High Commissioner Ward,
It gives me great pleasure to inaugurate this cultural symposium, the third in a series held during my Presidency. I wish to thank you all for joining us to share your thoughts and to give your valued contributions on what makes Malta-UK relations special and so unique.
We have today chosen to focus on Malta’s colonial legacy under the British Crown, its relevance but also its significance today, and in the not-too-distant future.
I agree with most of what previous speakers had to say on the special bonds that have throughout our historical connections linked our countries and our peoples. These ties, which have over time seen the best and worst of times, have continued to evolve smoothly, despite important landmarks and developments that evolved on our respective fronts.
Following the period of colonization, as the UK and Malta took different political paths as their citizens chose to do democratically, both within the context of both the European Union and the Commonwealth, our mutual respect and appreciation have remained as solid and as steadfast as ever.
It is universally recognised that we share an affinity, a relationship that has left its indelible mark on the development of Maltese society, on our language, our culture, family ties and several other aspects in our lives that have perhaps up to now not been explored and properly studied.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me in today’s specific context, to recall the signal honour that my wife Miriam and I had, in being invited to represent my country in the events held in London to celebrate the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles and Queen Camilla last May.
I clearly remember with particular appreciation the warm words – almost familial -that His Majesty used when speaking about Malta, perhaps also as a reflection of the profound affection that his mother the late Queen Elizabeth II held for our country throughout the decades. When I last met Her Majesty in London in March 2020, she fondly referred to Malta as her ‘Isle of Happy Memories’. Her eyes lit up when recalling the period she was living in Malta with the then Prince Philip. She was even more excited when I told her that the Government had undertaken the task of bringing her former residence at Villa Guardamangia to its pristine glory. Incidentally, I am also keeping His Majesty King Charles informed about the progress taking place on this process as he is eager to be kept informed.
It is in the spirit of these historic relations, and the legacies which we can draw from them, that we are here today focusing on aspects that are perhaps not yet mainstream or widely acknowledged.
The influence of the British military establishment on the traditional Maltese band and band clubs is one facet. Many band clubs still have heavy colonial connections in their names. Enough to mention “King’s Own”. This also has its other side of the coin in the evidence that we have many Maltese musicians having played or served in British military bands.
Fashion is yet another subject that has recently seen much research and an increasing number of publications written on specific aspects of their theme. It turns out that the connections with British fashion both male and female particularly throughout the nineteenth century have been much stronger than one might think on first impression, even when compared to the influence from Italian or European fashion.
When we come to food, our very own Mediterranean cuisine and its ingredients, can also reveal changes and traits that definitely have a most interesting British connection. Beyond tea with milk, which has today become part of Maltese culture. We got used to having English breakfast, sandwiches, fish and chips and much more, which are quintessentially British in origin. Many as yet unknown ingredients and products found their way into our recipes and food thanks to British connections which also informed Malta’s identity as a crown colony.
This is not to mention traditions like the Christmas tree, pantomimes and Father Christmas.
These symposia have been rightly conceived to bring to the attention of their Maltese and international publics the multi-faceted cultural relations that our country shares with so many other countries, in this case, specifically because all have been influenced by the same colonizer, the United Kingdom, or shall I say Britain.
The United Kingdom is one of the strongest contenders.
We honestly believe there is the potential in these historical ties that properly assessed, could help us form better futures.
Apart from the extensive, creative and stimulating discussion on Malta-UK relations, I very much welcome the focus that this Symposium is also placing on our commitment to keeping the Commonwealth as an international political forum relevant to today’s global scenario and emerging global challenges, not least climate change.
I find this very fitting also as, on the margins of the King’s Coronation festivities in London, I had the privilege of meeting colleagues, Heads of State from the Commonwealth countries, during a meeting chaired by Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland to discuss the present and future role of young people towards the attainment of global sustainability. The Commonwealth’s population today is well over two billion. It represents more than 25% of the United Nations family of nations.
Notwithstanding the diversity in this group, we all agreed that our youth have to be placed front and centre of any present and future debate and action on sustainability.
Within this broad context, the protection of the natural environment is also one where we can work jointly and which I know is a subject as dear to the His Majesty’s heart as it is to mine. Climate change is the worst existential threat to humanity is facing.
Both of us in our different spheres have spoken for decades about environmental concerns and the damage and threats brought about by man-induced climate change. Within the Commonwealth and beyond, these imminent challenges are the everyday reality of so many small island states like Malta that make up the Commonwealth family of nations.
There is ample room for joint projects to address these challenges, and I can think of no better remedies than those provided through the channelling of the enthusiasm and the energy of our younger generations.
I am therefore very pleased to see that youth representatives are also joining in on this Symposium and sharing their experiences on these matters with us later, this afternoon.
May I conclude by thanking the British High Commission for their commitment to work jointly with my staff on this project. Collaboration is the key to any successful initiative and this symposium is clear evidence of this.
My best wishes for the day to all those taking part in the conversations that our moderators shall be guiding us through.
My thanks also go to all those academics and other experts who are here with us today and who will most willingly share their knowledge and expertise with us all.