Yesterday, Dom Mintoff, aka Il-Perit, Is-Salvatur and a host of irreproducible expletives, died aged 96. Without doubt one of the greatest leaders (qua leaders) Malta has ever seen, his death, much like his life, has been met with mixed reactions – most of them strong, and most of them extreme.
On one end of the spectrum, devotees to Is-Salvatur, whose walls were adorned with a fading photo of Mintoff, perhaps with one of his bespoke belt buckles, and a candle burning underneath, went out into the balmy August night in a vigil for the man who made things better for the lower classes when first in power.
At this end of the spectrum, people brought up in Labour households saluted Mintoff through their Facebook profiles, ascribing everything from the welfare state to the invention of sliced bread to the recently deceased Rhodes Scholar.
At the other end of the spectrum, you had people like Daphne Caruana Galizia, who sounded out a long-anticipated (elsewhere on her blog she stated she had a bottle of champagne ready for the occasion) “allelluia” upon hearing the news, wishing he rot in hell and counting him lucky for not dying as his ally Gaddafi did.
To her, and to many people of her generation who won’t touch Labour with a barge pole, Mintoff symbolizes lost opportunities, state-endorsed violence and Mars bars and toothpaste smuggled in from Sicily. Daphne’s contemporaries might not be airing their opinions for all to hear, but she is not alone in breathing a sigh of relief.
In death, as in life, Il-Perit is, as he was, a divisive figure. His rift with the Maltese Church decades ago is still fresh in the collective memory, one generation inheriting the festering wounds of the other. If you think otherwise, think back to last year’s divorce referendum campaign. Better still, don’t.
On this spectrum, there is a middle ground, invisible, inaudible, because those standing there would rather shut up than reiterate what should now be history.
Some of us want to unlearn Mintoff’s legacy, want to see others in shades other than red or blue, and yearn for the day when electoral campaigns are fought on what happened in the past five years, not 25 years ago.
While Joseph Muscat looks keen to capitalise on Mintoff’s large following, going on to contest on his district and fielding Dom’s daughter in the forthcoming (?) general election – the Nationalist Party is keen to remind Daphne’s generation of the Karmenu Vellas and Alex Sceberras Trigonas which have somehow managed to survive from Dom’s cabinet into the 21st century.
His framed portraits may have faded from his ’70s heyday, his candle may have been spent, but his mark on Malta looks set to stay.
Mintoff is dead. He may rest in peace, but may Malta?