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Last updated : Nov 2009
Malta History
Malta History - TravelPuppy.com
Malta’s location in the central Mediterranean has made it an important strategic base since the earliest days of navigation. The first civilisation to leave any significant remains flourished during the third millennium BC, building many megalithic temples. Later the island was occupied by the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Romans. Christianity arrived early, in about AD 60, when St Paul was shipwrecked off the island, and the religion rapidly established itself.

On the partition of the Roman Empire, Malta passed under the control of Constantinople. Arab attacks during the eighth and ninth centuries culminated in the surrender of the islands to the governor of Muslim Sicily during 870, but subsequently the Normans reconquered Sicily, and Malta passed back to Christian control in 1090.

The Norman rule in the 12th century witnessed a great expansion of trade and a flowering of the arts and sciences, reflecting the splendours of Sicily itself, but the death of the last Hautville king in 1194 ushered in a period of some confusion. Prosperity alternated with internal chaos for the rest of the Middle Ages, as the island repeatedly became caught up in the great dynastic struggles of the Mediterranean. The Hohenstaufer (mainly Frederick II), the Angevins, the Aragonnese, the Venetians, the Genoese, the Papacy, the kings of France and the Arabs – all, at various times, attempted to gain control of the island.

Political stability did not return until the 16th century, when Malta, together with Sicily, became part of the vast empire of Charles V, who in 1530, recognised the strategic value of the islands for Christendom, by granting them to the Knights of St John.

For the next 250 years Malta was a bulwark against Turkish ambitions in Europe, notably during 1565 when, against overwhelming odds, the island was successfully defended. Napoleon briefly held Malta in the last 3 years of the 18th century, but a British-backed rebellion forced him to retreat and the British ruled for the next 181 years. The most famous episode in Malta’s recent history was the heroic defence of the island during World War II for which the nation was awarded the George Cross. In 1956 a referendum came down heavily in favour of full integration with Britain, a policy then backed by the governing Maltese Labour Party (MLP) under Dom Mintoff. Successive rounds of talks failed, and by 1961 independence was sought by both the major political parties and the other being the conservative Nationalist Party then led by Dr Borg Olivier.

Independence was achieved during 1964, and Dr Borg Olivier became Prime Minister. Mintoff’s MLP won the 1971 elections and began to pursue a policy of neutrality, reaching treaties with Libya, Italy and the then USSR, amongst other states. The British military base was closed in 1979. In May 1987, 16 years of MLP rule came to an end when the centre-right Nationalist party, led by Dr Edward Fenech Adami took power. The Nationalists also won the 1992 general election.

By the mid-1990s the overriding political issue in Malta was membership of the European Union. The Nationalists under Fenech-Adami were strongly in favour and the Labour party was an equally vehement opponent. Labour believed that European Union agricultural policies would increase the cost of living and undermine Malta’s traditional neutrality. In September 1996, the Fenech-Adami Government, pursuing its mandate of full EU membership, called for a general election. This led to an unexpected Labour victory at the polls and the party leader Dr Alfred Sant immediately announced that EU membership was no longer on the agenda.

The Sant government planned that Malta’s association agreement with the EU (signed in 1970 as an essential initial step towards full membership) was to be converted into a ‘free trade zone’ between Malta and the EU. Also scrapped was Malta’s participation in the NATO ‘Partnership for Peace’ programme, under which non-members of NATO, could align themselves with the organisation. In September 1998, a split within the MLP forced a snap general election at which the NP was returned to power. Fenech-Adami, now the elder statesman of Maltese politics, announced that EU membership was government policy once again and, Malta’s suspended application was re-submitted and while the accession negotiations proceeded smoothly thereafter, the government faced a more difficult task in persuading the often insular Maltese to overcome their suspicion of ‘control from Brussels’. At a national referendum in March 2003, 5% backed membership. Malta finally joined, along with 9 other countries, in May 2004. Premier Fenech-Adami, despite the debacle of 1996, decided to follow up the referendum with a general election. At that time the gamble worked, and the Nationalists were re-elected. Now it is hoped that dissent has been assuaged and Malta can prepare for what it's integration with the European Union shall entail.