Corsica’s Disco-Era Terrorists Finally Put Down Their Guns
The FLNC is finally giving up—on blowing stuff up
Corsica is best known beyond the island as retreat for wealthy Europeans who can afford a vacation villa. But the Mediterranean island and French région is also home to a violent separatist movement with members dressed up like a disco-era version of the Foot Clan.
Since 1977, the National Liberation Front of Corsica has waged a clandestine war against France punctuated by thousands of bomb attacks.
For decades, the group assassinated political officials, killed police officers and shot up French government offices with rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
But all of that now appears to be coming to an end. On June 25, the FLNC—as the group is known by its Corsican acronym—announced in an online communique that it’s giving up the struggle and shifting to peaceful politics. If the FLNC keeps to it, say goodbye to one of Europe’s smallest and longest micro-wars.
The FLNC didn’t mince words. “Without prior notification and without ambiguity, our organization has unilaterally decided to start a demilitarization process and a progressive exit from clandestine activities,” the group stated.
Tourists, terrorists and mobsters
The separatist FLNC is the most extreme expression of the divide between Corsica and the French mainland—exacerbated in the 1970s by the presence of French troops, and the government’s promotion of the French language over the native Corsican.
The FLNC was also a latecomer to the militant craze of that decade, and saw itself as a cousin to the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Basque terror group ETA.
Aside from hitting French government targets, the FLNC frequently targeted unoccupied vacation homes of wealthy mainlanders. In January 2013, the group blew up two dozen villas spread out across hundreds of miles in a coordinated attack.
About 40 percent of Corsica’s homes are owned by non-residents—many of them quite wealthy compared to the local Corsicans. This gives the FLNC an anti-development streak in addition to its quasi-Marxist and nationalist ideology.
But the FLNC’s decline has been a long time coming.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, the group began to splinter and its members started killing each other. Corsica’s powerful mafia clans—who give the island one of Europe’s highest homicide rates—also loves tourists who partake in plentiful amounts of mob-linked drugs, alcohol and prostitution.
Corsica also recently tightened up property regulations, requiring that buyers be a resident on the island for at least five years, which should slow development of fancy tourist villas. All of that combined may have undercut the FLNC’s support.
But there’s a larger phenomenon here. Europe is a different place than it was four decades ago. True, independence movements have picked up momentum. There’s been a revival of regional pride from Corsica to Catalonia and Brittany to Scotland.
But there are powerful counter-acting forces as well. National and regional identities are increasingly complex and globalized. Regional interests in Europe now have a voice in the Committee of the Regions, the European Union’s sub-national assembly, which didn’t exist 30 years ago.
The FLNC is also following in the footsteps of other separatist terror groups that have put down their weapons. The IRA gave up armed struggle in 2005. ETA likewise declared a permanent ceasefire in 2011.
Four years ago, journalist Xavier Crettiez of Le Monde saw the FLNC’s decline coming, and argued that the 9/11 attacks, the 2004 Madrid subway bombings and the 7/7 London bombings “strongly delegitimized the use of terrorist violence when it seems to have become—in the West, at least—the prerogative of the jihadi groups,” he wrote.
In short, the old-school guerrilla groups are going extinct.