National healing, by definition, must involve everybody

To be truly effective, this admission must also come from other leaders within the apparatus of government; not least, Prime Minister Robert Abela

President George Vella’s visit to the site of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder yesterday – significantly, accompanied also by members of the Caruana Galizia family – marks an important step in our country’s slow and unsteady progress towards national healing, after the grim events of October 2017.

This much was evident even from a statement issued by the Caruana Galizia family immediately after the visit: “We welcome the President’s gesture as the Maltese state’s recognition of Daphne’s memory and sacrifice and its acknowledgement that it must bear responsibility for her assassination and for its failure to prevent real and immediate risks to her life.”

It transpires that the occasion itself came about only after “several exchanges between the President and the Caruana Galizia family”; and was a result of the inquiry report last July, which found that the Maltese State bore responsibility for ‘creating the circumstances which led to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.’

As the Head of the Maltese State, it is fitting that George Vella would recognise his own role in trying to bring closure to this affair. From this perspective, it is not just his initiative that counts: but also, the words he uttered for the occasion.

Specifically, Vella said he believed all the recommendations of the public inquiry’s report into the assassination of Caruana Galizia should be implemented; and that he hoped the report would be the start of a national healing process.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that this was also the Caruana Galizia family’s reactions to the same inquiry. As such, there seem to be the first glimmer of what might lead to a much-needed rapprochement, between the State and the Caruana Galizias; and there is also consensus regarding the way forward.

Everybody, it seems, agrees that the process has to begin with a proper implementation of the inquiry’s recommendations; which in turn must commence with the State’s admission of its own responsibilities.

Naturally, however, it would also be naïve to assume that ‘national reconciliation’ – even at the best of times; let alone, after the events of recent years - could be reached simply as a result of a few token gestures, or a few well-scripted words here and there.

Vella’s words and gestures may indeed go some distance towards achieving this goal, but they are clearly not enough: even for the simple reason that the President of the Republic – while indeed a figurehead for the State – is not fully representative of all the state’s legislative and executive arms.

To be truly effective, this admission must also come from other leaders within the apparatus of government; not least, Prime Minister Robert Abela. And to be fair, Abela’s immediate reaction to the inquiry was to likewise accept its overall conclusions.

Indeed, he even went a step further – probably much further than many of his own supporters would have liked – by also extending a personal apology to the Caruana Galizia family.

Nonetheless, this welcome gesture has also been undermined – and to a certain extent, contradicted – by certain other actions and initiatives taken in recent weeks. These include the Public Broadcasting Service’s extraordinarily short-sighted decision to ignore an impassionate speech, on the occasion of the recent Victory Day festivities, by former Speaker of the House Miriam Spiteri Debono.

This sort of selective reporting, on the national station, merely takes us back to precisely the sort of entrenched political attitudes that make any form of national rapprochement virtually impossible. On this occasion, however, there was the additional irony that the Spiteri Debono speech that was censored, actually called on the authorities to do the very opposite:

“Pyrrhic victories or partisan battling without substance only serve to create more division,” the former Speaker warned. And it is precisely this culture of ‘partisan battling’ – that, to his credit, George Vella immediately tried to dismantle with his Conference of National Unity – that is clearly holding us back.

With this in mind, it must be said that – despite the willingness displayed by the Caruana Galizia family – there are still elements within the country, supposedly on the side of ‘truth and justice’, that do not necessarily want any such rapprochement to take place at all.

The sustained attacks on President Vella himself, for instance – even as he takes whatever steps he can, to heal this wound – are evidence enough that this ‘partisan bickering’ does not come from only one side.

But as Spiteri Debono noted, it is the country as a whole – and not just the State, or the government – that must unite to overcome this hurdle. “We need to redeem ourselves as a nation. We need to unite, as we did in the past, for the necessary changes of our time, changes we have already started to do”.

And ‘national unity’, by definition, requires a collective effort on the part of everybody.