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Malta must settle national day question 'once and for all' - President

Historians, former ministers and presidents have their say

President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca yesterday laid a wreath at the foot of the Great Siege Monument in Valletta on the occasion of Victory Day, one of Malta’s five national days. Photo: Jonathan Borg

President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca yesterday laid a wreath at the foot of the Great Siege Monument in Valletta on the occasion of Victory Day, one of Malta’s five national days. Photo: Jonathan Borg

President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca believes the time is ripe for Malta to decide “once and for all” on a national day following a period of reflection and a national debate.

She said although there were days in Malta’s history which must be “marked with dignity and respect”, the debate on whether there should only be one national day has been a topic of discussion for too many years.

“There have been several momentous occasions in our history and each of these dates in our calendar should be marked with dignity and respect. The question of whether Malta should nominate one national day has been a topic of debate for many years now, and it behooves us, as a nation, to take a decision following a period of reflection and a national debate involving people from all political persuasions and walks of life,” she told The Sunday Times of Malta.

The President was asked to comment following the idea floated by Balzan Labour councillor Desmond Zammit Marmarà that Independence Day should be accorded pride of place as Malta’s sole national day.

Mr Zammit Marmarà argued that it was “patently ridiculous” for Malta to remain with five national days.

In an article in the Times of Malta last Tuesday, he wrote: “Anybody who has even a basic knowledge of Maltese history knows that Independence is the most important, seminal event in our history. Without Independence in 1964, we would never have arrived where we are today.”

He insisted that the other four national days all centred around “the core national day”: June 7 and September 8 both commemorate national achievements on the road to Independence, while December 13 and March 31 pay tribute to achievements which consolidated and perfected Independence.

OPINION: Time to make Independence Day our national day - Zammit Marmara

Historian Henry Frendo wrote a letter in the Times of Malta on Thursday supporting Mr Zammit Marmarà’s proposal and indirectly assumed partial responsibility for today’s predicament, since he was the person who, in 1988, was asked to recommend a possible date for such a national day.

On that occasion he indicated five days, with the pros and cons of each, but the Fenech Adami Cabinet failed to choose just one, instead accepting them all as national days.

Another historian, Dominic Fenech, disagreed with Mr Zammit Marmarà’s suggestion yesterday, simply saying when asked: “I prefer Republic Day, because both government and Opposition agreed on the republican Constitution.”

He was of course referring to  1974, when Malta became a republic  and adopted a new Constitution – which had the overwhelming backing of the majority of MPs, since only six from the Nationalist Opposition voted against, including then leader George Borg Olivier.

For President Emeritus George Abela, this is a “touchy” subject which needs to be addressed “with immense caution”. He recalled how in his Republic Day speech when he was in office in 2012, he said while all five national days were of historical importance and fit for celebration as public holidays, they should not all remain national days. 

“I still hold the same opinion,” Dr Abela said yesterday. “Having five national days is comical.”

“I think our people are mature enough to come to a consensus for two of them to be established as national days,” he said, insisting the rest should be national holidays.

“Our national days should be Independence Day and Republic Day, for historical and constitutional reasons, as constitutional developments were achieved through independence and when the country became a republic. Given the current political divide, you cannot exclude one or another. But at least you narrow it down to two.”

Former foreign minister George Vella went one step further, proposing not only a national debate on which day should be chosen but asking whether we should start discussing a new day that encompasses all of them and declare that as the national day.

He said he did not agree with Mr Zammit Marmarà’s idea but felt it was still early to discuss a national day. “I think in about five or six years’ time we could start such a discussion. But I do not exclude the possibility of having one other day which we start considering as our national day. What’s wrong with this?” he said when contacted.

Addressing a meeting in Vittoriosa to mark the 30th anniversary of Freedom Day in 2009, Joseph Muscat called for a debate to have one national day that united all the Maltese. He concluded with the cry: “Hail independent Malta, hail to the Republic, hail to freedom, and hail to a united Malta.”

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