First, Labour supporters were told to love the EU. Now they are being told to hate Gaddafi.

Published: September 1, 2011 at 4:15pm

Dom Mintoff with Muammar Gaddafi in the early 1970s

This is my column in The Malta Independent today.

The Labour Party is now desperate to distance itself from Gaddafi, a process which, because for four decades it has boasted about its intimate personal relationship with him, has left it lying on the floor in a tangle.

Nobody is more confused than its supporters.

For 40 long years they were told to love him.

Without Gaddafi, they were told, there would have been nothing to fill the gap in revenue when Britain refused to renew its rental agreement on its military base here – all such agreements ran from 1 April to 31 March – and, as an inevitable consequence, the dockyard lost its most lucrative client, the Royal Navy.

Except that those credulous and largely – at the time – illiterate supporters were not told that Britain had given Mintoff a reverse salute and told him where to stuff his demands for more rent. They were told that Mintoff kicked out the hakem, and that 31 March was Freedom Day, rather than the last day of the rental agreement.

Freedom Day is really April Fool’s Day, but that’s a side issue.

In the Malta in which I grew up, crowds of Labour supporters lined the streets and squares to salute Muammar Gaddafi as he drove past during his several visits.

He was given lots of airtime on the state television channel, Xandir Malta, and he was the keynote speaker at a massive Labour meeting which was extensively covered on television.

In the 1976 election campaign, he appeared on Xandir Malta again, this time to announce – with a translator on hand – that if ‘a pro-NATO political party’ were to be elected, he would pull the plug on oil supplies to Malta. Or rather, put the plug in.

His Green Book was distributed to all children in state schools and to teenagers at the state sixth form college. Many people my age still have their copies.

Our buses were painted green, state school uniforms were green, our passports were green and depicted – in a map designed to show passport control officers where Malta is – the name of Libya far more prominently than Malta’s. There was an inbuilt Arabic translation, too, because Libya required it and still does today, except that today you must have it done specially.

Arabic was put on the same footing as Malta’s two official languages, Maltese and English, as an entry requirement for all university courses. It wouldn’t have been such a bad idea to put Arabic in the curriculum, because aside from the script, it is the easiest language in the world for speakers of Maltese to learn, and the ability to speak Arabic is a distinct advantage for a European.

But we resented it and fought against it because we knew only too well that it wasn’t being done for us, but as a sop to Colonel Gaddafi.

We fought against all things green and Arabic because we knew that we were being slowly absorbed by Gaddafi in return for money – except that he turned out to be even stingier than Dom Mintoff, who had finally met more than his match in the sociopathic and egocentric stakes.

Those of my generation grew up with the twin-headed Hydra of Mintoff and Gaddafi, and in our minds they were inseparable. We were the only children outside Libya to know Gaddafi’s name, to recognise his face, and to associate the colour green with him.

Gaddafi was part of everyday life and conversation in Malta back then in the 1970s and 1980s. That alone should tell you exactly what the nature of the relationship was between the Labour Party and Muammar Gaddafi.

Since 1987, there has been nothing similar at all, and I’d say that 99 per cent of Maltese schoolchildren first heard his name and saw his face when the revolution began last February – and then only because of the 24-hour coverage on the international news channels, to which there was nothing similar when I was a child and yet knew of Gaddafi still.

When I was really young I actually thought Gaddafi was a Maltese politician.

I remember quite clearly walking past the open front doors of many dwellings in the Grand Harbour area and seeing, there on the walls with a red votive candle beneath, framed images of Dom Mintoff and Muammar Gaddafi. Both were the Salvatur ta’ Malta.

There would often be, next to them, an image of that other Salvatur, the real one, bearded and with his heart visible. Verbum Dei Caro Factum Est. The word of God is made flesh. Indeed.

Since the start of the revolution in February, there have been countless Maltese people defending Gaddafi on the internet or, toning it down as things got worse, saying that we must remember all the good he did for Malta.

You know beyond doubt that all these people vote Labour and were raised in Labour families. Their view of Gaddafi is not the objective view, but the brainwashed view.

Nobody in his right mind, nobody who wasn’t brainwashed by repetitive political propaganda, could possibly assess Gaddafi and conclude that he was a good thing in any way.

At most, you’d conclude that he was a fact of life and that doing business with him and paying him the occasional visit were necessary evils.

Now those Labour voters (if they are still alive) and their descendants are being told, loudly and repeatedly by Super One and in various party press releases, that nah-nah-nah it was the Nationalists who had the priority relationship with Gaddafi.

So they don’t know what to think. If Gaddafi is such a bad thing and has turned out to have been a really bad thing all along, why were they told otherwise?

This is a repeat of the psychological and political confusion on EU membership. First, Labour supporters were submitted to a relentless campaign about its myriad and terrible evils, whipped out of their homes to vote No to save Malta from drowning under the weight of Sicilian hairdressers.

Now, they are given EU flags at mass meetings and asked to wave them around like they mean it.

But of course, all those who, like Lino Spiteri and the significant others quoted in newspaper articles, try to equate the relationship of successive Nationalist governments and Libya with the relationship between Labour and Libya miss the most crucial point of all.

The Nationalist Party never had any relationship with Gaddafi or Libya and still does not.

Fenech Adami’s and Gonzi’s dealings with Gaddafi’s Libya were standard bilateral relations between states. The Labour Party has not represented the state since 1987 (bar those 22 months) and yet it has continued to celebrate and cherish its relationship with the regime.

Two years ago on 1st September, the Labour Party held at its Mile End headquarters a big conference to mark the 40th anniversary of Gaddafi’s coup. They called it ’40 years of relations between Malta and Libya’.

Yet Labour does not represent Malta, and the government, which does represent Malta, held no such commemoration. The only Nationalist politician present at that Labour/Libya event was John Dalli.

And it goes without saying that the name of the conference gave it all away, because Malta has had a relationship with Libya for thousands of years, not just 40.

The first official visit Joseph Muscat made as party leader was to Tripoli, accompanied by Alex Sceberras Trigona and Karmenu Vella, where he signed an agreement.

I wrote at the time that bilateral agreements are not negotiated and signed by the Opposition but by the government. It is a mark of just how much we take it for granted that the Labour Party in its own right has a special relationship with Gaddafi that nobody questioned those negotiations or thought them absurd.

Anything signed by the Opposition leader on behalf of Malta is meaningless and not binding, because the leader of the Opposition cannot contract Malta into anything. Joseph Muscat can no more sign on behalf of Malta than I can.

But the biggest clue to the nature of Labour’s special relationship with Gaddafi is this. All Labour supporters thought well of Gaddafi and many even loved and admired him. Many of them are defending him still, today.

But all Nationalist supporters despised him and continued to do so, no matter the nature of bilateral relations or how many visits the man European Commissioner John Dalli calls GonziPN, or his predecessor, paid him.

42 Comments Comment

  1. Joe Micallef says:

    And they were told to hate Mintoff and more recently to love him again.

  2. Dee says:

    How come Deborah Schembri was not invited?

    • Antoine Vella says:

      Oh but KMB is useful as Labour’s sinister Jiminy Cricket, reminding them who they are and showing them how a true Mintoffian should think and behave.

  3. Joe Micallef says:

    Daphne first sit down and then read this BBC breaking news from twitter

    Col #Gaddafi says Libyan people ‘cannot surrender – we are not women, we cannot give in, we are not slaves’

    Will the local progressive collection organise a press conference to denounce him?

  4. Matt says:

    Without doubt Gaddafi misappropriated the Libyans’ money.

    I hope the new Libyan council sends a few auditors to the MLP headquarters for they deserve to have their stolen money back. They must be very busy now in Hamrun shredding financial papers.

    The MLP is in real quandary and they are now grudgingly distancing themselves. Yesterday Gaddafi was the saviour and today he was evil for Malta.

    To no avail I may add, as they will be forever linked to Gaddafi.

  5. MoBi says:

    From Gaddafi’s latest speech: “We will not surrender. We are not women and we are going to keep on fighting.”

  6. Lomax says:

    Funny how you write about the exact thing with which I grew up as a child.

    I used to live in Paola at the time (in a staunch Nationalist family) and I remember very very clearly that people used to speak about Ghaddafi as though they were speaking about “one of us”.

    I have always known that he was Libyan but we’ve always despised him at home.

    There were some names – Mintoff, Lorry Sant, Ghaddafi, AST, Danny Cremona which had the same effect on us as Voldemort had on Harry Potter’s friends.

    This is quite beside the point but Ghaddafi for me was in that same basket, as it were.

    As I always say here, what horrible, horribles times. They have marked me for life.

    • Not Tonight says:

      No one who has lived through those years can easily forget them. Not if you were thinking straight, at least.

      I’m not terribly brave or adventurous and yet I attended those (in)famous students’ protests, I was there at Tal-Barrani and at all the other meetings and protests. Not because I enjoyed any of them (I hate being part of crowds) but because I knew they were necessary.

      I knew there would be no future for any of us if Mintoff’s honeymooning with Gaddafi was not shot down. Anyone with a shred of intelligence could see that Malta was well on its way to becoming a dictatorship.

      We were fast becoming another Libya with a strong sprinkling of communism mixed in for good measure. Had it found a weak opposition, our fate would have been sealed. It does not bear thinking about.

      Of course, it has marked us for life.

    • La Redoute says:

      You forgot Sceberras Trigona. He’s still around.

    • Dee says:

      Insejthom iz-zwieten ta’ Wistin?

  7. Qahbu says:

    The real worry for those of us convinced that the PL will be governing us in a few months’ time is that this is a party that has failed to make the right decision time and time again.

    In life, you need to take decisions and hope that you get it right more often than you get it wrong.

    The PN, with all its faults gets it right more often than it gets it wrong and has always been on the correct side of major decisions.

    The PL’s track record is abysmal. Whether it was the relationship with Gaddafi in the 70s and 80s, EU membership, Euro adoption, VAT and cash registers, university and education, the health system and so on and so forth.

    They lack depth and conviction and decide based on what they believe is popular. But being popular is not what makes a statesman – it wins votes but screws the economy, stupid.

    And herein lies our problem. Is there a way out?

  8. Tony says:

    Beautiful piece! Wish many could read it!

    Malta’s history has been rewritten so many times.

    I blame this partly on the fact that many poeple tend to forget about the reconciliation process of the late 80s under Eddie Fenech Adami. Just because we were no longer told what Labour did, many people now say that it did not happen. The EU and Libya issues are just two of the latest and more recent examples.

    I know many who say that in the 80s there was no violence and that the MLP did not attack people during PN mass meetings, that nobody was locked up, tortured and killed in the police depot.

    No one know about Nardu Debono. I have even heard some people say that Raymond Caruana was killed by the PN to create a martyr. No one ever mentions how the police fired tear gas at ordinary families quietly gathered in protest.

    To add insult to injury, the same ministers who were then the perpetrators of such crimes are now in opposition and in 18 months’ time will be cabinet ministers. These are the same people in the cabinet of KMB who went to mass meetings surrounded by l-aristokrazija tal-haddiema and afterwards ransacked Fenech Adami’s house, beat his wife, burnt down The Times building, sacked the Archbishop’s HQ, beat students, placed bombs, burnt and destroyed PN party clubs and so much besides.

    No wonder PL supporters are ready to forget MLP’s links to Gaddafi! They forget the crimes against our own people, and it’s business as usual with the same people now posing as future ministers.

    Malta’s history has been rewritten by the MLP on many occasions. Mintoff wanted to integrate us with Great Britain, yet Labour supporters hail him as the architect of freedom. Freedom from what?

    The Jum il-Helsin celebrations are similar to Gaddfi’s revolutionary 1 September. Gaddafi replaced the monarchy with his own absolute tyranny. In Malta, we swapped a British military base for status as a client state of Libya.

  9. Silverbug says:

    1984 revisited. Only, worse.

  10. Jozef says:

    Maybe it’s time they come clean about another bilateral agreement of understanding, this time with the Chinese Communist Party.

    Whatever it is, it wasn’t signed in my name.

  11. Ed says:

    The Mintoffian regime used to celebrate Gaddafi’s Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’s 1st September revolution.

    On the other hand, Nationalists who dared mark Malta’s Independence Day on 21 September, were violently attacked by Socialist thugs and police.

    Mintoffians look back nostalgically to the ‘Golden Years’. Now they want us to wipe our memories clean, and believe that the two Great Leaders were at most acquaintances, and not Blood Brothers. Unbelievable.

  12. Edward Caruana Galizia says:

    I doubt they are confused. Confused means they have the ability to question.

    They are not confused because:

    1) They don’t actually follow their policies.

    Most PL supporters don’t think in terms of what the party actually stands for. All they believe that the PL has some sort of divine right to be in power and if you say anything against it then you must be making it up.

    It’s like their tribe, and they are loyal to it no matter what. If the PL says X is a friend, then X is a friend. If the PL says Y is an enemy, then Y is the enemy.

    2) Those who have now started to support the PL quietly turn a blind eye towards all the conflicting messages sent by the PL because they feel like they have to in order to promote a healthier political culture.

    Therefore the PL can do and say anything it likes. Their supporters have conditioned themselves to not pay attention to anything. A recipe for disaster.

  13. J Abela says:

    I find this article very enlightening.

    I got to know only recently the details about the special relationship that the Labour Party had and still has with Gaddafi, thanks mostly to your blog.

    I had wondered why my family always spoke ill of Gaddafi and everything Libyan in general. They almost never referred to him as Gaddafi but as ‘il-Gziewer’ (in reference to his flamboyant clothing), but they never really explained the details. Thanks.

    I didn’t know why our buses were green and I found this hilarious.

  14. Harry Purdie says:

    I first visited Malta in 1974, attending an international sales conference at the Verdala Hotel.

    My colleagues and I often wondered who this Arab ‘General’ (we thought) in a Hitler cap, plastered on various walls, was and what did he have to do with Malta.

    It wasn’t until around ten years later, after renewing my interest in the island, that I understood.

    By the way, the local wine back then was terrible. Undrinkable, in fact. Much, much better now.

  15. John Schembri says:

    On the ground, Labour supporters have a hotchpotch of ideas and opinions. Here are a few.

    Some hate Mintoff, others hate Sant, more others are with Karmenu (‘miskin’).

    Some go on about “the ministers’ wage increase”, others about who met Gaddafi last.

    They say that the EU and the Euro are a burden on Malta.

    They don’t care what’s happening around the world.

    Water shortages and daily power cuts, they say, happen even today like in the Labour Golden Years.

    Gaddafi saved Malta when Mintoff was Prime Minister and Karmenu MB gave a lot of jobs while Mintoff gave out a lot of plots for houses and gave us the children’s allowance and the bonus.

    Eddie Fenech Adami is a liar and so is Gonzi.

    Interestingly, Joseph is not yet in the picture in these ordinary political discussions, for one simple reason: he’s not like Mintoff.

    One thing’s for sure: they will ALL vote Labour no matter what.

  16. Rover says:

    Labour had the temerity to invite Gaddafi to their mass meetings and allow him to threaten the Maltese people that, should they elect a pro-NATO party, he would then cut off the oil supply at reduced rates.

    The Labour Party then came up with the infamous Foreign Interference Act.

    What a party of complete and utter prats.

    • jae says:

      This is another instance where the Labour Party, in its inglorious past, acted like aweather vane without any sense of principle. It first gets a foreign dictator to speak at its mass meeting and then enacts legislation prohibiting the involvement of foreigners in local affairs.

      The PN, on the other hand, was always, and still is, guided by principles, making it more reliable and consistent in its policies.

  17. silvio farrugia says:

    Tonight I watched the 6.00pm news headlines on Super One and they mentioned the special meeting world leaders are having to help Libya and its new leaders.

    Not a word that our PM was there too. They mentioned the new NTC leaders stopping in Malta but not a word that they invited Dr Gonzi to go with them on the same plane to Paris.

    Do the ignoramuses at Super One take it for granted that ‘most’of their supporters do not listen to other news and that do not read newspapers ?

    • SC says:

      The problem with many Labour supporters (and I have seen this for myself many times) is that they only watch Super One.

      Most Nationalists watch Super One, Net and all the international channels, CNN and the BBC for example. That is why many Labour supporters when given a different angle to almost any event look perplexed.

      When that is reinforced with the Labour newspapers it’s very worrying.

    • Not Tonight says:

      They must think it pretty unfair for the PM to be invited and not their Joseph. Wasn’t their Great Leader the one who threw a party for the Islamic community in Malta? Weren’t Libyans, amongst others, indebted to him for that? Has the PL dismantled a quarry for nothing?

      • La Redoute says:

        Didn’t he sign suck up to Gaddafi? Didn’t he sign an agreement with him? Didn’t he accept a free ride on his private jet?

        To hell with him.

    • Etil says:

      Silvio – please realise that Super One have absolutely no interest in informing people that our PM was at the meeting.

      They are also trying to tone down as much as possible information regarding the Libya situation.

      You will also note that whilst the majority of Malta newspapers today published information about the meeting in Paris on their front pages, L-Orizzont did nothing of the sort.

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        Not to be a wet blanket or anything, but Gonzi was there along with no less than 60 world leaders. The spotlight – and it’s perfectly clear why – was on the Big Four + Libya: France, UK, US and Qatar (as one of only two Arab states who joined the Coalition).

        Still, jolly good of Sarkozy to have invited us, after all the MORONIC comments on The Times’ site following each landing by a French aircraft.

      • La Redoute says:

        Not to be a wet blanket, or anything, but some of the popolin are sorely disappointed by Maltastar’s non-coverage of Gonzi’s presence there.

        From il-Mexxej’s former stomping ground, Maltasrat:

        FTM45 – 01 September 2011 17:31

        Is Malta invited to the conference on Libya? What will be its position. Now we know why the Prime Minister, Dr. L. Gonzi, suspended his holiday so that it could take a decision and be admitted to take part in the conference on Libya. That was the urgency. No other.

  18. Grezz says:

    Thirteen years ago today was the day many of us were secretly thankful to Mintoff (despite hating the man) for helping us get rid of Alfred Sant.

  19. Village says:

    I tried to resist a strong urge to comment about that bloody megalomaniac, but then I have such a longstanding grudge against the man. Why not bury the hatchet and let go? He is almost dead. He is not worth it.

    No…because I owe it to my family and also to future generations of this small island lest we all forget how horrible it is to live under the psuedo socialist mentality he so deviously nurtured and developed. A generation which is still around unfortunately.

    Let no one be fooled into assuming or believing that these horrible times of the past are gone forever.

    The Maltese socialists will not change because they are not capable of it. They have inherited a hatred mentality which is difficult to eradicate.

  20. Alan says:

    Apologies for commenting here about this post

    Been way too busy, and I only read the Commission’s report today.

    “Machine-gun-toting-thug’s daughter ….. found guilty of character assassination”

    OK, it’s only a character, but daddy would be proud.

  21. Lawrence says:

    Tiftakar lil Nader Salem Rizzo jaghllimna l-Gharbi fuq Xandir Malta?

    Il-passaport ahdar….kullhadd jahsbek gej mill-Maghreb, fl-airports.

    Bil-hbieberija kollha u baghtilna l-patrol boats meta pruvajna nhaffru ghaz-zejt f’certu post?

    Id-dinja kollha trid tinqata minn mieghu hlief KMB (ahjar Alla jtini l-pacenzja) jiguni d’dubji fejn qed nghix.

  22. cat says:

    Arabic could have been included in the curriculum but not on a compulsary basis. Four lessons a week of 45 minutes each put it on the same level as Maltese.

    When Arabic became an entry requirement for university my brother had just started fifth form and there was no mercy for people in his position. They had to learn Arabic in six months or there was no way they could get in to sixth form college.

  23. Peter Mejlak says:

    Re comment from Village, the ‘hatred mentality’ can be explained by what the MLP supporters used to sing at their mass meetings: “Min ghandu l-ghali, ikompli jzidu u min ma ghandux, naraw x’naghmlulu”.


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