The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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Colonial mentality only due to British rule

Sunday, 15 January 2023, 06:41 Last update: about 3 years ago

Charles Xuereb

I read with interest The Malta Independent leader, which appeared on 9 January 2023 entitled Malta’s colonial mentality rears its head again. I am afraid the editorial opens with an ambiguous sentence followed by another that does not help to correct the first. For the benefit of the paper’s readers, may I reproduce here the first two contested sentences: “The absolute majority of history features Malta as a colony.  For centuries, Malta was ruled by one or the other foreign power.”

In modern history, Malta has only been a colony under the British. Colonialism, today considered by the majority of academics and enlightened politicians as criminal, is an ill-fated phenomenon through which European powers, foremost among them Britain, explored the planet gorging countries and populations which they deemed ‘inferior’, fostering slavery. Through this unjust system, potentates expanded their wealth by draining conquered native sources and/or exploiting strategic geographical positions in order to control imperial commercial routes.

After 1811 and more so following the Congress of Paris in 1814 and that of Vienna in 1815, Malta was legally declared a British colony with the approval of the rest of the alliance against Napoleon. The Maltese highbrows, however, were formally informed of their new inferior status three and half years later in December 1818, thus contradicting the inscription on the Main Guard in Valletta, which insolently states ‘with the love of the Maltese’.

Colonialism enabled a foreign power to become the sole owner of a conquered/discovered/invaded territory to be administered by the Colonial Office, on behalf of the monarch. In the case of Malta, all political and vital decisions were taken in London, including if and when to involve the Island  in a war.

Regarding the second sentence of the editorial quoted above, it is true that Malta was ruled by several foreign powers, but only Britain colonized the Island.

This notwithstanding, Malta offered a different cup of tea from many other ‘uncivilised’ British acquisitions. The Maltese Islands had enjoyed a European culture earlier than England itself. Way back in 218 BCE Malta was a Roman foederata civitas. The Island’s Europeanisation of the Arab Muslim population by the Normans and the Anjevins commencing in the 11th century, was followed, during medieval times, by its Universitas civitatis Meliveti that governed the inhabitants with respectable results under several Aragonite patrons for almost three centuries. For the next three centuries, under the Knights of Malta, many Maltese literati held administrative, judicial and medical responsibilities, most after qualifying in universities in Italy and France. Many of these used to lecture at the University.

Under the affluent Order of St John, Maltese society had also gained artistic and artisanal exposure through a number of prominent European visiting artists and architects, who taught and encouraged local talent. Their artistic creations have monumentalised Malta for posterity with Baroque exquisiteness impacted by fashionable culture from Spain, France and Italy.

Notwithstanding all this, when the first British governor arrived in Malta in 1813, he dismissed the whole civil service declaring that the Maltese could not govern themselves.

While the Knights administered the Maltese archipelago with dedication, commitment and frequent extravagance – it too being their own residence – the British controlled the Island from the Empire’s remote metropole, not concerned with the needs of the population, if not to keep them meek and submissive.

Eventually, by the 20th century, most of the island’s citizens ended up perpetuating a false self-perception wherein emulating the English remained an ambiguous way of upholding some superior consciousness. Constitutional evolution even produced the credence, certainly by Maltese carrot people, that colonialism had offered an identity grander than their own.  

Another sentence from the same Independent leader also deserves a comment:

“It is perhaps due to this that something of a colonial mentality still prevails in the country.”

I agree with this statement. I have just published a researched book, entitled Decolonising the Maltese mind, in search of identity (Midsea Books) on this consideration. Referring to the quoted sentence above, however, I wish to point out that it is due to British colonialism that ‘a colonial mentality still prevails’.

By way of controlling this perpetual influence, post-Independence politicians, even if unintentionally, managed to stress the importance of the severed British connection.

Contrary to what happened when the Maltese carried forward l-Imnarja (June 29) and il-Vitorja (September 8) from the period of the Knights as commemorative days depicting identity, no festive commemorations of note were carried forward from British colonial times. On the contrary, after Independence, relieved of British impositions, Maltese parliamentarians elevated five socio-political occasions to national feasts marking severance from the colonialist. Besides September 8 (1565), enacted in 1922 to determine distinctiveness, they added Sette Giugno, in commemoration of the bloody demonstration against the British on June 7 1919; Independence (September 21, 1964), a legal and definite separation; the Republic (December 13, 1974), i.e. the end of monarchy; as well as Freedom Day, end of British military bases (on March 31, 1979).

May I respectfully appeal to your esteemed readers, who are interested in the ‘historical malady’ that still afflicts the Maltese mind, to read and view numerous images in my recent publication. In this book, I do not only delve into the often ignored debate of Maltese identity but also offer hundreds of sources and references with a vast bibliography for further reading on the colonial mentality.


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