Thousands of supporters waved black and white flags, drank beer, smoked cigarettes and cheered exultantly after each speaker from the triumphant nationalist party Pè a Corsica (For Corsica) took turns on the podium to reiterate their call for greater autonomy from France. Its most prominent representative was Gilles Simeoni, Chairman of the Corsica Executive Council:
“We must establish a democratic power relationship with a government and a state that have never talked to us; that has gone from silence to hostility since the election of (French President) Emmanuel Macron.
“The struggle is entirely political now. We’re not aiming for independence now. We want self-government within France. We are not Catalonia.”
The nationalist movement which is pushing for secession from Spain won in a controversial referendum in Catalonia. It consequently sparked a constitutional crisis with Madrid and intensified tensions with the European Union.
However unlike the economically wealthy and prosperous region of Catalonia, Corsica depends heavily on financial aid and subsidies from France which led the Pè a Corsica party to seek autonomy or self-government instead of independence. Surveys have shown that the majority of Corsica’s 330,000 people prefer to remain with France.
Pè a Corsica won 56.5% of the votes while Macron’s La République en Marche only placed third with 12.7%. Participation was underwhelming with only 53% voting.
The road to the nationalists’ victory was paved two years ago when Simeoni joined forces with Corsica assembly speaker, Jean-Guy Talamoni who remarked that the French government should open negotiations immediately or face protests on the island.
Pè a Corsica declared its three demands to the French government: equal recognition for the Corsican language, amnesty for 30 nationalist fighters who are currently jailed as political prisoners and the institution of a special residency status for Corsica to keep foreigners from buying holiday homes on the island which is known as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Macron has yet to issue a statement regarding Pè a Corsica’s game-changing victory. However perhaps as a sign tensions are easing, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe contacted Simeoni and congratulated him on the win and expressed assurances they will soon meet in Paris.
Corsica and France have had a violent history which culminated in the assassination of the island’s French prefect, Claude Erignac, in 1998.