Assassination of Caruana Galizia: a scar on the national conscience

History may remain permanently divided on Daphne Caruana Galizia and her legacy: but the assassination is likely to remain a scar on the national conscience, like the brutal murders of Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana

As we commemorate the first anniversary of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it is inevitable that we also take stock of the profound effect this tragedy has had on the country as a whole. Journalists, MEPs and activists visiting from overseas have all remarked on the unashamedly polarised reactions in the wake of the murder: few probably really understand the sheer depth of the chasm that now divides the country.

To understand the divisive reactions to this tragedy – which are, in themselves, only a symptom of the underlying malaise – one must also attempt to dispassionately analyse the phenomenon that Daphne Caruana Galizia so clearly was. In life she was called many things by many people – by turns derogatory or adulating – and in death the extremities of both views appear to have deepened further.

But the truth is that Daphne Caruana Galizia, in reality, defied all attempts at simple categorisation. She was a journalist, yes; but her journalism varied in style and substance over her 25-year career, and no single epithet holds good for all of it. She was described as an ‘apologist for the Nationalist administration’; but she was also the one who dismissed its iconic former leader Eddie Fenech Adami as a ‘village lawyer’, and whose contempt for former president Guido de Marco almost rivalled her scorn for all things Labour.

She was often accused of being a ‘poison-pen blogger’; but while this aspect undeniably crept into her output over the years, the view fails to take in the wider scope of her journalistic career. Indeed, part of the tragedy of her assassination is that it seems to have solidified, in the public imagination, the very divisiveness she represented to so many people. It has proven difficult, if not impossible, for local or international media to disentangle themselves from the many mythologies surrounding Daphne Caruana Galizia: mostly created by those who are only capable of seeing either one extreme, or the other.

These two polarities came to be reflected in the equally polarised reactions to the magisterial inquiry into Egrant. On one side adulators choose to ignore the conclusions of the inquiry by emphasising the sheer impossibility of proving the ownership of secret companies, thus falling back to the safe position of believing whatever Caruana Galizia wrote simply because Muscat can never prove he is not the owner of Egrant.

On the other hand, an inquiry which still has not been published in full, is being used to silence any criticism and as another excuse for vilifying Caruana Galizia’s memory.

Both sides are incapable of understanding that human fallibility, in journalism, is not necessarily a sign of malicious or benign intent. Ultimately, Daphne’s own motives were neither ‘demonic’ nor ‘angelic’, but human. She no doubt believed in the cause she was fighting for; but like all other humans she was susceptible to be swayed by her own prejudices and biases.

Much of the mythology that has been since created around her is likewise simplistic. Daphne Caruana Galizia was biased against Labour; of this there can be no doubt. But her biases did not come from nowhere. They had been shaped by the realities of the turbulent 1970s and 1980s.

Even her family background was not that of a pure-bred Nationalist. Her father co-founded the short-lived Partit Demokratiku Malti which had contested the 1987 election, and her family tree includes former supporters of Strickland’s Constitutional Party. If anything, Caruana Galizia was more anti-Labour than pro-PN; and her overriding fear was given a booster by Alfred Sant’s shock electoral victory of 1996.

But even her aversion to Labour also has to be contextualised. There was a method to her constant, unrelenting attacks on the Labour Party under its various incarnations. Minor inconsistencies apart, her arguments were always rooted in the belief – questionable, no doubt, but nonetheless held with firm and unswerving conviction – that Labour is, was and will always be, by definition, prone to corruption and allergic to good governance.

Her worldview was, in fact, that of a Manichean struggle between good and evil, where the end sometimes justifies the means. “It is pointless being good when your rivals are armed and dangerous, and have no moral brakes”, she once suggested.

At the end of the day, Daphne was more of a political actor setting her own personal agenda – which the Nationalist Party often chose to follow – than a journalist following a partisan agenda. If her agenda may have frequently coincided with that of the PN, it is arguably more because both shared a common goal.

None of this, however, changes the fact that history may remain permanently divided on Daphne Caruana Galizia and her legacy. The assassination is likely to remain a scar on the national conscience, like the brutal murders of Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana. One only hopes that the prosecution of the three men accused of her murder, will be followed by that of the people behind this heinous crime.

Getting to the bottom of murder may be of little consolation for family members and friends, who will forever feel Caruana Galizia’s loss, but it can go some way into helping the country to heal.

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