Former premier Dom Mintoff
Collective scenes of devotional mourning are often the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes seeking to reproduce themselves, churches or sects led by charismatic leaders aspiring to sainthood or the media hyped celebrity culture where funerals are part of a grand reality TV spectacle.
Khomeini and Kim Yong Il's funerals belonged to the first type, Pope John Paul's "santo subito" funeral to the second and Lady Di's and Michael Jackson's funeral hysteria are examples of the third category.
That is not to say that western democratic societies are immune to such feelings but grief is mostly reserved to victims of tragic circumstances whose death was either untimely or violently terminated, irrespective of whether the protagonists are celebrities, royals, sportsmen or politicians. In most cases the first three categories are more likely to be venerated. In itself this says a lot of societies where politicians have long lost their grip on the popular imagination.
In the case of Mintoff we were dealing with grief over the death of a frail 96 year old whose death was widely expected. So one would have expected less drama and more probing commentary.
This does not mean that collective moments of grief are apriori a sign of dictatorship or crass celebrity culture. Sometimes funerals can even serve as an occasion for reflection and a collective attempt to close the historical books especially with regards to divisive figures.
A good comparison would be between Mintoff's funeral and that of Margaret Thatcher, which is bound to happen in the not so distant future as both were two highly divisive figures who shaped their country's history.
Probably some on the far left would openly rejoice Thatcher's death while others on the right would venerate her memory as the women who rolled the back the state, ignoring her heavy handed exercise of state power.
But I would never imagine Thatcher having a Lady Di moment after her death. Mostly her death would elicit diverse historical commentary.
The mourning for Mintoff was not entirely devoid of this positive aspect.
Some did try to understand the context in which he lived and how he changed the context in which we are still living but most of the analysis including mine was limited to the issues of foreign, economic and social policy. Little has been said on the way Mintoff shaped the way we look at authority, the state and ultimately himself as the incarnation of the new Malta.
Mintoff created power structures, which pervade our relationship with the state, and authority, which remains mediated by tribal allegiance till this day even after two decades of Nationalist governments.
For Mintoff was not just a victim of circumstances or a product of his times but an architect of the way the Maltese state is manifested.
Surely the times in which he lived produced a number of caudillos and alpha leaders with the stamina of contrasting empires and local elites by leading anti colonial movements. But his times also bred that kind of liberal and gentle social democracy symbolised by the likes Olaf Palme and Willy Brandt, which transformed Western Europe. Even Italy had its own euro communist experiment driven by a sober intellectual called Enrico Berlinguer.
Mintoff never lost sight of this continental model. Probably his long-term goal was to turn Malta in to a fully emancipated European country but his methods to arrive there were similar to those of the anti colonial leaders who turned themselves in to autocrats. Once again we should not forget the context in which the much-denigrated AAPSO (Afro Asian People's Solidarity Organisation) of his time was more akin the Arab Spring revolutionaries of today than the autocrats many of the same leaders later became.
But just like many of these "revolutionary" leaders Mintoff remained loyal to the cadres who stood by him in hard difficult times and just like many of these leaders he rewarded them with fiefdoms. Some of them as Jeremy Bosevian observed lives like sultans. I remember growing up in Fgura seeing large queuing every day in front of the villa of one of these Ministers.
Surely Mintoff's choices were limited but it would be superficial to describe them as inevitable. Facing formidable enemies and largely unsophisticated masses, he had to lure them towards him using old and tested strategies of hegemony in what was essentially a traditional society. But as happens often in history the end not only justified the means but the means became the end.
Closing the Faculty of Arts at University-potentially the hotbed of radicalism and free thought- was symptomatic of a man who lost any appetite for intellectual emancipation. So was his brusque ditching of enlightened but ill thought educational policies in the early 1970s in favour of a rigidly streamed system, which condemned thousands to factory work. Closing the Constitutional court was also symptomatic of a politician who detested checks and balances on his authority. Perhaps it was a distrust borne out of his understandable distrust of the dominant elites. But this deprived the country of a firewall between government, party, police and state.
Unfortunately one of the traits he cultivated was the devotion towards himself as leader of a parallel church with its new saints and dogmas. Mintoff did not invent tribalism. Many had contributed to tribalism before him; including the church and local dominant elites. But Mintoff managed to combine traditional patronage systems with the machine of modern nation state. Surely radio censorship by the colonial authorities preceded Xandir Malta and some elements of bias survive to this day.
Surely behind the scenes of mourning during Mintoff's funeral there were stories of normal people who were emancipated from material poverty. This reflects an objective truth not just a perception. But the fact that some perceive their social mobility as some sort of personal gift from a saviour says a lot.
Few in the UK venerate Labour deputy leader Bevan for being the architect of the British National Health Service.
Yet in Malta, the death of Mintoff was marked resurgence of the blind loyalty, which created the bond between the autocrat and his tribe. The fact that many still display slavish adulation to an autocrat does not bode well for democracy.
For the weaknesses of the current political system characterized by a weak and discredited party of government and a populist but all appeasing opposition, is bound to create nostalgia for strong authoritarian leaders.
Betrayed expectations on issues like utility bills and immigration may well one-day breed new leaders in the same authoritarian mould but lacking the continental vision animating Dom Mintoff, especially in his best days.
For the risk of the superficial way Mintoff's memory was projected on some mediums, is that some may well come to the absurd conclusion that social reformism is simply the other side of the coin of being a political bully.
Labour may well have benefited by actively encouraging Mintoff's mourning by bringing closure to the 1998 trauma. But the wider left now needs to cultivate a debate where the connection between Mintoff's social reformism and authoritarian streak is dissected and understood, not as a schizophrenic dualism but as a reflection of Mintoff's hegemonic strategies-some of which perfectly understandable in a retrograde context like Malta's but some of which were not just questionable but ultimately corroding of the liberal democratic spirit which makes us a European democracy.
Even more insulting to the Mintoff legacy would be that of creating a cult administrated by party bureaucrats bent on neutering Mintoff, to change him in something acceptable to everyone. For ultimately if there was one positive thing about Mintoff, it was his refusal to make Labour "everybody's party."