V18 chairman causes diplomatic rift

The Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Stef Blok has been called on to intervene in a diplomatic rift between the Maltese and Dutch culture capital committees resulting from comments made by Valletta 2018 chairman Jason Micallef about murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Dutch daily newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (AD) reported that a junior coalition partner (CDA) in the Netherlands government called on Foreign Minister Stefen Blok to put pressure on the Maltese government to apologise for Micallef’s statements.

He was also told that “on behalf of the Netherlands” he should urge Malta to get the bottom of Caruana Galizia’s death, Dutch MP Harry van der Molen said.

He added that it was unacceptable that a journalist is blown up in Europe: “This is not Russia.”

The call came about after text messages sent to culture minister Owen Bonnici by Dutch deputy for culture of the Province of Friesland Sietske Poepjes, went unanswered.

Leeuwarden- Friesland 2018 (LF2018) Foundation and Valletta 2018 (V18) both share the title of 2018 European Capital of Culture.

Poepjes published a screenshot of the message, asking Bonnici about when he was going to visit Friesland as “things are heating up here”. She said she had questions from journalists about his visit and the public discussion about freedom of press. “People are wondering why there isn’t a date yet”.

She asked when he planned to set a date: “I think that some people over here are questioning the honesty of your offer. I hate to see that happen”.

The dispute between the two foundations started last April when Friesland decided not to send any official representatives to Malta until V18 distanced “itself from their offensive tone which refers, most notably, to the relatives of the murdered journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia,” it had said in a statement.

They were referring to comments made by Micallef who spoke out against plans to turn the makeshift memorial to Ms Caruana Galizia, in front of the Great Siege Monument in Valletta, into something more permanent. Micallef has also called for the removal of banners in public areas on the day marking her assassination to be removed.

However, this week, Dutch media reported that Friesland and the CDA feel that Blok must intervene as it was important for Malta and the Netherlands to keep up the good relations. “European capitals must work together. There are still a number of projects in the pipeline, for example in the field of potatoes, where both regions are very strong. But if you work together, European values ​​must be respected,” Molen said.

In March, Micallef then posted a photo of a large crowd celebrating on social media and wrote: “St Patrick’s Day in Malta. The situation is desperate. There is happy people everywhere you look.” – a play on words of Caruana Galizia’s last post on her blog before she was assassinated in a car bomb in October 2017.

In their statement, LF 2018 said V18 representatives put the values of a European Capital of Culture under pressure as a result of the way in which the V18 organisation presented itself on social media with regards to Caruana Galizia.

The decision by LF2018 to temporarily freeze administrative contacts was taken after broad consultation at both national and European level, and “after various signals were given to the organisation of V18,” a statement by Tjeerd van Bekkum, CEO Leeuwarden-Friesland European Capital of Culture 2018, said.

Micallef’s comments were harshly criticised by PEN international, in which a group of around 250 authors said they had profound concerns about his behaviour – a sentiment echoed by a group of 72 MEPs.


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