‘It was no coincidence that the author of the first significant “home-grown” history of the new nation-state’, wrote Dr Geoffrey Hull in 1992, ‘should have been a member of the first generation of politically free Maltese, those born after World War II and educated in the 1950s and 1960s.’
This is because in Party Politics in a Fortress Colony, first published in 1979 with a second edition in 1991, Professor Henry Frendo pieced together, from original sources, an analytical narrative of how Maltese political parties had originated, formed and evolved and developed in contexts of time and place from the 1870s onwards. Although there were various social and economic undercurrents which sometimes came to the fore, until World War II the party political battleground remained tensely contested and largely dominated, at least as a surface phenomenon, by resistance to assimilation and subjection, cooperation or collaboration, under colonial rule. At the same time, an internally ambivalent socio-political dynamic came into play which kicked the earlier goal posts in an uneven playing field. Who ultimately were ‘the Maltese’ and how would they cope with such a changing situation unless they managed somehow to be in a position to control it, if they could?
The period dating from Fortunato Mizzi and Sigismondo Savona in the second half of the 19th century to Lord Strickland and Sir Ugo Mifsud in the first half of the 20th century was an agitated and seminal one, about which few know much today, although its repercussions and continuities, if under different guises, approach and still resonate in contemporary history.
Henry Frendo’s complementary follow-up, Europe and Empire: Culture, Politics and Identity (2012), carries the story forward empirically to the 1940’s. Both projects conclude with poignant questions as to politics, nationality, statehood and democracy in today’s world. This 3rd edition of Party Politics includes some basic updates on Maltese political parties until the present, and an additional bibliography comprising some of the publications after Dominic Mintoff’s death in August 2012.