Romanticising too much the past

It’s amazing what hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution can produce. We are basically the product of the evolutionary process, with most successful outcomes serving to help us survive by adapting to circumstances.

One of the many things, it seems, human evolution shaped is the inclination to look back in time and remember the past rosier than it was. People tend to remember the nice things and bury the unpleasant ones. Past pains are minimised, and previous ugliness managed by selective memories. The more we go back in years, the more romantic we get. However, this romanticism of the past can be misused for ulterior purposes.

Recently there seems to be increased efforts to romanticise the not so distant past. Newspaper articles and opinions lecturing us how Malta and Gozo are no ‘longer charming’ feature regularly. We are told that the service being provided to tourists is no longer what it used to be ten or twenty years ago, how cleanliness in public places and roads deteriorated markedly over the last decade, how construction activities has forcefully entered our life and how sound is nowadays a very unpleasant constant noise when twenty years ago it was little short of music. The uglification of the present seems to go into overdrive where Gozo is concerned with the airing of pictures of cranes and rising buildings becoming almost a national hobby.


People tend to remember the nice things and bury the unpleasant ones. Past pains are minimised, and previous ugliness managed by selective memories.

Without attempting to minimise or whitewash the unpleasant things we are experiencing nowadays, which also include the lack of upkeep of certain places and the unpleasant consequences of the construction frenzy, we need to take an objective view of our surroundings and be more honest with ourselves.

Memories bring loads of happiness. The carefree attitude when you are younger immediately comes to mind. We all remember fondly when even a visit to Valletta or Gozo used to be a small adventure.

But what also comes to mind from 20, 30 years ago is the low standard of living and very limited financial means experienced by the majority of the population. A time when young people worked their summer months as waiters being paid less than one old Maltese lira an hour. Swimming bays used to experience regular outflows of drainage with Xemxija bay smelling like rotten eggs. When Maghtab used to burn for days on end, suffocating Bugibba and Paceville. The same for the Xaghra landfill, with a blanket of smoke covering Marsalforn or the village of Xaghra in Gozo.

Remembering the shabbiness when entering Valletta, with bus fumes and patches of diesel on the tarmac. The old palazzini in Valletta falling apart as those that could afford to move away did at their first chance. The old buses, their exhaust, their broken seats and unruly behaviour and attitude of some of their drivers. The list is endless.

Romanticism of the past can only offer an illusionary refuge from today’s illness. Today’s problems are many. Some are caused by our mistakes and our greed. But many are the costs of the socio-economic development path that inevitably must be faced. The fact that we are one of the most densely populated countries in the world does not help. This density is the result of nature, the small size of our archipelago, made worse with trying to be everything for everyone. With increased affluence, the need to import labour, to fill in jobs that we no longer want to do increased. 

If we’re honest, there are quite a number of jobs that the Maltese are not interested in. Attributing the lack of interest due to poor pay is an over-simplification that does not help addressing the issue.

The truth is that as a nation we have also evolved. Change is inevitable but at times painful. Probably we are less willing to accept things that in the past were considered acceptable. This is positive. But what we must avoid doing is to portray the past for what it was not. Doing so is a disservice and venturing on dishonesty. 



5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mario Ellul
Mario Ellul
2 years ago

And you’re only touching the tip of the iceberg! The worst are the comparisons with a golden past which included not just the blemishes you rightly mention, but much worse! The poverty, the illiteracy, the mortality rates, the chasm between the haves and the have nots.