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Henry Frendo’s Europe and Empire:
Major Historical Work Launched at the Palace

Wednesday evening saw the launching of a major research undertaking, which has been 26 years in the making, by Professor Henry Frendo, at the Palace, Valletta. Comprising of 872 pages in hard covers, Europe and Empire knows its germination to La Trobe University, Melbourne, in 1986, when the author lectured there. Based mainly on British, Italian, Australian, American, Tunisian and Maltese archival sources, it is essentially a multifaceted critique of colonialism, ranging far and wide from British penetration of the Mediterranean in the 18th century to the metamorphosis of Malta's body politic, cultural heritage, party political and inter-personal relations especially during the agitated 1912-1946 period, to future challenges for the survival of a Maltese nationality and identity.

Europe and EmpireThe volume opens many 'windows' on Malta's past. These include language and nationhood in culture, perception and power; Nerik Mizzi's formative years in Italy until 1912, and Manwel Dimech's non-repatriation from Alexandria until his mysterious death in 1921; improving Anglo-Maltese bonds when self-government was granted in 1921; changing political dynamics as colonialism was faced by the rise of fascism in the 1920s. It discusses language, religion and politics in Lord Strickland’s Malta especially between 1927 and 1933, with a chapter containing intriguing flashbacks to Strickland’s earlier Australian governorships as well as Australian perspectives of goings-on in Malta itself through press reportage and commentary.

Other chapters compare the constitutional breakdown in Malta in the early 1930s to that in Cyprus; and take stock of the Royal Dockyard's socio-economic and strategic place in the colonial equation. Mainly from oral sources through former bank employees, the book evocatively traces banking, leisure and working life in Malta during the war; as well as, mainly from Tunisian archival sources, the yearning for ethnic identity among Maltese migrants in North Africa, parceled out as this was between the French, Italian and British empires.

The book then concentrates on shifting Anglo-Italian relations, asking whose 'Mare Nostrum' was at stake. In a prelude to the invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, Maltese is raised to an official language together with English, and Italian suppressed; but by this time a real fear of a  war between Britain and Italy looms over Malta. This marks an escalation in internecine tensions, repression and espionage, leading to the expulsion of several resident Italians and subsequently the sacking of prominent Maltese, always without charge or trial. The racy chapter 'Rule Britannia: The Clampdown on "Disloyalty", 1936-1940' is far the longest and arguably the most seminal one in the volume (pp. 541-676).

Professor Frendo also looks into the internments and deportations after 1940; the hanging of Carmelo Borg Pisani in 1942; tangible and intangible consequences of the second world war on the Maltese; and the post-war treason trials when most of those stalked in Italy and shipped over to Malta, in most cases with a possible penalty of hanging until death over their heads, were all acquitted by Maltese juries in 1946/47. Two appendices give extracts from debates in the legislature concerning alleged tampering at the Malta press to incriminate Mizzi before the war; and attempts to deprive several internees of their service pensions or to have them further disciplined. One of the many twists in these stories is how it was the British, together with the two remaining PN deputies, who intervened to retain the pension entitlements. In addition to a bibliography and an index, the volume contains numerous documents reproduced tale quale from the original archival sources or newspaper columns, which tend to speak for themselves.

The incisive concluding chapter, called 'A Culture of Dependent Fear: Decolonizing the Mind, Reclaiming History and the Future of Identity', is of contemporary as much as of historical import.

There were insightful and vigorous contributions during the book launch, which was interspersed with readings by Dr Philip Farrugia Randon, and period tunes on the accordion by Albert Garzia – 'Rule Britannia', 'Giovinezza' and 'X'Aħna Sbieħ Min Jaf Jarana' (the 1931 Satariano-Cilia folk song critical of acculturation). Chaired by the University Chancellor, Professor David Attard, and with President George Abela in attendance, the speakers were Dr Albert Ganado, who focused on political and constitutional aspects; Professor Gloria Lauri-Lucente, who analysed the linguistic-cultural implications; and Mr Mario Ellul, who spoke on the making of imperial mentalities in the navy, the dockyard and other employment venues with the British Services. In his concluding address the author spoke on 'The Fear of the Past and its Relevance', emphasizing that 'we had the right to know and the duty to remember.'
Henry Frendo's Europe and Empire: Culture, Politics and Identity in Malta and the Mediterranean (Midsea, 2012, pp. 872, hard covers, illustrated) is on sale at 60e from the publishers and from all leading bookshops.

Europe and Empire


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