The burning of the witch
She had long been attacked as ‘the witch of Bidnija’, the ‘Queen of Bile’, #GALIZIABARRA! and threatened with death. At the end, they did to her what has been done to witches over the centuries – death by burning. The squares of Mdina and Vittoriosa can t
And for being a woman. She was killed next to her house in that beautiful spot that is the Bidnija valley. Over the hill at Kuncizzjoni there is a small monument to a woman who had been burned in a car boot for befriending the girlfriend of some tough guy. Daphne had written on this case. On the other side, at Zebbiegh, an equally small monument testifies to a girl killed because she wanted to end a relationship.
But those who killed her, and those who ordered the killing, made one crucial miscalculation. They created a martyr, and in so doing they made Daphne immortal, an icon for freedom of expression all over the free world. It all goes to show, in my opinion, the political incompetence of those behind this killing: politicians know that the last thing they want is to make a martyr of their victim.
A martyr becomes an instant saint. His or her blemishes disappear. The martyr becomes a universal role model. Make a martyr and hundreds, thousands, step up to take the martyr’s place.
This is why I firmly believe that the political parties in Malta had nothing to do with this killing. They knew this was the one thing they should avoid.
Having said that, there may still be a Maltese element to the killing. In recent times, bumping off an adversary by means of a car bomb has become the preferred way of settling disputes among Maltese criminals. This was the first time that a contract had targeted someone outside the criminal circles.
Daphne’s life, and death, followed a trajectory of its own. I can trace this by recollecting my association and friendship with her over the years.
I first came in contact with her when she was associate editor at Standard Publications and I began my first tentative at- tempts at writing articles in English for the Sunday paper. That was in 1993. Then she left and moved to The Times.
On a hot Saturday in 1995, when I was acting editor, I was approached by a member of staff who had earlier been the reason for her leaving Standard Publications, and was told she was in trouble at The Times because they did not want to publish her article attacking Guido de Marco. I offered her space on The Malta Independent and up to last Sunday she delivered an article every week.
Two days before that, Daphne testified in court that she was informed that the head of the armed forces had been ordered to resign by then Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, but that Guido de Marco, deputy prime minister at the time, had given him legal advice urging him not to resign.
For that disputed article, de Marco held a very long press conference at the Foreign Ministry (he was then acting PM) and his daughter sued both me and Daphne, and won.
Thus began a collaboration that ended last Monday. The stories she broke with those articles will offer future historians a unique insight into Malta at the turn of the century. Most were highly controversial – the retrieval of Alfred Sant’s divorce papers (which later led to the sacking of the TMI editor), the article mocking Dom Mintoff (for which he sued us both criminally and civilly, and lost), which led to her whooping cries of celebration when he died (mirrored, as karma would have it, in a policeman’s rejoicing when she was killed), the revelations regarding John Dalli, and countless others.
In 2008 she moved to a higher level. She had long been asking us for more space than just two articles a week and when that was not forthcoming, she began her blog which in time beat all Maltese media in readership and following. She first experi- mented by writing on a blog run by someone else, then she took the plunge and set up Running Commentary, her blog. There she was completely free; free from editorial oversight. She did everything – she wrote the articles, moderated (and corrected) the comments, sometimes adding her own comments. And meanwhile, she continued her day job of editing two glossy and successful magazines. Those who followed her know that she sometimes posted at 2am or even later. In recent months, she confessed to someone that she had gone for nights without sleep.
With the Nationalist Party losing the 2013 election and with Labour in power, she redoubled her effort. She was the one who broke the Panama Papers story in Malta, implicating a minister and the PM’s assistant. Then she claimed that a senior minister had visited a brothel in Germany while on official government business. That minister sued and got the court to issue a huge garnishee order freezing all her accounts. Admiring supporters helped her overcome this. Then Egrant, which brought together Azeri money and the spouse of the Prime Minister in one allegation. It was this that spurred PM Muscat to hold an early election. He won, she lost.
Later she went on a crusade to stop Adrian Delia, debts and all, from becoming leader of the Nationalist Party. He won, she lost.
All this was mixed with gossip, mainly taken from Facebook posts of her ‘victims’, derision coming from an elitist point of view (what the Prime Minister mistakenly claimed to be racism), claims that the Maltese do not speak English correctly (or even Maltese), and so on.
This was a unique mix held together by the personality of one person. It was an impossible task. She was in effect writing a complete newspaper every single day all on her own. There was a RAI 3 discussion this week on this specific point – the advantages/disadvantages of a single person versus a structured organization.
In recent weeks, those who followed her writings closely and those who had contact with her noticed she was slowing down (maybe the mountain of libel cases had something to do with this) and a generic desperation crept into her writings, as mirrored in her last, prophetic, words ‘There is corruption everywhere – the situation is desperate’.
But maybe too she had taken on what she could not chew. International comment is now waking up to the fact that Malta has become a crossroads for international crime – from Azeri money laundering, to Sicilian mafia interacting with Libyan warlords, to Maltese involvement in sloughing off Libyan oil on the black market, to drug running on a vast scale. Maybe she was working to disclose something along these lines when she was murdered.
What I called her trajectory can now be seen. She came to rely less and less on working with and under others and more and more to doing it all by herself. That made her all the more exposed to personal risk and danger.
It is clear she cannot be replaced. There will be no one ready to undertake such a burden, let alone with the associated risks. I cannot defend or justify her more atrocious posts or some comments she allowed. But as I said at the beginning, all that now pales when one considers her enormous courage, her determination, and her insistence that law and order must prevail in Malta.
She is not just a martyr but also, in her own way, a patriot. That such a person has been killed, and the manner in which she has been killed, sends a shock wave should make each one of us reflect on what we are doing and how we are doing it.
Sit tibi terra levis, Daphne.