Could This Eviction Notice In Valletta Spark A Bigger Idea?

The birthplace of Maltese revolutionary Manwel Dimech, and its undecided fate

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It is the birthplace of Maltese revolutionary Manwel Dimech, but today it lies abandoned with just an eviction notice stuck to its green door – in Europe’s soon-to-be capital of culture.

Who is being evicted? Nobody. The building seems to have been forgotten by an unnamed NGO which was tasked with turning the block into a shelter for homeless people. It was meant to “render the premises in a habitable state”, according the Housing Authority, but the NGO never put forward its proposals. 

“So their agreement became invalid,” the Housing Authority told Lovin Malta, adding reassuringly: “No individual person or family is being evicted since these premises have been vacant for quite some time now.”

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The Authority is now discussing “internally” what to do with the place after the eviction of nobody. No decision has yet been taken. Perhaps we're still in time to save it. 

But first, let’s talk a bit about Manwel Dimech. His name might be lost on most people. It was lost on me for a long time. I used to see his monument punching the air outside Castille, but I never knew who he was. Until I heard one of his living disciples speak of him, the always-in-trouble priest Fr Mark Montebello. (Where is he anyway? I wonder what he has to say about the state of the nation.)

"Manwel Dimech was born on Christmas Day in 1860, in a tiny room of the tenement block which his mother and him shared with another 60 people."

Manwel Dimech was born on Christmas Day in 1860, in a tiny room of the tenement block which his mother and him shared with another 60 people. He was raised in dire poverty and ended up in jail for killing a man before he learnt how to read and write.

In prison, he witnessed the torturous reign of Marquis Giorgio Barbaro, a Lord Ramsay-type character who was Commissioner of Prison at the time. But when he was finally free of his clutches, Manwel Dimech began writing a weekly Maltese newspaper. 

"He became the enemy of the establishment. He wanted to educate the masses to free themselves of the Catholic Church, the British and everything else that enslaved them."

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He became the enemy of the establishment. He wanted to educate the masses to free themselves of the Catholic Church, the British and everything else that enslaved them. 

He envisaged independence. He organised the League Of The Enlightened, to work for workers’ rights and start a political party. He fought a year’s long battle with the Church which excommunicated him for his ideas. And after fighting some more his destiny was overtaken by the First World War. He was accused of being a spy for the Germans and exiled, only to be imprisoned again this time in a concentration camp until he died alone and was buried in an unmarked grave in Alexandria.

Dimech died aged 60. But he outlived his son, Attilo, who died two years earlier in Malta from hunger while Dimech was exiled far away, half paralysed with apoplexy. 

"Dimech died aged 60. But he outlived his son, Attilo, who died two years earlier in Malta from hunger while Dimech was exiled far away, half paralysed with apoplexy."

Tragic. Much like his derelict home and its crumbling green door, which bears only a sad eviction notice. What was meant to be a home for the homeless, being rejected as not worth the hassle. Another unmarked grave, with very few people taking notice.

Manwel Dimech was introduced to the public by a couple of historians in the 1960s and 1970s, after which, Dom Mintoff adopted him as a socialist icon, building a monument of his likeness and placing it at Castille where it lies today. 

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Dimech probably would not have liked this recognition. After all, he had failed at what he set out to achieve. He wouldn’t have liked the socialist title either. But at least his legend survived. And his ideas were implemented by Dom Mintoff, even if some 50 years after his death.

Maybe his home will share the same fate. Sitting there, in Europe’s soon-to-be Capital of Culture 2018. Maybe it can at least live on as an idea of what can be achieved in 50 years time. Whatever that may be. 

Got an idea for how to make this building useful? Share it in the comments below or on Facebook.

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Written By

Chris Peregin

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