The Office of the President organised a virtual conference marking and discussing the granting of the 1921 Constitution, one hundred years ago. A number of keynote speakers—Prof. Ray Mangion, Prof. Joe Pirotta, Prof. Frances Camilleri-Cassar, Prof. Josann Cutajar, and Rev. Dr Nicholas Doublet—spurred the exchange of views from San Anton Palace on the historical-legal aspect, the role of women, the link between that Constitution and democracy in Malta, and relations between the State and the Church. The public was able to participate and follow through a videoconferencing platform and a live broadcast on social media.
In his opening speech President of Malta George Vella described the granting of this Constitution by the British rulers as a very important turning point in the constitutional history of our country. “It was not an event that took place on its own or without context. It resulted from the fact that the Maltese people had had enough of the so-called ‘constitutions’ that only ensured the colonial dominance of the British government and avoided by all means the transfer of any form of responsible leadership to the Maltese people,” said the President. “The Maltese people’s call and desire to be directly involved in the running of their country fell on deaf ears. From the first years of British rule, the Governor practically ruled everything on his own, without any representation of the Maltese people. In 1921, for the first time, as a result of the insistence and strong will of the Maltese people and their leaders, we were given the right to have a senate and a legislative assembly to form a Maltese government for local affairs, together with an imperial government to run the so-called ‘reserved matters’. In this system, known as the ‘diarchy’, the British imperial government still retained the right for the Crown to ultimately overrule decisions taken by members elected to the Legislative Assembly. But at least, this development, no matter how small, was a step towards achieving the right of the Maltese people to participate in the running of their country.”
The President explained that his intention for this conference was for it to serve as a means to help us, as a nation—particularly the younger generation—to continue to better understand who we are. Knowledge of our history leads us to be prouder of who we are and to appreciate how we became a nation, how democracy in our country was built little by little over time in the fabric of political and social life, as well as how organisations, political parties, and trade unions emerged and got stronger. The President also wanted to send the message that, as happened many times, our country was a victim of the circumstances of colonialism and continued to bear the consequences until its independence in 1964 and, even more so, when it became a republic in 1974. Another purpose of the conference was to better understand the role that religion has played in the political history of our country, while conveying the message that unity is always important to achieve our goals despite the differences between us; after all, there were also differences in 1921.
The head of state linked today’s conference to the Conference for National Unity which he organised last February: “I feel that this knowledge of the foundations of our country’s history is a fundamental step in appreciating more what brings us closer, and not what divides us.”