Malta -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Malta
Capital City: Valletta
Languages: Maltese (official), English (official)
Official Currency: Maltese Lira
Religions: Catholic, others
Population: 401 880 (2008)
Land Area: 320 sq km
Landforms: Mostly low, rocky land with rugged, steep coastal cliffs.
Land Divisions: none
Malta -- History --
Malta was settled by an ancient farming people who migrated from what is now Sicily about 4000 BC. The arrival of Copper Age cultural influences around 3200 BC resulted in the development of a remarkably complex temple-building civilization. At first Malta’s megalithic monuments were constructed from slabs of rough-hewn stone, but eventually structures such as the great temples at Tarxien were crafted from carefully dressed and fitted blocks of masonry. The temples are among the earliest known major stone monuments built by humans. The temple culture went into an unexplained decline after 2400 BC.
By about 1000 BC Malta had become a Phoenician trading center. In 736 BC the islands were occupied by the ancient Greeks, who called them the colony Melita, and later Malta passed successively into the possession of Carthage and Rome (Roman Empire). The islands prospered agriculturally under Roman rule and developed an export trade based on textiles and some luxury items.
When the collapsing Roman Empire was divided in AD 395, Malta was awarded to the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. Byzantine rule lasted until 870, when the islands were occupied by Muslim Arabs. The Arabs had a profound influence on local life. A Norman army conquered the Maltese Arabs in 1090, and Malta was later made a feudal fief of the Norman kingdom of Sicily. Muslim Arabs continued to form an important part of Malta’s community until the 1240s, when they were expelled. The islands eventually became part of the kingdom of Aragon, and when Aragon unified with Castile, Malta was made a possession of imperial Spain.
In 1530 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted Malta to a military religious order called the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, later known as the Knights of Malta. The knights used Malta as a base of operations against the Ottoman Turks and the raiding corsairs of the Barbary Coast, who were upheld by the Turks. The knights ruled the islands until the 19th century, developing Malta as a center of commerce.
In 1565 a large Turkish force under Suleyman I attacked Malta. The greatly outnumbered knights held out throughout the summer-long siege, which shattered many of Malta’s defensive fortifications. The knights eventually drove off the Turkish forces with the help of a relief force from Sicily. Following the siege, the knights built a new capital city, Valletta, on the rocky peninsula that separates and commands Grand Harbour and Marsamxett. The city took its name from Jean Parisot de La Valette, who led the knights against the Turks. The knights fortified Valletta so well that it became one of the greatest strongholds in the Mediterranean.
In 1798 a French force under Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon I) on its way to Egypt expelled the knights. By the terms of the Treaty of Paris, in 1814, Malta became a colony of the British Empire. During World War I, Malta served as a base for British activities in the Mediterranean. During World War II (1939-1945) political differences were set aside, and Malta became a key base in the successful Allied struggle for North Africa. In 1942 British king George VI awarded the colony as a whole the George Cross for heroism.
In 1947 full internal self-government was reestablished in Malta. However, the constitution was suspended in 1959 as a result of strife between the two major political parties—the Malta Labour Party (MLP) and the Nationalist Party (PN). A new constitution was introduced in 1961. The PN won the election, and their leader, George Borg Olivier, became prime minister.
Malta became independent on September 21, 1964, and a United Nations (UN) member on December 1. In elections in 1971, the Malta Labour Party (MLP) won a narrow victory, and its leader, Dominic Mintoff, became prime minister. The MLP enjoyed 16 years of unbroken rule, until the Nationalist Party (PN) won the 1987 elections by a narrow margin. PN leader Eddie Fenech-Adami became prime minister. The PN won again in 1992 by a larger majority, allowing it to continue with privatization measures initiated in 1987. The win also assured Malta’s continued efforts to align its economy more closely with the European Community (a forerunner of the European Union, or EU), to which Malta had applied for membership in 1990. Also in 1990, Malta and Libya renewed a bilateral cooperation treaty until 1995, and the two countries retained friendly relations after that time. Ties between the two countries had strengthened in the late 1980s with the establishment of Voice of the Mediterranean, a jointly administered radio station. Visa requirements between the two countries were subsequently abolished.
In 2002 the European Union (EU) formally invited Malta to join the organization. In March 2003 Malta held a referendum on EU membership that was approved by nearly 54 percent of voters. Fenech-Adami stepped down as prime minister in March 2004 and was replaced by Lawrence Gonzi. Malta became a full member of the EU on May 1, 2004.
Malta -- Economy --
Until 1800, Malta had very few industries except the cotton, tobacco, and shipyards industry. The dockyard was later used by the British for military purposes. At times of war, Malta's economy prospered due to its strategic location.
In 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal benefited Malta's economy greatly as there was a massive increase in the shipping which entered in the port.
By the end of the 19th century, the economy began declining and by the 1940s, Malta's economy was in serious crisis. This was due to invention of large ships which did not require refuelling.
Nowadays, Malta’s major resources are limestone, a favourable geographic location, and a productive labour force. Malta produces only about 20% of its food needs, has limited freshwater supplies, and has no domestic energy sources. The economy is dependent on foreign trade (serving as a freight trans-shipment point), manufacturing (especially electronics and textiles), and tourism. Tourism infrastructure has increased dramatically over the years and a number of quality hotels are present on the island.
Malta has recently privatised some state-controlled firms and liberalised markets in order to prepare for membership in the European Union, which it joined on May 1, 2004. Malta and Tunisia are currently discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for petroleum exploration.
The Maltese government entered ERM II in May 2005, and is intending to adopt the euro as the country's currency on 1 January 2008.
Although Malta is now a member of the European Union, it is not a member of the Schengen Treaty yet. It is currently adopting Schengen regulations with the goal to be finished by 2007.
Malta -- Culture --
Maltese is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is the national language of Malta, and an official language of the European Union. It is derived from, and most closely related to, Arabic. Apart from its phonology, Maltese is quite similar to urban varieties of Tunisian Arabic, and they are in fact moderately interintelligible, more so than Tunisian Arabic is to other Arabic "dialects" such as Gulf Arabic. Maltese also shares similarities with other North African Arabic dialects; however, in the course of Malta's recent history, the language has adopted many loanwords, and even phonetic and phonological features, from Southern Italian, Sicilian, and English.
Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet in its standard form. It is also the only Semitic language native to a geopolitically European country, although, geophysically, Malta is generally regarded as forming part of the African continental plate.
Maltese became an official language of Malta in 1936, alongside English. Before that year, the official language of Malta was Italian. Today, there are an estimated 330,000 Maltese speakers. There are a significant number of Maltese expatriates in Australia, the United States and Canada who can still speak the language.
The oldest known document in Maltese is "Il Cantilena" , a poem from the 15th century written by Pietro Caxaro. For centuries, Maltese was nearly exclusively a spoken language, with writing being done in Arabic or, later, Italian.
While Maltese music today is largely western, traditional Maltese music includes what is known as "ghana" (pronounced as aana). This consists of background folk guitar music, while two or three persons take it in turns to argue a point in a melodic voice. The aim of the lyrics, which are improvized, are to create a friendly yet challenging atmosphere, and takes a number of years of practice to be able to combine the required artistic qualities with the ability to debate effectively. A very interesting fact is that the improvized tune is normally sung in an Arabic Mode with quater tones while the accompaniment is in Tonality, i.e. in a Western European Mode.
Other Maltese music is folk music with emphasis on guitar and tambourine; instrumental music is called daqqaqa. Wind band music, with strong Spanish and Italian influences, are also popular at each annual village or town festival (festa).
Malta -- Political system, law and government --
Malta is a republic enjoying representative democracy, whose parliamentary system and public administration is closely modeled on the Westminster system. The unicameral House of Representatives, known in Maltese as il-Kamra tad-Deputati, is elected by direct universal suffrage through single transferable vote every five years, unless the House is dissolved earlier by the President on advice of the Prime Minister. The party who wins the majority forms the cabinet. The House of Representatives is made up of 65 Members of Parliament. However, where a party wins an absolute majority of votes, but does not have a majority of seats, that party (the cabinet) is given additional seats to ensure a parliamentary majority. By the Constitution of Malta, the President appoints the Prime Minister, who in general is the leader of the party forming the cabinet.
The President of the Republic is elected every five years by the House of Representatives. The role of the president as head of state is highly ceremonial.
The main political parties are the Nationalist Party, which is a Christian democratic party, and the Malta Labour Party, which is a social democratic party.
The Nationalist Party is currently at the helm of the government, the Prime Minister being Dr. Lawrence Gonzi. The Malta Labour Party, led by Dr. Alfred Sant, is in the opposition.
Other parties are :-
Alternattiva Demokratika (a Green Party), which, at the moment, has no parliamentary seats.
Alpha Liberal Democratic Party, which is led by Dr. Emmy Bezzina and Dr. John Zammit.
Imperium Europa, led by Norman Lowell, which promotes Pan-European / Libertarian ideologies.