An event loaded with political, cultural, social and emotional resonance that cannot be ignored

No 6 • The Daphne vigil

What are we skinning? The commemorative vigil in honour of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered by car bomb on October 16, 2017.

Why are we skinning it? It’s an event loaded with political, cultural, social and emotional resonance that simply cannot be ignored, not least because of the international speakers addressing the enormous crowd in Valletta.

So you’re gonna make fun of it? Not at all. The murder of a journalist, however complex, controversial and misunderstood her legacy may be, is no laughing matter. But there’’ a lot that can be explored between the interstices of the narratives forming around all of that, and last Thursday’s vigil was another example of just how true that is.

How do you mean? Well, for starters we had former MEP Ana Gomez come up to speak, and one of her rallying cries was, “I am a socialist, and I’m proud to be a socialist!” – a puzzling bit of political positioning given Caruana Galizia’s own discomfort, if not outright disdain, of socialist principles...

But surely an act as shocking as Daphne’s murder should force us to step aside from comparatively petty – even ‘academic’ – political semantics, and just focus on healing and prevention? Yes, but with a figure as strongly etched into the Maltese psyche as Caruana Galizia was, it is difficult for politics not to worm its way through.

An international perspective always helps though, right? Getting the Mayor of Palermo and a Sicilian anti-mafia priest to speak should focus our mind on the issues at hand, surely? In theory, yes, and their impassioned speeches were adequately rousing calls for social justice. But these performances also point towards the danger of generalising Daphne’s legacy far too much.

Generalising? To put it plainly, their speeches could have been copy/pasted commemorations to any fallen figure who died in circumstances that suggest institutional corruption may have had a hand in the assassination. As ever, international attention on the Daphne case appears to hinge on a lack of specificity, which has the unfortunate – even if it may be unwitting – side-effect of intellectual dishonesty.  

Do say: “The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was both a viscerally horrific and nationally traumatising tragedy, and we should all give ourselves the space to process it with goodwill and a calm mind, while remaining vigilant over the powers-to-be, ensuring that such a thing never happens again in an EU member state that claims to hold freedom of speech as sacred.”

Don’t say: “Daphne is a martyr and deserves unquestioning and unreconstructed adulation/Daphne was a Labour-bashing propagandist and a gossip blogger with classist tendencies so her legacy is hopelessly tarnished. Nuance and complexity is banned from the discussion on pain of social ostracism.”