The pen that stung the Republic

A glimpse of a small arm tattoo recently took people unawares and reminded them of the book ‘Invicta: The Life and Death of Daphne Caruana Galiziaʼ, published shortly after her assassination in 2017. I took my copy of the book off its shelf, and sadly revisited it.

This month, Daphne would have turned 55 years old.

One of the book’s two editors is Joseph A. Debono. The second is journalist Caroline Muscat,  also editor of this news site. The Shift News did not yet exist when Daphne was killed. It was already in the pipeline and its launch was then brought forward. The importance of investigative journalism and straight commentary was deeply felt, as people reeled in shock after the brutal car bomb.

Several of the essays in the book are personal responses to Daphne’s death. They provide a record of the raw emotions at that moment in Malta’s history, when the nation was shocked and shaken by the open, violent murder of this leading, irreverent and brave investigative journalist.

In the book, Debono presents the analogy of a gadfly. Continuing with the classical inspiration of the title ‘Invicta’, he cites the Greek philosopher Socrates who compared the State to a horse – large and noble but with a tendency to become sluggish. Yet if a small gadfly stings a slowing horse, it would swiftly spring into action. Socrates likened himself to a gadfly, stinging the State back into consciousness, in the interest of its citizens, and goading it to avoid moral and political deterioration.

Debono comments that, perhaps of all the Maltese “intellectuals, writers and politicians of her time, nobody made Malta buck, kick and squirm more. Undeniably, Daphne truly became the Gadfly of the Republic of her birth.”

My own contribution to the book, as requested by the editors, was a short biographical essay. Including the less political side of her work, I wrote that Daphne had, “assumed the role of national conscience, popular headmistress and society doyenne all rolled into one, telling people in no uncertain terms how they should behave, how to distinguish right from wrong, and always providing them with information about what was going on behind the government scenes, together with entertaining fragments of news and humour.”

So much has happened since October 2017.

Daphne’s murder has received huge media attention throughout this time. Malta may never have seen so many journalists of international news outlets landing on its shores independently, as it has over these last 22 months. Her investigative journalism has been given accolades and awards all over the world. The press conference room has been named after her at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Every month here in Malta, a vigil is held at the makeshift memorial to Daphne in front of the law courts. The vigils will not stop until justice is done. Every day people lay flowers and tributes to her there, and each day the Minister of Justice sends his people to clear them away.

Rebecca Vincent, UK bureau chief of the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, visited the memorial a few days ago. In a Twitter post afterwards, she wrote that a group of older men sitting on a bench nearby shouted ‘bitch’ at her several times. ‘This shouldn’t be the norm’, she said. Of course not. But, regrettably, it is.

On Friday photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi snapped pictures of some men ripping off photos and posters at the protest memorial. It should be obvious that this behaviour only feeds the admiration for Daphne, which is just what these men and others like him wish to suppress. And so it continues, day after day.

The poster-rippers are egged on by the continual clearing of the site by the government, tenaciously and continually removing posters, candles and flowers. This is “not something we’ve seen in any other country where a journalist has been assassinated”, said Vincent in another tweet.

Some fellow journalists who disagreed with Daphne when she was alive, still regularly snipe and try to have the last word with her, even though she is dead. They are the poster-rippers in print.

The book editors rightly note that people responded to Daphne with “love, admiration, shock or hate, but never with indifference.”

So much has also not happened since October 2017.

Her murder remains unresolved, despite the arraignment of three suspected killers. The mastermind has not been identified. Obviously this drives suspicions that somebody important is behind it.

In June this year, a report by the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly asked the Maltese government to open a public inquiry into the circumstances leading to Daphne’s murder.

Despite Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela having confirmed to an international audience that this inquiry would take place, nothing further has been announced so far. Don’t hold your breath. The government led a choreographed campaign against Daphne, including the blog run by staff working at the prime minister’s office. They will hardly want to discuss the atmosphere of vilification that she lived with every day.

This atmosphere is still tangible in the poster-rippers in Valletta. Most of them probably never met her, or even read what she wrote. They relate to her as a figure of political hate.

In all this smoke and confusion, it is possible to skim over the woman beneath. That real person is, of course, what drives her family – her sons, husband, mother, father, sisters and nieces. Their manifest dedication, stamina and love, over these last two years, has been truly admirable. Those close to her obviously remember her firstly as a woman, not a journalist. She had a private life, beyond the public persona. She was also a friend.

Every good friend knows a different part of you. Over many years, you share thoughts, ideas, experiences, jokes, with that person as with nobody else. And when that person dies, a part of you dies with them. And so it is.

The ruthless violence is sickening.

The book ‘Invicta’ records personal, immediate responses to Daphne’s life and murder. Others also engaged with their thought and emotions in writing, trying to come to terms with her killing. The poet Paul Ellul wrote a poem on 25 October 2017, only nine days after the assassination in Bidnija. The first six stanzas are quoted below.

Daphne the woman is gone, but her achievements live. She has been turned into something more than herself, into a symbol of free speech and of powerful journalism that can rock and sting a government. Her memory also warns against the suppression of journalism, against allowing the brave to become isolated and subjected to violence, whether psychological or physical. This is to be feared, and resisted.


Naqrak kuljum ħa nifli l-kitba tiegħek,
u nsegwi l-ħsieb mirqum miktub bid-demm,
u nogħxa wara l-espressjoni ħielsa tiegħek,
u daqs stallett tirfidna wieħed wieħed.
Il-pinna tiegħek aqwa minn kull xabla,
il-pinna tiegħek tinfed sal-ġewwieni,
u tmiss ir-ruħ imsejkna tagħna lkoll.

Min jaf li kieku l-lejl ilissen kelma,
jgħidilna x’kien jirbombja ġewwa ħsiebek,
li kieku l-lejl ssamma’ kull tbissima,
li kieku l-lejl kien jgħarrex f’qalbek siekta.
Nistaqsi ‘l-lejl u jgħidli kulma sema’,
kemm karti ra mxarrbin bil-għaraq niedi,
kemm linka mxerrda, imċappsa ma’ subgħajk,
kemm ittri u messaġġi dawlu ‘l moħħok,
jitqal, jitqal kull ħin bla qatt ma jegħja.

Nixtieq li kont imqar tambur f’widintek,
Nixtieq li kont ir-retina ta’ għajnejk
nixtieq li kont ta’ mnieħrek xamma fonda,
mill-qrib inxomm ir-riħa tal-ħażin,
u mill-viċin intiegħem togħmiet morri,
bix-xamma tagħhom biss nissabbtu fl-art,
u kemm il-lejl stenniek biex tidħol torqod,
u toħlom l-istennija li xi darba,
dal-poplu jqum minn nagħsa llupjata,
min jaf kemm xtaqt li twettaq il-miraklu,
li nqumu darb’għal dejjem minn dir-raqda,
biex qatt u qatt ma nerġgħu norqdu aktar,
u f’sahra twila nibqgħu ngħassu dejjem
għarriexa f’kull mument sal-punt tal-wasla.

Ridt tqajjem lilna lkoll minn nagħsa twila,
minflok irqadt għal dejjem f’qabar sieket,
li kieku stajt kont niġi nifli x-xena,
u narmi l-bjejjeċ tiegħek imxerrdin
‘ma kont inżomm ma’ qalbi moħħok dehni,
u norqom ħsibijietek sakemm nasal
biex nifhem x’kien għad hemm fil-moħba tiegħu.

Mistur minn għajn dal-ġens beżżiegħ u kwiet,
u li kont nista’ nikxef jien lil moħħok,
u jekk ma nsirx il-pinna għanja tiegħek,
insir il-linka sewda tibqa’ tgħajjat,
sakemm naraw li għamad il-ġustizzja
iwettaq xogħlu bla dewmien u b’saħħa

Għax int irbaħt sal-aħħar nifs ta’ ħajtek
u llum aktar minn qabel tidħol f’darna,
bl-ispirtu ħaj minn tiegħek tilef poplu sħiħ.
Jekk kellek ċans li tieħhu l-aħħar nifs,
ħsibt fina li ħallejtna lkoll iltiema,
għax inti l-moħħ u l-qalb ta’ dan il-poplu,
għax inti l-vini li jżommuh għaddej,
għax inti d-demm li nxtered biex isikket,
mingħajr mhu se jsikkitna fil-ġejjien.

[Extract from the poem ‘Daphne’ by Paul Ellul, 25 October 2017 – quoted with permission]


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