Corsican nationalists blow up Parisian banker’s villa
Corsica, a beautiful Mediterranean island, continues to be bedeviled by a bombing campaign, as a villa belonging to a Parisian banker was attacked on June 2, 2012, causing significant damage but no injuries. Three armed men wearing balaclavas stormed the holiday home of retired financier Alain Lefebvre in broad daylight, ordered the banker and six of his guests to evacuate the property, and then planted and detonated explosives inside the home. Shortly after the blast, Lefebvre and the other occupants of the villa, frazzled but otherwise unharmed, were released.
The raiders are believed to be members of the Corsican National Liberation Front: its initials FNLC were found scrawled on several walls. The group, which demands an independent Corsican state, has a history of blowing up holiday homes of investors from the French mainland, Italy, and other countries, especially those who build on the edge of the beach. The group claimed responsibility for nearly twenty such attacks around the island carried out on May 11, referred to as a “blue night”. Lefebvre himself was targeted in earlier attacks in 1990 and 2001.
The motivation behind this bombing campaign is the fear that Corsica would become like Spain’s Costa del Sol or France’s Cote d’Azur, with tourist-oriented infrastructure ruining the coastline. Lefebvre and his villa, located near Bonifacio on the southern tip of the island, have been at the centre of a protracted legal dispute with local environmental groups, but a court had recently sided with the banker, allowing him to build a dozen new holiday homes in the area around the picturesque Balistra beach. While not all Corsicans condone the bombings, many local environmental groups side with the terrorists: Vincente Cucchi, president of one such group, told reporters that he “cannot condemn this latest attack”. The violence may be in the name of environmental protection but it is also fuelled by the long-held antipathy that some Corsicans harbor towards outsiders known as “continentals”, especially from the French mainland and Italy. This resentment is deepened by the fact that many inhabitants of the island, which has long been one of France’s poorest regions, can no longer afford the rocketing property prices. Nearly 80% of homes on Corsica are now bought by outsiders.
However, nationalist feelings in Corsica have deep historical and linguistic roots going back at least to the 18th century. After a quarter of a century of struggle, an independent Corsican Republic was formed in 1755 under the leadership of Pasquale Paoli, but in 1770 Corsica was incorporated into France. Unlike most other regions of France, Corsica has retained its own language, known as corsu or lingua corsa. When Corsica became part of France, many members of the Corsican elite refused to learn French, among them Letizia Buonaparte, mother of Napoleon I, who himself spoke with a marked Corsican accent. To a French ear, Corsican sounds more Italian than French; linguists too place Corsican in the South Romance grouping, together with most dialects of central and southern Italy (see the Wiki chart on the left). The affinity of Corsican and Italian can also be seen from a comparison of the Italian, Corsican, and French texts of the “Pater Noster” prayer in the table below.
Italian Corsican French Padre nostro che sei nei cieli,
sia santificato il tuo Nome,
venga il tuo Regno,
sia fatta la tua Volontà
come in cielo così in terra.
Dacci oggi il nostro pane quotidiano,e rimetti a noi i nostri debiti
come noi li rimettiamo ai nostri debitori,
e non ci indurre in tentazione,
ma liberaci dal Male.
Patre Nostru chì sì in celu,
ch’ellu sia santificatu u to nome;
ch’ellu venga u to regnu,
ch’ella sia fatta a to vuluntà,
in terra cum’è in celu.
Dacci oghjeghjornu u nostru pane cutidianu,
è rimettici i nostri debbiti,
cum’è no i rimettimu à i nostri debbitori.
Un ci induce micca in tentazione,
ma francaci da u male.
Notre Père qui es aux cieux,
que ton Nom soit sanctifié,
que ton Règne arrive,
que ta Volonté soit faitesur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain quotidien.
Remets-nous nos dettes comme nous-mêmes avons remis à nos débiteurs.
Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,
mais délivre-nous du Mauvais.
Since the incorporation of Corsica into France in the late 18th century, French has dominated the media and commerce, and in 1853 it was introduced to Corsican schools. As a result, nearly all Corsicans today speak French, though not all of them natively. The use of Corsican has been declining: in 1980 about 70% of the population had some command of the language, while just ten years later the percentage declined to 50%, with only 10% using it as a first language. Unsurprisingly, the use of Corsican is at its highest in connection with traditional activities, such as polyphonic singing (70-80% of those participating), and in hunting and fishing (60-70%), whereas in church it is down to 11% and in night clubs to 4%. In recent years, the French government reversed its non-supportive stand and implemented some strong measures to save the Corsican language, but whether these initiatives will succeed remains to be seen. Nonetheless, linguistic nationalism remains strong, as can be seen from the defaced road signs in the Wiki image on the left.
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