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Title: From villains to heroes : reconciling Vassalli and Dimech with the general public
Authors: Gauci, Henry-Franz (2015)
Keywords: Vassalli, Mikiel Anton, 1764-1829
Dimech, Manwel, 1860-1921
Heroes -- Malta
Nationalism -- Malta -- History
Collective memory -- Malta
Issue Date: 2015
Citation: Gauci, H.-F. (2015). From villains to heroes : reconciling Vassalli and Dimech with the general public (Master’s dissertation).
Abstract: Since the subject of this dissertation concerns these two Maltese personalities it is apt to give brief biographical information so that the reader may better understand the public’s perception of them, this being the main objective of this study. Mikiel Anton Vassalli (1764 – 1829), was born in Ħaż-Żebbuġ and studied middle-eastern languages in Rome with the aim of becoming a missionary. Inspired by the Enlightenment ideas for political and social reform he recognised in the Maltese Language the main tool for liberation and emancipation. Vassalli published a Maltese alphabet, grammar and lexicon. In Malta he sought reform by encouraging the Knight Hospitallers to install a Maltese branch within the Order. When this did not happen, he became part of a conspiracy to remove the Order. Vassalli was arrested and is thought to have escaped, only to return to Malta with the French in 1798. Following the peasants’ uprising he was considered a traitor and exiled in 1801 under the British, only to be allowed to return in 1820. Befriending people like John Hookham Frere he was appointed as the first Professor of Maltese Language at the University of Malta. He collaborated with the Protestants in Malta in translating the gospels to Maltese. When he died in 1829 the Catholic Church refused him a Catholic burial with the excuse that he had an irregular marriage. His remains remain unknown. Manwel Dimech (1860 – 1921), was born in Valletta in a destitute family. He grew up as a street urchin turning to a life of criminality. At 17 years of age he was involved in a murder for which he served a 12-year prison sentence. He returned to prison a few years later accused of dabbling in counterfeit coinage. During his time in prison, Dimech became proficient in languages and human sciences. Out of prison Dimech sought the emancipation of the masses and opened his own school of languages. He started publishing a newspaper Il Bandiera tal Maltin in 1898 with the aim of encouraging the working classes to seek knowledge and emancipation. In 1911 he founded the Xirca tal-Imdaulin promoting self-determination of the workers and the independence of Malta. The Maltese Catholic Church condemned Il Bandiera and the Xirca and later excommunicated Dimech. Considered a socialist, anarchist and a possible inciter, with the outbreak of World War I, the British exiled Dimech to Egypt never to be repatriated. He died in 1921 and is buried in an unmarked grave. Despite these turbulent and tragic lives, both Vassalli and Dimech have monuments in their honour and eminent scholars like Professor Oliver Friggieri consider them fundamental builders of the Maltese nation. However this official and academic recognition seems to be in contrast with the limited knowledge and admiration of the public. At times it is divided between those who consider these protagonists as heroes with others as villains. This dual experience is what intrigued me to choose this topic for this dissertation. Hence the aim of this dissertation is to study how both Vassalli and Dimech died rejected and forgotten but then, in time, their personality was revived. Due to their controversial life, before being accepted at least by part of the population, there was a process through which their memory had to be extracted from the dormant sites of memory and then reconciled in such a way as to be more positively accepted perhaps as heroes. Having personally experienced this transition in perception (from villains to heroes) and experiencing first-hand the lack of knowledge there seems to be about these personalities, provoked me to ask if Vassalli and Dimech were ever completely reconciled by the Maltese public, as part of national memory. This dissertation will try to study how this took place, who were the agents of change and to what extent this change in perception was successful. Hopefully the discussion in this dissertation will create greater and unbiased awareness of these two personalities while at the same time examine the forma mentis of Maltese’s society towards Maltese personalities.
Description: M.MALTESE STUD.
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - InsMS - 2015

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