As secretary general of the Medical Association of Malta (MAM), Lino John German was the fulcrum behind the medical profession’s show of force during the volatile seventies and eighties. Current MAM secretary general Martin Balzan proudly says that “as one of the most outstanding leaders on the association, he made MAM a force to be reckoned with and he placed it on the national agenda of trade unionism.”
The 1977 trade union dispute that was to last 10 years between the Medical Association of Malta and the Labour government led by the fiery Socialist premier Dom Mintoff, is an episode of Malta’s history that resonates to the present day.
German was active in various sectors of the medical profession including the bio-ethics committee. Only last Tuesday he was present at a bioethics meeting. His son Karl says, “The day my father died, he had a fall and he had spent the rest of the afternoon in bed since he was feeling dizzy. He had been having health problems as of recent, including heart troubles and difficulty breathing, but we did not expect him to die. The Sunday before his death, father was at our house sitting on the couch for his grandson’s quccija.”
Karl’s fondest memories are of father and son “fishing at Xlendi for kahli when he was 10 years.” A keen Arsenal fan, Karl recounts a time when Arsenal equalised in the last two minutes of a game and German jumped up and hit his head against a chandelier hanging above the coffee table.
Lino German’s wife Maureen was also a controversial public figure, a regular commentator in The Times campaigning against indecent exposure on Maltese beaches.
Well-known personality Georg Sapiano’s mother and Lino’s wife – Maureen German, were sisters. For Sapiano he was not merely “an uncle by marriage.” They were a close-knit family and Lino’s warm character was inducive to the relatives forming a strong familial bond. Sapiano had also interviewed German when Radio 101 started 10 years ago and the lawyer used to interview a different personality every programme. “Lino and I sat through hours of discussions. I obviously had the benefit to know the interviewee well, and so I knew all about the episodes that characterised his personal and public life. If I had to describe his life I would say that it was all about life.”
As secretary general of MAM he was a vociferous critic of the strike breakers in the Mintoff government of the 70s but the natural focus of many controversial comments by Labourites.
Mintoff had imposed a draconian lock-out after the doctors had refused Mintoff’s health reform proposals. At one point German was blamed for having fomented the campaign against the strike breaking doctors. The controversy reached a low with the untimely death of Karin Grech, daughter to one of the striker breakers, Edwin Grech, after a letter bomb exploded at her home and killed her.
Years before, when German lived in the UK, he was the doctor who assisted in Karin Grech’s birth. Ironically it was during Georg Sapiano’s TV programme that the Grechs expressed their distress at what they considered to be German’s indirect contribution to the tragedy.
Fellow doctor Alfred Caruana Galizia says German was “a great leader, pivotal in the awful times of the seventies and more importantly a great friend.”
Born in Sliema, German’s outstanding academic achievements started off at the Royal University of Malta, where he graduated in 1955. Before being commissioned as a squadron leader in the medical branch of the Royal Air Force he also served in the National Health Service in the United Kingdom.
Dr Joe Pace believes that German “became a leader because he had all the qualities of one. We spent a lifetime together and I was with him in MAM from 1983 onwards. He was not working with the state hospitals yet he defended the rights of his profession. He had strong principles and was never wishy-washy, irrespective of who was in government. We are all proud to have worked with him and as his son said on Friday during his funeral, he taught us all a lesson – not to be complacent as at the age of 64 he had started an MSC at the university of Malta.”
Professor Victor Griffiths has known him since his student days. Griffiths, 95, also says he was “a great leader in medical politics – an issue which had both negative and positive outcomes. Lino was certainly one of the most long-standing leaders. He made MAM the force to be reckoned with and he put MAM on the national agenda.”
Although German did not have much of an active role in one of the first disputes in 1956 with the Mintoff government because he was a junior, he studied the period profoundly and even wrote “Landmarks in the Medical Unionism in Malta 1937-1987”, documenting the history of the Medical Association of Malta.
Griffiths recalls: “In 1956 we secured the establishment of a medical council. This was unprecedented as the powers of the minister were absolute and we managed to achieve a balance of power. This balance of power was to be threatened in the seventies and that was when our roles – Lino’s and mine – were to be reversed,” as Griffiths was “to an extent part of the hospital establishment.”
He says about German that he was quiet and one could say even a reserved man but “an exceptional leader who was always in command of the situation… It is regretful that the situation did not end well and that so many of us had to seek their livelihood abroad.”
Lino German aged 74, died 30 November. He is survived by his daughters Ingrid, Nadya, son Karl and his wife Maureen.