The year which has now come to an end can be best described as the year of the angry citizen. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of citizens in Malta are quite happy with the state of affairs.
Indeed, a recent Eurobarometer survey found that 63% of the Maltese trust their government, the highest in the EU. An even bigger portion of the population, 68%, said they believe the country is moving in the right direction.
But a few are clearly not and they have made their sentiments very clear. The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017 was a breaking point.
The murder itself elicited strong emotions, and a small but significant part of the population were outraged by the murder of a journalist who, despite her at times brusque style, gave them a voice.
They were also outraged by the manner of Caruana Galizia’s death. As her son, Matthew, recently told America’s oldest and most watched news programme 60 Minutes, the car bomb which killed his mother was a message to her, her family and anyone fighting corruption in Malta.
Naturally, the anger subsided but the manner in which government and the police have handled the murder case evoked a different kind of anger.
Caruana Galizia’s murder gave birth to a number of organisations, namely, Occupy Justice and il-Kenniesa and Repubblika. And as government and the police have ostensibly mishandled the fallout, these activists have relentlessly called for justice, day after day, month after month.
Government’s refusal to open a public inquiry and its insistence on having the investigations led by a high-ranking police officer married to a government minister fuelled an atmosphere of mistrust and acrimony, especially when compared to the Slovak government’s resignation following the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
Hours after the murder, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised that no stone will be left unturned in seeking justice. But the only things which were not left unturned were the candles at Caruana Galizia’s memorial in Valletta.
And to add salt to the wide open wound, government’s business as usual attitude has also turned the activists into a public enemy in the eyes of many Labour diehards, creating more tension and sectarianism in an already divided country.
Despite government’s best efforts to extinguish the frustration, indignation and protests of stoic activists, the dissent will not die away, particularly in the absence of a strong Parliamentary opposition.
For Caruana Galizia’s murder is the tip of the iceberg. Muscat’s government has become synonymous with corruption, money laundering and impunity. And this gives the activists who want justice for Daphne a reason to exist beyond the murder and the mishandled investigations.
But Caruana Galizia’s murder was not the only source of anger in the past 12 months. 2018 will also be remembered for the growing anger at the slow torpedoing of the environment.
The presence of young and noisy protestors at the Planning Authority’s offices in Floriana have become a common sight. And hundreds of residents were mobilised in opposition to mega-projects in Pembroke, Attard and other localities.
As Moviment Graffitti aptly said in a statement issued today, “there seems to be an increasing realisation that the unchecked power of big business in Malta is becoming completely unsustainable, and that only a non-partisan, bottom-up, movement can act as a counterweight to the greed of those with money and power.”
This anger is neither new nor extraordinary. Activists in various fields have long called for institutional and constitutional reform and relentlessly fought against the cementification of Malta.
But what is new is the stamina of activists and the volume of dissent.
Will this change anything? Probably not. Government and the main opposition party still have the ability to crush dissent or infiltrate civil society and give every struggle a tinge of blue or red.
And as long as the struggles against injustice, inequality and rampant development remain under the auspice of partisanship and dualism, the two major parties, and ultimatley the few who control wealth, will retain control over our future.