Two Anti-Fas­cists in Malta: their story

On Fri­day, 30 Septem­ber, at the Ital­ian Cul­tural In­sti­tute, PBS pre­sented its his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­tary on two Ital­ian po­lit­i­cal refugees, Giuseppe Donati and Um­berto Calosso. Dur­ing the Fas­cist regime, Malta re­ceived its fair share of those who, at the time

Malta Independent - - INTERVIEW -

Dr Si­mon Mer­cieca is se­nior lec­turer, De­part­ment of His­tory

How­ever, there were other im­por­tant Ital­ians in Malta at the time, in­clud­ing Ar­naldo Fabri­ani and Giuseppe Man­fredi. Fabri­ani is the most fa­mous be­cause of his book in Ital­ian en­ti­tled Malta Fior del Mondo, which in­spired the Bri­tish to pub­lish a counter-text in Mal­tese called Ġabra ta’ Warda.

This doc­u­men­tary was the work of ex­ten­sive re­search car­ried out by Gior­gio Per­esso and whose book en­ti­tled Giuseppe Donati and Um­berto Calosso: Two Ital­ian anti-fas­cist refugees in Malta is pub­lished by SKS.

Donati was one of the founders of the Ital­ian Demo­cratic Chris­tian Party, bet­ter known as Democrazia Cris­tiana Ital­iana. He was a close friend of Don Luigi Sturzo, who en­gaged him as the editor of the party news­pa­per Il Popolo. Donati wit­nessed sev­eral of the phys­i­cal at­tacks that took place on the free press by Fas­cist thugs. He spoke with­out fear about the po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tion of the Catholic parish priest Don Gio­vanni Min­zoni. Min­zoni was the first vic­tim of this new cli­mate of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence that the Fas­cists in­tro­duced in Italy. The al­ready big di­vide ex­ist­ing in Italy be­tween left and right helped Mus­solini chal­lenge the grav­ity of this murder. Priests were at the time con­sid­ered to be on the right of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. For many of the Left, there­fore, there was no love lost with such an as­sas­si­na­tion. Per­esso should be con­grat­u­lated for re­sus­ci­tat­ing this for­got­ten story in Ital­ian his­tory. He dis­cusses Donati’s courage in cov­er­ing this murder. Donati ac­cused Mus­solini, an ex-So­cial­ist and declared athe­ist, of Don Min­zoni’s as­sas­si­na­tion.

How­ever, the murder that caused po­lit­i­cal up­heaval in Italy was the as­sas­si­na­tion of the So­cial­ist politi­cian and mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Gi­a­como Mat­teotti. Donati re­ported with­out fear about this murder in Il Popolo and for this rea­son had to flee. Even if, till today, it is not com­pletely clear who was re­spon­si­ble for his as­sas­si­na­tion, the fact that Donati had to es­cape is in­di­rect ev­i­dence as to who gave the or­ders for Mat­teotti’s elim­i­na­tion. Donati left be­hind his wife and chil­dren. He prac­ti­cally never saw them again, ex­cept once fleet­ingly, in 1925. The Fas­cists with­drew their pass­ports, thus en­sur­ing that they could not leave Italy.

In Paris, Donati was be­ing watched by the se­cret ser­vice po­lice and ended up liv­ing in great mis­ery. It was through the help of Don Sturzo that Donati was en­gaged as teacher of Ital­ian at St Ed­ward’s College. His an­tifas­cist cre­den­tials made him an ob­vi­ous choice and were con­sid­ered more im­por­tant than his doc­tor­ate in Ital­ian lit­er­a­ture. The college needed a good Ital­ian teacher be­cause, un­til then, none of the students had passed the Ital­ian ma­tric­u­la­tion ex­am­i­na­tion.

To Donati, Malta ap­peared as one city. He con­sid­ered the coun­try a mix of ori­en­tal and Ital­ian cus­toms. In Malta, he launched him­self into pol­i­tics, back­ing the Na­tion­al­ist Party and its de­fence of Ital­ian cul­ture in Malta. Thus, a staunch an­tiFas­cist be­came one of En­rico Mizzi’s great­est friends and po­lit­i­cal men­tors. Mizzi ended up invit­ing Donati to write for his news­pa­per. De­spite hav­ing Strick­land as his em­ployer, Donati con­sid­ered the Bri­tish at­ti­tude and pol­i­tics in Malta as au­to­cratic and not much dif­fer­ent than what he had been op­pos­ing back in Italy. Yet this is not the only im­por­tant rev­e­la­tion in this book. Ger­ald Strick­land ac­cepted that some­one, who was on his pay­roll, wrote against him!

Donati’s death, while on a visit to Paris, cre­ated a va­cancy at St Ed­ward’s, which was filled by another Ital­ian po­lit­i­cal refugee or fuor­us­cito, Um­berto Calosso. He was a friend of two of the most im­por­tant Com­mu­nists Italy has ever pro­duced; Palmiro Togli­atti and An­to­nio Gram­sci.

Yet, while Donati was a staunch Catholic, Calosso was a sec­u­lar­ist. What united the two was the fact that teach­ing Ital­ian at St Ed­ward’s was no easy task in Colo­nial Malta. But Calosso had an ad­van­tage over Donati. He had in Malta the com­pany of his wife, Clelia while his mother was an oc­ca­sional vis­i­tor.

For Calosso, a true aca­demic, teach­ing of Ital­ian came “first and fore­most”, an expression that will be­come very fa­mous in Malta in the post-war pe­riod. He pro­posed to the College Board of Gov­er­nors to adopt the same ped­a­gog­i­cal meth­ods that were be­ing used in Italy at the time. But any­thing Ital­ian and in use in Fas­cist Italy was frowned upon with sus­pi­cion. Even if Calosso was anti-fas­cist, his pro­posal was con­sid­ered as an act of slealtà or dis­loy­alty to­ward the Bri­tish Crown.

What is of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is the fact that Calosso took up res­i­dence in Cospicua. The house where he lived sur­vived the war, but there is no in­di­ca­tion, no plaque to com­mem­o­rate such an im­por­tant res­i­dent. His choice was dic­tated by the fact that the town was very close to St Ed­ward’s College. In Cospicua, he ended up giv­ing pri­vate lessons in Ital­ian to a young lad by the name of Do­minic Mintoff. In re­turn, this young boy used to take Calosso’s dog, Romingo, for a walk.

Calosso must have in­flu­enced Mintoff in his think­ing, to the ex­tent that when the lat­ter grew older, he be­gan sign­ing his first ar­ti­cles un­der the nom de plume Romingo, and used the same po­lit­i­cal lan­guage that was used by Calosso. More im­por­tantly, Mintoff’s po­lit­i­cal prin­ci­ples, in par­tic­u­lar those re­lated to po­lit­i­cal ac­tion and his thoughts about neu­tral­ity were bor­rowed from Calosso. Even Mintoff’s po­lit­i­cal rhetoric is Calosso’s. Calosso be­came fa­mous for what in Ital­ian was called a “calos­sata”, which meant a strong out­burst in Par­lia­ment. In Malta, this be­came so typ­i­cal of Mintoff’s speeches. This friend­ship also ex­plains Mintoff’s cor­rect Ital­ian dic­tion.

Yet, Calosso was not the sole in­ter­est­ing per­son­al­ity liv­ing in Cospicua at the time. Pawlu Boffa’s brother, Lawrence, was his next-door neigh­bour and Carmelo Mif­sud Bon­nici’s res­i­dence was a few me­tres away. Il-Gross, as the lat­ter was af­fec­tion­ately known, had as neigh­bour Erin Ser­ra­cino In­glott, who even­tu­ally be­came En­rico Mizzi’s per­sonal sec­re­tary. Also in the neigh­bour­hood lived Miss Dun­don, whose fa­ther Michael was the leader of the Malta Labour Party be­fore Pawlu Boffa. It was in this en­vi­ron­ment that Mintoff and Calosso be­came great friends.

Calosso ended up par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Span­ish Civil War on the side of the Repub­li­can Army. He pre-empted why the Loy­al­ists were go­ing to win. This was due to “the sav­agery of the Anar­chists” and their mas­sacre of priests and de­struc­tion of churches. Iron­i­cally, this el­e­ment of the Span­ish Civil War is still kept un­der wraps by many his­to­ri­ans today.

Yet the fuor­us­citi had to lived through the vic­tory and the delu­sion of the Amer­i­can and English be­trayal. Once Mus­solini was ousted from power, the Al­lies pre­ferred help from the Mafia than the fuor­us­citi’s po­lit­i­cal sup­port. To add in­sult to in­jury, there were some shady char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Mal­tese, such as An­ni­bale Sci­cluna Sorge, nephew of Sir Han­ni­bal Sci­cluna, whom the au­thor po­litely de­scribes as a man of all sea­sons. He was one of those who sided with the Fas­cists prior to the war but then be­came a pal­adin of democ­racy, joined the Democrazia Chris­tiana, and con­tin­ued mak­ing head­way in Ital­ian pol­i­tics.

The true rea­son why the an­tifas­cists ended up los­ing their bat­tle was that they were far more en­grossed in fight­ing among them­selves than against Mus­solini. This helped the Ital­ian dic­ta­tor tri­umph in Italy. But, as the Latin phrase goes, mors tua vita mea. This ap­plies very well to Malta’s sit­u­a­tion at the time. Italy’s loss was our gain. Donati in­flu­enced for good Mizzi’s thoughts and Calosso in­cul­cated in Mintoff con­cepts of po­lit­i­cal ac­tion and neu­tral­ity, which be­came the core subject of Mal­tese pol­i­tics in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury. Once Italy re­gained democ­racy, these fuor­us­citi re­paid Malta a hun­dred­fold. With­out their help and sup­port, I doubt if Malta would have achieved what it has achieved in the last sixty years. This book also ex­plains why Italy has con­tin­ued to be on our side post-In­de­pen­dence.

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