New prospects for the autonomy of Corsica: between legalist nationalism and armed nationalism
Towards a Corsican nationalist consensus
Since 2017 Corsica’s executive and legislative bodies have been led by Corsican nationalists. In the 2017 territorial elections, the nationalist coalition Pé a Corsica won at the second turn with over 56% of the votes. The head of the biggest party within the electoral coalition, Gilles Simeoni, was elected President of the Corsican executive. Pé a Corsica united the autonomist Femu a Corsica (Gilles Simeoni) and the separatist Corsica Libera (Jean-Guy Talamoni). Core in Fronte (Paul-Félix Benedetti), a left-wing pro-independence party, did not enter the coalition and got 6.7% of the votes. Among the ten tenets of Pé a Corsica’s electoral strategic accord: the achievement of the autonomy status within three years, the co-officialization of the Corsican language, the amnesty for political prisoners convicted of pro-independence terrorism. Autonomy does in fact represent the most reasonable aim that the ‘nationalist majority’ agreed upon but independence remains a valid option in the ‘collective imaginary’ of many Corsicans.
In the 2021 regional elections’ first turn, Gilles Simeoni, leader of the autonomist coalition Femu a Corsica, won almost 30% of the votes. In the second turn, Simeoni managed to win over 40% of the preferences. His adversary, Laurent Marcangeli – the non-nationalist center-right contender– was the second most voted for candidate with roughly 32% of the votes. Simeoni was eventually elected President of the Corsican executive. Due to factionalist divisions in the nationalist front, the major Corsican nationalist party Femu a Corsica ran alone and the executive Council was only formed by its members. Simeoni did not obtain the support of the Partitu di a Nazione Corsa –an autonomist formation led by Jean-Cristophe Angelini who joined Pé a Corsica in 2021– or that of Jean-Guy Talamoni, the leader of Corsica Libera. Core in Fronte decided not to adhere to the newly elected autonomist government. The sum of the result obtained by both autonomist and pro-independence forces shows that the nationalist ‘front’ managed to gain around almost 70% of the Corsicans’ vote. 46 out of the 63 elected members of the Corsican Assembly belong either to autonomist or pro-independence Corsican nationalist formations.
Since the Genoese cessation of Corsica in 1768 and its annexation to France, Corsica is for the first time being governed by a nationalist majority.
The assassination of Yvan Colonna
The ‘Corsican issue’ was again in the spotlight in March 2022, when Yvan Colonna, a Corsican subversive serving a life sentence for the 1998 assassination of Corsica’s top regional official Claude Érignac, was assaulted by a fellow detainee, and died as a result. Riots burst out across the main cities of the island and protesters –mainly young Corsican nationalists– clashed with French security forces chanting “Libertà!” (Freedom!) and “Statu francese assassinu” (the French state is a murderer”).
The FLNC from demilitarization to action
The pro-independence armed struggle ‘popularized’ by the Fronte Naziunale di Liberazione Corsu (National Front of Liberation of Corsica – FLNC) is all but over. And today’s FLNC does consist of several groups that originated from the early FLNC’s internal factions. Furthermore, intra-group rivalries and factionalism did and do, deeply characterize Corsican nationalist armed organizations.
In 2016, the FLNC-22 October - one of the main separatist armed groups - announced the beginning of a demilitarization process, however tensions have already re-escalated. In a video broadcasted by Corse-Matin, the FLNC-22 October communicated its demilitarization to allow the new – nationalist-dominated Corsican Assembly to ‘serenely carry out its new mandate’. Still, it underscored arms have not been ‘laid down’. This communiqué came in the wake of the demilitarization announcement made in 2014 by the FLNC-UC,1 the biggest armed group which originated from the old FLNC.
The cooling of tensions was indeed only a temporary halt. The assassination of Yvan Colonna triggered the action of several clandestine armed groups throughout 2022. On 21 March 2023, the FLNC-UC and the FLNC-22 declared their opposition to the ‘legalist’ approach of elected Corsican nationalists via a communiqué, and claimed 17 attacks against the continental French’s second homes on the island. In this document, the FLNC defines the assassination of Yvan Colonna a ‘state crime’ while also, stating that the Corsican language and culture has been purposely marginalized and accusing France of denying Corsicans’ land rights by allowing the construction of touristic facilities that favor settler colonialism, as well as lobbyist and monopolistic interests. In the beginning of August 2023, the FLNC, in another communiqué sent to Corse Matin, claimed the responsibility for other 16 attacks. In this text, the FLNC stated that the autonomy that the government will grant to Corsica will be no more than mere decentralization. The FLNC communiqué ends by preaching the perpetuation of armed resistance.
The FLNC has never been dismantled, neither it has truly demilitarized. Rather, the FLNC split up, developed and re-configurated into new groups several times over. In early 2023 a new clandestine armed group emerged in Corsica, the Ghjuventù Clandestina Corsa (GCC). This faction, as stated in a communiqué delivered to Corse-Matin, declares it will ‘march in the footsteps of the FLNC’. The elected nationalists who did not ‘keep their word’, along with the whole French institutional apparatus, are viewed as targets by the GCC.
While legalist nationalists now dominate the elected bodies of Corsica, armed struggle still seems a viable political strategy for a small, but fierce, minority of Corsican nationalists.
Towards an agreement on autonomy for Corsica
In February 2023, Emmanuel Macron remarked upon the possibility to discuss the status of Corsica within the République, in the frame of a wider process of constitutional reforms. Gérald Darmamin, the Minister of the Interior, stated that ‘the state has never gone so far with regard to a constitutional reform’, including the rethinking of the institutional status of Corsica. Macron asked the elected Corsican representatives to transmit their propositions on the future of Corsica by July 14th.
On July 4th-5th, the Corsican Assembly dedicated an extraordinary session to finding a common ground for the ‘autonomy’ issue. Six proposals were presented on that occasion. Simeoni’s nationalist majority and the rest of Corsican nationalist forces eventually converged on one shared proposal. 46 out of the 63 members of the Corsican Assembly voted in favor of the autonomy proposal championed by Corsican nationalist forces. A ‘nationalist consensus’ was reached.2
Autunumia: Corsican demands to Paris
The Simeoni-sponsored rapport on the Autunumia opens with a first evocative chapter entitled the ‘solemn demand for an autonomy Statute’. Art. 2 defines ‘autonomy’ as the juridical status that allows a territory to adopt its own laws in all domains, except those that are exclusive competence of the state. Art. 3, among the objectives of the autonomy, declares that the Corsican autonomy would tackle the ‘historical issue of recognition’. Above all, recognition means finding a resolution for conflict-related civil and penal convictions (amnesty), as well as converging on a ‘pact’ that allows peace to take root again in Corsica. Recognition also means the acknowledgment of three ‘fundamental revindications’: (1) the juridical recognition of the ‘Corsican people’ (distinguished by ‘language and culture’), its right to have its own institutions and to ‘project itself towards a common destiny’; (2) the co-officiality of the Corsican language; (3) the constitutionalization of the special link that bonds Corsicans and Corsica with their historical homeland.
In art. 4-8 the rapport describes the three-step constitutional route towards autonomy envisioned by the Corsican Assembly: (1) a political agreement that will be submitted for the approval of Corsicans via referendum; (2) the enshrinement of such agreement in a section (titre) of the French constitution; (3) the adoption of an organic law that describes in detail such agreement and the principles of Corsica’s autonomy statute, as well as the transfer of legislative competences and the guarantee of financial and fiscal autonomy. The following articles (9-15) specify the few major competences still reserved to the State and list all the competences that will be transferred to Corsican elected bodies.
Corsicans and Kanaks: the end of French Jacobinism?
The rapport on the Corsican autunumia has indeed been handed over to the government and is now in the ‘hands’ of Macron. The silence of Macron about the Corsican autonomist issue is being viewed with suspicion by Corsican nationalists. In July 26, Macron, on his visit in New Caledonia, confirmed that a constitutional reform will be held; perhaps by the beginning of 2024. Still, against the background of the third referendum on the independence of New Caledonia, he has also stated that ‘New Caledonia is French because it has decided to remain French’. In the context of his speech on the constitutional reframing of the status of the Melanesian archipelago withing the République, not a single word was uttered with respect to Corsica and its self-governing ambitions.
On September 13 and 14, Gérald Damarnin, the Minister of Interior, went on a visit to Corsica to further discuss the prospects of autunumia with Corsican mayors and Gilles Simeoni. For the President of the Executive, the Minister demonstrated to be aware of the need for an autonomy statute and a global political solution for Corsica. Corsicans are awating Macron's pronouncement on the autonomy, that is expected to arrive when the President will be on visit to Corsica by the end of September.
Now, is French Jacobinism only appeasing with respect to the anti-colonial demands of the Kanaks in New Caledonia? Or is Paris truly open to concede a full-fledged autonomy to Corsica as well? Time will tell. In the meantime, any French resistance against the autonomist agenda of the Corsican Assembly will have the effect of further legitimizing Corsican nationalist claims (in all its forms).
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