THE PEOPLES OF EUROPE: CORSICA|
By Giuse Centophani
On the crossroads of two maritime routes, one linking France, Africa and the Near East, the other central Europe, Italy and Spain, Corsica has always been a valuable possession; but apart from a short period in the eighteenth century, her history has always been the history of others. The first invasions took place in pre-historic times and intensified during the classic period. The ancient Greeks, who founded Aleria, were succeeded by the Etruscans, the Syracusians, the Carthaginians and after them the Romans who established themselves there for six centuries. The Ostrogoths followed on from the Vandals, were in their turn chased out by the Byzantines; after them came the Lombards and the Saracens, whose terrorising of the inhabitants caused many of them to set up home in villages built on dizzy mountain peaks. Pisa and Genua allied to expel the Saracen, but themselves disputed the right of rule over an island possession of which gave the owner control of the Tyrrenian Sea. Kalliste (the very beautiful) as Corsica was called by the Greeks, was valued far more in terms of its strategic importance than for any intrinsic wealth. When the Genuans did finally survey the land for the purpose of evaluating it, they did so at the expense of the inhabitants and in the face of native hostility.
From 1553, the firebrand Sampiero, in openly declaring his struggle against Genoan rule, laid the basis for a patriotic consciousness. A hundred and fifty years later, a collective feeling of national frustration had come to maturity and the Corsican War of Independence began. It lasted for forty years and ended with the proclamation of Pascal Paoli as General of the Corsican Nation in 1755; this event was followed by the adoption of a constitution, the opening of the University of Corsica, the inauguration of a navy, the creation of a new town, Isularossa (Red Island)...Corsica had come of age, brandishing the symbol of its newly won independence, the Blackamoore's Head, emblem of resistance against the Muslim invader.
But this independence was to prove a luxury which the Corsicans would not long be permitted to enjoy. Their desire for autonomy carried little weight in the face of the amibitions of European monarchies, the government of Louis XIV in particular. In the wake of her losses overseas, France started on a Mediterranean strategy which included the control of Corsica, which was duly taken from Genoa, which had not relinquished official claim to the island. In 1796, after the instauration of a short-lived Anglo-Corse kingdom, the island was declared to be an integral part of French territory and the history of outside domination began again. Henceforward the history of the island was linked to the history of France.
Paris imposed a policy of integration and did not recognise the specific character of the island or its people. (Himself born in Corsica and only born French by a matter of years, Napoleon Bonaparte proposed to register Corsican children every year in Parisian schools as a means of eliminating a sense of Corsican identity.) The island fell into neglect, ravaged by local divisions which were the breeding ground of banditry and vendettas. The modernisation and construction plans of Napoleon III were insufficient to bring any fundamental change. "Kalliste" did not take part in the Industrial Revolution and little by little enclosed itself in an archaic way of life. At the turn of the twentieth century unemployment forced thousands of people, mostly young, to seek their fortune on the continent or in the colonies. It was the time of the great Corsican diaspora. Emigration and losses in the Great War meant that by 1939 the total population of the island had sunk to 200,000.
Corsica valiantly resisted Italian occupation and in 1943 was the first French department to be liberated. But, at the beginning of the sixties, the islanders opted for another resistance, this time not in the name of France but in their own name, the name of Corsica. Resistance had begun in the wake of a project announced by Paris in 1957 to stimulate tourism and agriculture, a project from which the Corsicans felt themselves to be excluded. Friction increased with the arrival of settlers from Algeria who installed themselves on the island for the purpose of wine and fruit cultivation. In 1975 the autonomists, led by Edmond Simoni, occupied the cellars of a pied-noir (former French coloniser of Algeria) in Aleria. There was a shoot-out, two gendarmes were wounded, Simeoni imprisoned. A few months after this incident, the Corsican Liberation Front (F.L.N.C.: Front de Liberation National de la Corse) was founded. The influence of various movements and nationaist parties has obliged Paris to take a decentralist course, but the malaise has not been cured and the island is still sparodically shaken by partisan assaults on public buildings and development projects.
If we use representation in the Corsican Assembly as a yard-stick, the nationalist movement is split into five groupings: Cuncolta Nazionaliste (independence movement), Verdi Corsi (ecologist): these two have come together in a coalition called Corsica Nazione, the A.N.C.-sic (Alliance Nationaliste Corse), the U.P.C. (Union du Peuple Corse), and finally the M.P.A. (Mouvement pour l'Autonomie) which campaigned in the last regional elections in Corsica under its own flag. The A.N.C. and the U.P.C. recently left Corsica Nazione in condemnation of what they called "mafiosi-run armed bands" in reference to the clandestine struggle of the F.L.N.C. for whose actions these two parties no longer wish to be held liable. Their claim for autonomy rejects all non-legal means of achieving it.
Invaded, dominated, annexed, Corsica has always unobtrusively managed to evade the fate of integration and shown how strong on this Mediterranean island is the thirst for identity; and the belief in a more autonomous development is certainly still there. The future must show if this "nearest of distant lands" is to come into possession of a right it has not known so far, the right namely to decide its own history.....
Those interested in keeping abreast of Corsican nationalist news may be interested in the part-Corsican part-French language paper U Ribombu. Send 2 irc's for sample copy to 1, rue Miot 20200 Bastia Corsica. Some articles are of more than local interest, for example Issue 198 was dedicated to the efforts of Corsican nationalists to combat drug pushers. A very interesting debate on Corsican versus French nationalism was published in Issue 12 of Elements, available at 40 francs from SEL, BP 68, 91292 Arpajon Cedex Tel: France 69 26 05 21. (This is the latest address for those who wish to obtain French New Right publications, old and new).