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The writing on the wall

The recent protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office by activist group Kenniesa, supported by Occupy Justice, was possibly one of the most significant in years. They projected on the majestic Auberge de Castille the words “House of impunity” and “Who killed Daphne?” in very much the same way that Valletta 18 projected the flag of Malta in a night of extravagance to mark Valletta becoming a European Capital of Culture.

The protest was poorly attended and far less spectacular but it had far more meaning. No wonder, then, V18 chairman Jason Micallef was unamused. He thinks the Kenniesa abused democracy and says the protest was a vile, systematic and illegal assault on public monuments by a few dozen people. He even takes the government to task for showing weakness.

Those people outside Castille were protesting over the fundamental issue of rule of law and the murder of journalist/blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia. Presumably, Mr Micallef, a former Labour Party general secretary, does not think democracy is abused by the government inside Castille but by the conscientious people outside. So he deems a protest inside Valletta an abuse. He appears to think he owns the city.

It is people who make up this country not monuments. Monuments do not make a city, people do. And it is people who make democracy and Kenniesa spoke for many of them. There was no better place to hold their protest and their mimicking of the V18 celebrations was just sardonic humour at its best.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat thought the crowds at the V18 celebrations were a reflection of national pride, in very much the same way as the musical Ġensna was once held as an icon of national identity. Governments do not create national identities and pride. The closest they ever come to doing that, some would argue, is when they declare war.

Mr Micallef is now on the ‘warpath’, possibly flushed by the success of crowds that ended up stranded and in search of buses home after the taxpayer-paid party for V18. He has waded into the debate on whether there is to be a monument/memorial to Ms Caruana Galizia opposite the law courts. He said in no uncertain terms that he was against it.

He has a right to object to the idea and he probably would not be alone. It is a democracy we live in – even if a threatened one – and he would not be ‘abusing’ that democracy when he exercises his right to freedom of expression in the same way that the Kenniesa and Ms Caruana Galizia did not.

As V18 chairman, Mr Micallef’s more immediate priority should be how to stop vandals defacing the ‘popular’ art he wants put up around the city. The makeshift memorial to Ms Caruana Galizia, on the Great Siege monument, a memorial he also dislikes, is not one of his art pieces but is far more significant than that. It symbolises all that is wrong with this country.

The flowers and messages at the memorial come from a people who care, who cannot put up anymore with the degenerate state of the country. Mr Micallef and the Labour members of the Valletta local council would do well to keep their hands off that makeshift memorial. People are already angry.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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