Wednesday marked 44 months since Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated by a group of murderers.
As day after day, week after week, we hear the horrifying evidence in court of the hideous circumstances around this brutal crime, it’s surreal to look around and see most people going about their lives as normal, posting pictures of their healthy lunches on social media and moaning about how unfair it is that some events are allowed to take place, but others are not.
There’s a frightening sense of unreality in the air, that’s even more alarming because the vast majority of people don’t seem to realise it’s there. They go about their lives, fretting about frivolities, focused on fripperies, while around them Malta burns.
The prime minister, apparently in the grip of an episode of psychotic delusion that none of his familiars dares point out to him, talks about making our crime-gripped, mafia-engulfed island, that’s risking sinking into total destitution as a result of the venality of his colleagues and cronies, into the “best country in the world”.
One scandalous contract is revealed after another, one shameful planning permit granted after another, one more episode of brazen corruption, one more chairmanship granted to yet another of the revolving players in the PL drama, and still, social media surfers pass the reports with barely a glance, yet burst into hysteria at the news that they may attend a product launch, but not a music concert or a party.
And all this against the backdrop of sheer horror emanating from the law courts, the sordid characters of the lowlifes involved, their utterly alien level of inhumanity. The offensiveness of their incompetence, their revolting air of casualness as they talk about murdering a human being and then going for a cup of tea, deciding to use a bomb because it’s less “hassle” to kill someone that way than with a shotgun.
These monsters are talking about the killing of one of us, in fact, the bravest and best of us. The only one who dared stand up to the rapacious gang that had lied, cheated and swindled the country into trusting them with the reins of government.
Yesterday, 44 months since that terrible October day, I watched the online vigil organised faithfully, as it is every 16th of the month, by Occupy Justice, Repubblika and Manuel Delia. The usual few hundred people, the same names every month, showed up to watch.
A population of half a million, and only a few hundred people could be bothered to participate in a 30-minute event to commemorate the woman who worked so hard to deliver them from the criminals who’d hijacked their country, were ransacking the public coffers and destroying the island’s reputation and, therefore, its very future.
Grief is a terrible emotion to carry, even in its simplest forms. But a grief that’s denied, a grief that’s mocked, sneered at, dismissed or invalidated becomes almost unbearable. And grief after a crime that’s not vindicated, that’s not at least soothed by the justice it demands, is intolerable.
There’s a reason abusers are forbidden to go anywhere near their victims; there can be no healing after abuse while the perpetrator is allowed to continue haunting the person they damaged.
For those of us grieving Daphne, the sheer weight of the general public’s indifference to the enormity of her slaying, to the outrageous continual attacks on her and her family by the very people who harmed her, is akin to the trauma suffered by abuse victims forced into contact with their abusers.
Daphne’s blog used to attract many thousands of visitors every day, several hundreds of thousands on occasion. I remind myself of this every 16th of the month, when all those thousands who took such pleasure in her writing decide, yet again, to stay away from the vigils in her honour.
Instead, they’re busy organising illicit Holy Communion parties, bitching about the Eurovision and gossiping about their friends. Nasty, small-minded matters that show up the nation’s abysmal level of education and shocking lack of morality and decency.
In their self-absorbed paucity of character, they fail to realise that though she may have been murdered, Daphne is still actually working for them. Every story of corruption, every detail about secret contracts and underhand deals, all of these owe their provenance to her.
And this goes beyond the stories themselves, though many are direct descendants of her own reports, which provided the building blocks for so much that’s been reported in the last three years. This goes to the very concept of digging deep beneath the surface to find the truth, something previously rarely done in our mainstream newspapers.
This goes to her bravery in challenging the accepted practice of taking government statements at face value, to her determination in winning the trust of and protecting sources, and to her extraordinary skill at understanding the implications of a seemingly random fact and connecting the dots to expose the hidden picture within.
In terms of Maltese journalism, she opened a Pandora’s box that’s let loose the questions and mysteries our government and its sponsors tried so hard to keep locked down.
Five years ago, Abela’s “best in the world” speech would have been reported almost without comment, not only taken at face value but discussed seriously in editorials and given the undeserved credence so many similar statements by Abela’s predecessor, disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, benefited from (and still does).
The colossal indifference that ultimately led to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia persists. Still, the only things that can raise the ire of the general population are whether or not they’ve received their vouchers, whether or not they can go on holiday, whether or not they book a restaurant table for eight, because, you know, obviously, they can’t possibly leave anyone out.
Daphne was my friend, my mentor and my colleague. I left Malta in 2010 with her words ringing in my head: the annoying Super One hack we both remembered from various press conferences through the years would definitely become Malta’s next prime minister in 2013. I was incredulous, but she insisted.
And, as always, she was right. Forty-four months ago she wrote the immortal words: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.” Forty-four months later, the situation is even more desperate.
Not only do we have to deal with a corrupt government, officials and institutions, but we also have to deal with the knowledge that they helped kill her, even if indirectly.
Every single person who shrugs their shoulders at the harrowing court accounts and continues to whine about face masks and home-working instead of attending an online vigil for the only person I know who merits the title of hero, every single one who voted Labour in 2017, despite all we already knew about the flagrant corruption and abusiveness of the PL regime, every single one shares in the guilt of her slaying.
The 16th of every month has become a rallying cry for Daphne’s supporters. Until this call reaches the ears of the majority of the electorate, there is no hope anything will ever change. We ignored her once. Let’s not do it again.