June 2, 1946, marks the date when Italy transitioned from a monarchy to a republic. Since then Italians across the world have celebrated Republic Day every year. After 74 years of marking this day, this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant loss of lives in Italy – 33,000 – which is the highest since World War II, all Italians should come together and support each other to get our country back on its feet again.

Having lived in Malta for many years, I feel a sense of belonging to the two countries. On the one hand, I will, of course, always have Italian roots but, on the other, I feel a powerful bond with Malta, built through the day-to-day interactions with the people and the land that welcomed me and my family.

In 1985, I visited Malta for the first time as a child and I immediately felt at home thanks to the Mediterranean sea, landscapes, customs, local cuisine and the island’s strong Christian faith. In the heart of the Mediterranean, the common roots between Malta and Italy are deep with centuries of shared history of continuous trade as well as economic, cultural and human exchanges which have naturally imbedded these strong similarities and bridges between the two nations.

From 1091, when the Normans attacked Malta as part of their conquest of Sicily, until 1194, the archipelago was part of the Kingdom. The Catholic Church became the state religion under the See of Palermo  and the Norman architecture, especially in Malta’s old capital of Mdina, made the the country  increasinlgy similar to some Sicilian towns.

Having lived in Malta for many years I feel a sense of belonging to the two countries- Regina Catrambone

In 1800, Great Britain, the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily sent ammunition and aid to the Maltese to end the French occupation. Malta became a protectorate jointly administered by Naples and the UK. Since 1813, even though the  island was a British colony, the presence of the Italian culture and language remained strong.

However, in 1934, the Italian language was abolished as an official language in Malta in favour of English and Maltese.  During World War II Italy bombed the island for three years between 1940 and 1943 due to the island’s rejection of  fascism.

Italy was the first country to establish a diplomatic mission in Malta and the first to appoint a resident ambassador after Malta gained its independence in 1964. In 1980, the island entered into a neutrality agreement with Italy, under which Malta agreed not to enter into any alliance and Italy agreed to guarantee Malta’s neutrality.

Since May 1, 2004, the day Malta joined the EU, the two countries have shared  the fundamental values and principles of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights.

Under the common European flag, the Italians and Maltese have a responsibility to ensure that the relationship between the two countries can be a stimulus for growth and improvement for all. Based on the values of cooperation and fair and reciprocal commitment facing difficult issues of our time, like migration, I strongly believe that only together will we overcome the challenges we currently face and move forward in a globalised world.

On this special day, I feel very grateful to all Italians and Maltese working hard to enrich the cooperation between the countries: President Sergio Mattarella and President George Vella, Pope Francis and Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Italian Ambassador Mario Sammartino and Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo.

A strong partnership between Italy and Malta is essential given that the two countries are destined to be key protagonists in any crucial choices made about the future of the Mediterranean.

Regina Catrambrone is co-founder and director of MOAS.

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