This is the third in a series of posts celebrating the women fighting for positive change in our world – starting with some of the women from Occupy Justice.
Lizzie is a writer, actor and teacher. She got her PhD aged 25, which was all about illusion and reality. Malta has pushed this to the limits and being an activist is a natural response to brutal injustice and insanity.
1) You’ve lived in Malta for a good while now as a writer, theatre practitioner, and teacher. Why were you pushed to get so heavily involved in activism now? Which matter is most close to your heart and why do you think that is?
I’ve always been political in the sense that politics are an integral part of life. Politics is how we live and exist as social beings – not something separate taking place in parliament.
Politics is what it is to be human – pure and simple.
I was brought up in Scotland where it’s natural to protest about social injustice – it’s part of our culture – so I wasn’t pushed to get heavily involved in activism, but it was a natural consequence of who I am.
The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was such an appalling thing – something so indescribably terrible – and yet many people in Malta either didn’t care and/or thought ‘she deserved it’ and/or adopted a ‘business as usual’ attitude as if this major assassination would somehow go away or hadn’t even happened. I found the reaction here almost as bad as the assassination itself. It shocked me then and it continues to shock me.
We’re dealing with things that are so wrong – they’re indescribably wrong – that who could sit back and let things play out while being a passive observer? Not only is Malta too small for anyone to simply be an uninformed onlooker, but everybody knows each other so everybody’s involved in some way whether they like it or not. The lack of responsibility demonstrated so shamefully and brazenly by this government is reflected in far too many people in Malta and that appalls me to the core. We’re dealing with basic issues of morality here.
I don’t have a choice but to be heavily involved in protesting against this mass-scale corruption, inhumanity and injustice. What else can or would I do?
2) How has you opinion of Malta changed from the day you landed to the present?
I moved here in 2008 having first visited in 2005, just after Malta joined the EU. I moved here because I loved the creative buzz and energy and the history of this country. I wanted to develop my work as a writer and an actor and in that sense, Malta’s been a good place to be. I never expected to leave.
The changes I’ve seen since I’ve been here are horrific and I wrote about some of this in a piece I did for The Shift News.
The latent corruption here was always evident but it was far less corrosive, or that’s how it felt to me. If you needed work doing, for example, someone always had an uncle or a brother who could do the job for you. And that’s the more positive side of living in a small community, or it can be. The flip-side is blatant in-your-face shameless corruption and that’s the Malta I’m living in now.
It isn’t so much 2 different Maltas but more that all the brutal and nasty and festering ugly side of Malta has taken charge and is allowed to celebrate its existence. It’s like a display of all the characteristics you just wouldn’t want to expose and not only being given permission to do so, but being encouraged and egged on to the hilt because the criminals in power reflect these grotesque qualities.
Whataboutism has become a competition to see who can be the most depraved, sick and inhumane.
What I didn’t understand before or while I was living here is the deep-rooted partisanship and the utter insanity of this. The Labour Party (and, as evident in the support still given to Delia, the PN) is a way of life. It’s nothing to do with politics but is a way of life. You live and breathe it and it doesn’t just form you but it IS your identity.
In a country where the vast majority of media are owned and controlled by the government, you’ve got the perfect hotbed for what is, essentially, brainwashing, and that’s what goes on here. It makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a holiday in comparison.
In Malta, I am born into ‘the Party’. ‘The Party’ is me and I am ‘the Party’. And because I don’t know any different, I’m happy like this and if you don’t like it then ‘Fuck off back to your own country’.
3) Are you optimistic that your efforts can help change things ?
They already have. The Council of Europe resolution at PACE is an illustration of this and Omtzigt’s report contains more or less everything we’ve been shouting about since Daphne was assassinated, the vast majority of which is based on her incredible investigative work.
I know many people who feel a strong sense of guilt that Daphne was left alone while she exposed the atrocities which led to her assassination. That’s always a huge part of what’s going on and the strongest motivation not to stop. Daphne died exposing the things we’re now forcing into public day after day after day.
When I say ‘we’, I mean every single person who’s resisting this totalitarian and anti-democratic government in every single way. When people sneer at Occupy Justice as a ‘small bunch of women’, ‘prostitutes’, ‘desperate housewives’ or whatever misogynistic term they choose, I feel nothing but pride for what this ‘small bunch of women’ have achieved, and we’ve done this as part of a larger movement including NGOs like Repubblika, independent media outlets like The Shift and Manuel Delia’s work as both a blogger and an activist.
This larger movement also includes MEPs, the CoE Special Rapporteur, numerous international media freedom NGOs, Naomi Klein, Bill Browder, international journalists, Greco, the Venice Commission. We certainly don’t exist in isolation.
The fact this government clears our protest-memorial site several times a day says so much to me. It says that this government is frightened of us and what we represent and what, ultimately, we’ll succeed in achieving: truth and justice. We are a daily threat to them and we’ll continue being so until we achieve our aims.
4) What do you do to unplug/de-stress?
Very little actually as it is a 24 hour living, breathing, waking reality. Even when I’m teaching (I teach English as a foreign language), often classes involve subject matter I’m dealing with in this ongoing struggle.
I come home and work on social media stuff, writing, connecting with people involved in the same struggle in one way or another. Resisting what’s happening in Malta is very much my life but that’s as it should be. I’ve always written about social issues and they’ve always come into my theatre work, too, so it’s not like my life has completely changed but it’s certainly intensified. This struggle is a life-death issue. Daphne was murdered. The idea of switching off from that isn’t an option.
5) what have you learned/taken away (personally) from being so involved in activism? (Be it about yourself or the people around you)
I’ve learned and am continually learning so many many things.
Daphne’s family have been a never-ending source of total admiration and respect. I look at that beautiful family and can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. It’s unimaginable. And they are so full of dignity, so full of humanity, so full of integrity and love and there’s such strength in that love. They teach me so many things and every day – about humility, about goodness, about self-respect, about dignity, about continually resisting the forces of inhumanity with a constant and considered and grounded response. They exemplify what it means to be truly human.
I’ve formed unbreakable friendships with people I’ve met through this struggle. I’ve discovered how through coming together and sharing our resources and talents and energies, we can achieve so much without the luxury of time or money or back-up.
We do this on our own and by ourselves and we do it incredibly well.
Working under considerable pressure as the territory keeps changing every day – new corruption scandals to contend with, new devious moves from the government etc – we manage to continue our protest in so many different and innovative ways. And all of this is done without any organisational structure but it’s developed out of our common sense, our common need, to fight against intolerable forms of behaviour and never stop fighting. The energy of resistance is astounding and creates a momentum of its own.
I’ve learnt that my core values are unshakeable and that no amount of fear, intimidation or harassment will ever change my beliefs in what is right, and the courage I see in others who stand up to threats stands as a role model for me to do the same.
I’ve discovered that there are some incredible and wonderful and intelligent and brilliant people in Malta and I’m so lucky to be able to count them as my friends.
I’ve learnt through direct experience that when atrocities are committed, people come together and continue powerfully and consistently to resist this. I learn and relearn this every day. It’s life-affirming.
6) what has been the most testing or difficult aspect of being an activist?
The psychological and physical strain. The gaslighting and the trolls and the never-ending lows to which this cynical government stoops can be difficult to deal with over an extended (ongoing) period. Sometimes you feel like you’re going mad – all part of the gaslighting technique.
My weapon has always been laughter and I know that as soon as I stop laughing, I’m in trouble. Last June, I went to Berlin for a week as I felt I needed to get out of Malta and quickly. It was, quite literally, doing my head in. Some days, I’d come back from work and just burst into tears. not a good place to be in.
So I went to Berlin and reminded myself of what it’s like to be in a normal city with normal people doing normal civilised things. The day after I arrived, surrounded by green trees, I got the news that the government had chopped down the protected tree in Upper Barrakka. I wept.
You need to sustain so much energy to keep this fight going but somehow, even with the bad moments, you do. Because you have to. The support, love and friendship we give each other is fundamental to this energy. We keep each other going and we keep each other sane during the good times as well as the bad. It’s working and being together that eases the difficulties and knowing that you’re never ever alone.
Whenever I feel low or think I can’t go on, I think of Daphne’s family. And I think of Daphne. No other reminder is necessary.
7) what, in your opinion, needs to change for Malta to heal?
So much. There needs to be a massive cultural shift and I think it will take a long time, a very long time. The blind and insane partisanship in Malta reminds me of sectarianism in Northern Ireland – equally deep-rooted, horrifically destructive, irrational and, so miserably, a entire way of life. Accepting there are still problems in Northern Ireland – the killing of the young journalist, Lyra McKee, being a harsh reminder of this – a peace process was put into place and hardliners from both side of the divide managed to sit down together at the same table and come to some kind of agreement – an incredible thing in itself. Malta is not the same as Northern Ireland but the experience of the latter suggests optimism and I refuse to give up on the belief that things will change for the better.
How this happens is another question. Education is crucial. And the kind of education is crucial. Not shoving your kids to school (by car) then driving them to extra-curricular activities then home for private lessons then hours of homework then finally to bed. Not going to university as a rite of passage before marriage and when you’re at university, you write essays based on what your lecturer’s political affiliation is in order to get good marks. And changing the culture of corruption or, to refer to that well-used concept – amoral familism.
How do you change a mindset that says it’s ok to ask my politician for the things I want for me and my family? That says “as long as I clean my front doorstep, who cares about the cranes all around me and the houses collapsing” because it’s not my house? And the construction workers falling to their deaths because few care? They’re not from Malta and as long as their blood doesn’t muddy my doorstep then who cares? How to change this mindset?
This is a social and cultural revolution and it’s a long one. But one thing I noticed about Malta and it’s remained true is that changes happen very quickly in this country so perhaps this much needed social and cultural revolution won’t take as long as you’d expect.
It may come about because, at some point, the false economy of this country will inevitably crash and then, directly affected by the lack of money in their pockets, people might – and only might – realise they’ve been duped.
I’d like to think change will come about for more humanitarian reasons but, sadly, I’m not fully convinced.
The other problem we’ve got is, of course, environmental, interlinked with extensive corruption. Malta is fast becoming an unliveable island. Change has to happen now and Moviment Graffitti made a superb move in halting db Pembroke Towers. Again this gives cause for real optimism as the biggest and most significant change I’ve seen in Malta since I moved here is the rise and influence of civil society. This is what we need to tap into for any social and cultural revolution to have real and lasting and positive effect.
If you enjoyed what you read today and you’d like to read more, please fire us your email: