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Best of times yet to come - Arthur Muscat

It looks like we are reverting back to the notorious 1980s, with the slide towards mediocrity and intolerance seemingly gaining momentum.

For the Minister of Justice and Culture to find the time to intervene, elaborate and communicate a ludicrous justification for banning citizens from commemo­rating, at an appropriately prominent national monument site, murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, is condemnable, but also very ‘retro’.

Because the PN club in Floriana occupied a prominent site, we stopped counting (five, 10, 15 times) the number of times it was ransacked under Mintoff. The attacks occurred mostly in broad daylight, each time by the same Labour rabble, with never an identification or arrest of the perpetrators. Under Joseph Muscat, in the best of times, a minister of justice is instructed to deploy cleansing department employees to destroy a commemoration display.

But this time, probably because of EU and international focus, no overt violence, no, no, just get on with the task at three in the morning, as the display is left unguarded, with repetitions as necessary. In Mintoff’s days a mini-bus load of untouchable dockyard thugs would have sufficed to chase away courageous and upright citizens from exercising a fundamental civic right. Today, in full bloom of ‘the best’ of times, it seems there is need for subtle and sophisticated interventions, not crude force.

So we have our minister applying all the sophistication and subtlety that he is capable of, roping in Heritage Malta, to justify, as a cultural restoration job, what in truth is a clumsy denial of freedom of expression and action.

Never mind, some might say, that this is much more humane than the violent, nightmarish 1980s’ approach of Lorry Sant’s Labour thugs. We should be grateful. After all, what is at stake here? The right to access a particular public monument to register a protest? The right to stage and record a remembrance? We are spoilt for monuments! What’s all this fuss? We are, in a gentlemanly way, only being asked to pick a monument other than the Great Siege one, which is too prominent.

This government feels threatened by the courageous tenacity of... so many ordinary citizens who keep on refusing to leave the valorous Daphne behind them

So we are being told to go and find another, less prominent, monument. I would, however, not suggest the Lorry Sant monument in Paola. It just does not strike me as appropriate.

The inspiration for this outstanding ministerial restoration decision seems to originate from the actions taken by those luminaries of liberalism and democracy, namely President Erdogan of Turkey and President Sisi of Egypt. For reasons as invalid as those declared by our Justice and Culture Minister, these two gentlemen banned their citizens from accessing Taksim and Tahrir squares, where they were voicing their disagreement with their government’s policies.

It is significant that our government still feels the need to justify an unjustified action. This implies that as yet, there is a reluctance to appear to be applying brute force and imposition. So an attempt is made to apply a veneer of respectable justification to an action that is nothing less than one of intolerance, arbitrary imposition, bullyism and violence against freedom.

This government feels threatened by the courageous tenacity of the civil society ladies, groups like Kenniesa, some MPs and MEPs and so many ordinary citizens who keep on refusing to leave the valorous Daphne behind them. Government wants to bury the fact that there is still no indication of a convincing effort to achieve a breakthrough in identifying the commissioner/s of the murder of Daphne.

Yes, it looks evident that this government is uneasy and uncomfortable, and possibly dirty consciences are being stirred, consciences that might be afraid of ghosts, ghosts that come back to haunt whoever is liable to be haunted.

I am a European Union citizen, by education, formation and beliefs, and not through the purchase of a passport, and I feel ill at ease when I walk in front of a barricaded and covered-up scaffolding surrounding the Great Siege monument.

I feel cheated and offended, I feel a diminution in my freedom of accessand expression.

I will not forget Daphne Caruana Gali­zia, and her sacrifice, because of a distracting bronze restoration job. What laws were being infringed to justify the placing, albeit temporary, of police barriers around a restoration job? Should we meekly accept to be told who, and how, and whether or not, to commemorate?

I desperately ask myself, what year is this, 2018 or 1987?

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