Globe: Nationalism Comes to Corsica

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In the century since the World War, it seems that nationalism has come back into style. Most prominent of which are the independence-minded nationalists who want their region or nation to secede from the mother-state. There have been a few of these in the last few years: in Britain, Scottish nationalists made an unsuccessful bid for independence in 2015.

 2017 witnessed two regions declare their independence. In Iraq, Kurdistan voted to secede, which scored disapproval from the international community. Nothing has come of the move. In Spain, the fiercely independently-minded region of Catalonia seceded after an illegitimate election. After weeks of controversy, the issue has reached a stalemate. And now, another region of Europe is heeding the call for independence, to little fanfare. In a recent historic election, Corsica, a Mediterranean island that is a part of France, elected a nationalist government to the island’s assembly.

Like Catalonia and Kurdistan, Corsica has its own culture and history separate to that of the country to they are a part of. Corsica was an independent nation until France incorporated the island in 1789. Before then, Corsica was a new republic, having gained independence from the Republic of Genoa in 1755 after fighting a 26-year revolution. After the annexation, France neglected Corsica, despite the fact that the first French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, was Corsican and was at one time a Corsican nationalist who dreamed of fighting France for his home-island’s independence.

In the years following the annexation of Corsica, the island gradually embraced French culture and language, and dropped the nationalist sentiment that dominated Corsican history throughout the 18th century. This lasted until the turmoil of late 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The Algerian War for Independence, and a botched police raid on a group of Corsican nationalists made Corsica ripe for radicalism. In the way of populism and nationalism that has hit the world in recent years, this radicalism has become mainstreamed.

The motivations and ideological origins of the Corsican nationalists are similar to that of other nationalist groups, past or present. They believe that the economic turmoil the island faces is a direct result of the French government, and that Corsicans would be better off if to govern themselves. There are also cultural demographic grievances being presented. Corsica has its own language (Corsican – the native language of Napoleon) and the language is perceived to have declined since France, whom are logophiles for their own native tongue, took control over the island. Corsicans also complain of a declining population, and an economy based off of tourism, and want more control over the island’s educations system.

As with many sections movements, there have been outbreaks of violence from Corsican nationalist sects. The National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC), a terrorist group similar to that of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, has been responsible for bombings, shootings, and other acts of violence against the French State. But unlike the IRA, the efforts FLNC garnered little attention and had little to show for their violence.

What success Corsican nationalists have had has been democratic. In the governing body of Corsica, the Corsican Assembly, nationalists are dominate. Of the 63 seats in the Corsican Assembly, 41 belong to nationalists who either want more autonomy from France or want outright independence. The nationalists first took power in Corsica in 2015, and took a stronger position in the recent 2017 elections.

It is through this outlet that Corsican nationalists hope to achieve their means. Their thinking goes along the lines that if enough nationalists get elected, then the French government, hoping to avoid the turmoil Spain is contending with in Catalonia, will recognize their claims to give in to some of their demands. However, this prophecy seems unlikely to be fulfilled.

The silence from the French government has been deafening. When Scotland made calls for independence, Britain granted the people of Scotland the opportunity to decide their nation’s future in a referendum. Spain has proven incompetent in addressing the secessionists in Catalonia’s most recent independence bid, and mishandled diffusing the situation. France has done nothing.

The French government has failed to address the issue, and even French news outlets seem disinterested in Corsica’s nationalistic streak. When the nationalists won their electoral victory, French President Emmanuel Macron was away on a foreign trip and failed to address the issue. The French government appears to have no plans on engaging the nationalists, much to the vexation of the true believers within the nationalist movement of Corsica.

Much of the lack of interest stems from Corsica’s lack of prominence. Corsica is not a significant in the player on the world, or even the European stage. It has a small population of around 330,000. Its economy doesn’t contribute internationally, unless one factors in tourism companies. At 1% of the GDP, Corsica is not the economic anchor that Catalonia (19% of Spanish GDP) is to Spain.

 Corsica’s nationalist movement is no longer volatile, and relies solely on the ballot box. The island does not have the history of struggle that Catalonia has, nor does it have geopolitical prominence as Kurdistan does. And perhaps most importantly, the movement is ill-led. Independence movements predicate much international support to the charisma and power of their leaders. Corsica has no prominent leaders; speeches are given by small town mayors in coffeehouses, and many of the advocates are only part-time freedom fighters. As of now, Corsica has no potential founding fathers.