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I want to take a bit of time to talk about the personal emotional toll of not just doing the kind of work I do, but the emotional toll of the news space at large and the impact it has on wider society. I think it’s important to do so. From a ‘selfish’ perspective, I find the writing process to be cathartic, and it seems that my readers find it similarly cathartic to read whatever emerges from that process.

On Monday, I ended a very long day involving three separate court cases, a press conference, and two other stories I am yet to work on by attending a vigil for Alexei Navalny. While journalists in other newsrooms can afford to crank out more stories per day, one must bear in mind that in order for them to be able to do so, they would probably have someone else doing photos, videos, proofreading, and editing, and would need to compromise thoroughness for the sake of speed. I need to do everything myself, so believe me when I say that the effort required to publish three articles in 24 hours is nothing short of Herculean.

As you can imagine, I was sputtering along like an ailing engine by the time I arrived in San Ġwann for Navalny’s vigil. The vigil itself had a surreal feel to it – there we were, standing in a quiet residential road as Repubblika’s members got busy with setting up lighting and sound, handing out placards bearing Navalny’s portrait, and chatting each other up about the day’s events. In front of us, a hostile, high wall with a wooden gate and plenty of cameras marks the border between one rogue state and another.

A photo of the crowd in front of the Russian embassy. Photo: Julian Delia

As I quietly smoked a cigarette and waited for more photo opportunities, I stopped doing my rounds for a bit to chat with Repubblika’s indomitable Alessandra Dee Crespo, an activist who’s supported this project from day one and who is generally a lovely person all around. At one point, I confessed that I was tired of spending my evenings commemorating great people, a sentiment I’d already expressed in a tribute column to Navalny (click the link in the second paragraph if you haven’t read it yet).

As someone who’s been in the trenches for years, she understood what I meant straight away. It is exhausting to witness the country’s decline in spite of your best efforts to prevent it, to the point where one does question whether the fight is even worth it.

If you follow me on social media, you’re probably familiar with the kind of incendiary posts I sometimes publish. Usually, I’d be referring to some particular aspect of the country’s decline that people are talking about on any given day. I do so because it serves as an opportunity to explain what the root of the problem is, because it is my duty to do so as a journalist. I also use the opportunity to inspire people to take action about what’s pissing them off, because it is my duty to do so as an activist.

Whenever I write these kinds of posts, there’s always at least one person lamenting how entire swathes of the general public are either foursquare behind the Labour Party or simply complacent and disinterested. A slight variation of that is complaining about how people just don’t care, or complaining about how whatever happens and no matter how bad it gets, nothing changes in this country. This is another narrative I have plenty of gripes with, something which I’ve addressed elsewhere too.

After expressing just how tired I am of mourning the heroes of our time, I reminded myself that the only way to get through this is the same way I’ve been getting through it for the last few years: adopting a sense of joyful nihilism and refusing to attach any kind of expectations to whatever kind of work I am engaging in, be it through my journalism or through my activism or both. The struggle is sustainable only if you fight like your life depends on it while at the same time also treating all expectations that may be attached to it with a certain aloofness.

A photo of a Russian family at Navalny’s vigil. Photo: Julian Delia

Of course, the point of any kind of endeavour of this sort is to foment change. Anything less than the best possible outcome need not be aspired to. If you are fighting for women’s rights, nothing short of all those rights should do. If you are fighting for migrants’ rights, nothing short of all those rights should do – and so on and so forth. Settling for anything less than what you are entitled to by the sheer virtue of your intrinsic worth as a human being is dehumanising in and of itself.

What I’m saying here is that, rather than settling for whatever does end up coming out of one’s efforts to ameliorate everyone’s living conditions, we should strive for the best we could possibly achieve while acknowledging that change may not be as immediately gratifying as we would like it to be. I feel like a lot of people attended a couple of protests here and there when the going got heavy in 2019 and got dismayed when ‘nothing changed’ in the few months they spent in that space. Plenty of things have changed since then – have you considered the possibility that your perception is now coloured by the fact that you stopped paying attention?

The fact that we are still lumped with a corrupt government is obviously disheartening. It is a situation that makes one experience a sense of helplessness which is further entrenched by the fact that the more we fight them, the worse they will become, with the country’s future seeming more and more bleak as time goes by and vines begin to grow over the ruins of the edifice where our country’s rule of law once stood.

But this doesn’t mean that our efforts are futile. This does not mean that we are powerless. If we were, I’d be telling all to despair for the end is nigh and no god or man will save us. But it simply isn’t the case – remember that what we are up against amounts to a horde of puffed up idiots who wouldn’t be able to tell apart where their head begins and where their arsehole concludes if it weren’t for a veritable army of advisors, lickspittles, and other assorted assistants.

And mind you, this is not a dismissal of the fact that the Labour Party is a dangerous criminal organisation which is a serious threat to anyone who stands in its way. We are very much living in a mafia state and it would do everyone a world of wonders if we all wised up about it. This is more of a reminder that corruption breeds incompetence, and it is that incompetence that becomes the undoing of the corrupt.

If you need a visual cue to remind you what these people actually are the next time a minister expects you to take them seriously, just imagine the dumbfounded look on Clayton Bartolo’s face if he was actually in a position to need to make serious, well-thought out decisions on his own without any help whatsoever.

The man couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. If these are the people who you’re afraid of, who you think of as some unstoppable force that cannot possibly be countered, then you need to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror and thoroughly think about whether you are comfortable living without a spine or whether you are keen on growing one anytime soon.

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