The last few days in the local political scene have been quite mirthful and perplexing, to say the least. The sense of the theatrical was there for all to see for most of the protagonists of the major political vignettes which were projected to us lesser mortals. Talking of the theatrical, the goings-on which made the eight o’clock news in these last days could all be described as typical commedia dell’arte, where theatre is performed with very few prompts and an improvised script.
We had a self-confessed tax evader for twelve whole years demanding the resignation of another member of parliament for the latter’s lack of declaring a sizeable cash gift which was a fraction of the money owed to the taxman by the former.
We had a three-man outfit representing the extreme, holier-than-thou, disgruntled Nationalist Party activists who have unabashedly hijacked a supposedly impartial (say it to the Marines!) NGO platform. Their leader organised a press conference on a Valletta pavement and, with a straight face, solemnly demanded that the Maltese electorate abandon their hard fought (since 1921) quest for democratic parliamentary representation; dissolve parliament and cabinet and appoint a technocratic government.
I am sure that the independent speaker of this press conference, who happens to be the brother of one of the most ardent Nationalist Party spokesmen, was thinking of expert, independent technocrats of the calibre of Andrew Borg Cardona, Manuel Delia, Godfrey Leone Ganado et al as the symbiotic projection of independent and super-intelligent technocrats to lead our nation.
We had the surreal Hamrun football celebrations in the midst of a pandemic whilst stand-up cultural initiatives are forbidden.
We had a young woman convicted of her first drug-related crime who committed suicide during her six month incarceration period whilst supposedly serving her time in a correctional facility.
On the bright side, we had half a million Euros collected for id-Dar tal-Providenza during a national TV marathon.
But what irked me the most in these last days of hot news gossip from the local trough was the deliberate and orchestrated trickling down of juicy snippets from the Dom Mintoff biography which was penned by a well-known historian, philosopher and monk.
Dom Mintoff’s mantra and presence over our country has been constant and overwhelming throughout nearly seventy percent of all of the last century. Love him or hate him, he is one of the most influential Maltese statesmen, if not the most influential. His actions and reactions contributed immensely to the development and growth of our island nation. He was indeed a living legend and his presence in local lore is guaranteed for posterity. Living legends inevitably end up as being interpolated in orally dispensed mythology.
Love him or hate him, Dom Mintoff is one of the most influential Maltese statesmen, if not the most influential.
I do not mention the term mythology lightly. That word hails from the Greek mythos for story-of-the-people, and logosfor word or speech. Thus mythology is the spoken story of a people. It is the study and interpretation of often sacred tales or fables of a culture known as myths or the collection of such stories which deal with various aspects of the human condition: good and evil.
Mintoff never harboured any Messianic or godlike pretensions. Some of his ardent followers did, though. And some of his ardent critics in the not too distant past literally instructed the electorate that Mintoff and Mintoffians were indeed the devil incarnate with a demonic tail to boot.
It therefore seems natural that such larger than life personalities end up being enveloped in political myth as defined by Henry Tudor in his 1975 ground-breaking work bearing the same name. However, it stands to reason that, with a supposed carte blanche and full access to Mintoff’s private documents and autobiographical notes, the author would be in an enviable position of publishing a number of ground-breaking insights and historical vignettes which throw light on the innumerable, radical and trailblazing initiatives that Mintoff captained or was the protagonist of during all of the decades of his public service.
I was looking forward to the book shedding light to Mintoff’s integration with the UK campaign which, during the period in question, was embraced by the electorate and also had ardent supporters in the House of Commons. I was looking forward to the behind-the scenes wheeling and dealing of the key dates of our island nation, namely independence, republic and freedom day. All three of these dates featured a larger than life Mintoff. I thought that the book would peel off most of the interpolations related to Mintoff’s last term in parliament and his infamous duel with Alfred Sant, then leader of the Labour Party.
Some of his ardent critics literally instructed the electorate that Mintoff and Mintoffians were indeed the devil incarnate with a demonic tail to boot.
The book should have projected hitherto unpublished scoops related to Mintoff’s personal dealings with most of the key statesmen of his time from around Europe and beyond, the number of death threats and bungled assassination attempts, his actions in ensuring that the Labour Party would not fall under the hands of ‘misguided’ and ‘radical’ elements within it after his resignation from Party leader, his handling of the purposely deliberate upsurge in violence in the eighties instigated by his rivals and shrewdly projected as being done at his prompting.
But what did we get as marketing drivel for this publication? We were treated to some juicy titbits of information shedding light to the bedroom antics of this political demigod. His amorous escapades during his student days and his philandering during his married and public life. Some of the sexy anecdotes are referenced by means of a detto del detto del detto formula – three stages removed from the supposed originator, with the prime originators being deceased, thus making the narrative impossible to prove. Whilst some names related to Mintoff’s later amorous dallying are rightly kept concealed, other sexual escapades involving living persons are meted out with no holds barred.
Sex sells. The specifically orchestrated marketing tools related to this publication confirm this. At this point, let me make one point clear. I do believe that there are no sacred cows when it comes to penning objective history. But there is much, much more to Mintoff that such unprecedented access to the former’s personal notes and documents could have given to the historically-inclined author.
Imagine a historian having access to all the documents of that other big Maltese statesman, George Borg Olivier. Even though the latter died decades before Mintoff did. And the biggest scoops of the hypothetical publication would have been merely the lurid sexual tales of why he was sexually referred to as ‘bil-qrun’. When there is so much more historical stuff which has not yet been brought to the attention of the public.
This fetishist approach to history reminds me of the marketing campaign that the Museum of Erotica in St. Petersburg, Russia orchestrated, focusing on the 11.8 inch long schlong in a pickle jar purportedly being that of Russia’s greatest love machine (according to Boney M), Rasputin. This penis is indeed one of four schlongs in circulation, all supposedly pertaining to the murdered Rasputin and was allegedly sold to the museum in 1977 by Rasputin’s lion-tamer daughter, Maria, although historians beg to differ. Many people have claimed to have a part of his member since his death, with a preserved sea cucumber – yes, that’s right – being mistaken for his Willy throughout the early part of the 20th century. The lesson here? Not even immediate family of the personality in question can be trusted with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Let alone detto del detto del detto.
So I am still waiting. Still waiting for historians to come up with historical discoveries or enlightened unearthing of significant material which underline and explain Mintoff’s dominant role in the recent history of our country.