The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

Invicta: the life and work of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Wednesday, 2 May 2018, 12:41 Last update: about 3 years ago

Steve Flinders

Invicta: The life and work of Daphne Caruana Galizia is a tribute to Malta's leading investigative journalist and blogger, who was assassinated on 16 October 2017.

This is a collection of 20 short essays accompanied by photographs, illustrations and cartoons. The contributors include senior academics, a former judge, a former ambassador, a leading businessman, a lawyer, journalists, broadcasters, writers, editors and bloggers, artists and illustrators, and a cartoonist. Most are Maltese although two of the writers are prominent British journalists and the preface is by Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the President of the European Federation of Journalists.

The book was published within a month of Daphne Caruana Galizia's death. Proceeds from sales will go to a charity nominated by Ms Caruana Galizia's family.

As the reader progresses, a detailed picture of the complex personality of this extraordinary and fascinating woman emerges. Certainly what she wrote as a blogger fascinated a significant proportion of the Maltese population, in some cases to the point of obsession.

It's an emotional rollercoaster. Here is a small part of the picture we get: of a woman committed to the truth and to exposing corruption. She was courageous: she had to be just to endure the vitriol that was directed at her. She was an outstandingly good writer - articulate, witty, acerbic, penetrating. She was a fine journalist - her incredibly detailed and thorough work, collaborating with journalists in 80 countries as part of the International Consortium of Journalists in breaking the Panama Papers, as related by contributor Luke Harding, will on its own assure her an enduring place in Maltese history. She was a woman with "explosive energy" (Joseph Debono), "irreverent and polemical", "daring and ... outrageous" (Petra Caruana Dingli); passionate and thorough (Giovanni Bonello) - one could go on. There's no doubt that she was a remarkable woman.

She was also a gossip columnist, a satirist, a one-woman Maltese Private Eye.  In person she was quiet, gentle, restrained and modest. As a blogger, she could be merciless. Her blogging was sometimes brilliantly perceptive, sometimes unfair, sometimes wrong. The essay by Ranier Fsadni in particular provides balance in its assessment of Caruana Galizia's legacy by recognising her weaknesses as well as her strengths. Such detachment strengthens advocacy of her cause.

Other writers mention her aesthetic side. Victor Calleja describes the meticulous approach she adopted in Taste and Flair, the food and interiors magazine she edited. Good taste, good dress sense, a sense of beauty, and sensitivity towards one's surroundings were things she wanted to see and to develop in other people. Kristina Chetcuti, so hard-hitting in her condemnation of Malta's macho culture, describes Caruana Galizia's love of gardens. Caruana Galizia's sometimes poisoned barbs were directed in particular at people who remain oblivious to the finer features of civilised living.

Curiously, the contributors say little about her role as a wife and mother. And yet among the abiding and indelible images of this personal and national tragedy is a family one. After the remains of a burnt-out car in a field, the candles burning at the Love monument on the night of 16 October, the lines of protestors bearing 'Ġustizzja' and '#occupyjustice' banners at the demonstrations, the unfurling of the 'Mafia state' banner opposite Malta's Parliament, and the candle-lit memorial to Daphne outside the co-cathedral, one of the most moving pictures is that of her black-suited husband and three sons standing during the minute's silence in her memory in the European Parliament. The contributors' disregard of this aspect of Caruana Galizia's's life is perhaps due to a very private side to her personality, a privacy which perhaps also led her to refuse TV and radio interviews during most of her career.

In a parallel universe, one might imagine such a woman being revered as a national icon of all that is brightest and best about Malta, a latter-day Joan of Arc proudly waving the flag of a proud nation. One might even imagine such a woman having a statue erected in her honour, in a land where all the statues are of men.

In fact, she was vilified to a degree that must have been horribly hard to bear, and to the eternal shame of the vilifiers. Joe Borg tells us that "The Malta Independent was promised more advertising money from the government if it were to drop Daphne Caruana Galizia as a regular columnist." A number of contributors try to account for this hatred. Of course there was personal enmity. Caruana Galizia could write with a barbed pen, mockingly and sometimes cruelly. More fundamentally, she represented a dual challenge: her assaults were seen as middle class attacks on the working class - quite wrongly according to Godfrey Leone Ganado; and she was a woman forging new ways of communicating, of investigating and of being annoying, in a profoundly misogynistic society.

This central issue is dealt with best by the four woman contributors - and it is worth noting with both irony and regret that out of the twenty essays, only four are by women. Caruana Galizia's friendships with other women were clearly special and Kristina Chetcuti, Caroline Muscat, Petra Caruana Dingli and Mikela Fenech Pace are all eloquent on what Daphne's courage and bravery meant to them personally. Caruana Dingli's potted biography provides details of Caruana Galizia's earlier life which are salient to our understanding of how she came to believe what she stood for. Readers owe all four women authors a particular debt. May these and many other women feel empowered to write, to act and to change the language of Maltese public discourse as a result of the example set by Daphne.

Another major issue put into sharp focus by Caruana Galizia's murder is that of press freedom, under attack in so many countries today. The distinguished Guardian columnist, Jonathan Freedland, narrates the decline of the independent press and both he and Luke Harding, also of The Guardian, demonstrate the importance of independent reportage to the good functioning of a democracy. Freedland writes: " ... journalism is what someone, somewhere, does not want published: all the rest is advertising" and also "Whatever formulation you use to choose to describe a journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia fulfilled it."

The appallingly and brazenly demonstrative way in which Caruana Galizia was killed looks like a direct challenge to the freedom of the press in Malta. The choice presented by this challenge is unambivalent. The way the Maltese people rise to the challenge of the murder of journalists on their own soil should be unambivalent too.

Thus, the book does not only provide an account of Caruana Galizia's life and work. Various contributors attempt to explain the social, political, economic, cultural and criminal context in which Caruana Galizia lived and died. In doing so, they raise fundamental questions about politics and society in Malta today and, like Caruana Galizia herself, express profound concerns about the direction that the country is taking.

Giovanni Bonello tells us in "Daphne in Mafialand" that the official Italian anti-Mafia authority recently revealed that the 'Ndrangheta had on its own channelled €2 billion of drugs money to Malta and (he says) "no one batted an eyelid". Author after author lament the decline in standards of governance, honesty and trust in Maltese public life.

The contributors also reaffirm their own subscription to what Caruana Galizia stood up for - freedom of the press, equality for women, respect for the rule of law, open and transparent governance - the values of the post-Enlightenment West, of liberal Europe and of the European Union, the hand that feeds the nation which the government seems so ready to bite. The writers follow her in declaring their opposition to the things she opposed - corruption, nepotism, cronyism, tribalism, uglification, lies and deceit. But we must also ask to what avail they do this.

The translation from Latin of the 'Invicta' in the book's title is 'the unconquered woman'. Caruana Galizia met her death because it was the only way her enemies could conquer her. The question for Malta now is whether what she stood for will be conquered as well.

The almost palpable grief of thousands attending the vigil in Sliema on the night of Caruana Galizia's assassination, and the anger and solidarity of tens of thousands attending the demonstrations in Valletta and Sliema in the two following weeks seem to have dissipated into a resigned acceptance of the idea, on the part of most of the people who were there, that nothing is going to change.

Six months later, a police commissioner tucked firmly away in the government's pocket is still in office. A chief of staff and a government minister who should have been dismissed as soon as Caruana Galizia broke the Panama Papers story, are still in place.

The government lauds its new university, to be built over some of the little virgin land left in Malta, although so far it has only attracted 13 students. With breathtaking insouciance it sells off swathes of the national - that is to say, the people's - health service in secret deals to companies with no health care experience, owned by we know not whom. It gives the green light to monstrous, ugly high-rise buildings, condoning the destruction of the country's built heritage in their wake.

In the circumstances it's an easy thing to shrug one's shoulders in the face of such cynical audacity. But this is not what Caruana Galizia would have done. We already need to remind ourselves that she was not a shoulder- shrugger.

Six months after her death, just a few hundred people attended another vigil in Valletta. The women of Occupy Justice (dubbed prostitutes by their opponents) continue to make headlines with their media-savvy bids for attention, from camping outside Castille to dressing Malta's statues with the t-shirts bearing Caruana Galizia's sad and portentous personal epitaph: "There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate."  But the protests against the culture of impunity which has taken hold in Malta are now being organised and attended by handfuls.

The murder inquiry also seems to have stalled. Does anyone know what efforts are being made to bring the masterminds of this crime to justice? Whatever happened to the FBI? This is an area that the contributors by and large gloss over and yet the continuing integrity of the criminal justice system in Malta is another area which clearly gives many people, and gave Caruana Galizia, much cause for concern.

Is everyone resigned to her murder being treated by the authorities just like all the other unresolved crimes against her person - the arson attacks, one of which looks like an earlier attempt to kill her, the killing of her dog, the hateful verbal abuse - some government-sponsored, paid for by Maltese taxpayers? Is it acceptable that the 42 libel suits aimed at crippling her financially are still pending in the courts?

In this context, it is at least debatable as to whether what Daphne stood for, stands for, is unconquered.

Relatively few of the contributors address the question of how to move forward now and how change is to be achieved. The absence of a strong and clear call for action to carry on Caruana Galizia's work is all the more disappointing in that the culture of impunity thrives on people's indifference. Loud, noisy, organised, ongoing opposition inside and outside the country is what defenders of impunity have most to fear.

There are some calls for action. Mogens Blicher Bjerregård calls for better protection for journalists and for legislation to protect journalists too. A culture in which a government minister can have the personal finances of an independent journalist frozen, as in Caruana Galizia's case, certainly needs stronger defences of press freedom. It was the public's crowdfunded response on that occasion which put paid to the government's attempt to stifle freedom of speech.

Paul Sant Cassia, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Malta, calls for constitutional reform, specifically to change the way the President is elected; to introduce secret no-confidence votes in Parliament; to allow the appointment of ministers from outside 'the entitlement culture' of Parliament; to ban TV stations owned by political parties; and to require the ratification of appointments to the posts of police commissioner, attorney general and other key positions by a two thirds parliamentary majority. These ideas may be highly debatable but at least the professor is provoking debate.

One might also take issue with some other claims in the book. Sant Cassia offers sixteen 'lessons' to be learnt from Caruana Galizia's murder, some of which dwell on the problems to which, in his view, micro-states like Malta are particularly prone. A study of Iceland which ranked second in the world in the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2017 Democracy Index, might serve to put into question some of these arguments. E. F. Shumacher taught us that small is beautiful - an opportunity, not a threat.

Nor is the Catholic position of Douglas W. Kmiec, a former US ambassador to Malta, entirely convincing. The claim that "Malta is a blessed seeker of the truth ... because it has chosen not to obscure its commitment to the transcendental origin and destination of the human person" seems very much out of kilter with the main thrust of the rest of the book.

The fact remains that there was no one else like Caruana Galizia. Since those who believe in democracy and justice no longer have her to crusade on their behalf, a movement must replace her, but movements too need leadership and organisation.

It is regrettable that there is no database of names and contact details of all those who attended the big demonstrations in October last year but it is not too late to build one. How many people would sign a Pledge for Daphne, a personal commitment to campaign for the values she lived and died for? There must surely be many, many people in these islands who can be rallied to call and to keep on calling for change.

Despite Caruana Galizia's single-handed transformation of investigative journalism, of the role of the columnist, of blogging in Malta, and of crowdfunding - a point made in Ranier Fsadni's commendable analysis of Caruana Galizia's role and significance - some modern campaigning techniques have yet to arrive in Malta.

Yet a few smart organisers could soon get things going. How many people would sign an online petition calling for the resignations of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, and the Police Commissioner too, in Malta and around the world? Could not the power and influence of the Maltese diaspora - far more aware than many islanders themselves of the lasting damage being done to the country's reputation - be harnessed? The single buzz of irritation that Caruana Galizia kept up single-handedly now needs to be taken up by the many, and the volume needs to be turned up to Paceville night club levels.

Few Maltese have achieved recognition outside these islands: Dom Mintoff is a household name for an older generation; an educated Western public may know of Edward Debono and Joseph Calleja. Suddenly, Daphne Caruana Galizia has become a significant figure in the history of international journalism and a critical figure in the post-war history of Malta.

So there are many reasons why everyone in Malta - and anyone else with any interest in or concern for this country - should read this book.

Every school leaver and college student should read it because they need to address the issues which Caruana Galizia tried to bring to people's attention, the issues which will shape their future lives and the future of their country. Young people, debate!

Members of political parties should read it and question the dysfunctional culture of tribalism and cronyism which they perpetuate.

The party leaders - one who doesn't pay his taxes, the other presiding over the steady slide of the country which he leads down international tables measuring the vigour of its democracy, the quality of its governance, and the freedom of its expression - should read it and search their souls.

Party placemen and women - some of them called 'persons of trust' in Orwellian Malta - should read it and ask themselves how they can live off the taxpayer by accepting paid positions for which they possess no qualification or experience.

Architects with the aesthetic sense of dung beetles, so intent on further blighting the overbuilt environment, should read it and consider with themselves how they dare claim to share the same profession as Brunelleschi and Wren.

Developers should read it and sign the Daphne Pledge against first the Tel Aviv-isation and now the Dubai-isation of the island before it's too late.

'Planning' officers and members of the 'planning' board should read it and reflect on the shameful mockery they have made of the very notion of planning across the island, let alone their own job titles. The Planning Authority as currently constituted would be more accurately described as a Desecration Authority.

Certain civil servants should read it and consider the implications of their actions before they next bend a rule, break a law, or whisper down a phone to solicit a backhander.

Policemen and women and the Police Commissioner too should read it before explaining to us how a woman as threatened as Caruana Galizia could receive so little protection. If ever there were a book about the consequences of turning a blind eye, this is it.

Anonymous plutocrat passport purchasers should read it in order to gain some insight into the unique traditions of Maltese nationhood and culture and of European identity which they are prostituting.

Henley and Partners' pimps should read it and look into their souls before wielding another SLAPP.

Journalists should reread it and ask themselves how they could have left Caruana Galizia so dangerously isolated; and then resolve to come together to continue her work and offer each other as much mutual support and protection as they can.

We should all read this important book because we all share in the responsibility for Daphne Caruana Galizia's death and we all have a duty to understand who she was and what she was trying to achieve; and to make some amends by carrying on her work.

We owe this to Daphne, to her tragically bereaved husband and to her three fine sons.


Invicta: the Life and Work of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Edited by Joseph A. Debono and Caroline Muscat

The Pertinent Press, Oxford, UK, 2017

188 pages


With contributions by Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, Joseph Anthony Debono, Petra Caruana Dingli, Giovanni Bonello, Andrew Borg Cardona, Mikela Fenech Pace, Jo Borg, Victor Calleja, Kristina Chetcuti, Jonathan Freedland, Luke Harding, Caroline Muscat, Godfrey Leone Ganado, Jacques René Zammit, Godfrey Baldacchino, Henry Frendo, Ranier Fsadni, Douglas W. Kmiec, Paul Sant Cassia, Kenneth Wain; and art, illustrations and cartoons by Debbie Caruana Dingli, Celia Borg Cardona, Marisa Attard, Steve Bonello and Ġorġ Mallia.

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