Birthdays are super-special days. Malta was 52 last month and Dom Mintoff would have been 100 a few weeks before that.
The indomitable Dom had his life-story turned into a musical to coincide with the island’s independence. I didn’t watch it—I was thankfully otherwise engaged—but apparently it was meant not as a revealing look at the old man of Maltese politics but as a celebration of il-Perit.
I know people love celebrations but I also know people love lists. So as 100 candles would have been too many to light up for Mintoff I thought of enlightening you with just 10 reasons he will be remembered for by me and a few other islanders.
So here are my ten candles in his honour and memory:
- The irony of what he did to Malta’s Independence Day will surely be remembered in horror. He desecrated the day because he decided it was not worthy enough and created a divide in the country.
- The worst horror was perpetrated by his Labour thugs on anyone who dared cry foul against the Labour party. The PN—the party in opposition—had clubs which were systematically attacked and destroyed. Even The Times and the leader of the opposition’s home were attacked. Instead of taking action, the police were stymied into turning a blind eye.
- In his time, broadcasting in Malta was a joke beyond imagination. The airwaves were not yet free and the PN could not transmit their message, making a true mockery of freedom of expression. Even the name of the PN leader was systematically omitted from any news bulletin.
- Dom was the so-called saviour of Malta and undisputed leader of a party that represented the working class. But ironically the workers suffered most under him and, unless you were a member of the General Workers Union, your right to strike and fight for a better deal was not remotely sacrosanct. He also proposed and forcibly obtained the statutory amalgamation—even called a marriage of sorts—of the Labour party and the GWU. These were scary tactics befitting a dictatorship.
- Telecommunications, water and roads. Or the complete and utter mayhem these were in—phones didn’t work, there was no water in our taps and the roads were one big pothole. We haven’t yet recovered from the road mess of old. He also banned computers or made them difficult to get hold of because he believed that they would lead to a loss of jobs.
- This was a scar on our life under Dom. Hopefully the theatre which hosted his show had a tuck-shop selling Mars bars, Bounty or any good ole chocolate. Life under Mintoff was devoid not just of chocolate, toothpaste or colour TVs but a whole load of other things, including Italian pasta, and whenever the fiery Dom got into any spat with a country, that country’s exports to Malta were banned. This was governing by diktat—Dom’s diktat!
- Foreign affairs. Dom was known to be unpredictable and he managed to put us on the map for the wrong reasons. When the Cold War was on, with the division between the West and democracy and the East and their complete subjugation of the USSR and dictatorship, Dom played all sorts of silly games and was a true maverick, christening the West Cain and the East Abel. He was also too close to pariah states like Gaddafi’s Libya and North Korea.
- Whatever he did and whatever he aimed at, his methods were always despicable. He even ended up voting his own party out of power in 1998 when Alfred Sant was Prime Minister. Thus even diehard labourites should look back and think of him in less than musical terms. Ironically his booting out of Sant’s government should be the biggest accolade he could ever be accorded, as the PN won the following election, subsequently unfroze Malta’s EU application and led the country into the EU with all its attendant pluses.
- Let’s grant Dom a rare pat on the back and a candle: social welfare improved tremendously while he was in power. This is a great achievement and something which successive governments have worked on to continue improving the welfare offering to the advantage of all disadvantaged.
- Finally he died and therefore we should pay our respects. Yes respects are due but not a hagiography. A musical portraying him as a saviour, a man of vision with not a single defect is definitely not on.