Monday, September 6, 4 pm.
People working for the National Festivities Committee erect a temporary wall, six feet high, across Republic Street. Officially, this is an anti-COVID measure to check that people entering Great Siege Square for a brief ceremony recalling the religious war of 1565 have been invited and are COVID-free.
Waist-high barriers would have sufficed but they had an awkward job to do inside. Had they been photographed doing it, they would have unhappily made the front pages of the rest of the world.
Like urologists going about their job, they first unfurled a curtain of secrecy over Malta’s main street. Then, they removed all signs, all visual record, all pesky reminders, that one Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed four years ago and justice is still a long way off.
Every year, at this ceremony, protocol dictates that someone from outside politics is invited to give a speech about a more contemporary understanding of Maltese identity beyond kicking infidels back into the sea.
The speeches are often a dull affair. The press don’t look forward to them because they are usually bereft of all controversy. The officials that are invited doze through them like fish, asleep but with their eyes open. The annual occasion is, sadly, one of those routine official rites that almost everybody ignores.
The fact that protocol requires it to happen specifically at the Great Siege Memorial has been a cause of flare-ups over the last four Septembers. A memorial ignored every day except on its holiday became the battle ground for basic freedoms. It became the frontline of a culture war between those protesting Daphne’s killing and those abusing them for doing so.
Every September, the state fell on the side of the abusers, masking the abuse with officialdom, censoring the protest and pushing it away as if it never happened.
The first September when it happened – in 2018 – protesters took the matter to court. By 2020, the court decided the government had been breaching their human rights.
This year, the September memorial event came after an important development. The state has been found responsible for something much worse than preventing protesters from insisting on justice for Daphne. An independent inquiry has found the state responsible for her assassination. The president and the prime minister and the former prime minister apologised. Or so, at least, they said they did.
And, yet, their conduct in September 2021 was no different from all the previous years.
The guest speaker at the event this year was Myriam Spiteri Debono, the only woman in the country’s history to preside over the shambles that is our parliament. She’s a veteran of the Labour Party and, though her brief record in public office is unimpeachable, she never showed any signs of dissent with the line of her party.
Myriam Spiteri Debono said the words Malta’s president and prime minister should have said but have found themselves unable to so far- Manuel Delia
The speech she delivered on Monday started out as routine as the entire event had been. In that walled-in bubble in the centre of Valletta, everything belonged to the surreal existence of self-satisfied officialdom. And, then, she shattered the illusion.
Spiteri Debono said nothing that had not been said a thousand times by others on many a vigil or a protest right on that spot. She faced down all the trolls and the mealy-mouthed half-hearted apologists.
Let me paraphrase.
Of course, it’s sad that Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana were killed. But Caruana Galizia was targeted for execution, so the comparison is malicious and false.
Oh, will you shut up about things Daphne wrote and you didn’t like? She was killed because of her journalistic investigations and the bad guys killed her to shut her up.
Journalism is important and there’s no democracy if it cannot be done.
There, without qualification and reservation, were the words we’ve been saying all along. But, this time, someone from the Labour Party was saying them. And that matters. It matters because when truth is shared across tribal divides we can live together as a nation.
She said the words Malta’s president and Malta’s prime minister should have said but have found themselves unable to so far. Spoken by her, they were more effective than if they were spoken again by some protester, perceived as anti-government by the government’s supporters. But now that she spoke the words that needed saying, her example is bound to have an impact.
The bad guys tried to bury Spiteri Debono’s courage and the bridge of justice and fairness she was building with her words.
The Department of Information, ever so reliable in delivering to the press the mundane inanities babbled by useless ministers, did not distribute Spiteri Debono’s speech and, when asked for a copy, it said it never got one.
The Labour mayor of Valletta posted on his Facebook wall his congratulations to Spiteri Debono for “a great speech in favour of Malta” ignoring all references to Caruana Galizia.
The usual orgy of Daphne-haters commented beneath his post assuming the former speaker felt as they did about the subject.
We are a country where if One TV and TVM do not report it, it didn’t happen. They didn’t report it. The words that could bring us together as a nation were cast in the furnaces of the ‘ministry of truth’.
Fortunately, someone sitting to listen to the speech was awake long enough to realise the significance of its content. Using their phone, they snapped images of the relevant paragraphs. Eventually, those important words made it to newspapers two days later.
Malta’s president wondered aloud recently what he was expected to do to help unite the nation. He now has a template he can follow.
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