Location: French island in western Mediterranean
Population: 112,000 (1978)
% of population: between 50%-65%
Language: Dialect of Italian
The Corsicans are the Italian dialect-speaking inhabitants of the island of Corsica which was ruled by various Italian states for 1,300 years before being bought by France in 1768 after a brief period of independence. In 1900 the population was native Corsican but there are now substantial Sardinian, Moroccan, French Algerian and French communities on the island, and over 400,000 Corsicans have now emigrated in search of work. Today more Corsicans live and work in mainland France than in Corsica, and there is some uncertainty over the proportion of Corsicans in the population; although 50% is a commonly quoted figure the 1975 census gave 64% with a further 13% of mixed Corsican-French parentage.
Corsica’s economy is heavily dependent on viticulture and tourism. The industries are not controlled by Corsicans and the traditional Corsican hos-telries have largely been replaced by hotel chains. The vineyards are now almost completely owned by non-Corsicans as a result of a scheme to resettle Algerian colons on agricultural land with low mortgages not available to Corsicans. Whereas in 1960 90% of the workforce was Corsican, by 1978 the figure had dropped to only 30% and there were plans for the import of more non-Corsicans to expand the tourist industry.
Protest movements have grown since the 1960s and several groups are legally recognized, of which Union pour la Corse (UPC) was the most important political party. Other, illegal, organizations, notably the Front National de la Corse (FLNC), have been chiefly responsible for the growth of violence which resulted in hundreds of bomb explosions each year, mainly directed against foreign-owned property. Whilst various French governments have condemned all violent attempts at separatism some concessions have been made, notably the establishment of a cheaper transport system to the mainland and the provision of cheaper agricultural land to Corsican farmers. Corsican protest groups have demanded the removal of the three foreign legion posts on the island, the expulsion of the colons and the re-distribution of land, and more Corsican involvement in the tourist industry.
During the 1970s separatist violence grew but the government of Giscard d’Estaing refused to grant special status to the island although it promised more funds with which to overcome economic inequalities. The Socialist government after its election in 1981 promised a special statute for Corsica which would give it more autonomy than was granted to other regions and would include a popularly elected regional assembly controlling land transactions, employment and broadcasting. Demands for compulsory bilingualism and the reservation of jobs for Corsicans were rejected, however. The Assembly was first elected in August 1982 since when there have been several elections due to the absence of a stable majority. There have been many problems in its operation but nevertheless it does appear to have defused some of the tensions and a 1983 poll showed that 93% of Corsicans wanted the island to remain French whilst only 4% said that it should become independent. (In the elections only 10% of Corsicans voted for separatist parties.) Terrorist groups continued to operate, but they lost much public sympathy when they altered their policy in favour of attacking people rather than property. In 1983 the FLNC was banned after the killing of a French immigrant and it is since reported to be relying for support partially on criminal “protection money”. There have also been terrorist attacks by pro-French immigrant groups, and the tourist industry has suffered as a result of the bombings.
Corsica’s problems remain those of any isolated area with a narrow economic base. The unemployment rate is 10% higher than the national average and the area is heavily dependent on pension and welfare payments.