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Eddie, manifest destiny

Taking in Fenech Adami’s recounting of the last 30 years is quite a portion of history

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
25 February 2014, 12:00am
Eddie Fenech Adami
Eddie Fenech Adami


There is frankness in his self-portrayal, admissions that colour in the illustration of the Eddie the public knows: the staunchness of his Catholicism inherited by the "profound influence" of his Jesuit education, an achiever fit to be classroom swot ("a bit of a nerd" in his owns words), he did no sport but was an assiduous pianist reaching the dizzy heights of the Grade 7 examinations. Young Eddie Fenech Adami was a prime minister in the making by dint of his sedulousness. But like the war that marked his childhood, with its cramped communal underground shelters and Victory Kitchen rations of goats' flesh in two inches of hair, so would Eddie be marked by a war for the state of democracy later on in life.

He introduces his courtship to Mary Sciberras when in his 20s, by saying that he "had long admired the way she conducted herself" - redolent of a forgotten, antiquated manner in which one goes about the business of choosing a spouse. Like Fenech Adami's own personal undertaking to nurse his ailing grandfather back to health, Mary's own looking-after of the elderly "was a characteristic she possessed from a relatively young age". They married at the late age of 31 in 1965 after a courtship during which the two saw each other practically only in the summers (in Bugibba where both families had summer homes there). They had five kids in the next seven years.

Catholic social action played an important part in his make-up: his esteem for Enrico Mizzi is marked by describing his PN as remaining "faithful to its Catholic tradition". George Borg Olivier's opposition to Dom Mintoff's integration with Great Britain pushed him further closer into the Nationalist Party fold. But his appreciation of the ill effects of Archbishop Michael Gonzi's interdiction of the Labour Party executive in 1961 lacks compassion:

"Taken in its true sense, it was really no more than an instruction not to receive the sacraments, such as holy communion, if one supported certain positions taken by the party. In reality, no bishop can impose mortal sin on anyone... in retrospect, therefore its conduct in this regard can be justly criticised. However, I believe every event in history must be analysed in its proper, and in this case wider, context."

There is self-praise for his political foresight, first in his imploration to Borg Olivier to reshuffle the Cabinet and then in his emphatic pleas to GBP to call elections in 1970 when the British were mulling the renewal of the islands' defence and financial agreement. Unable to prick his own ministers into action, Borg Olivier was slow in seizing the moment, and was returned to the Opposition in 1971. His political frailty reached its apex when he reached an understanding with Mintoff to make Malta a republic without a referendum: Guido de Marco accused him of "an unacceptable act of betrayal".

There is no doubt that, in describing Borg Olivier as the man of the moment when he clinched Independence for Malta, Fenech Adami would make sure not to overstay his welcome by stepping down months after securing EU membership and re-electing the PN to power in 2003.

Borg Olivier's growing weakness, internally as well as in his inability to counter the indomitable Mintoff, led the PN to another defeat in 1976 - their worst proposal then was to abolish income tax, strongly supported by Censu Tabone, resisted by Fenech Adami somewhat unsuccessfully. "This ruined our campaign as we lost credibility with the electorate," Fenech Adami says, while denouncing corrupt practices inside the St Vincent de Paul hospital for the elderly where some 900 residents were 'encouraged' to vote Labour.

Borg Olivier's hold on the PN leadership was tenacious in the face of the inevitable, with his successors refusing to draw blood until the 1977 parliamentary group meeting in Guido de Marco's home in Hamrun to have him move out with a designate-leader in place.

As leader, but even now as its political 'father', Fenech Adami embraced the 'Religio et Patria' motto with zeal. "In practical terms [it] means following a family and social policy built on religious values. For me these principles were and still are the soul of the party. If there comes a day when this is no longer the case, the PN will cease to be representative of the majority of Maltese. In my view, it would then be doomed."

The end of the 1970s will mark Fenech Adami's ascendance concurrently with the spiral of violence that Malta descends into, from the doctors' dispute in its opposition to a compulsory state hospital housemanship, parliamentary violence, and Black Monday: 15 October, 1979.

After the Karmnu Grima incident, Labour thugs marking the 30th year of Mintoff's party leadership ransacked Fenech Adami's home, attacking his wife and family, the PN club in Valletta and Birkirkara, the Church's newspaper offices and The Times, the latter razed to the ground. "I believe Mintoff was capable of controlling them and chose not to. He did not specifically provoke the incidents but my impression is he never regretted them. He certainly never apologised. On the contrary he intimated that my fierce verbal attacks on him had incited his supporters."

Black Monday consolidated his power base inside the PN, but outside Fenech Adami was now 'Eddie'. His 1979 blueprint was for Malta to join the EEC, and return Malta to a social, free market without stringent government controls. In the 1981 elections, the PN polled 4,000 more votes than Labour but constitutionally lost the election with three less seats to Mintoff's 34 through "blatant gerrymandering".

The banality of Mintoffian control now assumes terrifying proportions, with the banning of 'Malta' and 'nation' from organisations or publications (cue removal of Malta from 'The Times' and 'In-Nazzjon Taghna' becoming 'In- Taghna'), state broadcasting ruled by the government and party thuggery leading to bloodshed. So begins a downwards spiral of violence and democracy teetering on the brink of collapse.

He concedes that Mintoff played an important part during their secret meetings to restore a democracy in tatters. Beneath the bluster, even his deep-seated hatred of Fenech Adami, Mintoff was unhappy of his election without a majority in 1981, and was aware that he was losing control of the Labour Party.

But if Fenech Adami's act of civil disobedience and passive resistance - boycotting the parliament until 1983, organising the successful boycott of advertisers on state television, telling the people to take a day off on the banned Imnarja feast - that forces Mintoff into negotiating the 1986 compromise to reform electoral law and guarantee Malta's 'Cold War' neutrality.

In between, the violence does not subside. Tal-Barrani forges an alliance between corrupt police officers and Labour thugs inimical to democracy. Bomb attacks - which EFA refuses to consider that PN thugs may have also played a role in - provide the unbelievable soundscape to these 'years of lead'. And then there's the murder of Raymond Caruana at the Gudja PN club, and a botched police investigation: Fenech Adami says it as he believes it, from a gunrunner's DIY sub-machine gun traced to Nicholas Ellul ic-Caqwes, to Ganni Psaila il-Pupa, who accuses Carmelo Farrugia, a driver for Labour minister Karmenu Vella. Psaila later recanted, and following his 'conversion' to God after an attempt on his life, still met his end in a fall from a building, as police gave chase following an alleged burglary.

His famous 'budget is irrelevant' speech perhaps paints the most enduring image of Lorry Sant, the notorious Labour minister as he strides out of the government bench to lunge at the Opposition leader. And yet Fenech Adami baffles his confidants by pardoning the cancer-ridden Sant in 1992 in an act of self-serving Christian mercy and political magnanimousness that robs the public of its deserved justice.

He reserves opprobrium for Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, that most effete of politicians, a Mintoffian zealot who married Catholic piety with socialist autarky. He dubs him a 'corrupt' man - politically that is, in letting the violence fester unchecked - who did his master's bidding by taking on the Church schools.

There's pages dedicated to the success of his first administrations, the role of which was to restore democracy and a semblance of normality that cannot be given justice here. But he underestimated Sant's appeal in 1996, and outs Guido de Marco as having been hungry for the presidency even after having practically twisted Ugo Mifsud Bonnici's arm into becoming president. Chief Justice Noel Arrigo's bribery is marked as one of his regrets, and the attempt on Richard Cachia Caruana's life is a dark chapter in his career.

Fenech Adami's reserves his best of judgments for long-serving personal assistant Richard Cachia Caruana: he was struck by his intelligence and analytical ability, "a stickler for facts", his distance from party politics making him aloof and a more reliable analyst, his loyalty "beyond question" and the person "closer to me than anybody else in my political life".

"Hard headed, we clashed regularly. On such occasions I often ignored him and he often ignored me... I also pulled him several times over how he dealt with colleagues after I received complaints about what they perceived to be his arrogance."

Fenech Adami says he tried to record his conversation in a personal encounter with Joseph Fenech, aka Zeppi l-Hafi, when he learnt from police that he had been contracted to assassinate Cachia Caruana in 1994. "This was not an attempt by me to take over the role of investigator. Zeppi l-Hafi had made it very clear he would only communicate with me, and both George [Grech, Commissioner of Police] and myself felt this was the only option if we were to stand a chance of solving the crime."

"To this day I still believe Zeppi l-Hafi was telling the truth and I did no more than get him to tell the truth. If at any point a judge or the attorney general were of the opinion he was lying, they could have reinstated all the charges against him because the pardon, granted conditionally in relation to three related cases, would have been null and void. The fact that this has not happened shows that, although the jury chose not to believe him, there was no proof that he was telling anything but the truth. Quite the contrary, his statements had been cross-checked by the police and were corroborated by facts."

Fenech Adami concedes a lot about his personal shortcomings, lacking sensitivity, warmth or sociability amongst them. This apparent dryness of emotion (in the last pages he implores readers to understand that he does have feelings) was buttressed by his surrender to life's circumstances: when his newborn of just two days died, he steeled himself to accept the fact that this was something he had to go through - unquestioning of the plan his life had given him to read out. He acquiesced to the duty to serve his country in this same spirit, perhaps mindful that his life plan was to serve the country and little else.
matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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George Muscat
Il-Kitieb la ha nixtrih u aktar u aktar mhux sejjer naqrah. Daqt naghlaq 62 u il-hniezritjiet li ghamlu certu nies fil partit Nazzjonalista ghaddejt minnhom. Rajt tfal jindifnu fil-mizbla, rajt nies imorru ghand il-kappliiani biex jiktbilhom karta u dawn ic-certu kappillani jghidu jekk dawn in-nies humiex labusisti jew Nazzjonalisti. Il-Laburisti kien jitghabbew fuq vapuri u ikollhom issiefru. Jekk biex tidhol tahden x'imkien sura, biex tmur l-universita, etc trid tkun Nazzjonalsit il-bqija int ma tistwiex karlin. Illum il-Gurnata ghandi l-Akbar dispjacir ghaliex is-suldati ta l-azzar intnesew u posthom haduh l-opportunisti Nazzjonalisti. Ma hemmx ghalfejn noqod insemmi ismiejet ghaliex kulhadd jafhom. Il-Laburist dejjem jaqla go daru, kemm min ghand in-nazzjonalsiti u kemm minghand kulhadd. L-opportunisti Nazzjonalisti jibqaw jaggevolaw lin-Nazzjonalisti u qisu ma huwa qed jigri xejn. Prosit ja Poplu CUC specjalment dawk is-suldati ta l-AZZAR.
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Janice Sant
As a 70 year old I still remember Dr Fenech Adami taking part in political meetings organized by the PN during the 'unholy war' of the 60s. Dr Fenech Adami was on the wrong side of history then, during the notorious 'interdett' a part of a tragic episode in Maltese political history when the island was split between the competing aspirations of the Labour Party and the PN and Church, for the future beyond colonialism. I have not read his book yet, however I do hope that he gives this shameful episode (of which he was a protagonist),the importance it merits! This was a time when back door marriages were taking place,and when the PN accepted fervently of actively taking politics to the grave,- the undignified mizbla! It was a time for whom (amongst them EFA's PN) the bells tolled; a time when scars cut deep into the Maltese social fabric. Hopefully when I read this book I will read about the regrets by this politician on that shameful history; after all it was he who boasted about bringing in 'national reconciliation' the success of which can be read through the daily negative rants by SimonPN!
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