Italian irredentism in Malta
Italian irredentism in Malta refers to past support in Malta for Italian territorial claims on the islands. It is therefore not be confused with Italophilia. Although Malta had ceased to be part of the Kingdom of Sicily since 1814 following the Treaty of Paris, Italian irredentism in Malta was only of some significance during the Italian Fascist era.
Italy and Malta before 1814
Until the end of the 18th century Malta's fortunes—political, economic, religious, cultural—were closely tied with Sicily's. Successive waves of immigration from Sicily and Italy strengthened these ties and increased the demographic similarity. Italian was Malta's language of administration, law, contracts and public records, Malta's culture was similar to Italy's, Malta's nobility was originally composed of Italian families who had moved to Malta mainly in the 13th century and the Maltese Catholic Church was suffragan of the Archdiocese of Palermo.
There were subtle differences, however. In the early 15th century Malta was incorporated directly into the Sicilian crown following an uprising which led to the abolishment of the County of Malta. Domestic governance was thus left to the Università and the Popular Council, early forms of representative local government. The Maltese language, the creation of the Diocese of Malta as well as the granting of Malta to the Knights Hospitaller in 1530 were developments which started to give a distinct character to Maltese culture and history.
Following a brief French occupation (1798–1800) the British took military control of Malta even though it was still formally part of the Kingdom of Sicily. The initial intention, expressed in the Treaty of Amiens was to re-establish the status quo ante but British interests in the Mediterranean meant that Malta became a British Crown Colony through the Treaty of Paris.
Italian culture in Malta between 1814 and the Fascist era
Cultural changes were few even after 1814. In 1842, all literate Maltese learned Italian while only 4.5% could read, write and speak English.
In 1878, a Royal Commission (the Rowsell-Julyan-Keenan Commission) recommended in its report the Anglicisation of the educational and judicial systems. While the judicial system remained predominantly Italian until the 20th century, teaching of the English language started to be enforced in State schools at the expense of Italian. In 1911, English overtook Italian as the secondary language after Maltese, spoken by 13.1% of the population compared to 11.5% for Italian.
The Royal Commission's report also had significant political impact. Supporters and opponents organised themselves into a Reform and Anti-Reform parties which, apart from being the forerunners of the present day two main political parties in Malta, assumed respectively the anglophile and italophile imprint (and also, subsequently, pro-colonial and anti-colonial policies) that were to characterise them for decades to come.
The Fascist Era and World War II
The Fascists invested heavily in promoting Italian culture in Malta. They were making overtures to a minority who not only loved Italy's language but also saw Malta as a geographical extension of the Italian mainland. Malta was described as "the extreme end of Italian soil" (Senator Caruana Gatto who represented the nobility in the Maltese in 1923).
The battle, however, was still being fought in largely cultural terms, as the "Language Question" on the role of Italian in education. This led to the revoking (the second) of the Maltese Constitution in 1934 over the Government's budgetary vote for the teaching of Italian in elementary schools. Italian was eventually dropped from official language status in Malta in 1934, its place being taken by Maltese. Italian ceased to be taught at all levels of education and the language of instruction at the University of Malta and the Law Courts. When Italy entered the war on the side of the Axis powers and aerial bombardments of Malta began, what little interest in Italian irredentism that existed in Malta was lost. The colonial authorities took precautions: they interned and eventually deported to Uganda 49 italophile Maltese including the leader of the Nationalist Party, Enrico Mizzi.
A number of Maltese living in Italy participated in fascist organizations and joined the Italian military forces during World War II. Among them were Carmelo Borg Pisani, Antonio Cortis, Paolo Frendo, Ivo Leone Ganado, Roberto Mallia, Manuele Mizzi, Antonio Vassallo, Joe d’Ancona and Carlo Liberto. Carmelo Borġ Pisani attempted to enter Malta during the war, was captured and executed as a spy in 1942.
After World War II
Since World War II, there have been no calls for Italian irredentism in Malta.
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