June 7 – Sette Giugno in Malta

Posted on June 7, 2016

The Sette Guiugno Monument
Food was scarce, riots kept breaking out, British troops fired into the crowd and killed four people! Hooray! Let's celebrate!

If you really think about it, some historical anniversaries we celebrate are really tough times or horrific events. But we celebrate the anniversaries for the positives that came out of the events.

In the case of June 7, 1919, in Malta, the unrest and rioting and killings led to more and more people challenging the British troops on their island. These events increased support for pro-Italian parties.

An annual reenactment of Sette Guiugno
You see, some people in Malta – and, I presume, in Italy – thought that Malta belonged to Italy and wanted to “restore” the island to that country. This idea was also bundled up with the “Language Question” – the struggle between the old Italian-speaking society and the new English-speaking rulers. From the 1500s until 1814, the official language of Malta, and the language spoken by the “elite,” was Italian. But by the time of Sette Giugno, a century after Malta became a part of the British Empire, English was the main language in Malta. A few decades later, in 1934, only about 15% of the Maltese people could speak fluent Italian, although almost everybody understood it. Some people wanted Italian taught in the schools again.

A look at history shows us that Malta's position in the Mediterranean Sea gave it importance in matters of both trade and naval security, and so this island had been ruled by a LOT of different empires and peoples. We're talking Phoenicians, Romans, Moors (Muslims from Arab regions and northern Africa), Normans (people descended from Vikings who took over a great deal of Europe, back in the day), Sicilians (Sicily is of course a part of modern Italy), Spanish, Knights of St. John (a Catholic military order), French, and British!

It wasn't all that clear, then, if “restoration” were to happen, who Malta should belong to – except Malta itself!

And as to the Language Question, why not the Maltese language?

The rioting and rebellion of Sette Giugno showed the British how very important self-rule was to the Maltese people. There were surges of increased self-rule, and in 1934 Maltese was declared the colony's third official language (after English and Italian), and a few years later Italian was booted from “official” language status.

World War II interceded between Sette Giugno and independence, and in fact the Maltese had to wait quite a while post-war before acquiring full independence in 1964.

This tomb for the four people killed on
Sette Giugno is written in Italian. Can
you guess what "riposino in pace"
means in English?
I think it is interesting to note that Sette Giugno is still celebrated as one of Malta's five national days, even though it seemed to be a largely pro-Italian movement, and yet Malta never did join up with Italy. I also think it's ironic that this national day is called by an Italian name – Sette Giugno means “seventh of June” in Italian – even though the Italian language in Malta increased in disuse ever after this event.

To learn more about Malta, check out this post, this other post, and even this earlier post

Also on this date:

Birthday of men's fashion icon Beau Brummell

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