Will a Nationalist Triumph in Corsica Lead to More Autonomy From France?

Will a Nationalist Triumph in Corsica Lead to More Autonomy From France?
Corsican nationalist leader Gilles Simeoni answers media questions after a meeting in Paris, France, Jan. 18, 2016 (AP photo by Thibault Camus).

On Dec. 10, a coalition of nationalist parties on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica swept elections for the regional assembly, defeating traditional parties and French President Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist movement. Immediately after their victory, the nationalists called for talks with Paris over more autonomy. In an email interview, Andre Fazi, a lecturer in political science at the University of Corsica, discusses the roots of Corsican nationalism and the implications of the nationalists’ electoral triumph both for the island and for France.

WPR: What are the main driving forces behind nationalism in Corsica, and how have they evolved in recent years, in terms of demands and responses from the central government in Paris?

Andre Fazi: Contemporary Corsican nationalism is the byproduct of a modernization plan initiated by the French state in 1957. Targeting the development of the agricultural and tourism sectors, this plan gave rise to deep anxiety and frustration on economic, cultural and political issues for native Corsicans. First, the agricultural components of the plan gave preference to people who had been repatriated from Algeria, through very favorable bank loans and land distribution. Second, the development of the tourism industry attracted many immigrants, and outside investors began designing projects involving tens of thousands of hotel beds. These policies contributed to the spread of the belief that the Corsican language, land and identity were in mortal danger. Finally, local political competition in Corsica was shaped by the hegemony of two dominant parties, and the modernization plan revealed a highly centralized decision-making process based in Paris. Both factors increased the feelings of political alienation.

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