It was almost three weeks ago now that the Great Siege Monument in Valletta was boarded off for restoration works, with the official explanation being that it had been damaged by items which activists had placed there in memory of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Yet the monument remains boarded off, and Justice and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici has refused to give a timeline for when the works will be completed.
“I’m leaving the works in the hands of restoration experts and I won’t rush into giving a completion date,” Bonnici told Lovin Malta. “Hopefully the process doesn’t take too long and hopefully we’ll all take care of the monument once the works are done.”
However, a conservation expert told Lovin Malta on condition of anonymity that the only damage that could have been incurred is by tape or wax, both of which can be easily removed with solvents or steam, a process that should not take longer than a few hours.
Pressed on this point, Bonnici claimed that this wasn’t the case.
“This isn’t just a simple scrubbing. I will leave it up to the restoration experts to decide, but this is a process which certainly takes longer than a few hours,” he said. “I’m amazed at how you usually apply pressure when damage is done to monuments, but how there isn’t the same zeal in this case.”
Owen Bonnici uploaded photos of the monument being cleaned on 20th September
Bonnici reiterated that the monument was clearly damaged by items that had been placed there by activists but pleaded ignorance as to the exact cause and extent of the damage.
“All I know is that the damage was caused by those items,” he said. “It could have been candle wax stains, tape residue, ink that spilled from the photos and onto the marble… I don’t know and I’m leaving it all in the hands of the restoration experts.”
He added that the restoration experts have taken advantage of the boarded state of the monument to “embellish” the surrounding area.
“Cordoning off a monument isn’t a regular procedure, so now that it’s cordoned off it will undergo a proper restoration. After the stains are removed, there’s going to be an embellishment of the area.”
Bonnici declined to give details about the planned embellishment works, merely stating that it could include the fixing of any broken tiles and lights.
Activists had been using the Great Siege monument as a makeshift memorial to Caruana Galizia since her assassination last October, on the grounds that its position right outside the law courts will serve as a constant reminder to lawyers and the judiciary that justice has not yet been served.
However, critics – including government officials – have argued the memorial should not be erected under a national monument, particularly since Caruana Galizia was such a divisive figure in her lifetime.
The minister had refused to weigh in on this debate for 11 months but changed his strategy after the memorial was cleared ahead of the annual Victory Day celebration.
The monument was for months used as a makeshift memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia
“I proceeded with caution because I know it’s a very emotional issue, but now some people are insisting they have a unilateral right to arbitrarily turn the monument into a memorial to Caruana Galizia,” Bonnici said. “National monuments deserve respect and you can’t just claim them… maybe someone will claim the Sette Giugno or Independence monument next. If people want to erect a memorial for Caruana Galizia, then they must apply for a permit like everyone else, but not on a national monument.”
The Culture Minister told Lovin Malta that he would like to see public debate shift towards a mature discussion on whether and where a more permanent memorial should be erected.
“Should the memorial be for Daphne Caruana Galizia, for all journalists, for all murdered journalists, for free speech in general? I hope we can have this sort of mature discussion.”