The Malta Independent 24 September 2018, Monday

The siege of the siege monument

Noel Grima Sunday, 9 September 2018, 10:17 Last update: about 16 days ago

This is how we celebrated the National Day (one of five we have) in the Year of Grace 2018.

In the beginning, there was the monument to commemorate the 1565 Great Siege, an impressive monument by Antonio Sciortino which stood somewhat aloof and set back from the crowds in Republic Street or who were entering or leaving the Law Courts.

Its austere ensemble did not merit a second glance, except on Victory Day when an official commemoration of the Great Siege was held every year.

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But after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia last October, the monument became the location of a shrine to the journalist, maintained daily by fresh candles and flowers by those mourning the journalist.

I can hardly list the number of times the attempts made to remove this shrine on one excuse or another. Each time the shrine was replenished not just with candles and flowers but Daphne’s portrait was also replaced with a fresh one occasionally.

The celebrations held on the 16th of each month were held there.

Those who were against the concept told the mourners to go and commemorate Daphne elsewhere, possibly the site of the murder in far-away Bidnija. Those who persisted in honouring the dead journalist insisted on honouring and commemorating her there, in the centre of the city.

Time and again the candles and flowers were swept clean away and time and again they resurfaced. Carnival with its garish noise did not dislodge the shrine and I actually saw people stop at the shrine amid that confusion. The same happened at Christmastime when a big lit-up dome covered the square (it was said it would be left there for the whole year).

At the beginning of the celebrations of Valletta as European Capital of Culture, the head, Jason Micallef tried, unsuccessfully, to have the shrine removed. When access was provided to a huge cistern underneath the square (formerly the quarry where the stones used in St John’s came from) and an art installation was placed there, the V18 people again tried to shield the shrine from public gaze. However, they were held up to ridicule when the artist who did the installation lit a candle at the shrine after the opening ceremony over.

And that is how things remained until this week, Victory Day week.

The official celebrations are usually split in two – maybe the Daphne activists were unaware of this. There is usually an official commemoration with an oration in the evening and then, on the day, the President of the Republic lays a wreath.

The shrine was taken down in preparation of the evening celebration but as soon as it was over, the activists were back with a portrait and candles. Someone must have forgotten the President’s ceremony and the shrine, candles and all, was taken down before the celebration could begin.

Daphne’s son, Matthew, tweeted: “Just now, for the second time this week, @presidentMT ordered that a simple memorial to my mother of flowers, messages and candles placed by schoolchildren and adults, be removed. A memorial to remind our leaders of who they murdered. Ask yourself why they want to forget.”

The Times then reported: “Hours after the ceremony was over, activists from pressure group Occupy Justice had restored candles and a portrait of Ms Caruana Galizia at the site. 

“But shortly afterwards, scaffolding was erected around the monument, purportedly as the historic structure undergoes restoration.”

There the matter stands, at least at the time of writing. The battle continues.

 

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