The picturesque Mediterranean island of Corsica is half the size of Wales and is home to a population of 260,000. It is also home to a violent separatist group waging a war for independence. The group calls itself the FLNC which is an acronym for the National Liberation Front of Corsica. In Corsican that reads as: Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale di a Corsica. Thus, FLNC…
In French it is just slightly different as Front de Liberation Nationale de le Corse, but I think you’ve gotten the idea by now.
The mountainous Corsica, 100 miles south of France, has had an active nationalist movement since Genoa governed it in the 14th century. Corsica was ceded to France in 1768 and despite brief interruptions in ownership, such as during World War II when the Italians and Germans occupied Corsica, it has remained under French control to this day.
With France distant across the Mediterranean, yet as reluctant as a colonial power to grant Corsicans the self-government many crave, violence has been a historical temptation since the days of Corsica’s most famous native son, Napoleon Bonaparte.
The modern separatist movement that gave rise to the FLNC was actually born in Algeria – from the Algerian War. In 1962, following Algerian independence, French refugees who had abandoned their homes in Algeria began settling in Corsica’s eastern lowlands. This large influx of French culture and people caused problems, however, and served as an important stimulus for the nationalist movement.
This tension with the French Algerians escalated into violence when, in 1975, Corsican separatists unearthed a scandal involving fraudulent wine-making practices in the eastern coastal town of Aleria. This profiteering generated protests, culminating in the protesters occupying a building used to store wine. An attempt by the police to resolve the situation ended in two deaths.
This event was soon followed by the “red mud affair” in which an Italian multinational was found to be dumping toxic waste off the coast of Bastia, serving as a further catalyst for discontent.
Understand that these events were taking place during a time when Corsicans were already feeling that the policies of the French government toward them were repressive and that Corsican culture was intentionally being dismantled as an official policy of the French government.
In 1976 these frustrations manifested themselves in the creation of the Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale di a Corsica (FLNC). Talk of autonomy was increasingly talk of independence and, following the path of the IRA and the Basque separatist group Eta, the FLNC was soon setting off devices packed with plastic explosives at the rate of one a day.
FLNC attacks were principally aimed at public infrastructure, banks, tourist facilities, military or police buildings and other symbolic targets across Corsica. However, in a policy similar to that of the IRA, the FLNC also decided to “bring the Corsican problem to the French” by carrying out bomb attacks on continental France, and towns considered to represent the Corsican diaspora like Marseille, Nice, Toulon, Paris, and Lyon. Attacks on the French mainland have ranged from machine-gunning gendarmes to setting off car bombs at the Police Headquarters and the Law Courts in Paris.
By the 1990s after nearly 10,000 attacks and over 100 deaths the FLNC had broken into myriad splinter groups, and many other independent groups had come into existence. From 1993 to 1996 these groups warred against each other every bit as furiously as they had previously against their perceived French colonizers, leaving dozens of separatists dead. Depending on whom you talk to, this fighting was the result of everything from political rivalries to personal disputes to disagreements over organized crime activity (a source of funding for the FLNC, just as with the IRA and Eta).
This period of aimlessness and turmoil in the FLNC was matched by the French state. One government tried repression and waves of often random arrests, while another experimented with “accomodationalism”.
However, the assassination of the regional prefect, Claude Erignac, in 1998 (allegedly orchestrated by former goat herder Yvan Colonna) upped the separatists’ ante considerably. Erignac was the highest representative of the French state on the island, and many close observers of Corsican affairs saw his murder as an announcement that the nationalist movement was back in business, and serious, despite its internal divisions. Time would seem to prove these observers correct.
Where Things Stand Now
The separatist movement has had some successes – there is now a university in Corte (the French government had shut down the island’s university). The Corsican language, a dialect of Italian, is now taught — but not required — in Corsican schools. Limited gains such as these, have been overshadowed by increased conflict over development though as the number of mainland French in Corsica has steadily increased.
Corsica is one of the last remaining unspoiled corners of the western Mediterranean. The mountainous island still boasts large expanses of coastline that have been spared mass construction. Credit for this goes to the separatist campaign which has indirectly helped protect Corsica from over-development (Developers are not keen on having their investments blown up).
Despite the violence, the beautiful island has still become a magnet for property developers in recent years – to the extent that nearly half the houses on Corsica are holiday homes. Now efforts are under way by the French government to declassify stretches of protected land to allow for even more building in order to “boost the island’s economy”. Environmental groups warn that Corsica risks repeating the concrete nightmare of Majorca or France’s Côte d’Azur. The FLNC has, predictably, come out strongly against Corsica being converted into a wall of concrete and a major target of attacks over the past decade have been against sprawling housing developments.
So, yes, despite the internal divisions and conflicts of the 1990s, the FLNC has continued its attacks into the twenty-first century – although at a reduced tempo when compared with the late 1970s. Despite the reduced rate of attacks though, the FLNC has managed to carry out a number of successful attacks including the 2002 bombing of a military barracks in Lumio which injured a number of gendarmes, bomb attacks against a number of hotels in Marseille in 2004 and rocket attacks against a number of barracks across the country in 2007. In 2009 it carried out a car bomb attack against a barracks in Vescovato.
And the FLNC has been gathering momentum in the past year… Following the turmoil of the 1990s, the FLNC had been divided into the FLNC-UC, the FLNC-1976, and the FLNC-October 22, but it was announced after the Vescovato attack that the various FLNC factions have now reunited.
And it is not just the FLNC that has reunified. In February of 2009, three of the nationalist political parties, Rinnovu, the Corsican Nationalist Alliance and Corsica Nazione combined to form Corsica Libera.
Corsica Libera advocates full independence for Corsica and it does not condemn the violent actions by groups such as the FLNC.
The party almost immediately generated some publicity with a symbolic occupation of Christian Clavier’s Corsican residence (Christian Clavier is a French film star and a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy).
The Corsica Libera party presently has three seats in the Corsican Assembly and holds a number of local elected positions, including the mayor of Granace.
The FLNC has conducted literally thousands of attacks since the 1970s. I decided to visit some (certainly not all) of the sites of the most recent activity in an effort to provide a snapshot of the FLNC as it is today.
My purpose is to try and give my dear readers a sense of what Corsica and its people are like, with a focus on the FLNC, in an effort, to gain broader insights into the dynamics of the struggle for Corsican independence.
We started our tour in Bastia after taking the ferry over from Livorno, Italy. Almost anywhere else, Bastia would be considered a small town, but in Corsica, it is one of its largest cities:
Seems like a lovely, peaceful town… And in many ways it is unless, perhaps, you’re a member of the French military police. There have been numerous police killed here and many bombings. In 2008, five men were arrested in Bastia and Ajaccio for grenade and rocket attacks (one rocket, an anti-tank weapon, blasted a hole in the law courts building):
If you look around a little, you’ll notice separatist graffiti all over the place:
And bomb blast damage – in this case underneath pro-independence slogans which have been painted over:
Just north of Bastia is the small village of Pietracorbara:
In April of this year, a vacation home being constructed here by French mainlanders was firebombed:
Along the coast on the other side of the island, is the town of Calvi… Not long ago a French hotel was bombed here:
Around the middle point of the west coast of the island is Ajaccio – the commercial and political center of Corsica… As mentioned above, Corsica has a population of 260,000 of whom roughly 100,000 live in Ajaccio and Bastia. As an interesting, “oh by the way”, the record high population measured was 276,000 inhabitants in 1884, while the record low was 170,000 inhabitants in 1955:
Ajaccio being the political and commercial center is, naturally, a target for attacks… In 2008, the FLNC conducted a wave of bombings against French bank branches in Ajaccio and killed several French drug dealers (an interesting target mix combining those that handle money legally and illegally). In March of this year a car bomb was detonated behind a bar, the Candia, located between Salinas Street and Finosello Street. And just last month the FLNC firebombed two trucks and a backhoe belonging to a subsidiary of Veolia, the giant French multinational:
A bank hit by the FLNC:
There is a French military garrison in Ajaccio though, so the French don’t worry much about things getting too out of hand:
Ajaccio also happens to be the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte:
This is the cathedral where Napoleon was baptized:
And this was the childhood home of Napoleon:
And this is the Napoleon Cave… The Napoleon Cave is located in the hills above Ajaccio and is said to be where Napoleon came as a child to entertain his dreams of greatness while gazing towards the sea:
Some of the better pro-FLNC graffiti on the drive out of Ajaccio:
The above is a depiction of this FLNC logo:
Just a few minutes down the coast from Ajaccio is the resort town of Porticcio. An ugly vacation villa like this one was firebombed here last month:
Farther down the coast from Ajaccio is the town of Propriano:
A shop in town:
Not too long ago, Propriano was the focus of a series of bomb attacks targeting banks, customs officers and this electrical infrastructure on the edge of the town:
Below Propriano, the volume of tourists spikes up – particularly around towns such as Bonifacio and Porto-Vecchio. Although the FLNC has been active in this area as well, your editor doesn’t have much patience for contending with crowds of tourists. So, this area was passed by in favor of the interior of Corsica (which shall be discussed in Part 2).
As I just mentioned, the south of the island is heavy with tourists and also with the building of resorts and vacation villas. As such, a major focus of the FLNC in this area is to push back against this development with a vigorous bombing and arson campaign. Some of the attacks in just the past few months (photos taken from the island’s newspaper, Corse-Matin)….
Bomb damage in Giuncheto:
A villa under construction in Porto-Vecchio that was bombed:
Back on the east coast of Corsica, below Bastia, is the tiny village of Sorbo-Ocagnano where an FLNC member was gunned down…
At this site below – inspiring further FLNC attacks:
Very close by to Sorbo-Ocagnano is the village of Vescovato… Vescovato, mentioned in my introduction, is where a car packed with 100 kilograms of explosives was detonated outside a barracks for the French military police last year:
Below is a picture of what was left of the car after the attack… The official FLNC comment on the matter was that the attack served as “a warning to those in the policy of repression” and asserted that there would be “other” responses:
As mentioned in my introduction, the above represents just a very small sampling of FLNC activity in Corsica. The separatists are remarkably active for such a small island.
The coast and the cities of Corsica are dominated by the French, while the interior of Corsica is dominated by Corsicans. Thus, the majority of the FLNC attacks are carried out on the exterior (the cities, coast and even mainland France), while a major source of support for the FLNC comes from the interior. If one wishes to really see Corsica and Corsican culture, one must head for the interior. And this is the area that will be explored in Part 2.
If one wishes to stay up to date on FLNC attacks and other activities (or just Corsican news in general), one can’t do better than the island’s newspaper, Corse-Matin. If you don’t speak French, use something like Google Chrome which will automatically translate the pages for you.
For more on Corsica Libera (the political party for Corsican nationalism mentioned above), their website is here.
Wikipedia has compiled a decent outline of FLNC contemporary history here.
For a sample of one of the Pro-FLNC videos available on YouTube, click here.