When Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in his May 1 speech at Cospicua echoed Dom Mintoff’s rallying call to his supporters by referring to them as “soldiers of steel” he was going back more than 50 years. His predecessor had coined this term in the aftermath of the 1962 general election which Labour lost but showed that notwithstanding the local Church’s sanctions, the party still commanded the strength of thousands of electors who would follow it no matter what.
By choosing to repeat Mintoff’s rallying call, the Prime Minister, perhaps inadvertently, reminded the public – particularly those of a certain age – about the way Dom Mintoff used to address his followers, sometimes through parables, but in most cases coining certain phrases and terms which will long be remembered and used for many years.
Let’s be clear. All our main political leaders do make certain pronouncements which remain in the collective memory of the public. If, for example, we take the last five prime ministers, everyone will at least recollect one message from them.
Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici: Church Schools – “Either free or nothing”, (“Jew b’xejn jew xejn”).
Eddie Fenech Adami: “Truth will definitely prevail”, (“Is-sewwa jirbaħ żgur”).
Alfred Sant: “Switzerland in the Mediterranean”, (“Svizzera fil-Mediterran”).
Lawrence Gonzi: “Malta needs a safe pair of hands”, (“Par idejn sodi”).
Joseph Muscat: “You may disagree with us but you can work with us”, (“Tista’ ma taqbilx magħna izda tista’ taħdem magħna”).
Having said that, Mintoff was much more ‘productive’ in this particular aspect of political language and throughout his exceptionally long career, he invented, coined and concocted such political terms as no one did, before or after him... yet. Some of these are memorable. Others are unforgivable. Some are famous while some others remain infamous to this very day.
In 1981 (just three years from Mintoff’s resignation as prime minister) the Nationalist Party issued a book about Mintoff’s utterings over the years. It was entitled Duminku Mintoff – Professur tad-Demokrazija – Għalliem u Mexxej – (‘Dominic Mintoff – Professor of Democracy – Teacher and Leader’).
The book contains hundreds of entries but I will quote only a few considered to be as all-time ‘favourites’ and popular.
Integration: Mintoff was certain his plan to integrate Malta with Britain was going to succeed so he proclaimed: “Integration is in the bag”. But when the whole thing fizzled out he changed to “Englishmen pay up or go home”.
Malta’s foreign relations: Before Independence: “We gave blood to Europe and blood is priceless”. Then when he insisted Malta needed more aid, Mintoff divided Europe in two large parts, “Europe of Cain” (Western Europe) and “Europe of Abel” (Eastern Europe). Later, Mintoff said that we should always remember that “the sun rises from the East”.
Relations with Libya: For a long period of years Mintoff used to say that “the Libyans are our blood brothers”. But after they impeded the Maltese from continuing to drill for oil, Mintoff said that what the Libyans did to Malta was “an act befitting one’s greatest enemy”.
State-owned companies: In 1976, at a meeting in Qormi, Mintoff dealt with State-owned companies and their contribution to the economy. He said “and this (Air Malta) is another cow. And so, to Ġużè Abela, our Finance Minister, I tell him: ‘Milk it Joseph! Milk it!’(“Aħleb Ġuż, aħleb”). And the Drydocks is making profit too. And I tell Joseph: Milk it!”
No one will even be remotely able to repeat Mintoff’s words in his own inimitable way
Pensioners: In 1980, Mintoff said: “We gave the pensioners enough money so that could afford whisky”.
Trade Unions: A few months after regaining power in 1971, Mintoff exclaimed: “Those unions that call themselves ‘free’ are mouldy (immuffati)... they are still in time to join the ‘sacred alliance’ between the General Workers’ Union and the MLP.”
Work: Prior to the 1966 election, Mintoff said: “A Labour government will be employing everyone over a period of three months.”
As Prime Minister, Mintoff used to say that “unemployment is the real thermometer of a country’s wellbeing”.
As his political career was drawing to a close, he lamented: “I wish I had been as successful generating jobs as I was in obtaining money for this country.”
General: “Malta first and foremost”; “We are professors of democracy”; “We are not crazy”; “For every blow we receive, we give back two, and for every two we give four”.
And, dulcis in fundo, as he was nearing his final hours in Parliament, and was about to bring down the Labour government in the summer of 1998, Mintoff made three speeches lasting nearly three hours each, during which he launched countless direct attacks on his party, and on Prime Minister Alfred Sant in particular.
He told him: “You took complete control of the party’s machine”. (“Int ħtaft il-magna tal-partit”); and “You lost the social conscience of the party” (“Int tlift il-kuxjenza soċjali tal-partit”).
These are but a few of Mintoff’s widely known – or sometimes even forgotten – exclamations and proclamations. Many will be tempted once more to plagiarise his phrases without acknowledging the original source.
One thing will definitely stick out: no one will even be remotely able to repeat Mintoff’s words in his own inimitable way.
Muscat tried it at Cospicua, but with little success!
Victor Camilleri is a former editor of In-Nazzjon Tagħna and Il-Mument.