Today, 31st March, is a national holiday; indeed, it is Freedom Day. Of course the fact that we have a long weekend is seen as a god send by practically everyone on the island (except for maybe Gozo Channel employees who no doubt will have their hands full with people flocking to the sister island). But how many of you actually know why today is a national holiday? Allow me…
For context, it is probably best to start in 1971. Coming into the elections of this year, the Nationalist Party (led by George Borg Olivier) had been in government since 1962 and had led the country through the Independence dealings. With elections coming in 1971 however, the Malta Labour Party (led by Dom Mintoff) had gained ground and come back to reckoning. A landmark deal signed between the Party and the Church in 1969 meant that Mintoff’s Labour Party was no longer under interdiction from the Church. Furthermore; a rocky start economically to life as an independent nation had driven the approval rating of Borg Olivier’s government down.
Come 1971, Labour were elected with 28 seats out of 55 and the first thing that Prime Minister Mintoff decided to do was to renegotiate the lease agreement that Malta had with Great Britain over the use of the island’s military bases. After some tense negotiations, it was decided that the British forces keep use of the island’s bases till 31st March 1979 at a heavily increased rent; after which point they will pull out of the island.
Indeed, the day came and the last British warship left Grand Harbour to the salutations of many. For the first time since 1803, the British forces had left Malta completely; and for the first time in millenia, Malta was no longer a military base for a foreign power and the 31st March 1979 became Malta’s Freedom Day. Now, it was well and truly on it’s own.
From here on in, Malta was part of the Non-Aligned Movement – a movement of several countries that guaranteed neutrality in the Cold War setting that occupied the globe at the time.
Mintoff took great credit for being the one to drive the British out of Malta once and for all. Indeed the day is still commemorated today as a National Holiday and it is also commemorated by the Malta Labour Party; who still host mass meetings on certain anniversaries of the day.
We will be tracking all the important dates in Maltese History; only HERE on The Yuppie.