Dun Mikiel Xerri and patriotism
Considering that ‘love for one’s country’ constitutes the main ingredient of patriotism, it is right to subscribe to Joseph F. Grima’s narrative on Dun Mikiel Xerri’s fate 220 years ago this month (The Sunday Times of Malta, January 13).
Patriotism is a complex matter: to ‘special affection’ Stephen Nathanson (1993) adds identification with one’s country and special concern and sacrifice for its well-being.
Moreover patriotism highlights the awareness of our moral duties to the political community. No cavil about that in Lorenzi-Xerri’s botched plot of 1799, producing unfortunate victims during the brief French interlude.
Perhaps comparable to Carmelo Borg Pisani’s Italian affiliation during WWII (for which he was executed as a spy), Lorenzi’s plot implied Russian inspiration. A colonel in the Russian army, a Knight of St George, considered a local Russian agent, Lorenzi’s sail appears to have gained wind with rumours of 4,000 Russian troops about to land in Malta. Dun Mikiel must have enthused about this plot, risking his life in a war zone behind ‘enemy’ lines.
As an anti-liberal tutor of philosophy he could have perceived the Russian Czar as the last bastion of Christian ecclesiasticism in an enlightened wave of secularism in Europe promoted by French republicanism. The British and Xerri’s compatriots in the countryside, however, must have sighed with relief when the plot failed as they had suspected it was organised by the Russian consul general in Catania.
On January 29, 1799, Captain Ball in Malta informed Nelson that Canon Caruana (a collaborator of Lorenzi and Xerri) had informed him that Lorenzi had planned to hoist the Russian flag in Valletta had the plot succeeded.
Leaders of the Maltese peasant revolt had previously been reported by Ball as having serious rifts and altercations amongst them. Finding support to run the plot proved difficult: on January 5 Ball promised the Maltese Congress an “appointment or job” to all Maltese who would volunteer to the conspiracy. On December 7, 1798, Xerri urged Caruana to promise “booty and appropriate rewards over and above the glory of having freed their country”.
Eventual volunteers, mainly from the Għargħur battalion of Borg Brared, were poor and appear to have joined the conspiracy “solely to better their fortunes”. Bishop of Malta Labini, who subsisted inside the besieged city throughout the blockade, never interfered with executions, not even on behalf of the condemned priests, including Xerri.
The above information could perhaps help readers better gauge patriotism (often interchanged with nationalism) in this case.