December 2015 is something Corsicans will remember forever. On December 13th, 2015, the French regional elections saw the winning of the regional coalition Pè a Corsica, supported by Femu a Corsica and Corsica Libera and led by Gilles Simeoni. The coalition gained 35.5% of votes, defeating the Front National of Marine Le Pen, which obtained the 9.8% of votes without being able to win any seat in any region at the second round of the elections. The defeat of Le Pen’s party and the winning of the nationalist coalition opened a new scenario in Corsican regional politics.

Corsica is one of the 18 regions in which France is divided. It is under the jurisdiction of French law but it considered as collectivité territoriale (territorial collectivity). Over the past few decades Corsican nationalism has been demanding the independence of the region, thus the winning of the pro-nationalist party will inflame Corsican public opinion of the Corsican who has been questing autonomous leadership for the past forty years. In addition to this, the month of December will be remembered for the protests that arose against the Muslims inhabitants of Ajaccio and of other towns of Corsica.

On December 24th, 2015, in the neighbourhood of the Jardins de l’Empereur, firefighters were assaulted by an unidentified group of youths with iron bars and baseball bats. The day after Corsicans reacted to the aggression by burning a Muslim prayer hall and a part of Quran in Jardins de l’Empereur. On December 27th, 2015, despite the protest ban that lasted until January 4th, 2016, several hundred people marched to protest against the aggressors of the fire-fighters while crying out xenophobic slogans. The reactions to these events from politics, religion and academia were the same: the condemnation of the aggression and reaction of Corsica. The Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls, and the Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, strongly condemned the attacks and the protests and asked for the arrest of those responsible for such actions. The same was stated by the French Council of the Muslim Faith. The neo-elected president of the Corsican Assembly, Jean-Guy Talamoni, blamed the spreading ideology of the Front National and stated that what happened is the contrary of what the Corsican nationalism asks for, and that within this context it will be harder to create a Corsican Republic.

January appeared to be calm on the protest side, but at the beginning of February the anti-Muslim protests did outbreak once again: on February 3rd, 2016, a Muslim butcher in Propriano, in the Southern part of the island, was sprayed with a machine gun fire, thus raising again the level of tensions.

However, the police reported that the cities and the whole region is considered safer than many other regions of France.

The higher number of Muslim migrants provoked, especially after the terrorist attack of November 2015 in Paris, a great deal of distrust. At the basis of it, there is a structural problem and a difficult integration of second-generation migrants. If we take the Jardins de l’Empereur as an example, classified as zone urbaine sensible (sensitive urban zone),[1] they have the typical characteristics of the banlieue: religious radicalism, high level of unemployment, and a high percentage of criminality and drug-trafficking.

It will be an hard challenge, for the moderates, to try and control or to neutralize the extreme wing of the nationalists, which seems to be the instigators of this racist sentiment and protest across the whole region. The fear of who is different from us and the wrong measures taken by the French administration to ameliorate the process of integration on the basis of la grandeur francaise are the basic reasons that led to a silent civil and racial war in the French urban areas. About Corsica, it should be said that the region hosts the highest percentage of foreigners in France, following the percentage of the inhabitants of Île-de-France. Every year 4,000 migrants sail to Corsica and 6,000 of Muslims live in Ajaccio. The nationalist party has to face a double challenge: on the one hand, the accomplishment of the process started forty years ago by the Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale Corsu (FLNC)[2] which would entail the autonomy of the region from the French political and administrative control and the creation of an independent government. Furthermore, the introduction of new rules would ease the cohabitation of migrants and Muslims in general with the Corsican and the possible introduction of them in the labor market.

About the creation of an independent Corsica, according to Gilles Simeoni, the right path is the one followed by Scottish and Catalan nationalists. But the situation is more complex: the French Law for the reorganization of the national territory of August 7th, 2015 foresees the creation on January 1st, 2018, of a Corsican collectivity, which comprises the merging of the two departments of the Haute-Corse and of la Corse-du-Sud. The negotiations have just started but they already aroused fear in France mainland. The new administration will be very similar to the present one since the only biggest new feature will be the introduction of a unique executive. The Corsican Assembly will be composed of 63 members (now they are 51) and the majority of the seats will be given to the winner of the administrative elections. But there are at least two branches of nationalists in Corsica: nationalists who seek reforms aimed at promoting Corsican identity and then hardline independence seekers who want the island independent.

 Regarding the integration measures, the nationalists always criticized the “logics of ethnical substitution”, promoted by France which sent Algerians to Corsica after the declaration of independence of the Northern African country in 1962. According to the nationalists, if Corsica obtains the independence from France, the new government will improve the education schemes, implement the public teaching of professional subjects, guarantee a better diffusion of Corsican culture and re-launch the management of the peripheral areas of the two biggest cities with the bulk of migrants. Both the youngest generation of migrants and Corsican citizens would benefit from a greater interaction between different cultures. Furthermore, a development of this sort would mark a policy-change filling the gap created by an erroneous integration politics still marked by colonialism.

Alessandra Vernile

Master’s degree in International Relations (LUMSA)


Notes

[1] The zone urbaine sensible (sensitive urban zone) is an urban area in France defined by the authorities to be a high-priority target for city policy because of circumstances related to the problems of its residents. Nearly 5 million people live in zones if difficulty with many problems as high percentage of public housing with little home-ownership; high unemployment; a low percentage of high school graduates. The sensible urban zones are 751 all around France, and 718 in mainland France. See: insee.fr.

[2] The manifesto of the Party contained six demands: the recognition of the FLNC; the removal of all the instruments of French colonialism; the creation of a popular democratic government that should represent the needs of the Corsican; the confiscation of colonial estates; the setting up of an agrarian reform to fulfill the aspirations of farmers, workers and intellectuals; the right to self-determination of the Corsican people. Until 2014, the FLNC tried to fulfill their demands through internal terrorism.

References

“Agression des pompiers : “Sales Corses, cassez-vous”,” Corse-Matin, December 26, 2015. www.corsematin.com/article/ajaccio/agression-des-pompiers-sales-corses-cassez-vous.1940887.html

“Corsica march: Hundreds defy protest ban after Muslim prayer hall attack,” BBC, December 28, 2015. www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35187901

“Corsica protests banned after anti-Arab demos,” The Local, December 27, 2015. www.thelocal.fr/20151227/protests-banned-in-corsica-after-anti-arab-demos

“La question corse en 2005, 30 ans après Aleria,” La Documentation française, 2005. www.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/dossiers/corse/index.shtml

“Loi n° 2015-991 du 7 août 2015 portant nouvelle organisation territoriale de la République,” Légifrance, 2015. www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000030985460&categorieLien=id

“Muslim butcher’s shop hit by machine gun fire in France,” The Local, February 3, 2016. www.thelocal.fr/20160203/muslim-butcher-sprayed-by-machine-gun-fire-in-france

Lichfield, John. “Corsica: Installation of nationalist government sparks concern in Paris amid renewed calls for independence,” The Independent, December 26, 2015. www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/corsica-islands-new-nationalist-government-sparks-concern-in-paris-amid-renewed-calls-for-a6787016.html

McHugh, Jess. “After Anti-Muslim Protest In Corsica, Nationalism, High Unemployment, Slow Economic Growth Blamed,” International Business Times, December 28, 2015. www.ibtimes.com/after-anti-muslim-protest-corsica-nationalism-high-unemployment-slow-economic-growth-2240947