Corsicans Fed Up With Deadly Nationalist Feud on Rocky Island
SAINTE LUCIE DE PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica (AP) _ Mayor Sebastien Roca Serra was driving home to this sleepy coastal town when buckshot shattered the rear window of his Lancia and wounded him in the arm.
Roca Serra was luckier than Paul Carlotti, who was shot dead outside his home in Corte two days later. He was the 11th Corsican nationalist to die this year in a bitter rivalry among militant separatists that increasingly is resembling mob warfare on this rugged French Mediterranean island.
``We’re in a spiral of violence. It’s a battle of chiefs,″ said Marie-France Pianelli, spokeswoman for the South Corsica General Council, the regional assembly.
Two months before those attacks, the violence took on the trappings of a Wild West shootout when nationalist Pierre Albertini and one of several attackers killed each other in the port of Bastia.
Motives for shootings, bombings and arson often remain murky on Corsica, about the size of Puerto Rico and home to 250,000 people. Guns are a tradition here, the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, and anti-colonial antagonism lingers on an island invaded by the Romans, Greeks, Italians and finally the French.
But most of the violence is believed linked to factions of the Front for the National Liberation of Corsica, a movement that has been seeking independence for 20 years.
Separatists won support by bombing empty vacation villas to stop Riviera-style overdevelopment and blowing up government buildings. But their popularity has waned since Paris began granting greater local powers, and Corsicans are increasingly angry about bloodshed to settle old scores.
Roca Serra, whose city hall was bombed in 1992 and whose daughter’s car was found booby-trapped with explosives last year, is demanding the national government do something about ``the problem of daily violence.″
Neither the mayor nor local news media have determined why he was targeted Oct. 26, but local political intrigue is suspected.
``You don’t know anymore who is who, who does what. Anything goes,″ a shaken Roca Serra told the local newspaper Corse-Matin after he was shot at. He has turned down other interviews.
An arson fire at the offices of a teachers school in late October by a little-known group demanding educational reform sparked a protest against the violence by students and teachers.
``People are increasingly fed up,″ said Valerie Gonzalez, a 24-year-old aspiring teacher who was among the 150 demonstrators. ``It’s entered into the Corsican culture.″
Philippe Castellin, 40, a philosophy teacher, said: ``It’s become a means of response. If you’re not happy, you blow something up.″
The nationalist movement has become victim of its own success. The French government has granted the island’s assembly the power to set economic, environmental and educational policies, although it cannot enact laws.
Corsican, a Tuscan dialect, accompanies French on road signs and in classrooms, and Paris pumps development aid to the island.
Paris also has responded to the bombings of vacation villas and hotels that militants considered blots on the environment for marring the coastline or violating zoning rules. The government tore down one of those hotel complexes in October, vowing to fight illegal construction.
As a legacy of the bombings, insurance agencies decline coverage for coastal vacation homes in ``sensitive″ areas.
That doesn’t seem to have lessened demand. A lot of new villas are under construction along the coast, but the builders are now paying attention to zoning guidelines.
Horace Santoni, a leader of the A Cuncolta party linked to one of the FLNC wings, says the regional assembly ``has only administrative responsibilities″ and he still wants a Corsica ``that can vote its own laws.″ But he and most nationalists have chosen to work within the system.
After nationalist moderates were elected to the assembly, armed groups found themselves on the fringes and often at odds. They began accusing each other of drug trafficking and other crimes.
For the public, militants who once charged businesses ``revolutionary taxes″ are now seen as degenerating into gangs demanding protection money. Some people speculate that at least some of the violence stems from rivalries between businesses linked to nationalist groups.
However, some Corsicans allege that French police have infiltrated the groups to provoke violence that will divide and weaken the nationalist movement.
Some experts say the lack of economic opportunity is a major factor behind the separatist movement.
Corsicans’ jobs largely depend on tourism, so many have employment only during the summer. Though unemployment runs at about 12 percent _ not much more than the national average _ the French government economic institute INSEE estimates 60 percent of Corsicans’ income is from government aid.
Tourism has been down recently, but largely due to France’s recession and the weakness of the lira keeping away Italians. The island, with its spectacular rocky red coastline and remote mountain villages hewn from granite, still doubles in population during the summer months.
Gonzalez, the would-be teacher, said she understood how some youths join militant groups. ``Corsica is a poor island. When young people see people in fancy cars and houses during the vacation season, they’re frustrated.″
Still, says Edmond Simeoni, a leader of a protest in Aleria that led to the formation of the separatist movement, the militants have disenchanted supporters.
``Little by little they cut themselves off from the people,″ he said.