Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 08:28 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - France : Corsicans

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - France : Corsicans, 2008, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Corsica is an island in the western Mediterranean. An estimated 150,000 people out of the 260,000 (this is the census figure, while the latest estimate of the INSEE as of January 2006 is 279,000) inhabitants speak the native language Corsu, which is an Italo-Romance language. The language is influenced by the Genoese dialect of Italian and by Tuscan, which became standard Italian. A distinct version of Genoese is spoken in the town of Bonifacio.

There is a large Corsican diaspora (estimated to be larger than the population of the island itself) working principally in mainland France, although also in the USA and former French colonies. There are around 50,000 French people living in Corsica, and a further 50,000 new immigrants from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy and Portugal. Algerians control the important wine-making industry. Farming and tourism are the main industries.

Historical context

Historically, Corsica has at various times fallen under Tuscan rule (1559), declared independence (1755) and been annexed by the French (1769). French was imposed as the only official language of education, the courts and administration, and culture. Corsu survived as an oral language, and Italian was banned. But French had little impact on the majority of the population until compulsory primary education in French was introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In 1962 some 18,000 'pieds noirs' (French former settlers from Algeria) were resettled in Corsica. Many of them became wine growers, and they now control the crucial viticulture industry. The other principal industry on the island is tourism, dominated by large companies.

The Corsican nationalist movement, beginning in the 1960s as a regionalist movement, became increasingly militant. In 1976 the Front de Libération Nationale de la Corse (FLNC - Corsican National Liberation Front) was formed, marking a split between separatist and autonomists in the Corsican nationalist movement. This organization, which took both its name and its programme from the Algerian independence movement, the FLN, demanded independence and the expulsion of the 'pieds noirs'.

From 1982 the FLNC targeted the 'continentaux' - people born in mainland France and living or working in Corsica - claiming responsibility for the destruction of large numbers of holiday homes. Although it was officially disbanded in 1983, the FLNC and its various offshoots, which emerged after an internecine conflict in 1990, have continued violent action to this day, despite a number of 'ceasefires'. A Cuncolta Naziunalista was established as a legal political front for the FLNC in 1987.

The extension of Corsica's special regional status in 1991 to give more local power over education only added fuel to the fire. The wording of the law mentioned the Corsican people, although the status of Corsu remained ill-defined, and this appeared to give some legitimacy to independence claims. However, the law was challenged by France's Constitutional Court, which ruled in 1993 that the law could go into effect provisionally but had to be reviewed after one or two years. It also censured the provision recognizing the existence of a 'Corsican people, a part of the French people', significantly weakening the symbolic impact of the law within Corsica. At the same time, it resulted in renewed claims from other linguistic minorities for similar special status. Violence peaked again in the mid- to late 1990s, including murders of nationalists and the assassination of the Préfet, France's highest official on the island, in 1998.

Current issues

In 2000, following lengthy discussions with elected Corsican representatives, the French government proposed the outline for a new special status law which would greatly extend regional powers to areas such as planning, economic development and education. A key feature was the facility to opt out or 'derogate' from national laws (although this did not extend power to adopt Corsican laws) under the close supervision of the French parliament in a first experimental phase. The assembly approved this law but the Senate amended it, watering down a number of provisions, notably on the teaching of Corsican in schools to stress its optional nature. The Constitutional Council found the provisions on the experimental power to derogate from national laws contrary to the constitution.

In a 2003 referendum Corsicans narrowly rejected proposals for the administrative reorganization of the island. Opinions differed as to the meaning of this no vote, as many were believed to have used this occasion to express their opposition to the French government's policies regarding Corsica. The rejection was also seen as an indication that there was little support for the violence perpetrated by some of the nationalist groups which had played a key role in the negotiations for a new statute. The 11 September 2001 events in the USA contributed to the decline in activities of these groups, although some have tried to capitalize on the social unrest in late 2005 as a result of government plans to privatize the ferry company SNCM (Société Nationale Corse-Méditerranée).

The Partitu di a Nazione Corsa, founded in 2002 by members of three nationalist parties, Unione di u Populu Corsu (UPC), A Scelta Nova and A Mossa Naziunale, advocates autonomy not independence and rejects violent action. Separatist nationalists of the Corsica Nazione grouping held 8 out of 51 seats in the regional Corsican Assembly from 1999-2004. Separatists now hold only three seats as a result of a pre-electoral coalition with pro-autonomy parties (although overall, the union list won 8 seats).

A declining number of young people speak Corsu as their first language despite an increasing use of Corsu in education. Almost all ethnic Corsicans speak French. There is a tendency to use French for formal matters and Corsu at home and in social contexts.

In 2002 it was estimated that the number of pupils studying Corsu was 21,400 at primary school, 7,400 at secondary school and 2,000 at lycées. In addition there were 2,000 pupils using the language as a medium of instruction in bilingual Corsu and French schools. In 2003 four more bilingual schools were opened. Magazines and one weekly newspaper are published in Corsu. State radio - and several private stations - broadcast partly in Corsu. Traditional music is thriving. There is a large number of cultural associations promoting the use of Corsu and knowledge about the culture.

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