of us abjured his money-trumps-all credo. Whatever was thrown at her, Caruana Galizia stood tall.
And when she fell by the hand of a mafia state, people from all walks of life stood in her place to defy the horror that killed her and still assails us all.
This is how the invincible will be defeated in the end.
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