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What Even Is Sette Giugno? Welcome To Malta’s Most Ambiguous Public Holiday

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Far be it from us to complain when yet another public holiday rolls in and we get to commit to a series of friendship-fortifying activities that we will invariably and promptly cancel for greener Netflix pastures. But in the case of Sette Giugno, we merely have some questions.

Mainly – what happened on this historic day that changed the course of our nation’s history/ability to stay at home from school and work?

So, switching to a serious voice for a mo, Sette Giugno actually commemorates the most solemn of days, where a clash of colonisers and colonials resulted in a handful of fatalities, but also marked a moment of civic climax on the islands. Here’s what happened.

On the 7th June 1919, exactly 100 years ago, following a series of riots by Maltese citizens, British troops fired into the local crowds, killing four and injuring 50

So what were they rioting about?

Well, essentially, food. Or, at least, that’s how things started.

The first World War had just ended, and locals were pretty much over it with the no food situation. Most of Europe was going through the same thing, seeing as the war had seriously messed with the agriculture and food industry. But in Malta, because we relied on importation for a lot of our sustenance, things got seriously out of hand.

In the interest of cutting a longish story short – the point of no-riot-return came after import prices rose exponentially on the islands and food remained scarce. On top of that was an intense level of military presence on the island, growing tensions about whether the Maltese could ever be able to play a larger role in the administration of the country, and a heated dispute over the Union Jack vs the Maltese flag.

Basically our trusty Maltese crew lost it. And who wouldn’t, tbh?

The actual 7th June date signifies the moment where all these tensions came to a serious head

It was the day that the second National Assembly meeting was set to be held in Valletta that year. By then, police forces and postal employees were on the brink of striking. Political tensions also inevitably also came into play.

The first meeting of the National Assembly, held earlier that year, had approved a resolution that would ultimately point to Malta’s independence from the British. This resolution was put forward by Dr Enrico Mizzi, and was opposed by another resolution by Dr Filippo Sceberras that instead asked merely for responsible government. Tensions between these two positions were palpable, especially when on February 25th, shopkeepers who had remained open during the meeting of the Assembly, such as the shop A la Ville de Londres, were targeted.

The final straw came on the 7th of June, when crowds clocked the Union Jack flying above the A la Ville de Londres and basically lost it

A riot ensued, with Union Jack flags being taken down, and havoc generally being raised on the streets of Valletta. With the aforementioned military presence being beefed up, a stand-off culminated at Strada Forni, where the biggest uprising was taking place. Although soldiers were instructed not to fire at the crowds, shots did ring out, and in the end there were six fatalities (this number is cited differently by varying sources, with some claiming that only four people were killed) and up to 50 people injured.

The incident is often presented as an early example of Maltese nationalism and a call for civic justice, and was the beginning of the ideological road to Malta’s independence.

There are a lot of contrasting accounts of how the events of Sette Giugno went down exactly – with letters being unearthed over the years, and historians bickering over exact details. But what the day generally represents is the notion of lines being crossed, and a nation generally reaching breaking point.

So as we each inevitably feast on sunshine, snacks and spritzes, let’s take a moment to remember the people who put their actual neck on the line for our right to food and other seriously important things… like running our own country.

Happy Sette Giugno everyone!

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