A couple of weeks ago Dom Mintoff – ex-Prime Minister of Malta for about 16 years but also leader of the Labour Party for over 30 years – passed away at the ripe old age of 96 years. His passing away caused a major furor here in Malta from those who lambasted the man and his politics, some even going as far as rejoicing in his death to those who fell into a self-induced spasmodic trance of despair while they hailed their father, god, saviour and with innumerable other titles. A scene similar to the outpouring of grief experienced in North Korea when Kim Jong Il passed away in December of 2011.
Neither points of view are correct but I tend to find myself leaning towards those who showed relief at the man’s death. Some of these went a tad too far for my liking. Not that in death all is forgotten and forgiven, no. Yet a modicum of respect for the simple reason that his death would have caused some pain to those close to him, family and friends alike. The legacy of his policies, however, remain and this is what irks me so much by those who labeled him the saviour of Malta and the best man, best politician Malta ever saw. I was just in my teen years but remember much of what happened in those years before 1987 when finally the Maltese population opened their eyes and voted his government out of office in such style that no gerrymandering on their part could distort the result and keep them in power as had happened during the previous general election in 1981.
I clearly remember my mother and her friend being attacked in Valletta after a demonstration held there. Attacked by thugs who had no sense of decency or even any reason to attack but just wanted to show their supremacy ala Mintoff through intimidation and violence. I remember clearly seeing people being attacked at a demonstration in Ta Xbiex, this time though the attackers were the Police themselves who were targeting anyone with a camera and confiscating or even damaging their equipment. The crime being that they were capturing images of the large crowds that were attending the demonstration – images which were not under the control of the state run media and thus could not be doctored. I remember clearly walking down Dingli Street in a jam-packed crowd that slowly flowed down the street like a glacier in support of the Teachers and their association when they protested against actions and conditions being imposed.
My first year of Sixth Form at De La Salle was a disrupted and makeshift year punctuated by travels to private houses across the island for lessons while at the same time doing shifts at the College itself helping to keep the school safe from intruders intent on smashing the place up. This all because out dear saviour Dom Mintoff waged a war on Church run schools and had them all shut-down, his private war against these schools effecting thousands of students.
I remember wondering with wide-eyed awe how people used to manage to enjoy a holiday abroad due to the strict and inhibitive foreign exchange regulations imposed on Maltese during these ever so golden years of Mintoffianism. And how eagerly we would await the packets of Mars Bars and other chocolates being brought back as gifts, things which normal people outside Malta had been enjoying for years but not the Maltese, no not us. How grand it was when Dad managed to get a colour TV – only one brand available and after being on a long waiting list.
These are just a few things which I remember directly and which had effected me as a care free kid. There were many more serious events which were of greater concern to many than the minor deprivations I described above.
The Medical profession for one, with our hospital being run by a horde of semi-trained Pakistani Doctors. Education and the University of Malta with students protesting and being attacked by thugs in front of its gates when Mintoff did his utmost to destroy tertiary education. The National Bank of Malta saga during which shareholders of this bank were forced under duress and threats from thugs to hand over their holdings to the government without any compensation – something which till today has remained unsettled. These are just a few of the serious anti-democratic actions which were the norm in those days.
Mintoff’s style of politics was not socialism, it was his own self-styled dictatorship which used the mantle of socialism to give it an air of legitimacy. Mintoff hid behind the veil of a labour run government while implementing his own form tyranny on his beloved people in order to control what they learned, what they saw and what they read such that he would be able to manipulate them the better. Those who voted and adulated him were merely his puppets, used for the betterment of his own lot and no one else’s.
So it really gets under my skin when I hear people call him the saviour of the country, that the years under his governance were the golden years and that the current adminstration headed by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is a dictatorship and antidemocratic. With all the opportunities that have opened up in the years under the PN governement – just take a look at the hundreds of job opportunities are posted in the Classified of the Sunday Times every week – some poor misguided people hark on about how there is poverty and hunger.
Poverty and hunger? Really? I see people flocking to bars and restaurants, drinking and eating away as if there is no tomorrow week in week out. Everyone seems to own some form of mobile phone with the smartphone/tablet market growing constantly. The percentage of households that have a computer and internet access is on the higher end. 95% of households with children in the Maltese islands have access to internet. 95% is no mean feat. If the Maltese population is on the verge of poverty how pray do they afford these extras. These are definitely not necessities in life so if families are struggling to stay afloat while owning all the latest gadgets and having to pay the monthly bills that come with them then methinks its more a case of distorted priorities than poverty.
Claims that the current PM is undemocratic are all hogwash but the claims are kept up and repeated again and again in the hope that someone may finally forget the actual facts and start to believe the claims. And on what are these claims based? One event which got the anti-Gonzi camp to start claiming such was the Divorce Referendum that was held in late May of 2011. The final result of that referendum was 52.67% in favour of Divorce being introduced while 46.40% voted against. The referendum was a consultative referendum, not binding, which meant that the result did not force the government to take up the Divorce Bill but provided a picture of what the population wanted. The bill was then tabled in parliament for passing of the Divorce Law. The Prime Minister at the time – Lawrence Gonzi – voiced his opposition to the bill but gave his MP’s a free vote during the vote to pass the law in parliament, he himself voted against.
The law was passed and Divorce was legally introduced in Malta, yet the PM was labelled anti-democratic for voting against the bill and against the wish of the people. And this is so very wrong. He voted as he felt best and in line with his conscience but he did not veto the bill. All MP’s on the government side were given a free vote, no party whip was involved and no bullying either, and as a result the bill was passed. So the 52% who voted for got their way, while the 46% had to accept that democracy was exercised. The Prime Minister in his dealings in this event was beyond reproof – he stuck to his convictions, stayed true to his beliefs yet still did not block the true process of a democratic parliament – and for that I admire him utterly.
For what it is worth, I also voted No in the referendum because I felt then and still feel now that divorce was not the answer to the state of marriage in Malta. How can you improve the state of marriages in Malta and reduce the number of broken homes by making it easier to break the home? It just doesn’t work out that way and it should be from a more fundamental level that the situation should have been tackled. That is from the upbringing and moral values of Malta’s youth. Teach them to show more respect and consideration towards others and not to think only in terms of ‘Me, I and what will effect me’.
Those same people who accused the Prime Minister of being undemocratic in that event now praise others who are following the same route and supposedly sticking to their values and beliefs no matter the outcome, thus showing a turn of opportunism that is so typical of those who support and praise Mintoff for his non-acheivements.
So it was with mixed feelings and disbelief that I received the news of Mintoff being given a state funeral. Watching the funeral itself, on TV mind you, made me wonder how Mintoff must have been laughing his top off in his grave as two of the institutions he did his most to undermine – the Church and the Army – were going out of their way with much pomp and grandeur to pay their respects to this man. Their respects for what I thought? He waged war against both and they had to kowtow to him in death also. How demeaning that must have been.
It was much ado about something that should have been buried and forgotten as quickly as possible.
The little Tyrant is now gone, dead and buried, yet his legacy lives on in the form of ex-ministers from his administration who sit on the benches of the oppostion and who are vying for government in the next elections due to be held in 2013. It lives on in his daughter Yana Mintoff Bland who came back supposedly to help the new progressive yet stand-still antiquated movement that PL is trying to re-design itself as to win the next general election. His legacy marches on in the fact that nothing has really changed in the politics of the opposition.
The scary part is that many people are falling for the empty rhetoric of Joseph Muscat and his minions.
Why is that? Why are people so closed to the opportunities that are available to them today. Closed, rather, in accepting that they are there because of the policy of the current administration though they still grasp them with both hands and have thus improved their personal lot tenfold. Is it a case of the grass looking greener, by virtue simply of a change wanted solely for the sake of change, on the other side no matter how green it is here?