The Malta Independent 18 April 2024, Thursday
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Black Monday In history

Malta Independent Sunday, 25 October 2009, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

I have noted with interest the ongoing commentaries by politicians, journalists, members of the public and others on Black Monday. These have included some highly critical or otherwise revealing blog reactions (by Dr Francis Saliba, the former doctor of the Police Corps, for example) to weakly contextualized attempts at a balancing act with regard to still inadequately documented political violence (not only of 15 October 1979). Simply as a point of information, might I humbly suggest a reading of at least my article “Messages from Mintoff’s Malta” (Quadrant, Sydney, Dec. 1986, Vol. xxx, no. 229, pp. 18-44), not to mention some pertinent other writings published before and after that date?

Even Dione Borg’s Liberta’ Mhedda (3rd ed., 2004), which attempts to give a comprehensive account of political violence at the time, limits itself to the 1980s. A few other books especially since 1981 have only covered particular aspects of the Mintoff period – telegraphically, journalistically, politically, very incompletely or partly autobiographically.

Thirty years later: what ‘assassination attempt’ was there really on Mr Mintoff’s life? Why were the Black Monday perpetrators never brought to justice? Apart from the Karen Grech letter-bomb, what about others who were killed, shot or, in one case, cut to pieces, in flagrant – or at best mysterious – circumstances employing so much unprecedented brutality (Lino Cauchi, Wilfred Cardona, Raymond Caruana, Mario Pavia, Nardu Debono, etc)?

Black Monday was a day, a moment in time, reprehensible and unjustifiable by all civilized accounts, irrespective of party allegiance or involvement then or now; but such would not have occurred outside of a long-standing, continuing and dated socio-political context, which both preceded and succeeded it. It presumed a disposition if not a forma mentis. It was Alfred Sant who finally and rather decisively cleared the MLP of the thugs who had customarily been allowed or encouraged to hang around it, or called out on particular occasions for shows of force (such as the 18th November 1977 incident on campus) blemishing its own name and disturbing normal life in civil society. His successor should be able to take this further, come to terms with an unfortunate baggage he has inherited from one of his party’s leaderships, and come clean unequivocally for the sake of posterity.

As Dahrendorf says, politics is “in the atmosphere”. What then had caused and sustained the atmospheric change leading to the steady recurrence of so many frightful incidents? One can hardly just blame “a few hotheads” or indeed the Opposition for it. Such goings-on alienated many MLP supporters or sympathizers, enough to give the PN in 1981 their first-ever absolute electoral majority since the introduction of universal suffrage in Malta.

‘On the day when crime puts on the apparel of innocence, through a curious reversal peculiar to our age’, Camus once wrote, ‘it is innocence that is called on to justify itself.’

While it is understandable that there may be those who would rather smother, twist, hide or forget certain unpalatable past events in which they or their relatives may have been directly involved, Santayana’s warning – about those who forget the past being destined to repeat it – remains as valid today as it ever was.

So much for the uninitiated who, partly through ignorance or personal interest, may be prone to undermine democracy without realising it. Others, including several who were constrained to leave their country, will know better. Let us hope that the past is also a teacher to guide the future as, to a greater or lesser extent, it seems to have been in post-war Europe, and also in some – not many – post-colonial nation states, including our own.

Prof. Frendo is professor of

modern history at the University of Malta.

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