A Documentary Reportage on Malta: Valletta – Cultural Capital or Capital of Death?

 

Valletta-skyline-malta

This is a report on Malta made by Greek TV ERT1 (Ellinikí Radiophonia Tileórasi 1). It focuses particularly on Valletta’s position as European Capital of Culture in the context of a country exposed for massive levels of national and global corruption, corruption uncovered by the investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in Malta on the 16th of October 2017.

Tomorrow marks the 8 month anniversary of her murder.

Since her assassination, revelations about the scale and quantity of the corruption taking place in Malta have been overwhelming. New stories and evidence of gross malpractice, injustice, and a flagrant disregard for any rule of law appear on a more than daily basis. What’s happening in Malta is beyond belief and yet it is all too real.

The following documentary provides insights into the current situation in Malta in which, three months after the brutal murder of the journalist, Valletta indulged in an extravagant opening ceremony to celebrate its new position as European City of Culture. To say this event was undermined by the assassination of the leading critic of the Maltese government is a gross understatement. While Valletta bathed itself in lights awash with politically motivated fantasies, this ostentatious form of celebration stood in stark contrast to the reality: a journalist who spent her life uncovering the intricate networks of deceit, fraud, misconduct and criminality had been blown up in a car bomb, while those responsible for her murder were – and are – basking in impunity.

As an artist and a member of the women’s led protest organisation, Occupy Justice, I’m one of the people who contributes to this documentary. In Malta, unlike most – if not all – European democracies, the artists have been remarkably silent in the face of the dismantling of the rule of law and ongoing attempts by the present government to stifle media freedom and freedom of expression alongside this. Why? Because all roads lead to the government in Malta. Fear coupled with self-interest becomes a self-imposed gag on the articulation of dissent. Human rights, it seems, can be sacrificed in the name of so-called art. And here we truly enter the eternally warped territory of Orwellian doublethink for how can art, which needs life for its existence, emerge from a culture of death? How can art which, by necessity, demands a free and unfettered imagination, be released from the confines of a kow-towing jail? How can art, which is inherently critical in the very moment it finds its own voice, dare to call itself art if merely reflects or implicitly reinforces the grotesque and ever-shifting deceptions of a totalitarian regime?

“Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the running to spread the truth among such persons.” – Bertold Brecht, Galileo

ERT1 Malta Reportage

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Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 8

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

On the island of Serenity where the streets have no name, in the water of this Malta where the cows go bong and the monkeys all say boo, a celebration was getting underway with a lavish feast being prepared and no expenses spared, no matter where the coffers came from, whether on this shore or off. Impressive banners were being hung out to dry on every balcony, with skeletons in every dusty cupboard being aired.

 
For ever since the humble citizens of this land of sweet serenity had timidly taken their first taste of that forbidden fruit, their thirsty appetite for knowledge was left unquenched as they shovelled apricots and bananas and tinned pomegranate down their parched throats, not to mention apples which had never fallen far from the one remaining tree in Malta which, despite belonging to their neighbours, didn’t deter anyone from scavenging the benefits of Mother Nature’s womb.

 
Nature, like knowledge, is sacrosanct on the island of serenity, and the ivory towers of tranquility would never throw away their key.

 
There were sounds of jubilation as the rumours began to surface. There were tiny ripples of handclaps which crescendoed into mass applause. This, yes, this, on the isle of peace and justice, this, yes, this is what we’ve been hoping for.

 
The academics, tripping over the swathes of black cloth of their moth-bitten gowns, ventured into the town to check if the news they’d heard was true. Unused to the harsh sunlight and the vexing vision of what, to their learned minds, could only be construed as uneducated people engaging in the activities of labour they’d merely read about in books, the intellectuals veritably felt like fish deprived of water, uncontextualised, deconstructed and discarded to the wolves.

 
Shielding their eyes from a social realm they’d carefully scrutinised in published papers, indecipherable with the hieorglyphics of hyphens and obscure new-fangled terms, they picked up their gowns and scuttled hurriedly back through the hollow hallways of scholastic tomes and yellowing manuscripts, retained for posterity because you never know when something that should have been thrown out years ago might suddenly come in handy.

 
The protectors of knowledge, of astute critical thinking, the defenders of rigour, objectivity and ground-breaking theoretical breakthroughs backed up by empirical research whereby no-one’s hands got dirty were perturbed as they gathered together in their dimly-lit senate but, after several hours of failing to reach a consensus due to digressions into discursive alleyways that always lead to nowhere, the Rector finally and falteringly rose to his feet.

 
The rattle in his throat echoed round the hallowed chamber and was heard by all those present, save for those whose heads had rolled back and their eyes were closed in sleep.
‘Our leaders,’ he rasped, coughing phlegm into a parchment that he plucked from a shelf. ‘Our leaders,’ he continued, brushing dust off from his gown. ‘Our leaders,’ he said, and repetition made him stronger, ‘are plotting and scheming to infiltrate our noble ranks.’
‘My job is being threatened,’ he shouted, realising in that instant just how shaky was his ground.

 
In the middle of the night in the Land of Serenity, the greatest minds in Malta were beginning to question their previous compliance and trembled at the possibility that those who they’d made in their very own likeness, those entrusted with passing the beacon of enlightenment from one generation to the next – nay, the pampered spoonfed students themselves – might meekly accept the newly established order as long as their stipends were unaffected and their high grades guaranteed.

 
‘Our leaders want to undermine OUR powers?’ the academics gasped as the gravity of the situation finally sank in.

 
One man, sometimes regarded as the black sheep in the coterie, turned his mind towards the dissidents, horrified at his own inability to take rational control of his thoughts. He gazed out of the window into the darkness before relapsing back into the critical mass in which his safety, he was certain, was assured.

 

Some of these stories have been made into podcasts. They are read and produced by Pia Zammit and are available on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 7

Paradise Papers

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

All hell broke loose in the never-never land of somewhere else, a land which has no place on this terrain of tranquility, a land which dares cast doubt on this serenity. A land which cruelly and maliciously levies dangerous accusations and deigns to use the cherished concept of paradise as it does so, an ideal to which the Land of Serenity sued for copyright amidst its multitude of libel cases, the majority of these filed against a journalist, a woman blown up by a car bomb three weeks ago today.

 
The Land of Serenity does not take kindly to criticism, aware that such attacks are based on spite and jealousy. And who wouldn’t be envious of this Mediterranean jewel, described, so recently and eloquently, as ‘one of the world’s most secretive corporate havens’, a place where people can truly ‘live the dream, enjoying the benefits of society without being subject to any of its constraints’?

 
The festas and the fireworks ignite the evening sky and the humble beneficiaries of this paradise right here, right here on earth, are proud as they parade the streets in freshly laundered clothes. The Land of Serenity will always be a paradise. The Land of Serenity will always live up to its name.

 

Those who meddle in the affairs of this smoothly-running country, who stick their noses into places where they know they shouldn’t go, will be chased away by broomsticks in defiance of their insolence, their lack of decent loyalty to this utopian ideal.

 
Oh, in this haven of confidence, this haven of security, why, why, cried the white-clad servants, must people point at us in shame? Our economy is booming, our churches are brimming, our leaders are loving and our utility bills are low!

 
Why, why, oh why, cried the white-clad humble servants, must our paradise-in-the-making be unpicked by the hateful few?

 
Meanwhile, in the ominous never-never land of somewhere else, dark clouds were gathering yet the flashing lights of torches were forever shining through. The voices, from the self-same chambers vilified for disseminating lies, untruths, ‘fake news’, were rising in steady and persistent and unshakeable harmony. Pilatus Bank, Azerbaijan, Panama offshore vaults and untaxed treasure troves of pearls which might yet, in the Land of Serenity, be tossed in the way of swine.

 
The white-clad citizens wiped the muck from their hands once they had grovelled in the dirt and were grateful for the ending of another peaceful day. The far-off never-never land of somewhere else could never touch them as they counted each and every rosary bead and then knelt down to pray, absolved by their refusal to believe untruths around them, forgiven for their natural human hatred towards those who would undo them, towards all those evil wrongdoers whose only purpose was to harm.

 
The God of Serenity brought comfort in their hour of need, reassuring them that hating their perceived enemies was entirely justifiable under the circumstances. Lies would be obliterated just like the bearers of bad news.

 

Some of these stories have been made into podcasts. They are read and produced by Pia Zammit and are available on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 5

Bay leaf

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

 

A cloak of solemnity shrouded the placid Land of Serenity. Flags were reverentially lowered to half-mast on top of buildings which shielded their secrets far away from prying eyes.

 
A journalist, who merely asked that these secrets be shared amongst the gentle citizens of Serenity, was being laid to rest and a National Day of Mourning was hastily ushered in by the dignitaries and law-makers who humbly accepted they were not welcome guests at the funeral.

 
Not to be outdone and remaining respectful of the family’s wishes, they put their time to more productive use. Adamant to keep the shores of Serenity pollution-free, an Immigration Appeals Board was drawn up, its members appointed with due care and attention to skills, experience and qualifications.

 
Being such a tight-knit little community, it was by simple chance that 4 of those selected happened to be family – the sacred paradigm of the virtuous Christian values on which this land was built. Likewise, such trifling matters as domestic violence are, in this land of Serenity, understood for what they are: mere blips on the horizon of sweet marital bliss.

 
After much deliberation and judicious thought, the new appointees to the Tribunal are announced in the small print of the widely read Government Gazette. Two women with personal relationships to government ministers accept the seriousness of their role with admirable dignity. The son of a judge being investigated by the assassinated journalist also steps forward modestly. And, just to add to this coincidental list of honours, out pops the son of Serenity’s very first Financial Services Arbiter who himself was once the Chairman of the BOV, a bank he was then expected to impartially investigate on behalf of 2,300 investors who lost their money in the same bank’s La Valette Property Fund.

 
Everybody knew his role would not be compromised by his previous allegiance to his former employer just as the white-clad citizens of Serenity would, when they stumbled across the news, be happy in the knowledge that the newly appointed Immigration Appeals Board would go about their business with integrity.

 
Meanwhile, the body of a journalist who was brutally and callously assassinated in broad daylight by a car bomb was laid to rest.

Tales from the Land of Serenity have been made into podcasts, read and produced by Pia Zammit. They are published on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 5

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 4

Msida crane

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

 

On this peaceful sleepy island of Serenity, the people go about their business quietly and dutifully, reassured by constant news from up high that their precious and respected land is safe to work in, both for the citizens and for the journalists who are busy regaling the events of the day, and that the rule of law is indeed and always being upheld.

 

On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the Media Chiefs from the surrounding wider world of Never-Never Land demand a full investigation into the state of media independence in Serenity. Surprisingly, they are taken aback by the extent of media ownership by political parties in such a tiny little state and one so warmly embraced by the arms of Europe.

 

Meanwhile, Serenity’s very own Corruption Commission lies idle, bravely manned by one single stalwart guardian who, like the last and loyal customer in some abandoned laundrette, ensures that the citizens of this country will look decent, and that each and every garment will come out whiter than white in the wash.

 

In confusion, the white-clad citizens gasp to discover that an act of vandalism has occurred – and all while they were sleeping! On an archaeologically sensitive site beneath which lies their heritage, marauders have attacked the construction implements which were innocent bystanders to the planned development of a commerical showroom with five maisonettes, seven apartments, four penthouses and eighteen basement garages.

 

But all hope is never lost as Serenity’s parliamentary secretary for Animal Welfare – himself, and understandably, a hunter – decrees that hunting and trapping hours will joyfully be extended, affording more time for animals to be slaughtered in the wonderful natural environment of Majjistral Park.

 

Back in the land of legality, the mischievous daughters of a former EU Commissioner from Serenity find themselves in court, confronting heinous allegations of fraud, money laundering, misappropriation of funds, making false declarations to a public authority and the use of said documents, as well as the assumption of no less than seven false identities. It causes quite a stir!

 

But the Land of Serenity maintains its sense of calm as the curtains close and the people pull the covers over their eyes, lulled into a delicious sense of security by the crane which watches steadfastly over them as they sleep.

 

Tales from the Land of Serenity have been made into podcasts, read and produced by Pia Zammit. They are published on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 4

 

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 3

law court valletta

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity’…

 

Still rubbing the sleep from their eyes, the good people of Malta were shaken by rumbles of an early morning storm which threatened to engulf the island in one fell swoop. Grey clouds whispered ‘omertá, omertá’ as they huddled together like a blanket to protect the sky.

 

Meanwhile Fort Delimara began to tremble as, deprived of funds to maintain its ancient structure as a defence against the pirates of the sea, it passively accepted its fate – to be swept away by the waves and join the watery grave of the Azure Window. Nothing to be done now. Nothing to be done.

 
At the seat of Justice in the historic stronghold of Valletta, the announcement came that on Friday the 3rd of November, the day of the funeral for the journalist assassinated by a car bomb in Malta, the land of serenity, that on this day the law courts would close early, the flag would be lowered to half mast, and a black sash would be attached to the main door. A mark of respect for a woman who exposed the corrupt workings of the Maltese legal system and had over 40 libel cases filed against her, many by politicians, at the time of her murder.

 
Wandering minstrels and musicians were shocked into silence as their peaceful plans to stage a concert in honour of the murdered journalist were disrupted by threats that their day-time jobs would be removed. This intimidation emanated from within a government bound by the same all-econompassing legal structure which had so recently vowed to respect the very same woman as they.

 
The final rumbles of the storm lifted the sounds of music into the air, attempting to restore that much needed sense of serenity as evening fell and darkness descended once more…

 

Tales from the Land of Serenity have been made into podcasts, read and produced by Pia Zammit. They are published on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 3

The Second Spanish Republic and the Crucifixion of Goodness

Second Spanish Republic 1

The 14th April 1931 saw the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic, and a real sense of optimism and hope for the future spread across Spain, a country which had suffered from a dictatorship, the insidious growth of right-wing extremism, ongoing civil unrest, a fervently oppressive Catholic Church, and the unsparing brutality meted out by the infamous Civil Guard.

The Second Spanish Republic was grounded in a constitution created by thinkers and intellectuals, people attempting to use logic, reason and notions of equality in order to bring into being a fairer better world. The Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, was instrumental in this and his words have a powerful resonance today:

To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code, and its decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed.

Despite some of the Republic’s achievements – granting votes to women, legalising divorce, the reduction of church powers in relation to the state  – within a year, the idealism enshrined in its values had effectively come apart. Ortega y Gasset washed his hands of the new government whose actions became as oppressive and corrupt as those they sought to overturn.  As one character asserts in my novel Duende:

The Republic was founded on ideologies. It was inspired and created by the thinking people. The intellectuals. But it was Azaña who implemented the Law for the defence of the Republic, for Christ’s sake. A deliberate attempt to ensure that the order enshrined in Republican values was maintained, a move which went against everything that the Republic was supposedly about. We defend our liberty – no, we enforce it – through repression and oppression. They shot us down when we were crying out for the very freedom we were promised.

Duende Take 2

Duende by Lizzie Eldridge

The ultimate failure of the Second Spanish Republic paved the way for General Franco and his fascist forces to begin their assault on Spain in July 1936. Shortly after, the Spanish writer, Federico García Lorca, was shot dead by fascist soldiers in his home town of Granada.

Lorca photo

Lorca was a writer who spoke of love and he spoke of love above all else. Lorca was also a homosexual whose sexuality was outlawed by the society in which he lived and worked. Lorca is a man who still lives and breathes through his words, through their everlasting beauty, and as a symbol – but never simply just a symbol – of the consequences of the forces of evil when they are wantonly unleashed upon the world.

It seems deeply pertinent that today is not only the anniversary of the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic but also marks Good Friday, a shameful remembrance of the crucifixion of goodness, however its significance is personally understood. It is the crucifixion of goodness that we remember and sadly, we remember this in a context which seems bitterly devoid of good.

The random absurdity of Donald Trump has now become a daily reality, his latest arbitrary action occurring only yesterday when the ‘mother of all bombs’ was released over Afghanistan. This is coupled with the news of the beating and torture of homosexual men in Chechnya. Just as Lorca was rounded up with other prisoners and taken to be shot, so, too, gay men in Chechnya are being treated in a similar way, with reports that some of these men may later have been killed.

All of this comes hard on the heels of Sean Spicer’s incredulous assertion that ‘someone as despicable as Hitler…didn’t even sink to…using chemical weapons’, deftly erasing the gas chambers and the Holocaust in one outrageous sweep.

So today, on Good Friday, we remember what for some is considered the greatest sin committed by so-called humanity: us. We atone for a crime that was committed in our name. The hope for resurrection has to wait and it seems that two thousand years later, we wait, and still we wait.

But I want neither world nor dream, divine voice,

I want my liberty, my human love

in the darkest corner of the breeze no one wants.

My human love!

Federico García Lorca

Crucifixion
Oil on board
1946Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland