The political situation in Corsica has been particularly tense since the 1970s. The violent protests following the 2022 prison murder of Corsican independence leader Yvan Colonna, the agitation in the FLNC’s ranks, and the recent statements by French President Emmanuel Macron, in which he offered Corsica limited autonomy and contemplated the possibility of transferring a series of powers from Paris, while still rejecting the co-officiality of the indigenous language, have revived the debate in the past year.
FIRST INDEPENDENCE DEMONSTRATION AND THE FLNC
We can trace the first manifestations of self-determination back to 1729, when Corsica declared independence from the Republic of Genoa. A few years later, in 1755, Paolo Francesco Antonio Pasquale Paoli proclaimed the Republic of Corsica, although it was frustrated in the following decade when the island was invaded by France in 1768, becoming part of the French state as we know it today.
After World War II, new voices and movements began to emerge that advocated for independence in the form of a modern state. In 1976, these movements were unified under the name of the Corsican National Liberation Front (Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale Corsu, FLNC), a political and military organization of a nationalist character, born from the union of the two largest armed organizations in Corsica, «Ghjustizia Paolina» and «Fronte Paesanu Corsu di Liberazione», as a branch of the political party A Cuncolta Independentista that had members in the Assembly of Corsica and some support among the locals. This first stage was marked by the leadership of Edmond Simeoni, founder of the FLNC, who led the kidnapping of two French gendarmes in the city of Ajaccio. This kidnapping was a symbolic act that marked the beginning of the FLNC’s armed struggle. In 1979, Simeoni was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released in 1989, after a pardon from French President François Mitterrand.
With a more diplomatic approach, Jean-Pierre Angelini was the leader of the FLNC from 1982 to 1987, and he tried to negotiate with the French government, leading a meeting in 1983. This meeting was an important step in the dialogue process between the two sides. A year later, Angelini signed an agreement with the French government that granted Corsica a greater degree of autonomy. However, this agreement was rejected by the FLNC-Canal Historique, a more radical faction of the FLNC.
After his resignation as leader of the FLNC in 1987, the position was taken over by Francis Mariani, who opted for a more radical leadership, in the line of Simeoni. Violence against the French government intensified during this period, with a series of attacks against tourist targets in 1988 throughout the island, with the aim of damaging the Corsican economy and pressuring the leaders of the Republic. In 1990, Mariani was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
With Mariani in prison, the FLNC found a new leader in the figure of Jean-Marie Rossi in 1991. While his style was closer to the concord and dialogue proposed by Angelini, he was much more pragmatic. The approach to the French government was carried out in a different way during this stage, although there was a meeting in 1992 with the aim of resuming dialogue between the parties after several years marked by violence. Once again, this approach from diplomacy was frustrated, as Rossi was assassinated in 1993 by members of a rival FLNC group.
Yvan Colonna took over, a more radical leader who again resorted to active violence against the French government and its institutions. During his time in office, the discontent of several parts of the FLNC led to almost five years of internal conflicts that culminated in an open war in 1995 between the currents of the organization that resulted in the deaths of 15 members and a good number of wounded. However, the event that would historically mark this leader was his involvement in the assassination of French prefect Claude Erignac on February 6, 1998. After years in hiding, he was arrested on June 4, 2003 and sentenced to life in prison in December 2007.
THE END OF THE ARMED STRUGGLE
Despite numerous attempts at a ceasefire since the late 1980s, most of which were supported only by some of the FLNC’s factions, the armed movement continued to operate for years, until on June 25, 2014, the militants announced the end of the armed struggle and the beginning of a transitional phase through a process of demilitarization and a progressive exit from clandestinity to actively participate in Corsican politics.
During its period of armed activity, the FLNC carried out approximately a thousand assaults, as well as dynamite attacks and armed robberies against banks, civil and military public buildings, tourist infrastructure, and everything that was related to the French government on the island.
In the political sphere, Corsican nationalism has had a long historical presence, although it has not shown notable relevance until the arrival of the new millennium, highlighting the victory of Pé a Corsica, an autonomist coalition led by Gilles Simeoni, in the regional elections in 2015.
Since then, the group has been limited to issuing some statements, highlighting the one from the group called FLNC du 22-Octobre in its public affront in 2016 against radical Islamism and the French government’s lack of preventive action against this threat, urging Muslims in Corsica to confront any manifestation that could undermine the well-being of the Corsican people. In September 2019, a group of nationalists announced the reactivation of the FLNC, threatening to attack properties of foreign investors and demanding a limitation or prohibition on the sale of land to non-Corsicans, due to the limited availability of land on the island.
THE DEATH OF YVAN COLONNA: CORSICA IN FLAMES
However, the FLNC was revived following an incident that occurred in the prison in Arles: the attack on Yvan Colonna on March 2, 2022 by Franck Elong Abé, a Cameroonian Islamist, on the pretext that the former terrorist leader did not respect Muhammad. This triggered a series of massive riots throughout the island for more than a month, which reached their peak with Colonna’s death in the hospital where he was being treated on March 21. The riots left more than 100 people injured and countless damage caused mainly by fires.
Currently, the Corsican independence movement is led by a number of political parties, such as the Corsican National Party, Corsica Libera, and Core in Fronte. These parties have promoted the independence cause through demonstrations, awareness campaigns, and legal actions. It is worth mentioning that support for the independence of Corsica varies, as polls place support between 10 and 15%.
Since January 2018, Corsica has been considered a territorial collectivity, which combines the functions of the department and the region, and manages new competencies such as sports, transportation, culture, and the environment.