Further to the recent commentaries by Michael Falzon and Albert Ganado, I agree that this event, starting on September 2, 1798, which helped oust the French from Malta by September 5, 1800, has tended to be downplayed in our historiography and public life.
This was the first and last popular armed insurrection in Maltese history, in which thousands lost their lives.
Admittedly the Maltese victory ultimately was facilitated by the British naval blockade, which prevented supplies from reaching the besieged French garrison, but in the end it was hijacked by the British takeover. Not only were the Maltese excluded from the capitulation, they were ordered by the British to lay down their arms. The French surrendered to the British and in return left with full military honours. The Maltese were left to lick their wounds.
Chapter 3, ‘From Generals to Generals’, in my bestselling book Malta’s Quest for Independence: Reflections on the Course of Maltese History (1989) really says it all. To add insult to injury, at Amiens in 1802 it was agreed by the ‘powers’ that Malta be returned to the Order, hence the self-respecting and indignant Maltese ‘Dichiarazione dei diritti’ of June 15, 1802.
And yet, the situation today is not much helped by the downgrading of Maltese history’s place in the school curriculum.
It is painful to recall that on September 2, 1998, bicentenary of the Insurrection, there was barely a wreath placed at the foot of the 1798-1800 monument in Pjazza Indipendenza in Valletta, except first and foremost, I am proud to say, by myself on behalf of the University of Malta Historical Society. After I made an angry telephone call, the then mayor of Valletta came along and placed another wreath. That was it.
There was an election campaign on, so party politics ‘à la Maltais’ naturally came first. History itself was relegated to oblivion.