Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Corsican Nationalism

Corsica, a French island roughly 3,400 square miles in area, is located 51 miles west of Italy's Tuscan coast. In the last fifty years it has experienced a nationalist movement. During its premodern history, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Saracens, and the Genoese successively controlled Corsica. Because of local unrest, Genoa ceded the island to France in 1768. Less repressive than the Genoese, the French improved Corsica's agriculture and economy and educated many Corsicans in France, including Napoleon Bonaparte. Although anti-French sentiment remained low for nearly two centuries, the post–World War II era saw the growth of a new Corsican nationalism.

By the 1960s, a nationalist movement was well under way. Coinciding with worldwide anticolonial movements, Corsican students in Paris, disillusioned by a French government that seemed to be ignoring Corsican interests, formed the Union Corse (Corsican Union) in 1960. In 1967 Edmond and Max Simeoni united nationalists throughout Corsica, forming the Action Regionaliste Corse (ARC, Corsican Regionalist Action). Violence escalated as Corsican nationalists became more radical and French counteractions became increasingly repressive. In 1976, the Front de Libération Nationale du Corse (FLNC, Corsican National Liberation Front) was established, and on 4–5 May 1976, in what became known as the first of many "blue nights," nationalists bombed twenty targets in Corsica, Paris, Nice, and Marseilles.

Nationalist violence and islandwide demonstrations escalated during the January 1980 Bastelica-Fresch incident on Corsica when nationalists linked to an antiautonomist fringe group held hostages in a small hotel surrounded by police for five days. Then demonstrations in support of the nationalist movement began. In the ensuing incident one policeman was shot and killed, and amid the confusion two protesters were killed when they failed to stop at police roadblocks.

Nationalists continued to carry out attacks and hold demonstrations throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but revelations of corruption within nationalist ranks led to a loss of popular support, especially in the 1990s. Many radical nationalists also became associated with criminal activities. Also, beginning in the early 1980s, French policy changed from repression to attempts to meet legitimate Corsican demands. Initiated in 1982, decentralization programs established a Corsican National Assembly, recognized the existence of a Corsican people separate from the French, and granted amnesty to political prisoners. In 2000, the Corsican government became a supervised legislative power. Discussions for legislative autonomy continued thereafter, but in 2003 a referendum on constitutional amendments that would permit greater local autonomy was narrowly defeated.

Jonathan A. Clapperton


Further Reading
Ramsay, Robert. The Corsican Time-Bomb. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1983.; Savigear, Peter. Corsica, Regional Autonomy or Violence? London: Institute for the Study of Conflict, 1983.
 

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