The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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Book review: ‘60 years ago: A triumphant return’

Noel Grima Sunday, 2 June 2024, 09:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Origins of Maltese Statehood: A Case Study of Decolonization in the Mediterranean Author: Henry Frendo Publisher: BDL Ltd / 1999 Pages: 728

On 26 July 1964 Prime Minister George Borg Olivier returned to Malta from London.

He had been there since 19 May, living at the Savoy Hotel in The Strand in London's West End.

The Labour Party was scandalised by this long stay at the plush hotel and portrayed Borg Olivier as wasting his time in fruitless negotiations with the British.

Borg Olivier had gone up two weeks after the referendum result was announced and he was determined not to return home before the Malta Independence question was fully settled.

It was only after the House of Commons had finally approved the Malta Independence Bill in the very last session before dissolution (and the end of Conservative rule) that Borg Olivier decided to come back.

It was a triumphant return. A huge crowd welcomed him back at Luqa Airport and the shouting, said people there, drowned even the noise of the plane's engines.

The crowd, or parts of it, accompanied the beaming prime minister all the way to Valletta.

I was 16 then, had finished secondary school at the Lyceum in Hamrun and was about to enter the Seminary and the Royal University of Malta.

I had always been interested in Maltese politics ever since we Museum boys started being bussed to the various mammoth meetings organised by the Church's Junta against Dom Mintoff, flags waving and singing catchy songs.

That day I caught up with the crowd welcoming Borg Olivier at the start of Qormi Road on the outskirts of Hamrun.

The cortege passed through Qormi Road and through Fra Diego Square where the football bettors famously congregated.

Maybe  the impromptu demonstration upset something or maybe they were mostly Labour supporters - what I remember is their very negative welcome.

Borg Olivier and his euphoric supporters continued on their way to Valletta and the premier spoke from the palace balcony to the crowd that filled Palace Square.

It was then that Borg Olivier announced the date of Malta's Independence - 21 September.

This was not the date that many expected. Originally the British had targeted May 1964 for Malta's independence but the various disagreements slowed things down.

Then Borg Olivier found no better solution than that of holding a referendum and this was held in the first days of May.

Even so, it was decisive in its own way, but this was not recognised by the losing parties, necessitating further discussions.

On his side, though this was kept rather secret, Borg Olivier needed to negotiate two very important chapters with the British - a defence agreement and British economic aid.

Then there was the debate in the House of Commons to follow and monitor together with continuous meetings with the key speakers.

Considering the short time span between 26 July and 21 September it was a miracle that appropriate decorations were put up and preparations made.

So far, I haven't heard of any preparations to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Independence. Therefore, I'm considering using some articles from Prof. Frendo's book to highlight various aspects of the final stages in the struggle for Independence.

Maybe we all know how it ended - with the Maltese flag being raised at midnight - but we have limited knowledge of the issues involved.

It is uncanny to note that some basic issues remained the same after Independence, or rather became more pronounced.

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