Lost amid blanket coverage of the Ukrainian crisis, this month’s rioting on the French administered island of Corsica has slipped under the radar for most.
Taking the form of intense street level actions by Corsican separatists, the trigger for the upheaval was the stabbing and subsequent death of famed Corsican nationalist Yvan Colonna by a Cameroonian jihadist over the formers alleged disrespect to the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
An icon for Corsican separatists due to his role in the murder of top French official Claude Erignac and subseqeuent manhunt, Colonna was stabbed while imprisoned in Toulon on the 2nd of March this month.
Within a week the island, which nurtures a militant separatist tradition, witnessed extensive anti-Islamic tinged demonstrations aimed at symbols of French rule. Slipping into a coma before passing away 3 weeks later, allegations of state sponsored collusion and disrespect shown at Colonna’s funeral by French police have helped fuel the violence.
In particular Corsicans have taken exception to the fact that Colonna was left alone for some time with his murderer at a sports hall supposedly under 24 hour watch by prison wardens, with nationalists voicing accusations of state sponsored murder.
The initial round of rioting was followed by an announcement by Corsica’s erstwhile paramilitary group the National Liberation Front of Corsica that they would potentially recommence their armed campaign as a response.
Imagine if you would the murder of a senior H-Block hunger striker to conjure up the way in which this has gripped the public imagination on the island. Colonna was not just some random Corsican nationalist but The Corsican nationalist whose life story and even image provided the cultural backbone of the movement the past two decades.
Harbouring historic grievances with the centralised French state, support for independence lies at roughly 20-30% with separatist parties consistently getting stronger over the years.
Normally slow to concede to any demand for regionalism even the Paris government has been forced to consider giving the island greater powers of autonomy to help placate the mobs.
Not the first time the island has witnessed racially charged rioting, in 2015 Corsica experienced a minor anti-Islamic pogrom resulting in the burning of a local Islamic centre and street level fighting between Arabs and Cosican nationalists following an initial assault on local firefighters by Arabs.
Never quite reaching the incendiary heights of the Provisional campaign, Corsican nationalism is nevertheless a major headache for the Élysée government and is certainly without the marxist trappings found in Irish republicanism.
Corsica emerges from this dust up as a potential hotspot in any future conflict in the French Republic hosting a people and movement capable of defending its territorial and regional integrity.
With Western cameras facing East the events of the past month are a signifier of the likely impending destination of the entire French state in the years ahead.
Cover image by Argia.eu and used under Creative Commons