The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: On Malta’s post-colonial identity

Saturday, 30 March 2024, 10:22 Last update: about 21 days ago

Freedom Day – even if its significance this year has been diminished somewhat as it happened to fall on Easter Sunday – is always an occasion which serves as an occasion for reflection.

It’s been 45 years since the last of the British Forces left the island, but the island’s post-colonial reckoning is still a subject which comes up from time to time.  Sometimes we hear about debates to remove the George Cross from the Maltese flag, or to change the wording of the national anthem, or to remove monuments such as that to Queen Victoria from Valletta, all due to the colonial connotations that they hold.

Most recently, an art exhibit centred on that same Queen Victoria statute got people talking.  Siġġu, by sculptor Austin Camilleri, is a limestone sculpture of an empty chair – indeed one which appears to be a replica of the chair Queen Victoria sits on – which was placed directly in front of the Queen Victoria statue in Republic Square in the capital city.

The sculpture aimed to invite passers-by to think about Queen Victoria’s presence in the square, and perhaps to also think about how what Malta’s identity may look like compared to Malta as a British colony.

The exhibit is a part of the Maltabiennale.art, which also included other artistic stunts such as the wrapping of a British-era red phone booth situated at the edge of the same square in bubble-wrap as if it were to be shipped away from the country, in a design to prompt questions about such colonial heirlooms still occupying Maltese public spaces.

Such artistic works and reasoned debates, usually played out in the inches of newspaper columns, seem to play on the point that Malta must carve out its own identity, away from that of its foreign colonisers.

This notion implies that Malta’s identity is still to be carved: something that currently hangs in the balance or somehow held back by our colonisers, and therefore something that must still be written. It implies that the country is not quite at ease with its colonial history and allows it to dictate how it lives, thinks, and sees itself.

But what if Malta’s post-colonial identity has already been written? Can we, in all honesty, look around ourselves and say that what we see is not our own doing?  What we see around us today is the post-colonial identity that we have built for ourselves – and it’s an identity that in many ways is no better than our pre-colonial identity.

In many ways, the biggest thing that has changed is the coloniser itself: where the Maltese were colonised by the British in the past, today the Maltese are colonised by those with a lust for money, status, and power.

Think about it: corruption is rife; allegations are widespread; houses are more expensive and yet lesser in quality; the environment is less green around us, more grey; the profits are at a record high, but so are the amount of people in need.  Malta has done this to itself.

So perhaps in seeking our post-colonial identity by focusing on the pre-colonial monuments and heirlooms which remain from a bygone era, we are ignoring the fact that we have already carved our post-colonial identity out.  And, let’s face it, it doesn’t feel or look that good.   

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