Shadow banned in Malta

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The back cover of my book A Sunny Place for Shady People refers to Malta as “an island so small that few knew it was an independent country and even fewer could find it on the map”.

It isn’t a sleight at Malta’s size, or an accusation of insignificance. 

It’s a comment on how little foreigners know about a country whose strategic location at the centre of the Mediterranean placed it in the middle of historic events.

During the years I spent on the island, I’d often hear complaints about Malta being overlooked or left off maps in other parts of Europe. 

At first I thought this was overblown. I’m from a very small town routinely overlooked on maps that manage to label the tiny city of Ogdensburg, New York right across the river. But Malta is a European Union Member State with a vote that holds equal weight to France and Germany. 

I started feeling insulted too when I bumped up against Malta-less maps in museums in other parts of Europe. 

You’d think government officials would be better informed but you would be wrong. 

My wife and I were flying through Frankfurt airport early in our island years when she was stopped by German customs and accused of overstaying in the Schengen Zone. Had she been a Japanese tourist who spent more than the permitted visa-free three months, that would be true. 

“It’s okay,” I said. “She’s a resident of Malta.” 

“Yes, but she’s overstayed in the EU,” the customs official replied. 

“Malta’s part of the EU.” 

The German customs official leaned over to his colleague in the next booth and exchanged a few words, and then he started typing. I was standing slightly behind him and I could see he was Googling whether Malta was a Member State. 

When Tomoko handed him her resident’s permit — at that time a colourful printout on unlaminated paper — he said, “Is this thing real?”

It went on like that for years. But at some point, the feeling of being insulted when I noticed Malta had been left off yet another map was replaced by discomfort when an accountant in another country told me, “I had long term client who moved to Malta to dodge taxes. I refused to do any more business with him.” 

I didn’t like the way his eyes narrowed when I said I’d just gone there to write a book. And I hated feeling like I was guilty by association with a place whose reputation was quickly deteriorating.

I said on the back cover blurb of my book that the world’s attention didn’t turn to the tiny Member State on Europe’s southernmost fringes until the brutal car bomb assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Malta didn’t stay in the global spotlight for very long despite the fact that a public inquiry held the State responsible for her murder, citing a culture of impunity that spread like tentacles from the Office of the Prime Minister.

I hope my book will play some small role in changing this. 

Malta is far more interesting — and far stranger — than the casual weekend tourist might realize.

A Sunny Place for Shady People was published in April — more than two months ago — but it isn’t available in the country I wrote about despite selling well on Amazon. Industry contacts tell me it isn’t being offered to local outlets, let alone sold there, and this may be deliberate. Ordering from abroad remains the only way for Maltese readers to get their hands on it.

Can’t stand the message? Discredit, block or shadow ban the messenger. That’s how shady people operate.

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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