Why MaltaGov’s reaction to the Daphne memorial is wrong

Everyone in Malta has some opinion about the makeshift memorial in Valletta. It’s there to commemorate Daphne Caruana Galizia who was assassinated last year. Some – the government included – remove it at every opportunity. Some say it should remain. Is either of them right?

I

The memorial to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia (c) The Malta Independent

The issue in Malta is laden with emotion and identity. In these situations I find it useful to take a step back and find a parallel example I can relate to.

In Spain, Catalan nationalists use yellow ribbons to remember jailed leaders. It’s a link to their independent history. In 1703, during the war of Spanish succession, Francisco de Velasco y Tovar supported King Philip V and fought for a united Spain. He banned yellow ribbons to avoid publicising the separatist cause.

Yellow, especially ribbons, are a symbol of Catalan independence.

These yellow ribbons are a peaceful way to show your wish to see Catalan leaders freed. Pro-Madrid vigilantes remove these ribbons wherever they find them. The Group for Defence and Resistance (GDR) is one such snatch group. They go out late at night to take ribbons down from lampposts and buildings. Violence simmers under the surface as the GDR clashes with separatists.

I won’t go into more detail about Catalan independence as others have done a better job than I ever could. The BBC has an excellent summary if you’re interested.

My interest is in the symbolism – these ribbons are symbols which some hate and some favour.

What should the Spaniards do about this?

II

My answer is simple: ignore them and move on.

The symbol is what Catalan separatists use to show their support for their leaders. It doesn’t harm anyone. It’s easy to ignore. It’s easy to pay attention to if that’s what you want to do. By removing symbols unionists are drawing more attention to the cause. It’s a classic example of the Streisand effect.

You’d think they want to forget about the crisis not highlight it even more.

You could say it’s not easy to ignore things which cause offence.

I argue if it’s easy to ignore an overweight hairy middle-aged man in speedos on a beach, then it’s easy to ignore anything.

You attract more attention to the issue by making a fuss. That is what you don’t want because you want fewer people to use that symbol, not more.

How does this relate to the situation in Malta?

III

There isn’t a single symbol used in Malta. The people wanted to show they were not going to let the political act of assassinating a journalist intimidate them. They chose to show their bravery close to the court. Coincidence had it that Malta’s monument commemorating the Great Siege of 1565 is in front of the Court house.

They saw a parallel between the siege on freedom of speech and the siege by the Ottoman Empire. Placing a memento there had a poetic significance.

So that’s what they did.

It’s easy to ignore something you don’t like. So ignore it.

People left flowers. They lit candles. They left pictures of Ms Caruana Galizia and some even printed out some of her work and left it there. It was all peaceful and innocent.

This irritated the government which had often been the target of Ms Caruana Galizia’s writing. The Minister of Justice has personally ordered these candles and flowers be removed. Most of the time they clean it up in the dead of night when no one can see who is doing this. It’s exactly what they do in Spain.

More recently the government went as far as building a wall around the Great Siege Memorial. They claim they want to protect the monument while “cleaning” takes place. This happened a few months ago and no cleaning took place. It hasn’t stopped people placing flowers and candles. People with a wicked sense of humour have even hung protest banners from the wall. The government removed those too.

Am I the only one who sees the problem here?

IV

The Spanish example mirrors the Maltese one down to a T.

The government has fuelled people’s desire to place flowers and candles there by making a fuss. If the government ignored it the issue would have died a natural death.

The government thinks it can’t back down now. If it U-turns and allows flowers and candles that would mean it “lost.” No one likes to lose, and the macho Mediterranean stereotype isn’t helping. From a rational point of view I’d rather lose a fight which is ridiculous and focus my attention on more pressing matters.

But reason has long abandoned this discussion.

In conclusion:

To all those who feel offended by flowers and candles:

Offence can only be taken, never given. Be a better person, ignore them and move on.

Share this with someone who feels strongly about the memorial to Ms Caruana Galizia.

References

  1. Tensions rise in Catalonia over yellow ribbon symbols; Cristian Segura; El Pais; 2018-08-27
  2. Yellow ribbons open new rift in Catalonia; Graham Keeley; The Times of London; 2018-08-29
  3. Francisco Fernández de Velasco y Tovar; Great Catalan encyclopaedia; (Retrieved 2018-10-12)
  4. Compilation of what happened in the war of succession (in Spanish); Manuscript 763; Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona; (As retrieved and translated 2018-10-12)
  5. What is the Streisand effect?; The Economist; 2013-08-16
  6. The Siege of Malta (1565); Tony Bunting; Encyclopaedia Britannica; 2017-09-05
  7. Minister gave order to clear Daphne memorial site, court told; Edwina Brincat; The Times of Malta; 2018-11-12

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.


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