The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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Who are we? Where are we going?

Evarist Bartolo Tuesday, 4 October 2022, 08:56 Last update: about 3 months ago

People, countries and civilizations flourish and develop when they encounter other people, countries and civilizations. When we try to cut ourselves off from others, we atrophy and stagnate. So, the best way to celebrate our people and our country is to be inclusive and accept the positive contributions other people and countries gave us to build our nation.

This does not mean we should be servile, masochistic and not recognise our indispensable part to build a sovereign state, classified by the United Nations Human Development Index 2021-2022 as highly developed and ranked 23 in the world. This is no mean feat for a small resourceless archipelago. This achievement is thanks to our people in politics, business and civil society who worked hard over many years to turn us into a viable microstate. But we cannot be complacent as our progress can be reversed.

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We can celebrate ourselves without being chauvinistic and xenophobic. Asking ourselves the questions “Where are we today”, “How do we cope living in today’s world” are not academic or useless questions. In a borderless disoriented world where the old is dying and the new is struggling to be born, we need to know more than ever “Where did we come from”, “Where are we going”, “Who are we” and what would like to become. The difficult answers to these complicated questions are not static as all nations are works in progress.

Otherwise, we will drift aimlessly in today’s uncharted and stormy waters without a compass. We need to look beyond the here and now. Sterile nostalgia for a golden era that never existed or myopic politics as if tomorrow will never come and we can continue to postpone dealing with problems and challenges that we need to address, will be equally harmful.

Of monuments

I have no problem with the monuments that we have of some of our colonizers as long as we put them in context and not glorify them as demigods. But I do have a problem that there are several Maltese throughout the ages who helped built this nation and there are no monuments celebrating them.

About 50 years ago, as a university student, I remember reading a very interesting article by Godfrey Wettinger about the popular attitudes of the Maltese towards the Order of the Knights of St John. Most of the history we learned at school had been the history of the Grand Masters and the different waves of rulers who had controlled our islands because of their strategic position.

In our school textbooks the Maltese people hardly featured at all, unless as background props and very secondary characters in a play written by others, welcoming Count Roger who arrived from Sicily to liberate the islands from the Muslim yoke, rebelling against Napoleon and gladly becoming a British colony by consent.

Reading about the painful efforts of other people to free themselves from colonialism and run their own affairs, I must admit I felt ashamed of belonging to a race who seemed genetically programmed to be always a colonised and submissive people.

I felt so happy reading Wettinger's article that the Maltese had in fact resented the autocratic rule of the Knights and a doctor had actually been hanged for protesting against Grand Master La Valette's decision to impose heavy taxes on the Maltese while taking away from them the little say they had in running their own island. While I acknowledge that the Order started us on the path to statehood, they treated the Maltese as inferior in their own land.

Celebrating Guzeppi Callus

I was so proud of this unknown Maltese doctor. A footnote by Wettinger haunted me. It said that not only did the Maltese know very little about this national hero, most of those who knew anything about him referred to him as Mattew when in fact he was Giuseppe! We did not even know him by the right name whereas we venerated the Grand Master who hanged him. La Valette has a monument in Valletta and rightly so, but how come we have no monument for Guzeppi Callus?

In recent years, Stanley Fiorini has shed more light on Giuseppe Callus. He has established 1505 as the year of his birth. So, in 2025 we should be commemorating 520 years since he was born. Should we not have a monument of him by then? Should we not publish new books celebrating him and making him known?

The Callus story raises the simple but fundamental question: What does the historical and legendary memory of Dr Callus say about our national consciousness when we do not even know who stood up to the country's foreign rulers in a bid to improve the lot of the Maltese and even gain sovereignty?

Commemorating Dr Callus does not mean that we should lock ourselves into the mindset where we organise our picture of the world with the Maltese as goodies and the foreigners as baddies. We are now in the 21st century. We have been members of the European Union for the last 18 years. Apart from living in a time of globalisation, as people living on small islands, we import everything from shoes to our picture of ourselves and of the world. We must nurture continually our ability to think with our own brains and see with our own eyes... if we are to survive and thrive in the years ahead as a people with our own plural identity.

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