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One national day - Joseph Pirotta

I have just read Desmond Zammit Marmarà’s ‘Re-opening the National Day Debate’, on my return from abroad. May I commend him on his persistence in publicly advocating Independence Day as Malta’s National Day.

He argues that, “Serious historical research has shown that what we obtained on Independence Day in 1964 was the best we could have hoped for, given the circumstances of those days. Indeed, the only option was to insist for more and have Independence Day postponed to some much later date, perhaps even years later.”

He also correctly affirms: “Dom Mintoff was without a shadow of a doubt one of Malta’s greatest prime ministers, but like every great leader, he had his defects too. It was a mistake on his part to denigrate Independence Day, because it was an achievement for which the Malta Labour Party had also worked hard.”

In my recently published fourth volume of, Fortress Colony: The Final Act 1945-1964, I wrote:

“Mintoff could not stomach Borg Olivier’s political triumph in achieving the island’s sovereignty and was revealed as a bad loser. He had the choice of acknowl­edging the historic event without renouncing his right to criticise the political ac­cords, after all the Prime Minister had said on more than one occasion that they were the best ‘in the circumstances’.

“In the process he would have underlined his and his party’s significant role in moulding the national psyche into accepting that colonial dependence was stultifying and had to be thrown off, not to mention the strenu­ous and continuous attempts to rally international opinion behind Malta’s claim to independence. He chose instead to adopt a dog in the manger attitude, branding Malta’s sovereignty mock-independence and vowing to tear up the Constitution and the Anglo-Maltese agreements.

“He deliberately ignored the inherent contradiction that the power to do so emanated from the very sovereignty whose existence he steadfastly denied in his effort to browbeat the nation into disowning it. Realising that historically Borg Olivier’s name was irrevocably linked to Malta’s Independ­ence, he preferred not to share a place on the podium, but to create his own historical narrative of Malta’s emergence from its colonial yoke in an attempt to erase the date of Malta’s independence from the national memory through crude methods of denial and denigration that institutionalised national division the consequences of which can still be felt today.”

There is no doubt that as Zammit Marmarà asserts, “Without Independence in 1964, we would never have arrived where we are today. December 13 and March 31 both pay tribute to national achievements which consolidated and perfected independence.”

Independence did not result from British eagerness to rid itself of Malta as some naively claim

However, neither of these memorable events would have been possible had they not been preceded by the achievement of independence. Such patriots as Mikiel Anton Vassalli, Giorgio Mitrovich, Fortunato Mizzi, Manuel Dimech, Ugo P. Mifsud, again as Zammit Marmarà states, were inspired by the political holy grail of independence which bestows statehood and sovereignty.

Her Majesty’s government was keenly aware that independence conferred sovereignty; that it would empower Mintoff, once in power, unilaterally to denounce any treaty signed with the United Kingdom.

The Cabinet Secretary noted on July 16, 1964, Prime Minister Douglas-Home’s shocking comment when debating the granting of sovereignty to Malta: “Better to keep Borg Olivier in power with defence agreement even though Mintoff may break it when he come to power. When we might have to act by force to keep Island.” (Fortress Colony, Vol. IV, p. 1086. The italics are mine).  Independence did not result from British eagerness to rid itself of Malta as some naively claim. They would have preferred to retain Malta.

Britain took 155 years to admit responsibility for the social and economic advancement of the island (Joint British-Maltese Government declaration June 1955).

The admission was a reflection of the Eden administration’s eagerness, for strategic reasons, to see Malta integrated into the United Kingdom. The new-found enthusiasm evaporated rapidly after the Suez debacle and the collapse of the integration negotiations.

Restitution of self-government in 1962 was meant to lessen Britain’s responsibility for Malta’s social and economic development to the minimum possible.

From 1959 to 1964 Britain committed some £6 million annually in grants and loans, but planned to save £7 million annually in defence expenditure despite the consequential rundown in employment predicted to cripple Malta economically for the next quarter of a century.

Independence was the spur that pre-empted the dire predictions of both the Joint (Anglo-Maltese) Government Study, and the UN’s Stolper Economic Mission. 

By all means retain Republic Day, Freedom Day, Sette Giugno, and Il-Vitorja aspublic holidays, but give Independence Day its rightful place as the island’s sole national day.

Joseph Pirotta is a historian and former head of the Department of International Relations, University of Malta.

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