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Corsica - A National Question?

Two centuries of French political regimes

Corsican history

Up until the 18th century Corsica was ruled by Genoa. In the 1730s there was a national uprising which led to the constitution of the Republic of Corsica in 1755. The Scot James Boswell, friend and biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson visited independent Corsica in 1765 and was so impressed that he wrote the book “An Account of Corsica” (recently republished in France) and remained a lifelong defender of Corsica and of Paoli. Unable to re-conquer the island, Genoa sold it to France in 1768. The Corsicans were defeated by the French at the battle of Ponte Novu in 1769. During the French Revolution, when Corsican hopes of a free union with France were dashed, Paoli proclaimed independence in 1793 and turned towards Britain for protection. But the British abandoned Corsica in 1796 and France re-conquered the island.

Today Corsica has a population of 260,000 – 70 per cent are native Corsicans and about 10 per cent are of non-French or Corsican origin, mostly North African. The Territorial Assembly has slightly wider powers than the other 21 regions of France, but France refuses to recognise either Corsican nationality or the right to self-determination.

The modern nationalist movement was symbolically born at Aleria in 1975 (see box). The various wings of the Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC) have periodically conducted bombing campaigns. The nationalist movement is extremely fragmented and the 1990s were marked by bloody internal feuds. Ten nationalist political organisations have been trying to agree on a joint nationalist slate for the March regional elections, so far unsuccessfully. At present the socialist organisation A Manca Naziunale (Movement of the National Left) has concluded that it is impossible to agree on a common programme and is preparing to present its own list (the LCR and LO are not standing in Corsica).


The early 1970s saw a rise in nationalist activity as well as a few bomb attacks on symbols of French rule. In 1975, fifty militants of the ARC (Corsican Regional Action) occupied a wine warehouse in Aléria belonging to a returned Algerian settler in protest at the preference given to these settlers. The occupation was carried out without violence but the French state, alarmed by growing opposition to its policies in Corsica, decided to make an example. The warehouse was surrounded by a massive force of gendarmes with heavy machine guns and helicopters. However, like many Corsicans the occupiers were armed and two gendarmes were killed in the ensuing shoot-out. Subsequently another gendarme died in a night of rioting on the island. The events at Aléria became the symbol of a new phase of Corsican resistance to the French state, which only grew stronger in the face of repression and the stubborn refusal of the French state to recognise Corsican national rights.