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        THE MAKING OF A STATESMAN

Duminku Mintoff was born in Cospicua on 6 August, 1916. His father worked for the British Forces in Malta.  He studied in Government elementary school, the Seminary and the University of Malta where he graduated as architect and civil engineer in 1939. That same year he was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, and proceeded to Hartford College, at Oxford University. In 1941 he obtained his M.A. in sciences and engineering.

In England he met Moira de Vere Bentinck whom he married. They had two daughters.
He practiced his profession in England until 1943, when he returned to Malta. In 1944 he was elected Secretary General of the Malta Labour Party.
In 1945 Dom Mintoff was elected to public office for the first time, as member of the Government Council.
It was in this capacity that Dom Mintoff outshone his colleagues when he stood fast by his beliefs for universal suffrage, and for the elimination of the Senate from the upcoming new constitution for Malta.
In the general elections of 1947,  the Labour Party was voted into Government with an absolute majority, under a new constitution where women voted for the first time.
Dom Mintoff was elected to Parliament and appointed Minister of Reconstruction. It was no easy task to rebuild the destruction left by the German and Italian air attacks during the preceding war.
During that period, Mintoff was already the deputy of labour party leader and Prime Minister Sir Paul Boffa. He therefore was part of every delegation which often visited Britain demanding subsidies, financial assistance, and guarantees for Malta's future. The British Government was adamant in giving such help, and the Maltese Government delivered an ultimatum in 1949 insisting on its share from the assistance the United States was pouring on Europe at the time. That assistance, billed the Marshall Aid, was aimed at reconsctructing Europe's economy. For its part during the war, Malta only got the Gold Cross award by the British.
While Dr Boffa was convinced to withdraw the ultimatum, Mintoff disagreed. He resigned from the Cabinet and soon after the General Conference of the Labour Party sacked its leader and elected Dom Mintoff instead as its new Leader.
Immediately he embarked on re-organising  and modernising the Party. His efforts were so successful that in 1955 the Labour Party won a majority in the national elections, and was elected to Government again. Mintoff thus became Prime Minister for the first time.

The issue of British assistance to modernise Malta, was still foremost in the political agenda. The Labour Party had won the election with the call for integration with Britain. That would have meant that Malta would get unlimited financial assistance since it would have been considered as part of the United Kingdom. Mintoff's plan failed, for the reactionary forces in Malta, notably the Church, mobilised its strong forces against it. The British Government too realised that what Mintoff had not succeeded in getting in compensation for war damages, he was going to get through the integration plan.

On realising the integration plan failed, Dom Mintoff immediately demanded full independence from Britain.

Meanwhile the Labour Government resigned, and the Islands were run by the British governor.

In 1961, once again the Catholic Church rallied its forces against the Labour Party, and issued religious sanctions against Dom Mintoff and all his party colleagues, and all other active Labour Party supporters. These sanctions included interdictment, prohibition from attending religious ceremonies, including marriage. They went as far as to include the dead! Catholic Labour supporters were denied burial in the blessed part of cemetries. The culmination of this religious-political intrigue by the local Catholic Church came in the general elections of 1962, when it was declared a mortal sin to vote for the Labour Party. Women were even told they would not be taking a false oath if they swore to their husbands that they had voted for the Labour Party, even though they did not.

This infamy was committed by the Catholic Church led by the Archbishop Sir Michael Gonzi, and his reactionary clergy. Priests who did not tow the official church line were silenced, including forced exile into far off countries as missionaries!

In the 1962 general elections, notwithstanding these sanctions, the Labour Party obtained the largest number of votes cast to a single party. Yet a host of other minor parties joined forces with the Nationalist Party, then the second largest, and formed a government.

Formal discussions with Britain then commenced aiming at obtaining Independence for Malta. In these negotiations the Labour Party was mostly ignored. The British took this opportunity to force an independence treaty which favoured their interests in all aspects, while the Malta Government would appear to hold full administrative powers over the island. Yet most of Malta's vital sectors were controlled by the British, including defence and communications, and a good part of the national territory.

Mintoff fought these treaties without success, but promised he would revise them as soon as Labour was again in power.

Formal independence was granted on 21st September, 1964.

In the next general elections, 1966, the Catholic Church again played an important role, with sanctions previously imposed on Labour Party leaders and supporters still in force. Times were though changing, and the Catholic Church leaders felt this change. So religious sanctions against the Labour Party were not publicly and vehemently proclaimed as in the previous general election, but spread through the less conspicuous but certainly not less effective, method of person to person communication. There were still numerous priests, who openly supported the Nationalist Party and equally openly used their pulpits against the Labour Party.

This election was again won by the Nationalist Party as expected, but the Labour Party increased its votes considerably.

The breakthrough in Church - Labour Party relations came with the direct intervention of the Vatican. A new Bishop Emanuel Gerada, was sent over from Rome, and Archbishop Gonzi was overruled by the new 'blood'.

In 1969 the two sides reached an agreement.The Catholic Church withdrew all its sanctions against the Labour Party.

Up to this date no official apology has been forthcoming from the Catholic Church for its 'sins' against the Maltese people during that period. It must be stated though that acknowledgement of the Church's misbehaviour has been given by some of its Maltese clergy.

It is also noteworthy that by its actions, the Catholic Church slowly but surely lost its prime place in the heart of the Maltese, many of whom, today look at it as an ageing money making institution.

The Church - Labour Party agreement was beneficial to the Labour Party who could now concentrate its efforts on the true political issues which were hampering the people's progress and well-being.

Widespread corruption, unemployment and emigration were the major political issues on which the Labour Party fought the next general election in 1971.

The Labour Party won an uncomfortable majority of one seat in Parliament. Soon afterwards the opposition Nationalists tried to bribe a Labour MP to cross the floor. The perpetrators of this crime ended up in prison. Instead a Nationalist MP crossed over to the Labour Party side, thus enlarging the parliamentary majority to three seats.

Thus the Labour Government could embark upon its delayed projects for the industrialisation of the Island. The old issues on the granting of Independence in 1964, were revived and formed the platform for the final struggle of the Maltese people for effective independence and freedom from foreign domination.


 

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Next Page  

Is-Snin tal-Misthija - The Years of Shame  1961 - 1969

Gallery of Pictures   Dom Mintoff's Family Album

Mintoff's Political Career in Pictures

Malta stands up to British Imperialism - 1958 (Pictures and text)

Acknowledgements: The author acknowledges with thanks the publishers of various Maltese political and other publications, where the pictures in these pages were originally published.The Author declares that all scripts in these pages are original and views expressed, therefore subjective. Pictures used in these pages are mostly scanned from MLP and GWU publications. Many are reproduced from newspapers, hence the lack in quality. All literary works in these pages are also original and are being published for the first time. None of the written material may be published in whole or in part without the express written permission by the Author.                E.C. Schembri

© 1998   E.C. Schembri