Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Dom Mintoff 1919-2012


For a while back in the 1960s and 70s Malta and Cyprus were less recognisable as geographical places but as the birthplaces of 2 "larger than life" personalities: Dom Mintoff and Makarios.

Mintoff was a force of nature; The times of Malta was right to suggest that he was born in the right time for a citizen of Malta to be propelled in such heights of global recognition, but his quest for change and political skills can not be underestimated. The general secretary of the Malta Labour party at the age of 19 (?!!), Mintoff oversaw the huge reconstruction effort in terms of public works that was needed in Malta from his position as Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction in 1947.

What stood out was his desire to play hardball with the British: the archipelago was effectively a dependency of the British forces, yet Mintoff realised the winds of change that decolonization was effecting. He had no problem in making U-turns in order to achieve what he saw as his main goal - rapidly increasing and equitable increase in standards of living within his generation and the transformation of what he saw as the "backward" societal norms of Malta.

After overthrowing the cautious Malta labour party leadership he ruled with an iron grip within the party, turning toward more radical demands: If Britain wanted Malta, it would have to integrate it within the UK; The UK would not use the Maltese base "on the cheap" - it should first ensure that the welfare state and society of the island would change the same way as the areas around bases in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK where benefiting. Although this sounds as pro-British policy it was actually a threat posed by Mintoff: If such demands were not met, Mintoff made it incredibly clear that independence was the only way forward, and for true independence to be achieved the military presence of the UK and the west had to be expunged. Like Makarios he played the hand of the East against the West in the cold war to get things done (a dangerous and complicated game that involved also the non-aligned movement and friendliness to dictators like Gadaffi), yet Mintoff was firmly attached to the west- his vision of Malta was of an industrialised nation of egalitarian principles and of redistribution of wealth.
Without Mintoff it is very unlikely that independence would have been achieved at the time it did, not that Malta's strategic role in the military world order would end.

Economically he presided over period of strong economic catch up growth that was redistributed quite evenly across society; yet he was set towards socialist type of industrialization projects that had no place in island societies- like Cyprus Malta is littered with bad idea manufacturing projects that began life under his reign.

He was also not koy in using any means to his disposal including electoral gerrymandering and even violence; He was supremely confident about his abilities and would dismiss even valid opposition out of hand. I am not so sure all would agree if he was a net positive for Malta, but he certainly was a huge shaper and mover of its modern history.
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