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Dom Mintoff, a dominant figure in Malta for 30 years, did great harm to his country

A friend to Mao, Gaddafi and the Khmer Rouge, he was no harmless eccentric, and knew when to send in his thugs

By on Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Dom Mintoff in 1972 (Photo: AP)

Dom Mintoff in 1972 (Photo: AP)

Dom Mintoff, the former Prime Minister of Malta, has died at the age of 96. He had been retired from active politics for almost a quarter of a century, so it is not surprising that the reaction outside Malta has been rather muted. The Telegraph has an obituary, as has the Guardian, neither of which are as interesting as they might have been.

Mintoff was a dominant figure in Malta from the 50s to the 80s, Prime Minister from 1955-1958 and from 1971-1984. Throughout this time his main opponent was Dr George Borg Olivier. The Maltese press in those days had a strict understanding that they would not publish anything about the private lives of either man. Dr Borg Olivier lived a blameless life, but some of his family would have provided ample scope for the tabloid press, if there had been one in Malta at that time. As for Dom Mintoff, his private life was kept private too, though there was lots of gossip, much of it well founded. His wife was a lady called Moyra, whom everyone liked: she had been born Moyra De Vere Bentinck, which sounds very grand. Some people said she was a distant relation of the Dukes of Portland, others not; still others that her mother had been Dom’s landlady somewhere down the Cowley Road, when he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford.

In the old days you might see Moyra occasionally in various restaurants. I can remember her being pointed out to me once, and someone saying: “Of course, it is Saturday. This is the day when Dom lets her have the car.”

Moyra was a devoted member of the RSPCA, which was largely run by English ladies in those days. There was a convention that when she was present no one ever referred to her husband, the notoriously anti-British Dom.

But Dom had not always been anti-British. After he had finished at Oxford, he came back to post-War Malta, which had been badly damaged by the Luftwaffe. The British government had sent out two architects, Messrs Harrison and Hubbard, who were charged with the task of supervising reconstruction. They soon left the island and handed over the building projects to their assistant, Dom. It is largely Harrison and Hubbard’s and Dom’s fault that so much of what could have been saved, was not, and so much that was modern and ugly and ill-suited to Malta was built. Malta still has some priceless architectural heritage, but much was lost thanks to the vandalism of these three. It is a tragedy that the destroyed buildings – such as the Auberges de France and Auvergne, and Barry’s Opera House – were not rebuilt, as they could easily have been. Another tragedy is represented by the various government housing schemes built by the pair and Dom: Malta had and still has some lovely domestic architecture, but Dom pioneered the modern and hugely inferior.

If I were to give one reason for my dislike of Dom Mintoff, it would be this: his part in the catastrophic destruction of the Maltese environment, which, even if it had been planned, could not have been more triumphantly successful. Many visitors today find Malta ugly; in fact it is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on earth, if you know where to look. But Dom made his fortune making swathes of it ugly.

His hatred of Britain was the hatred of a spurned lover, thanks to the failure of his integration project; and his hatred of the Church may have had something to do with that as well, as it was Archbishop Gonzi who effectively torpedoed integration. Oddly for one who championed integration, he later led the campaign against Malta joining the EU. But he never really had any principles. A scourge of the Maltese private schools, he sent his own daughters to Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

But if he hated Britain, there were other countries and leaders he loved. He fawned over Mao Tse-tung and Colonel Gaddafi; he sent the Khmer Rouge a telegram of congratulations on the “liberation” of Phnom Penh. The former were generous with their aid.

The Nationalist government of Dr Borg Olivier had planted Aleppo pines in Malta, as had the British before them. Dom declared that this was all wrong, and insisted that schoolchildren (I was one of them) plant acacia trees; they only live for 15 years, and my government-issue seed never grew at all. The Aleppo pines of the Nationalist flourish still, as do the tamarisks planted by the Israelis (whose embassy Dom shut down, and whose aid he scorned), as do the ficus trees planted by the evil colonialist British.

So much of Dom was political posturing; not even horticulture was safe.

But Dom was no harmless eccentric. Neither was he a democrat. He would send his thugs into action when a little muscle could yield results. His thugs burned down the Times of Malta building, a newspaper that not even the Luftwaffe was able to put out of business. His thugs beat up striking students at the university. His thugs attacked the Archbishop’s Curia (that made the front page of the Catholic Herald); and his thugs attacked the house of the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Eddie Fenech Adami, and assaulted his wife.

But it is all a long time ago, and most people would like to forgive and forget, I am sure. In many ways Dom Mintoff represents a typical post-colonial leader – of that type now only Comrade Robert Mugabe is left. Dom came from a devout family, his brother was a priest, and I shall pray for his soul. I note that the Archbishop of Malta is conducting his funeral in the co-Cathedral (one of the most lovely churches on earth).

His former enemies have spoken kindly about him, including Dr Fenech Adami. May he rest in peace.

  • Fafk

    Inti Lorna dik il-liba min Hal Qormi. Ara veru hadra biex tikteb hekk. Mur hudu f’ghoxx kemm ghandek ja liba qarsa

  • franco

    proset tassew edlu erba kellmiet ta genju haqek stilla

  • Tkwalters14

     Pulit ukoll Jospul. Il veru wiehed mil-marmalja int. Offenditek il-verita. U biex niccaraw l-affariejiet, Gonzi mar izur il-Libja mhux il-Gaddafi. Mur tghallem tkellem u ahsel halqek ghax bdak il-kliem ma tasal imkien. Nispera li mghandekx tfal xi trabbi ghax jekk tkellimhom hekk ha jkolok biex tiftahar bihom. Tania Melbourne

  • Borgmmborg

    David,
    Make an effort and try to be original.
    You just repeat what daphne says in her blog.

  • C_live

    I hate to disappoint you again but I’m not. You know, it’s quite possible that some people disliked Mintoff and had a good reason for doing so. Wasn’t his aim to eradicate ignorance, you say? Do him the honour of broadening your mind.

  • C_live

    It is intriguing that one man’s opinion elicits the opinionated response that no opinions are allowed.

  • Mborg

    David remove your blinkers and don’t try to justify the unjustifiable.

  • VIVA IS SALVATUR

    DEAR FR … MINTOFF won twice against the church so pls shut your pie hole and suck it

  • Talfenek

    Carmel Micallef
    You call yourself a Christian and a Chatolic.  With Prist like you that is the reason that the public are stopping from going to Church. Were is your editor to let all your hatred to Mr Mintoff be published in this news paper, that is only fit to use as toilet paper

  • David

    Well, that’s the problem isn’t it?  There is only one version of the truth – unless you think I am Daphne Caruana Galizia! 

  • David

    Then Mintoff is really in for it!

  • C.

    Mintoff would have been proud to hear you defend him in that manner, Jospul. That doesn’t say much about him that’s pleasant.

  • C.

    The British Navy, not the army, withdrew from Malta in 1979 because Britain’s lease ran out. Social services may be free to you and your kind, but everyone else pays for them.

    Mintoff’s education policy had the single aim of raising a utilitatarian socialist generation. That doesn’t enhance education.

  • C.

    I don’t recall the Good Lord preaching bullying manipulation, but there you go. It takes all sorts.

  • C.

    Foul language, outrageous lies, vulgar insinuation and personal insults. Is this a first for the Catholic Herald comments boards?

  • Veronica

    Whoever is going under the pseudonym ‘Jospul’ or ‘Piet Lak’ or another name that is too disgusting to be written … you are a disgrace to all Maltese people!!  The content of your comments are so low, that it is hard to believe that they were actually composed by a human being.  People like you are a stark reminder of the Tal-Barrani days … 

  • Nick

    I shall reply to you various list of complaints as best as I can.

    I would just like to make one quick comment regarding the title;
    Mintoff did such great harm to his country that till this day, we Maltese get FREE HEALTH CARE AND TREATMENT IN HOSPITAL, do you, in the UK have such things? when you finally catch up, let me know.

    1. Mintoff introduced the housing scheme as it was of utmost importance that the Maltese families have a roof over there heads. Malta in WWII became them most bombed place earth, hence thousands had been left homeless therefore it was a PRIORITY to give these people back there lives starting with a home they can live, with all due respect an Auberge being rebuilt would not have been much use and a waste of money (today the Auberge de France is rebuilt) if you have have any complaints about the any buildings you wish to rebuilt I suggest you direct your issues to our current government.

    2. You say that it was Mintoffs fault for not allowing integration, quit the contrary it was the British that had brought the matter upon themselves. In Malta the British starting areas that rightfully belonged to the Maltese and started taking them for themselves, for instances the coastal areas in which the British had been stationed such as in the Grand Harbor area, any Maltese people seen swimming would be threatened with being shot. The British had in short over stayed there welcome and things had to change. Mintoff was not going to let that happen, Mintoff made sure that MALTA BELONGS TO THE MALTESE and no one else, therefore the reign of the British had come to an end and Malta was on its way to becoming Independent the same path was taken by many other countries previously controlled by the British.

    3. As your most beloved Archbishop Gonzi had done, you yourself Fr Alexander have fallen victim to the world of politics, a world that religion has no part to play. This was Mintoffs reasoning, religion and politics where two separate things and one should not interfere with the other. In Malta Archbishop Gonzi made sure that the priests would promise a direct ticket to heaven to all those who left land to the church, no individual who voted for Labour leader Mintoff would receive absolution and anyone suspected of voting Labour would not receive communion; This is what your Archbishop did to the Maltese, he abused his power and became a wealthy man, some Archbishop… as this was going on, Mintoff was providing the Maltese with homes, food, education until the age of 16 (this was updated accordingly), free health, pensions and women having the right to vote…it is amazing how all these things must have slipped your mind Fr Alexander. Mintoff did more for Malta in a single day than Archbishop Gonzi did in an entire lifetime.

    4. Malta in those times had to ask for aid from Gaddafi as he was wealthy and Malta was just coming out of World War 2, Mintoff’s alliance with Gaddafi was done out of necessity and nothing more, Gaddafi gave Malta the funds it needed to start the rebuilding process and the introduction of factories and other buisness ventures that would start bring money into the country. All that was borrowed from Gaddafi has been repaid hence Malta was no longer tied with Gaddafi which was seen with Maltas role in aid in Libya crisis. The same case lies with China, Malta burrowed funds and repaid them back, end of story. Whatever Mintoff had done was done for the sake of Malta becoming a better place. He laid the solid foundation on which Malta still rests on till this day.

    5. With regards to a some what pointless complaint about trees. Malta has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and it is not thanks to a couple of Aleppo pines, for goodness sake the Knights created an entire forest  (known as Buskett) when they came to Malta. Malta is known for its rugged beauty in its landscapes,fortifications, beaches and coastal scenery and not so much for its trees.

    In conclusion, Mintoff gave to Malta so much that I have barely scratched the surface in this comment. He was a great man who put Malta and the Maltese above everyone and everything. i suggest when you are going to make a remark about what Mintoff has done, you would do well to have researched your subject as in doing so the comments you have posted would have immediately occured to you as being stupid.

    Fr Alexander, either you are in politics or religion, make your choice.
     
    I shall gladly read your reply.
    Thank You.

  • Chriscerri

    No wonder why attendences in church are getting lower, people like you are a disgrace to catholics…Are you also a homo phaedophile? Hope you will one day rot in hell!!

  • Chris Scerri

    Int xi wahda minn dawk li tibla l-ostja u tahra ix-xjaten…??

  • Chris Scerri

    Fr. Please let us also know about the late Archibishop Gonzi, the current prime minister’s uncle, who back in time used to bury labour party supporters in a place called the dump!!

  • C.

    Peter Beauclerk-Dewar writes (The Times of London):
    While at Hertford College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, Dom Mintoff (obituary, Aug 22) took lodgings with Florence Bentinck, an aristocratic widow. Her husband’s family of Bentinck was headed by the Duke of Portland. Despite his leftwing inclinations Dom made a bee line for each of her three daughters. Gwynella and Primrose rejected him and ultimately Moyra who agreed to marry him in 1947. It was a difficult marriage and at one stage Ted Heath, as Prime Minister, found himself acting as a mediator, during the difficult negotiations between the UK and Malta in 1972. In 1978 Yana, their younger daughter, hit the headlines when she threw down three bags of horse manure and straw from the Visitors’ Gallery in the House of Commons, breaching security arrangements. Dom seems to have spent much of his turbulent life fighting the Opposition, the British Government, the Royal Navy and the Catholic Church, yet he is now to have a magnificent send off with a State Funeral on Saturday.

  • Daniel Tabone

    The Following is for your information, Dr. Father Alexander Lucie Smith. If by any chance you didn’t watch Mintoff’s state funeral on TV, here are some excerpts from the timesofmalta.com.
    “Archbishop Paul Cremona, who led the congregation with Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, started his homily by highlighting the past week’s extensive media coverage on Mr Mintoff, and “rightly so” as this was a man who for more than 50 years was a protagonist in the island’s social and political life.
    “Who knows how much more has yet to be written about the man,” Mgr Cremona said, adding that homilies of funeral Masses should not be eulogies; there were other places for that.
    Instead he homed in on two characteristics linked to Mr Mintoff’s life that could serve as a Christian lesson. The first was Mr Mintoff’s interpretation of the commandment to love thy neighbour.
    “Although not everybody can agree with his methods, we can safely say that Jesus’ commandment was tied in with his political plan: to improve conditions for workers and the poor,” he said.
    The second was Mr Mintoff’s love for his homeland; a virtue that drove him to fight to secure the best for Malta during his negotiations with other countries, Mgr Cremona said closing his homily to spontaneous applause.
    Pope Benedict XVI also sent his condolences and a message was read out assuring the President and those present of his prayers for the deceased and invoking God’s blessing.

  • Vince

    When a person with good intentions writes something or say something, he must ask one simple and basic question and that would be ” Am I going to cause any harm with my actions??” I was  always thought to count from one to ten before saying something, the damage I could cause could be irreparable and worse if I put it in writing.  For us Maltese the sensitive political matter between the Church and the State is something of the past now. Its a known fact that all parties made their own mistakes and now our church, the labour party and nationalist party are very aware not to repeat such mistakes. Unfortunately some other nations will never learn from the past mistakes but thanks GOD I live in this tiny island called Malta.  To conclude with, as a Maltese I must say that like his previous and present Prime Ministers, Mr. Mintoff did well for our nation and I personally would like to thank him for all the good things he left us.
     I send you my Regards, Proud to be MALTESE.

  • Vince

     When a person with good intentions writes something or say something, he must ask one simple and basic question and that would be ” Am I going to cause any harm with my actions??” I was  always thought to count from one to ten before saying something, the damage I could cause could be irreparable and worse if I put it in writing.  For us Maltese the sensitive political matter between the Church and the State is something of the past now. Its a known fact that all parties made their own mistakes and now our church, the labour party and nationalist party are very aware not to repeat such mistakes. Unfortunately some other nations will never learn from the past mistakes but thanks GOD I live in this tiny island called Malta.  To conclude with, as a Maltese I must say that like his previous and present Prime Ministers, Mr. Mintoff did well for our nation and I personally would like to thank him for all the good things he left us.
     I send you my Regards, Proud to be MALTESE.

  • Aristide Galea

    Jiddispjaċini li għad għandna nies bħall dan Jospul li flok ma jirrispondu kif għandhom jirrispondu , jiġifieri b’mod ċivilizzat , jaqgħu għall dawn il-bassezzi u redikolaġni ta’ kummenti . Hemm bizzejjed argumenti sodi biex tirribatti dak kollu li qal dan il-qassis dwar Dom MIntoff u turi kemm lanqas biss jaf x’inhu jgħid . Wieħed bizzejjed jgħid li dak kollu li għamel Mintoff kien , li ippritka biss , poġġa fil-pratika dak kollu li kien jagħallem Gesu Kristu , jiġifieri isqi lill min hu bil-għatx , libbes lill-għarwien , itma lill min hu bil-ġuh , għejn lill min hu marid u ħafna affarijiet oħra li Dom Mintoff għamel biex tella lill klassi il-baxxa mil-nizerja li kienet fiha . Jekk b’dawn l-affarijiet Mintoff għamel ħafna ħsara lill-Malta u lill-Maltin , jista Father Alexander jgħidilna x’qiegħed jagħmel hu bħala qassis ta l-istess knisja li l-imgħallem tagħha kien l-istess Sidna Gesu Kristu ? 

  • Neville

    A Priest who hates … interesting !! Man is made in god’s image what he does with his life is controlled by the freedom given to him by the same God. Mintoff was a man he was not a god so he did some good things and some things which others did not agree with. It is very difficult for a priest like yourself to understand this and to understand the good he did. Because part of that good was taking back for the country a part of the riches of the church. Don’t get me wrong the church did a lot of good but it also did some not so good, and that is what led to the eternal fight between Church and Labour. You had 2 hard headed characters Mintoff and Gonzi and they used Malta as a war ground.

  • Robert

    It’s all lies and thwarting history.  Mintoff was responsible for the criminal violence which occurred during his fascist dictatorship of our country. The damage he did to Malta was so great that it had to take the PN years to repair SOME of the damage done. The lies we have heard during these last days are unimaginable. You had to live them to see that these are all lies. Mintoff was no great achiever. He was a great tyrant.

  • Bradella

    Let everyone remember that Mintoff also befriended Kim il-Sung (North Korea)and secretly, Alex Sciberras Trigona, (Foreign Affairs Minister at the time / and still in Joseph Muscat’s present cabinet) arranged for a section of the Maltese Army to get anti-riot (Nationalist Crowds at meetings) training. He knew that his ways would one day lead to an uprisng. All Dictators are the same.

  • Bonzu

    I endorse your article and would even go back to the fifties when he declared war with the British.
    I was 13 then and I still remember the slong “british go home”  I remeber when they pulled down all the rediffusion poles to disrupt transmissions- the burning of the Police stations – and yes the mob was always there to take care of these who dared complain.  Oh yes, by the way he was the so called Saviour who burdened the Country with 1/3 of its National debt.  For all the losses incurred by the Drydocks were paid for by the excquer from our taxes – to this one has to also add the millions paid by the present Government  to the employees whenthe bold decision to shut it down was taken.
    The total cost was well over  two billion Euros and the payments were made from borrowed money- which were never repaid back- so we have to still bear the burden on paying the annual interest on this borrowing.  I was also surprised by part of the homily of the Archbishop, when he tried to bring some of the good qualities of Mintoff to those of Christ. Christ gave from what he had – Mintoff did not give anything of his – Christ never stole from the  Rich- Mintoff stole the then National Bank of Malta from its share holders.  Christ never sent his aposles to beat those who did not believe in his preaching – well in the Mintoff era  we had plenty of this by his thugs -  Hope he found some time to repent before passing away.
    Yes I was one of those beaten by the thugs.

    D Muscat- Malta.

    D Musxc
    May he find some piece and rest in the Kingdom of the Lord

  • Eric

    Get a life you are a shame for the catholic church by this article. It was the church that tried to destroy Malta but Mintoff was a great leader and did not leave this to happen.

    The church wanted that Maltese people live in ignorance so that they control the country and get richer then ever!!! 

    Mintoff will never die he lived for the poor and gave shape to Malta! 

    Thank you Dom !

  • John

    the only way forward for the world to solve it’s problems is to burn all priests and members of the klergy…

  • Vince

    pappagall

  • Raphael Vassallo

    Hi Fr Alexander it’s Raphael (from Malta) I tried sending you an email on the above address but it seems your inbox is full. Would you be so good as to contact me on rvassallo@mediatoday.com.mt? Thanks 

  • Vince

    LOOK AT THIS PAGE AND ASK YOURSELF OF WHAT DID YOU ACHIECVE BY WRITING THIS ARTICLE???.  You’re only planting hate between us maltese!! why? Your mission is to teach us to follow the steps of christ. I hope that our beloved  archibishop intervene and write to your superiors.  Please refrain from writing useless articles!!!
    o

  • Ellulsrv

    mintoff did it to help his country we are proud of what he did couse it helped our nation as a free country

  • Vince

    Prosit Nick – Well done!

  • Ta Guza Mcas

    You are declaring that you are one of Mintoff’s victims.  

    Mr Bonzu rest assured that here in Malta there are thousands of people who have suffered under the PN and Gonzi church/governement’s oppression.  Typically of your kind YOU tend to FORGET!  Mr Bonzu rest assured (although we may forgive) NONE of us will forget!!  

    Ask the families who like yourself suffered from injustice on the other side; these include the interdicted, those who lost their work because of their beliefs, the 45,000 who had to migrate to foreign countries (as there was no work and people were starving during the famous 1960′s), ask those orphans who were sent to Australia…and you know what happened, and many more.  It takes two to tango and PN are no holier (or as we say in Malta  ‘Angli’). Ask yourself who had the intention to provoke… 

    You question about the Millions — I ask where did the Gold and the millions of Liri that Malta had in its coffers, where did the NI money go, what will became of our pensions.  You might as well ask the PN backbenchers why they are not so happy with the way Malta is being governed….  Why don’t you ask why millions were thrown in the trash can when the Air Malta was burdened with the RJ 70s…or more recently to be repainted… Why have we built a stupid bridge to nowhere costing the tax payer over 3,000,000 euro… Why do we have a power station working with heavy fuel oil costing millions only to be converted into fuel gas…(Forsi Mard Morali ?)  So please stop victimizing yourself as we all have experienced something one way or another under the PN regime!

    May God Bless Mintoff

  • P. Bonello

    Your  platform was taken over by C. a notorious hateful blogger who is know for her anti- catholic,anti-religious anti- feasts  anti -Maltese tirades. Although she hides behind a fake name C. all the locals know whom she is. Shame on her!