Fr Mark Montebello’s devastating critique of Dominic Mintoff’s factually incorrect allegations on Emanuele Dimech (November 23) is deserving of somecredit. It brings to the fore the problem of sources, especially oral ones, and their reliability or otherwise.

Mintoff may indeed have been prone to portray Dimech ‘as some sort of harbinger of Mintoff’s own times’. When I first met Mintoff in June 1971 at the then Freedom Press, he had dismissed Dimech as ‘an anarchist’. I disagreed and asked him who had told him that. It turned out that it was Ċikku Beżżgħani, one of his canvassers (sic). However, he was intrigued and keen for me to share my further findings about Dimech with him.

There were one or two Labour dilettanti though who found it in themselves fanatically to start extolling Dimech as ‘a Socialist martyr’ (see the plaque beneath the monument to him now standing opposite the Auberge de Castille, inaugurated by Lorry Sant.)

There is much to say about Dimech’s social philosophy; this orphan’s conversion from crime saw an idealist secular educator, a linguist, a radical anti-colonialist and even a romantic poet - in a closed, insular and clerical society.

The false impression that Dimech hailed from Valletta’s Mandraġġ  slum, which some luminary ‘sold’ to Mintoff, is utter nonsense. Dimech’s family lived on the other side of Valletta, in Strada San Giovanni, ‘it-triq tal-ganċ’, if anything a Nationalist heartland. This is the same street where Nerik Mizzi lived and where Bice, his wife, the pianist daughter of Maestro Paolino Vassallo, would rent the air with her rendition of Chopin’s polonaise.

I have a cherished autographed copy of a 2004 book on Dimech in which Fr Montebello correctly states that the politician who Dimech probably most admired ever was Fortunato Mizzi (d.1905), the Nationalist Party’s founding father. I have quoted chapter and verse on this in other published writings.

Having said that, I read Mintoff’s autobiography with much interest. Apart from it being written in excellent idiomatic English, it is insightful on social and inter-personal realities, especially in Cospicua. It is also revealing of the young Mintoff’s own critical, litigious and pugnacious tendencies.


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