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Malta for dummies #2: The rule of force

Activists replaced the flowers and candles within hours of their removal on 6 Sept. Photo: Occupy Justice / Facebook

In Malta, where everything is upside down and topsy-turvy, this guide is designed as a brief induction into the operational methods of the smallest state in the EU. The ideal dummy is visualised as a foreigner, an outsider, a barrani, a person of European origin who’s been instilled with European values since birth. Part 2 focuses on how the country deals with dissent.

The first part was published a week ago and focused on the erasure of memory in relation to multiple attempts to clear the makeshift memorial in front of the Law Courts, set up in respect to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and as an ongoing reminder that justice has still not been served.

On 6 September, the flowers, candles and cards constituting the makeshift memorial were removed by State authorities ahead of a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating Malta’s victory over the Turks in 1565. Within hours, the women-led activist group Occupy Justice returned them, leaving the wreaths laid at the monument intact.

Two days later, on 8 September, the actual date of Victory Day, another wreath-laying ceremony took place. Minutes after a supposedly solemn State occasion to remember Malta’s glorious past, workers descended on the revered monument and completely blocked it off with scaffolding, wooden boards and green material placed over them.

The Great Siege monument opposite the law courts that served as a memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia was blocked off by the government “for restoration”.

Amid accusations that activists had vandalised the memorial with weapons of mass destruction, otherwise known as candles and flowers, suddenly – and on the day symbolically represented by this monument – the apparently much revered statue was removed from view…on government.

You’d be forgiven for picturing parallel images of stagehands dismantling the scenery mid-way through a play, or of undertakers clearing away the accoutrements for a funeral while the final hymn was being sung.

The sight of non-threatening objects acquire an added poignancy in front of a memorial so overtly covered from view.

To put our dummy’s mind at rest, an explanation was provided (just as one would expect from any law-abiding government). The Minister for Justice and Culture, Owen Bonnici, announced that the base of the statue needed restorative work, and there’s no time like Victory Day to hasten on with such activities. Never mind that days later work on the monument hadn’t started.

Immediately after the barricading of the memorial – which also includes police barriers designed to prevent people approaching what is a public monument in a public square – two activist groups were quick to respond.

Il-Kenniesa created seven new memorials during the night on monuments across the island, including the Great Siege monument. Likewise, Reżistenza put up banners with the message ‘She investigated them. They killed her’.

One of the banners put up by Rezistenza Malta after the government blocked off the Great Siege monument.

Less than 24 hours after Malta For Dummies was published last week, the situation regarding the memorial intensified, and the government’s actions have sparked heavy criticism from anti-corruption activists, MEPs, Maltese and international politicians, as well as members of Caruana Galizia’s family.

Meanwhile, people continue to place candles and flowers in front of the barricaded memorial, undeterred by heavy-handed attempts by the State to bury the memorial – and with it memories of the journalist – from public view.

In many ways, the sight of non-threatening objects acquire an added poignancy in front of a memorial so overtly covered from view.

But just in case our European observer thinks that all’s well with our world, PN MP Simon Busuttil had to retrieve a photo of the journalist from a bin while another photo was ripped down and stamped on by a furious passer-by.

Female activists have been harassed by ageing men while placing candles and flowers, swallowing the government line that they are responsible for vandalising the now well-concealed monument.

A public monument barricaded and hidden from public view is what will greet the eight MEPs from the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee visiting Malta to probe the rule of law in the country next week.

They just missed Malta’s police violently dragging activists out of a Planning Authority meeting on Thursday for the crime of taking a stand against aggressive development.

Oh my – yes, this is – Malta.

Concern that online hate speech could lead to more violence in Malta

Planning Authority protest Graffiti KEA

The gloves are off