Was freedom really achieved on March 31, 1979 and, in any event, does Freedom Day still have any meaning 30 years on? The first part of the question has long been a matter for heated debate, spilling over into the second. Those who believe Independence Day truly symbolises our political freedom have always tended to give Freedom Day short shrift.
They shouldn't. Nor should the other side write off Independence Day as meaningless. When we became independent on September 21,1964 we did remain tied to the United Kingdom through, among other things, a Defence Agreement. That agreement left a considerable part of Malta in the hands of the British armed forces. Nevertheless, Independence Day gave Malta the political freedom to act as it thought best. Without that, there could not have been the winding up of the base facilities on March 31, 1979. It is all a matter of what one means by freedom.
In 1964, we became independent but remained tied to and dependent on the UK to a considerable extent. That ended in 1979. On March 31 of that year there also ended our dependence on military spending in Malta. Such spending had fettered our economy for centuries and, in particular, since Britain made Malta its foremost military base in the Mediterranean.
As that happened, the Maltese islands became increasingly dependent on the spending of the British armed forces in Malta. A large proportion of the Maltese people - thousands of whom had flocked from other employment to work in the British naval dockyard or in sectors associated to the British Army and the RAF - was directly or indirectly reliant on such spending.
The island's development, despite the efforts to industrialise, started in the middle 1950s, could not be attempted with the required focus, given the extent to which the economy was skewed towards military receipts. The event of March 31, 1979, when the defence treaty, extended seven years before, was finally wound up, put an end to all that.
Henceforth, Malta had to live on the basis of its own resources, much more evenly inter-dependent on the rest of the world but not on a single penny spent here by the British Exchequer via its three armed forces, or given as a grant or loan.
Freedom Day, above all, signified the economic freedom to live out of the means of peace and not out of those of war which for centuries had rendered Malta a prostitute in the Mediterranean.
That is not an absolute form of economic freedom. There is no such thing in economics. We are confirming that now, as the inter-linking of the global economy makes economic collapse resemble a house of cards, be each card the US, China, India, the UK or Malta. So the ending of Malta's reliance on military expenditure was not a sufficient condition to make us economically free. But it was a necessary one.
By deliberately giving up income from military alliances Malta could manoeuvre more freely, both politically and economically. It was freer than it had ever been before. That is surely an achievement to remember and to celebrate. To do so without nonsensical over-play or political controversy, as is our wont when we discuss Independence Day, achieved by a Nationalist government, and Freedom Day, brought about under a Labour Administration.
Freedom Day, like Independence Day, was a milestone in our development. And such milestones are there to be soberly noted as a matter of national pride. What they should not do is to divide the people. Division over events that are inter-linked is brainless.
Equally foolish is the continued commitment to a number of so-called national days rather than to one true National Day. For various reasons that could be September 8.
Perhaps our political class will try to secure such an achievement before too many more years are out. Its members are free to choose to be sensible, if they want to.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us