Back in 1975, the US Secretary of State asked a question which in many ways remains unanswered today: when exactly is Malta’s National Day?

US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks this week include an interesting exchange between Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and US Ambassador to Malta Robert Smith.

A cable signed by Dr Kissinger on September 25, 1975, points out that the State Department “does not have clear information on official date of Malta’s National Day”.

The cable says: “Until this year, Presidential messages of congratulations have been sent on September 8 as shown in diplomatic list. Embassy of Malta has informed department that date has been changed to December 13. Reftel mentions National Independence Celebration on September 21.”

In reply, Mr Smith says messages of congratulations should now be sent on December 13, following the establishment of the Republic of Malta in 1974, now designated as Republic Day.

He goes on to explain that, from 1964 to 1971, the Nationalist Administration officially celebrated the National Day as September 21, the anniversary of Independence.

“However, because of strong political differences between the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party over the nature and extent of Malta’s ‘independence’, the Labourites always objected to such recognition of September 21.”

Therefore, when the Labour Party came to power in 1971, the Government withdrew September 21 and substituted it with September 8, the date celebrating “two famous sieges in Maltese history: the Great Siege by the Turks in 1565 and the second by the Axis powers during World War II”.

“Now, with the change to December 13 as National Day, September 8 has reverted to its former status as an annual holiday.”

The cables point out that the Nationalist Party continued to hold annual public meetings on September 21 but these have been “sharply opposed” by the Labour Government.

“In this small island city State, where many political issues loom larger than they might elsewhere, the question of which date is most appropriate for Malta’s National Day has become an increasingly bitter one,” the cable says.

“As a matter of fact, the Nationalist Party has even stated that, when it is returned to power, September 21 will be reinstated as the official National Day in place of December 13,” it concludes.

However, the Nationalist Party opted to have five national days instead of picking one when it was elected in 1987.

Yet, this did not quell the decades-long debate on national days and recently many politicians have floated the idea of reaching consensus over one special day.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has suggested reducing the number of national days to two.

Besides its five national days, Malta also has an additional nine public holidays for good measure, making one wonder whether the Americans are more confused today than they were four decades ago.

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