The archives-inspired back page caption story (August 30) referring to the George Cross on a blue background on Malta’s flag after the war and up to Independence brings to mind what Dun Karm, the national poet had written in his sonnet Il-Bandiera Maltija in the 1930s, patriotically warning against the blue (belonging to England) and the green (belonging to Italy), colours which the Language Question had propelled into conflict and which World War II, for obvious reasons, had settled.
Hekk bajda u ħamra biss; kull lewn barrani,
Li jitħallat ma’ lwienek, ikun blù
Jew ikun aħdar, iħassarlek ismek
(Free translation: white and red only; every other colour, be it blue or green, would spoil your name.)
Ġużé Aquilina, in his critical introduction to Dun Karm’s anthology in 1946 emphasised the poet’s message: Malta’s nationality should never be linked with that of Italy or England (Dun Karm, Antoloġija, xx, 3).
King George VI’s original intention to carry the George Cross on Malta’s flag was communicated to the College of Arms on December 28, 1943, wherein inter alia the King felt “desirous” to have the “decoration of the George Cross... to be borne for our island of Malta and its dependencies upon seals, shields, banners or otherwise according to the laws of arms”. The warrant was typically signed off “by his majesty’s command”.
In a broader view of facts, this action could easily be interpreted as the Empire thrusting British identity on post-war Malta in direct competition with the latter’s centuries-old Italianate cultural consciousness.
The George Cross on the flag could be construed as an attempt to replace, in the people’s mind, the nationally-acclaimed eight-pointed ‘Cross of Malta’ – for centuries embedded in the Maltese collective memory as a national identifier.
The George Cross on the flag could be construed as an attempt to replace, in the people’s mind, the nationally-acclaimed eight-pointed Cross of Malta
It also fitted in with a political programme of ‘Englishisation’ of the island through, among other things, the introduction of a cabled diffused system of sound broadcasts relaying BBC content and other British-oriented productions accompanied by a strong pro-British print media organisation as well as the publication of the colonial textbook Outlines of Maltese History by ecclesiastical author Laspina in the 1930s.
In the 1940s, backed by the 1934 decision to promote English along with Maltese as the island’s official language, Mussolini’s dispensed aerial attacks around the harbour during the war, the opening of the British Institute and the launch of government school broadcasts in the late 1940s further helped to disseminate English influence.
The struggle to pluck off the Maltese from their Italianate culture and language in a number of vital aspects of life – religion, justice, administration and education – was finally settled.
The battle of symbols was won by the ‘blue’ against the ‘green’, the two colours which the national poet had flagged as a threat against a nation craving to construct its own identity.
As a result of World War II, the Maltese population, having fought in defence of their territory shoulder to shoulder with British servicemen, had finally forged a closer relationship with their colonisers.
The fact, as it turned out, that English is serving us much better than Italian in today’s global environment, could not be envisaged then. One cannot choose one’s own history – one can only record it as truthfully as possible, interpret and own it.
One could also analyse the manipulation of the national story through a dominating public strategy that had induced a traumatised colonised community to overlook the furtherance of its own national realisation in preference to adopting what it perceived as a superior model.
This control hardly fails: the GC medal for bravery on the flag has been retained by independent Maltese governments already for half a century, oblivious of what its presence tells about the ex-colony in international fora.
It could finally be argued that what started out as a reluctant abandonment of the fortress island during the early 1940s was later turned by the colonisers into a convenient show of paternal solidarity. To carry on with the George Cross on the flag today only perpetuates such manifestations.