French politicians were taken aback when Corsican nationalists won December regional elections by a landslide, according to AFP. The Corsican public has long expressed frustration with such issues as a downtrodden economy, lack of autonomy, and North African immigration.
Corsica's unemployment rate stands at 11 percent, slightly higher than France's national average, and youth unemployment remains high. Corsica is an island off the coast of Italy, but annexed by France in 1768.
According to recent surveys, roughly two-thirds of Corsicans prefer independence from France but most are realistic enough to conclude that their small island would struggle financially. Corsica hopes to follow the likes of Catalonia and Scotland in regards to an independence referendum, but the small island has neither the wealth nor the natural resources to maintain a healthy state.
Tourism plays a critical role in the economy, and the island has a reputation for exporting such goods as honey and chestnuts, but those exports prove insufficient to attain full autonomy without help from France. The growing resentment between the French and Corsicans is one that stretches back centuries, as many people on the island view France as an occupying Nation.
Corsica has its own traditions and culture, including a native language, which is a combination of French and Italian, and citizens feel as though France and immigrants threaten their way of life. Corsica has a history of rabid nationalism going back to the 1970s, when armed insurgents instigated a bloody battle against France for independence.
With that, the bombings and assassinations have only ended as recently as 2014, and today's nationalists want to show a more friendly face to the public and world at large, stressing a Corsican identity without the strain of violence. The French government opposes the idea of independence, but it has supported local government autonomy under certain circumstances. However, France underestimates rising anger from the populace, and immigrants find themselves used as scapegoats.
Hostilities toward Arabs became all too apparent as many natives marched the streets over the weekend, in response to attacks on Corsican firefighters blamed on the Arab community. The protests mostly occurred through the island's poor areas, with some protesters vandalizing property and burning copies of the Koran, and the natives had called for the removal of Arabs from the island.
Although many protesters deny accusations of racism and xenophobia, there is no denying the racially tinged rhetoric, and societal and political tensions will grow worse if the economy does not improve. To the government's credit, new President Gilles Simeoni has vowed to tackle corruption and the high rate of joblessness, but it remains to be seen if new leadership can translate rhetoric into action.