An old protest style has been brought to the forefront in Malta last Tuesday with the egging of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. As he walked to a meeting with a European Parliament delegation, a person from a nearby crowd of protesters threw an egg at Muscat, leaving yolk dripping down from the Prime Minister’s sleeve (Washington Post). So why are people protesting and leaving Muscat looking half-baked?
The unrest began when accounts of the government’s inadequacy and seemingly lack of interest to properly handle the investigation into the 2017 car-bomb murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia appeared. At the time of her death, she was in the midst of a report into signs of corruption between off-shore companies and Maltese politicians (NYT). The police caught her killers, but in a movie style-twist, they were hired, contract killers. So the question remained – who wanted her dead? Just over two years after her death a middle-man, who was a distinguished businessman, was arrested and in exchange for immunity, he offered “to testify against two senior government officials and others ‘close to the prime minister,’” casting doubt over the Maltese government (NYT). A protest ensued with citizens calling for resignations.
Muscat in response to the outrage said he will be resigning in January, only after his party picks a new Prime Minister to replace him. He is not the only person resigning because of this controversy. The chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and the tourism minister, Konrad Mizzi, also resigned due to allegations of their involvement with the crime. All deny any wrongdoing, but the resignations do not help increase citizens belief in their innocence, especially for Schembri who has direct links to a man who has been charged for his involvement in the murder and Muzzi as he was directly accused of corruption by Galizia before her death (Guardian).
For a small country off the coast of southern Italy, a major scandal in their government could have severely affected its reputation among trading partners. Malta while relatively new in its independence (gaining freedom from Britain in 1964) is heavily active and enjoys benefits from being apart of the European Union (BBC), so one could imagine why the government would take any threat that has the ability to damage the country’s ability to receive those benefits seriously. Yet even with the announced resignations, the European Parliament still has concerns and sent in “its own fact finding operation” (Washington Post) to preside over Malta’s insufficient investigation. One European Parliament lawmaker who sat in with Muscat on that Tuesday morning meeting emphasized the issues by stating that the problems do not lie solely between Muscat and his people but also “between Malta and the European Union” (Guardian).
Malta now finds itself in a worse position than if its government had handled the investigation and its aftermath properly. Before its government would be dealing with only an issue of corruption and while that is damaging in its own right the situation is inarguably worse with the potential of corruption, murder, and a cover-up being placed on the government. A frightening thought to accompany this is that Malta could have gotten away with these crimes if no outrage or signs of public upheaval were visible. The demonstrations helped highlight the injustices practiced by the government and helped bring these issues to light. People being able to demonstrate freely is a sign of a free and properly running country, which is what one would expect of Malta with its Freedom House score of 91/100 and its Civil Liberties score of 1/7 (with one being the freest). That is why red flags should be raised when a country of this ranking attempts to get away criminal behavior. The killing of a journalist goes against free speech and much of what a democratic country stands for. If the people are not there to stop it or to raise awareness of the issue who would?
While this protest is relatively small in scale (Malta’s entire population reaching 436,000), it joins the ranks with several others in the rising occurrence of protests, such as the student-led protests in Hong Kong where people have been shot. In class, we discussed various methods of activism this past unit and the political implications protests possess. In the new globalized world, the news of a country’s protest reaches not just neighboring countries but nearly all points around the globe. If it is found that this more comical method of protest draws additional attention to the issues of a country, more might take up this method of protest. Yet, if this protest goes unsuccessful, it could inspire others to take more violent and extreme measures in order for their voices to be heard in the government. Will the Maltese people escalate if no further action is drawn? Malta is under tight supervision by the European Union and one can only hope that its government and those involved with the horrific incident are properly brought to justice because society should prefer an egg-stained sleeve over rampant hospitalization.
Board, The Editorial. “A Journalist’s Murder in Malta Puts Democracy on Trial.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Dec. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/12/02/opinion/malta-muscat-daphne-galizia.html.
“Malta Country Profile.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Dec. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17597837.
“Malta.” Freedom In The World 2019, Freedom House, 14 May 2019, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/malta.
O’Grady, Siobhán. “Protesters Egg Malta’s Justice Minister as Tensions Mount over Handling of Investigation into Journalist’s Killing.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Dec. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/12/03/protesters-egg-maltas-justice-minister-tensions-mount-over-handling-journalists-killing/.
Rankin, Jennifer. “EU Mission Tells Malta PM to Quit Immediately over Caruana Galizia Case.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 3 Dec. 2019, www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/03/eu-mission-boss-urges-malta-pm-joseph-muscat-to-quit-over-daphne-caruana-galizia-case.