The Malta Independent 18 April 2019, Thursday

Relics and realities

Charles Flores Sunday, 24 March 2019, 10:19 Last update: about 25 days ago

Some things seemingly never change and we are more or less all vulnerable to the loop. A case in point is this national hang-up about our colonial past even at a time when the country, now happily free and independent, is doing incredibly well economically. It sees us discussing, with monotonous regularity, such issues as the presence of the George Cross on the national flag, the post-office red of crowned letterboxes and telephone booths and driving on the left.

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It is all about symbols and relics of the British colonial experience, when similar historical leftovers, particularly those of the Knights of St John, are today accepted as enrichment we joyfully and rightly present as tourist attractions. In truth, the Maltese had it much worse during the time of the Knights than under the British, but the process of historical and cultural maturation of relatively recent events in the national psyche has a shorter fuse and is much more defined than what historians would like us to think. Of course, there is embellishment as much as there are glorification and apologetic revision of that same history, but in the end, it is all a question of understanding the story and living with the inanimate, symbolic remains of one epoch or the other.

My good friend from the Sixties Charles Xuereb, with whom I shared my first poetry book, is a respected scholar and renowned broadcaster who persists in bringing up the “George Cross on the flag” issue, unfortunately open to much personal and sometimes vindictive flak. His Francophile disposition is often the target, but in truth, have we not all, at one time or another, tendered an opinion on this and other related issues? Should we just stop discussing and accept the status quo, and thus smother intellectual exchange, however futile? Certainly not.

Small nations do have this quixotic approach to their own history. The Maltese have always tended to take a polarised attitude to social, economic and political situations. The nobles with tongue-twisting titles attached to place names from beyond did not look kindly on the Knights, while the enslaved populace knew no better. Then the Knights stood by petrified as they watched the French Revolution unfold, with many Maltese actually kindling some hope in it.

After just two years of French rule which led to some dramatic but positive changes to such things as newspapers, freedom of expression and the introduction of a much fairer judicial system, the Brits were invited in by the rebelling Maltese. They ungraciously overstayed, which ironically set many Maltese harking back to the “nostalgic” past under the armoured princes of Europe. Cut and paste, delete or retrieve from the historical trashcan, more than two centuries later our hang-up persists.

I honestly believe that a nation’s maturity depends mostly on whether it can understand its history enough to guide itself into the future. We all have our petty prejudices, in my case the Commonwealth, a sort of old men’s club into which our present Prime Minister, to his credit, has tried to inject life. Should my innate anti-neo-colonial conscience, for example, question our membership when much bigger ex-colonies such as India and several African countries do not have this kind of hang-up and their representatives even feel comfortable at singing prayer songs in English at Westminster Abbey?

I dare say I find it all so fanciful, but things have long been rectified and only the future beckons. Within the same groove, some still object to certain parts of our national anthem, Dun Karm’s Innu Malti, but, again, that’s history. After their horrific Nazi calamity, the Germans’ decision to tamper with their own anthem was more than justified. But do we really have to bother with doctoring ours because of present-day interpretations decision

Let it lie, Charles, let it lie. It is all in the history books. Pretty much as the bastions, the palaces and the artistic treasures of the Knights are; AND the one sole surviving street name in French. Relics and realities.

 

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New Zealand massacre: ‘Local’ input?

Many people here and in New Zealand itself have expressed concern that among the slogans inscribed on the hatred weapon that white supremacist Brenton Tarrant used to cause death and critical injury to scores of innocent Muslim worshippers in Christchurch were two allusions to Maltese history. One referred to the Great Siege of 1565 and the other to Malta’s prominent role in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

To think that out of a limited number of slogans he could paint on his automatic weapon Tarrant actually reserved space for two Malta connections, is pretty astounding. He must have either thoroughly done his homework or, through the ultra-right-wing highway connecting all parts of the Western world, been offered some historical fodder.

Was there some “local” input? Was the idea suggested to the Australian-born terrorist by ultra-rightists in our midst who, it is known, form part of the worldwide network of racists? Somehow, this worrying factor could not escape me as I absorbed this sad and disturbing story of evil hatred in a peaceful country more associated with rugby and Lord of the Rings.

Historians have always lauded and interpreted both the Great Siege and the Battle of Lepanto as “Malta saving Christian Europe” (“White Europe saved from lesser races” in today’s racist thinking), but there is hardly any mention of them in the annals of the Ottoman Empire. Losers’ licence. So Tarrant couldn’t have found it in Istanbul where he is known to have been researching for his manifesto of hate, and I doubt his Continental European chums (I almost used the communist term comrades) would have known anything about them to suggest it.

Am I speculating and succumbing to frivolous imagination? I certainly hope so, but remember how during WWII Malta had her own band of home-grown fascists, one even crossing over in a submarine from his beloved Italian patria to spy, eventually being caught and put to imperial justice. History does not really repeat itself, only people do.

 

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Some things do change

But some things do change over a few decades, after all.

German Parliament Vice Speaker Wolfgang Kubicki has demanded that American Ambassador Richard Grenell be sent home and declared a persona non grata for “acting like an occupation commissioner”. Trump’s loudmouth envoy has been quoted on Twitter as saying “reducing its already unacceptable commitments to military readiness is a worrisome signal to Germany’s NATO allies”.

Funny, there was a time when people were palpably worried if Germany chose to increase its military spending.

 

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