Dorothy Carrington in her book Granite Island: A Portrait of Corsica, describes the first impressions of Corsica on her first visit in 1948. “The mountains surged into the sky, behind, beyond, above one another, ending in rows of cones and spikes and square-topped knobs like gigantic teeth. Their lower slopes, smothered in vegetation, looked uninhabited and impenetrable.” This mysterious island is not to be underestimated by any stretch, it is home to a people strongly motivated to preserve the traditional Corsica, the natural beauty of the island both physical and cultural, as described by Carrington.
I write this, a summary of Corsican politics, from the perspective of an ERASMUS student having lived in Corte, the town in the centre of Corsica, for three months. Nevertheless, in this short time I feel as if I have been exposed to the honest truths of this complicated subject, yet I am not naïve to believe that I have witnessed the full scale of it.
An island so isolated and yet riled with political activism
An island so isolated and yet so riled with political activism and confrontation, Corsican politics and national beliefs are a daily issue being debated amongst the Corsican people. What the island lacks in terms of the number of inhabitants, barely surpassing 300,000, they make up for in enthusiasm for national pride concerning a desire for autonomy from Metropolitan France and in general. They are not opposed to sharing this political opinion freely. In order to better comprehend the importance of the Corsican nationalist movement, one must simply look at the graffiti found covering the walls, both inside and out, of the university buildings in central Corsica, Corte. No sooner have the messages for independence and letters FLNC (The National Liberation Front of Corsica) been painted out, have they reappeared once more in abundance.
Despite Corsica’s continuing struggle to be an independent island from Metropolitan France, it is still in fact one of the 27 regions of France and is therefore under the same form of government. It is in law known as a ‘territorial collectivity’ which means it has an elected local government thus allowing slightly more independence, this is demonstrated for example, by the obligatory Corsican language test for all those hoping to become a teacher here. At present, approximately 65% of the population here still speak Corsican but there is also a real push at the moment from the local authorities for a greater usage of the Corsican language in day to day life, rather than the more commonly used French. Their own governing comes in the form of the Corsican Assembly; a unicameral legislative body formed of 51 members, which is based in the Corsican Capital, Ajaccio.
In recent times, it has gone further than anonymous graffiti and there have been forms of terrorism in connection with the extremist political groups within Corsica. Further back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the FLNC carried out bombings concentrating on buildings that represented a French presence on the island, such as tourist facilities, military and police stations and even went as far as bombing some French-owned holiday homes. It is important to note that they did not intend for human casualties and so carried out these attacks when the buildings were unoccupied, however there have been known to be human fatalities due to these actions. More recently, from 2004 the number of attacks on holiday homes increased at the same time as the FLNC started to split to divide the more violent members of the party, from those who did not intend to cause such severe damage and avoid human fatality.
This being said, Corsica itself is one of the most beautiful places I have been privileged to visit. It must be noted that, although the terrorism and almost xenophobic attitude shared by some of the Corsican population should not be condoned, one can appreciate their desire to preserve the island in its natural form now, in order to avoid a potential loss of tradition and real Corsican culture. What remains to be seen, is how and if the Corsican and French people will work together as one country in the future, or if Corsica will in fact become the independent island it hopes to be.