45 Years Later, Malta’s Freedom Day Remains a Moment To Celebrate

Written by Albert Fenech
Reading Time: 

They raised their voices and our leaders united and the workers suffered but continued to work hard to the day when Malta gained its freedom. Those are the words on the commemorative plaque encrusted on the facade of the Presidential Palace in St George’s Square in Valletta where parades and other celebratory activities unfurl, including those commemorating Freedom Day, a day 45 years ago when, on the 31 March 1979, Malta officially became free from British occupation.

This year, Easter Sunday also shares the calendar with the national holiday, giving visitors to Malta double the spectacle and pomp.

Malta Freedom
 Freedom Day and Easter Sunday fall on the same day this year, 31 March 2024 (Photo by By Keith Galea – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Malta’s First Independence

After centuries of foreign invaders and governance, Malta gained its independence from Great Britain on 21st September 1964. For the first time in its history, the islands belonged to the Maltese. However, there were drawbacks. All military facilities and sites remained in British hands, and the Maltese had no jurisdiction over their own land, sea and air space. The word independence, it turns out, was practically worthless.

For the elderly generation at the time, it was a period of consternation. When I was a young boy, I remember my late grandfather George Mallia (of Gozitan descent) resolutely shaking his head in doubt . I also remember his words:

“This is sheer madness. How can we ever be independent when all our history shows we have always been in the hands of foreign administrators? Yes, it’s absolute madness – the beginning of the end”.

Mintoff’s Malta

A change of government in the early 1970s brought about an attitude shift with the radical Prime Minister Dominic Mintoff at the head of the nation. One of his first decisions was to fly to China for an official meeting—the first-ever western leader to visit China in an official capacity.

While it came as a surprise to many, it opened the doors for other western leaders to follow suit. It also brought some worry that Mintoff’s intentions were to invite the Chinese government to take over Malta’s administration and thus have a base in the Mediterranean.

At the time, British diplomat Lord Carrington sarcastically commented: “With Mintoff you never know where you stand, whether it’s here or there!”

Working on his theme “Pay up or go home”, Mintoff negotiated substantial payment for all the facilities Britain was using in Malta and declared 31 March 1979 would be Freedom Day, when all British military leave the islands by midnight.

malta freedom
Visit the Freedom Monument on 31 March (photo by Frank Vincentz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Freedom Day and a New Malta

The then President of Malta, HE Dr Anton Buttigieg and his British wife Margery waved farewell to the last British military ship leaving the Grand Harbour, an iconic image taken on 31 March 1979. Celebrations in Malta and Gozo ensued. Malta was declared a “neutral country”; British barracks in St Andrew’s, Pembroke, Tigne and Floriana were renovated and changed into local housing or administrative offices.

A number of foreign utilities invested and opened new manufacturing facilities, including STMicroelectronics, one of the leading international microelectronic companies ,which eventually employed 3,000 personnel at its peak and nowadays still employs an average of 1,500 employees.

Tourism flourished and increased, initially thanks to returning British servicemen and gradually tourists from from Italy, Spain, France and Germany. Equally importantly Malta gained a new dimension in the international political sphere with a highly active participation in the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Euro Parliament and the EU Commission.

It declared its international neutral status and on Malta’s behalf, Dr Arvid Pardo pioneered the Law of the Sea in the UN, a law still very important today and highly upgraded over the years.

For the second time last year Malta was honoured to be appointed to the UN Security Council while Maltese Dr Roberta Metsola nee Tedesco Tricas is currently the President of the EU Parliament and Maltese MEPs head a number of important EU Parliament Councils and have been responsible for a number of reforms.

In addition, Malta has amongst the lowest unemployment rates in the EU, ranks high for life expectancy, and sees among the EU’s lowest cost-of-living increases due to government controlled and aided energy costs.

Malta Freedom
Visitors and locals line the Grand Harbour to watch the Freedom Day rowing regatta

 

How to Celebrate Freedom Day & Easter This Year

This year, Freedom Day and Easter Sunday share the calendar, so visitors will reap double the reward of local celebrations and parades alongside church ceremonies and processions. Among them:

Grand Harbour Regatta

Organised by the Malta Rowing Association, rowing teams from localities such as Valletta, Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (Isla), Cospicua (Bormla) battle it out in an annual rowing event in Valletta’s scenic Grand Harbour. This event draws thousands of spectators.

Military Parade

One of the largest displays of the year, the military parade at St George’s Square, Valletta’s main square, one to remember. Similar parades are also seen in Vittoriosa and in front of the War Memorial in Floriana.

Freedom Monument

Local sculptor Antonio Agius, to commemorate this historic moment, created the Freedom Monument, which has become an iconic symbol in the heart of Vittoriosa.

Placing wreaths on the monument has become a yearly tradition that many still follow to this day.

Easter Week

The celebrations of Holy Week and Easter are primarily religious in nature and take place in churches around Malta. Not to miss is Holy Week, which commences on the Friday preceding Good Friday, when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta and many other towns and villages.

 

Malta

Military Parades are a popular attraction on Freedom Day 

***

BeSeeingYou In: Malta for Freedom Day  31 March,

Good To Know: External free celebrations

WOW! Factor: Pageantry and spectacle

Tip: Plan you trip ahead at visitmalta.com

Albert Fenech
Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management and Administration with a leading construction company building the Benghazi Hospital in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, Malta’s leading insurance Broker and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees and Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He was Publications Editor for the Malta Football Association for 25 years and has written for a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books.

Related Articles

MaltaFeatured ArticlesFestival
Malta festa
Festa Season is in Full Swing in Malta and Gozo: Here’s Where to Find One

Festa Season is in Full Swing in Malta and Gozo: Here’s Where to Find One

Over 20 weeks of summer in Malta and Gozo (June, July, August and September), but particularly during July and August, no less than 67 festas are celebrated over 92 days in cities and villages. Since a festa takes a minimum of three days, and a few unfurl over...

Top 10 Travel Tips for 2024

Get the top 10 Tips to increase the awesomeness factor of your next UK Travel Adventure. You will also receive updates on new and amazing places to travel to.

 

Subscribe Now 

 

Become a BeSeeingYou Member

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Top10 Travel Tips for 2023

Top 10 Travel Tips for 2023

Get the top 10 Tips to increase the awesomeness factor of your next Travel Adventure. You will also receive updates on new and amazing places to travel to.

 

Subscribe Now 

 

Become a BeSeeingYou Member

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Top10 Travel Tips for 2023

Top 10 Travel Tips for 2023

Get the top 10 Tips to increase the awesomeness factor of your next Travel Adventure. You will also receive updates on new and amazing places to travel to.

 

Subscribe Now 

 

Become a BeSeeingYou Member

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This