With the 2002 election of Chirac, newly appointed Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was authorized to pick up where Jospin, the former prime minister, left off. Why was Raffarin being given the presidential nod? For a start, he was not Jospin, the previous prime minister. At the time the Corsican question required resolution, the leading critic of Jospin’s deal with Corsicans was his own interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who resigned in protest. But when Chevenement ran against Chirac on a platform of opposition to policies considering more autonomy for Corsica, he got only 5.3% of the vote. All agreed however that something had to be done to check violence on the island, be it secessionist or simply criminal.
Raffarin had found a neat way of letting Chirac change course proposing that devolution would not set Corsica apart from the republic, but let it be a “precursor” for the government’s plans for general decentralization. Corsica could have greater say in its administration without flouting the constitutional ban on any such thing.
Did it work? One secessionist leader, Jean-Guy Talamoni, said there can be “no question of including Corsica, a historic nation that has known full sovereignty, in a general, uniform and French process of decentralization.” He also noted Raffarin would find it hard to meet the demands for an amnesty for “political prisoners” and for the assassin being hunted for the 1998 murder of the island’s prefect.
Talamoni was correct. Despite all the rhetoric that the French government has tried to use to show their understanding of Corsican sentiment, the process put into question as to what extent the republican project could adapt its discourse to accommodate territorial demands of recognition by Corsica. However, in the political discourse of the French government and other political parties there is hardly anything beyond a generic reference to the Corsican specificity or to the French diversity.
The references discussed regarding devolution were made from a functional approach; to improve the administration, to enhance local democracy, to strengthen the Republic, but they would not affect the Unitarian conception of the state and the nation, the so-called community of citizens.
For a wide range of political parties any institutional reform providing the Corsican assembly with political powers, whether in a legislative capacity, symbolical recognition or Corsican language in school, was regarded as a threat to the unity of the Republic.
Today little has changed with regard to the situation in Corsica. The modifications that came with the cultural and political reforms have placated the people of Corsica. Though the sentiment that they are not French and that French is not their heritage language remains strong, Corsicans remain divided over what they see in their future. Many want a separate nation, others are in favor of once again becoming Italian, and there are some who are fine with the status quo. Overall the majority of Corsican citizens favor little to do with France, which has been made clear by the struggle to return Corsican to the schools and the media and the islands day to day culture. Another sign of discontent is the island’s anti-French militant and secessionist movements that are still alive and well.
Unfortunately for now, the Corsicans will have to accept their fate. While France is among the first to cry out against human rights elsewhere and ready to vote on any U.N. resolution giving freedom to another nation’s “rogue” regions, it doesn’t give the same consideration to citizens who have a much stronger connection to Italian culture than French.
In the aftermath of centuries of struggle, the question will be whether the nationalist discourse will again be appealed by the Corsican Society enough to support their claims and place the Corsican question again on the French political agenda. In the meantime, French history revisionists and government leaders will have to always live with Corsican history, language, and culture reflecting a strong link to Italy and Italian heritage and culture.
Next month: The Corsican language.
Corsican: Pudete ripetela?
Italian: La podete ripetere?
English: Can you repeat that? IAH