For the French version, click here.
Introduction: A border is born
There is no natural border between peoples. The boundaries that divide our representations of the earth are all historically constructed objects, which have acquired their present meaning under complex circumstances. The phenomenon of national construction was and remains one of the most powerful vectors of this border imaginary. But how are borders born in the collective mind? Who decides that the sea surrounding an island will suddenly act as a separation, rather than a link, between a people and the rest of the world?
I chose to focus on the recent history of Corsica because it offers an illustration of a quick construction of the idea of being a distinct people, even if this new frontier has no political materiality. The study of this specific case will allow us both to understand the dynamics and forces involved in the process of building a border and to question this notion of frontier in an original way.
Corsica is a mountainous island located between France and Italy. After several centuries of occupation by Genoa and then Pisa, it experienced a brief episode of independence during the 18th century (which inspired the American constitution), before being annexed by France in 1769. Corsica remains French to this day. French supremacy on the island were not always well lived: the State stigmatized and prohibited for a long time the use of the Corsican language to ensure the monopoly of French, it did little for the economic and industrial development of the island (which remains to this day the poorest in France) and even less to enhance local cultural events. These practices, described as real violence by later nationalists, fed a frustration which did not find major political expression until the end of the 1960s.
A fundamental break occurred in the 1970s. Until then, the idea of forming a Corsican people, just like the idea of a Corsican culture, did not make sense: Corsica was, in the eyes of its inhabitants and their fellow metropolitan countrymen, just one French region among others. Thirty years later, the feeling of belonging to a radically specific people, with an internationally recognized culture, language and history, seems to be widely shared by the three hundred thousand islanders: a frontier has emerged in the local imagination between what is ‘Corsican’ and what is not. The idea of a frontier implicates the representation of an interior and an exterior structuring the Corsican relationship to the world. This new vision of the world can be found among others in the diffusion and generalization of slogans rejecting outside (‘fora’) Corsica everything considered as contrary to the construction of a ‘thriving common future’. One could hear in political conversations or read on militant inscriptions : ‘I francesi fora‘ (‘The French out’), ‘Culoni fora‘ (‘The settlers out’), ‘A droga fora’ (‘Drugs out’) or more recently, with the rise of racism, ‘Arabi fora‘ (‘The Arabs out‘). The national idea, even if it has not lead to an independent nation-state, has thus made its way into the collective mindset, to the point that some commentators speak of ‘nationalist hegemony’ in contemporary Corsica. The existence of a Corsican identity seems so obvious that many regard it as natural and self-evident.
To understand how nationalist ideas emerged and became generalized during this short period, one must begin by exposing the global, national and local context.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the last great wave of decolonization. After the liberation of French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa (1960), Algeria gained independence in 1962 with a long and traumatic war. In 1975, the liberation of Mozambique and Angola marked the end of Europe’s oldest colonial empire. At the same time, in Latin America, various guerrillas fought against US interference. The Non-Aligned Movement and Third Worldism, although aborted, remain present in the minds of all those seeking their place in the bipolar world of the Cold War.
Moreover, the legitimacy of centralized European states and the effectiveness of their mode of governance are being questioned, due to the end of the ‘trente glorieuses’ (thirty years of stable growth and full employment) and the beginnings of mass unemployment. In these circumstances, there is a ‘reawakening’ of national minorities who are beginning or accentuating their revolt against the State in which they claim to be oppressed. In the Basque Country, Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Catalonia and Sardinia, regionalist or nationalist groups arise.
At the same time, the global protest movement that shook France in 1968 contributed to putting forward the so-called post-materialist demands (feminism, queer movement, ecology…), claiming both economic equality and the right to recognition. This movement also advocated a return to the land, which would have a wide echo in Corsica.
At the same time, in Corsica, the first autonomist demands arose in the 1960s, which were at first strictly economic in nature, gradually structured around nascent political organizations (FRC and ARC). These parties denounced the ineffectiveness of the public policies put in place for the island’s development and pointed the finger at the responsibility of the rulers for the disastrous economic situation of the island, which forced most of its working population to flee to the mainland. These parties are called nationalists because they want to endow the (Corsican) nation with a sovereign state on the national territory, or at least they intend to give the ‘Corsican people’ the power to self-determine themselves (even if this remains under the bosom of the French state).
The first massive popular movements took place on the occasion of ecological scandals (such as the mud dumped by the Italian company Montedison off the island). The pharaonic agricultural and tourism development projects planned by the state after so many years of abandonment of the island also provoked a wave of protest against the concreteization of the coastline and the exploitation of nature: ‘Corsican people became aware of their united intersted’, according to nationalist rethoric.
It is in this context of political and social tension that the Riacquistu (literally the ‘re-appropriation’, meaning the a culture expropriated by France) was born, ‘a cultural movement of re-appropriation by the Corsicans of their identity.’ 1 Since the end of the 19th century, some pioneers tried among other things to revalorize the Corsican language, via newspapers such as A tramuntana (1896), A Cispra (1914) then A Muvra (1920) or by the writing of a dictionary (U Muntese) in the 1950s.
The Riacquistu movement, also known as ‘A leva di u settanta’ (the uprising of the 1970s), intends, to sum up in the words of one interviewee, ‘to rediscover Corsican culture and traditions that have disappeared or are in perdition’ in order to know ‘its origins’ and to to base a self-determined future on this ‘solid foundation’. As an example, the Corsican language, until then mostly oral, was given a specific grammar and spelling (notably with the founding work of Paul Marchetti and Dumenicu-Antonu Geronimi, Intricciate è cambierine, 1971). This formalization of the language opens the way to a unified Corsican literature, carried by authors such as Ghjacumu Fusina or Ghjacumu Thiers.
‘The Riacquistu is a cultural movement of re-appropriation by the Corsicans of their identity’
The actors of this popular, spontaneous and protean movement are post-war borned young people studying on the mainland. Most of them are directly inspired by May 1968. The political demands correlated with this effort to ‘re-appropriate a culture expropriated’ by the French state are related to the autonomist movement that later found massive institutional political expression via classical parties, until 2014 when they obtained an absolute majority in the Assembly of Corsica.
This study focuses on the cultural actors of the Riacquistu, in particular the musicians who played a preponderant role in it, and only briefly alludes to the French State policies vis-à-vis Corsica. However, let us keep in mind that the French State, by its hesitant actions, alternating between disproportionate repression, categorical refusal of dialogue, partial opening and total withdrawal from the ‘Corsican problem’, 2 has largely contributed to determine the local reactions and cultural manifestations we will been looking at.
Moreover, this is not an attempt to make a general history of Corsican nationalism. More modestly, it is a matter of understanding how the idea of Corsican people and very own culture made its way and imposed itself between the beginning of the 1970s and the end of the 1990s. To do so, it will first be necessary to study Riacquistu’s founding acts, to analyze the paths and intentions of the actors and try to understand what led them to reinvent the Corsican tradition in this particular way (I). Then, we will have to show to what extent the relationship with the « Other » was fundamental in the genesis of this new identity wanted by the Riacquistu (II). After establishing the local and global dynamics that jointly determined this movement, we will try to situate and decompose this new frontier between what is Corsican and what is not, to better reveal its limits, grey areas and exclusions.
This thematic plan does not evade the chronological dimension, which is reproduced within each part. The argument follows a logical and analytical progression. Yet it is possible to read the sections in any order without too much prejudice to the understanding of the whole.
Sources and Method
This research, following oral history methodology, is based on testimonies and analyses collected during fifteen interviews, ranging in length from thirty minutes to three hours. The sample of interviewees are not representative of the entire Corsican population but it seeks to include various profiles, experiences and opinions on Riacquistu. The interviewees are both central figures of this movement (artists, thinkers), critical actors, or simple direct witnesses. We have chosen to systematically anonymize the respondents: even if some of them had no objection to being quoted explicitly, this option allowed us to ensure freedom of speech. Indeed, this is still a burning subject where many people were related, in one way or another, to clandestinity and illegality. Corsican was the language most used during the interviews. There were two reasons for this: Corsican offered both a point of entry into this group where language is a powerful sign of belonging and gave a better understanding of the subtleties of this recent history which was conducted and told in Corsican. Ignoring this language in the study would have caused significant losses. The interviews, conducted in person or remotely, were in most cases recorded and transcribed to constitute accessible and reusable sources. These interviews were the raw material of the study. They infuse and support the whole reflection and are always present, at least in the background, even if they are not always explicitly cited for reasons of space availability. However, the study was not limited to this primary source.
The musical work of the emblematic Riacquistu group, Canta u populu corsu (which will be called Canta in the argument) was also a primary (and sometimes secondary) source analyzed and exploited. I draw up a fifty song corpus in consultation with a former figure of the group and during discussions with the interviewees. These very famous songs strongly influenced mentalities and they are often quoted in everyday life. I studied their textual content, their musical composition, their presentation to and reception by the public. The statistics and graphs inserted below are based on this corpus.
In addition to some sociological and historical studies, it is worth noting the use that has been made the regional television channel archives, France 3 Corse. Among others, we can mention the program Tempi Fà, Tempi D’Oghje directed by Pierre-Jean Luccioni, Per un dettu animated by Petru Leca, or the documentary Natale Luciani. Cresce a voce produced by Mareteraniu. France Bleu RCFM radio program Un ghjornu, una canzona presented by Marc’Andria Castellani also helped this work.
I. Reinventing tradition
A brief history of Canta u populu corsu
In 1973, four men (Jean-Paul Poletti, Petru Guelfucci, Saveriu Valentini and Minicale) founded Canta u populu corsu (i.e Corsican people singing). This group was, at least between 1973 and 1983, the emblem and the driving force of the Riacquistu. Its role within Corsican nationalism was central. The immense popularity and considerable influence of the group within Corsican society justifies devoting a significant part of the present study to it. Canta set itself the objective of ‘representing the Corsican people, to carry its claims of equality and self-determination and to always be a witness of the evolution of the Corsican society’, one of its former members told us. Canta initiated a wave of musical and artistic creations. The numerous Corsican musical formations born later are more or less explicitly in line with the founding gesture of Canta.
Canta’s political role also consisted in being the spokesman of the clandestine action of the ‘national liberation struggle’. Several of its musicians, starting with Natale Luciani were active and high-ranking members of the Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC). In addition, most of the profits from Canta concerts were used to support prisoners from the movement and to finance the armed struggle. Furthermore, the strength of this group in Corsican society between 1973 and the end of the 1980s must be emphasized: all the interviewees and sources collected agree on the enormous influence of the group’s cultural productions and positions. Canta’s shows were major events attracting a very large audience, in an island where cultural action generally suffers of the small public. The songs they composed quickly became essential classics. Plus, Canta’s lyrics not only changed minds in the long term, but also brought direct changes in daily life, in individual and collective behavior. For example, some former militants confess that their commitment to the armed struggle owed much to the song « Clandestinu ». The power of music is not to be underestimated. Melodies play an important role as a political vector: by getting into the minds of listeners, even those most hostile to nationalism surprise themselves singing the choruses of Canta.
Let’s briefly review the genesis and key dates of this group.
The first desire of the founders was to preserve the traditional Corsican songs. Armed with tape recorders, the founders of Canta, then a collective (and not a music group yet), roamed the Corsican valleys in search of the oral heritage in perdition. They were directly inspired by the ethno-musicographic work of Felix Quilicci, who had already undertaken to inventory and record certain traditional songs. But Canta goes further, as they also wish to promote a living Corsican culture, anchored on the rediscovered remaining traditions, but definitely modern, innovative and proud of itself. The early days of the collective are marked by an effervescence of semi-professional singers. ‘In the beginning everyone could go on stage and sing. Canta was not a group, it was a collective that offered a stage to all Corsicans,’ says a former member.
The title of the first album, Eri, oghje, dumane (i.e Yesterday, today, tomorrow), released in 1975, sums up the ‘riacquisitive’ approach of Canta. This record is mainly composed of traditional songs. Its success is ambivalent. The Corsican public, mostly urban, is surprised to hear these so-called traditional village songs with ‘Arab sounds’ (as an anti-Riacquistu old woman told me). The making of this first record entirely in Corsican is like a shock wave. Former Corsican singers, such as Tino Rossi, were rather trying to compose Neapolitan melodies and they often used French. The second record, Libertà (1976, meaning Freedom), released in the year of the FLNC’s birth, confirms the strong politicization of the group and claims the need to fight through clandestinity, in a vibrant anti-colonialist rhetoric. Between 1977 and 1979, four new albums consecrated Canta’s popularity. The attachment to the land, its beauty and immaculate purity, stands with political demands and the exaltation of belonging to a united people. Festa Zitellina (1979, literally Children’s Festival), which presents some twenty-six nursery rhymes sung by children, is intended as proof of the massification of nationalist ideas and the vitality of a language that many predicted would soon disappear.
A singing school for young people, the Scola di Cantu, was founded in 1981 at the instigation of the group. It has trained a considerable number of musicians at the forefront of the current Corsican cultural scene. The same year, Poletti and Guelfucci left the group to pursue their musical career elsewhere.
With the live at the Théâtre de la Ville (1981) in Paris, Canta enters a new era. This concert, the first on a major stage outside Corsica, obliges a certain professionalism. Not everyone can sing anymore, the effervescence and spontaneity of the early days is replaced by a more structured organization of the group, notably around the figure of Natale Luciani, cumulating the functions of treasurer, manager, composer and musician.
But the year 1981 also marks a political break. The decentralization undertaken by president François Mitterand and the negotiation of a first special status for Corsica constitute a first partial victory for the claims of self-determination. The new Assembly of Corsica was quickly granted more extensive prerogatives than the other French regions.
The beginning of the 1980s also saw distancing between the nationalist political parties and those now called, not without contempt, the ‘cultural’ ones. The spread of this term in autonomist and pro-independence discourse heralded the marginalization of Canta, which always refused to be subservient to any precise party.
With Ci hè dinù (‘There are also…’, 1982), Canta proclaims its solidarity with other struggling people and calls for international cooperation.
In 1983, the State made a repressive turn against the nationalists: as part of the anti-terrorist struggle, Natale Luciani, whose commitment to bombings had intensified, was arrested and imprisoned. This ‘adventure’, as he calls it, considerably hinders the activity of the group, which no longer produces any titles and withdraws from the limelight in favor of other emerging groups such as I Chjami Aghjalesi, A filletta or I Muvrini.
The liberation of Natale Luciani in 1989 brought a short-lived revival to the group. The album Sintineddi (1995) is its last great success. But Canta has lost its aura. It is powerless in the face of the fratricidal war raging between the different nationalist movements, in a context of collusion between organized crime and the clandestine armed struggle.
The beginning and end dates of the Riacquistu are not well defined. Some argue the Riacquistu still goes on. Other claim there are three Riacquistu waves. One fact remains certain: the period of intense cultural production started in the 1970s is ended.
In 1998, violence culminated on the island with the assassination of the prefect Claude Érignac. It can be said that this act, severely condemned by the Corsican population, discredited (for a time) the nationalist movement and shifted the center of attention to issues other than the cultural question.
What to save?
The concept of invented tradition developed by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger proves to be very useful to understand the Riacquistu which claims a return to the authenticity of the Corsican culture. The invention of tradition does not mean that it is created from scratch, but rather that it is freely inspired by the past: what it keeps and what it invents depend on the ends pursued by the actors. The main characteristic of this process of inventing tradition is the reuse and instrumentalization of fragments of a relatively fantasized past to serve very contemporary ends and to enable social change. Let us note, moreover, that the simple fact of re-actualizing, exhuming, and rehabilitating certain old values or practices already consists in a modification of this past, insofar as the historical circumstances are different. The conditions of reception having changed, the meaning attributed to a rediscovered practice cannot be identical.
We will therefore try to understand what recompositions were applied by the actors of Riacquistu to this past, what selections were made and why.
The phenomenon of the invention of tradition is a product of modernity: its primary utility is to « reintroduce places of reference, stable landmarks in a world subject to change and confronted with a certain social vacuum. » In Corsica, the creativity of the invented tradition in fact consecrates the decline of past ways of living, the end of ‘true’ traditions and ancestral customs. At the moment when traditions are most put forward and valued, they disappear completely from the daily life of Corsicans. The culture is replaced by folklore, the habits and customs disappear while the pomp and the figure of the Corsican culture prosper.
Moreover, Eric Hobsbawm explains how this phenomenon has been a fundamental element in the construction of nation-states since the 19th century. 3 We will therefore try to uncover his involvement in the emergence of a national imagined community.
Polyphonic songs, and in particular paghjelle, are a rehabilitated tradition that will serve as a paradigmatic example to illustrate this process.
Paghjelle are songs of six verses of eight syllables, with three male vocal registers. They are slow, powerful, extremely solemn songs, often versed in pathos, often sung in very precise ritual settings, and playing a strong social role in agro-pastoral society. The techniques vary from one village or valley to another and they seem to be completely absent in some micro-regions. They were used as vectors of expression, often leaving room for improvisation. But after World War II, a lot of people left the villages of the hinterland in order to find economic opportunities elsewhere. Corsican village ‘customs’ were discredited and they lost any interest. During the 1960s, the paghjelle hardly resonated any more than in the communes of Rusiu, Sermanu, Tagliu-Isulacciu and Pietra di Verde. Most of the « versi » (melodies, ways of singing) remaining at the time Canta began his ethno-musicographic work are indeed concentrated in the micro-region of Bozziu. By going to meet the last owners of this dying tradition, by learning from them and by offering them a place in the first albums, Canta will give a new breath to the paghjelle. Many groups and singers imitated them, making paghjelle the ultimate symbol of Corsican culture, even though these songs had ever been performed in a limited number of villages and in very particular contexts. From the 1980s onwards, ‘the renewed polyphonic singing became a powerful instrument of socialization for the young generation.’ 4
The rehabilitation of this tradition leads to consequent changes in the practices of these songs: indeed, the reinvention of tradition is a tool for social innovation, even if its promoters claim a return to a lost authenticity.
The Riacquistu thus proceeds to a deep recomposition of the island’s cultural landscape and lead to many rediscoveries. Yet, they did not exhumed all the Corsican traditions in order to pass them on to posterity. The question therefore arises of unconscious or voluntary criteria discriminating between the saved traditions and those abandoned. Why has popular theater almost disappeared while religious brotherhoods have experienced a significant revival? Why such a drive around the production and cooking of chestnuts, the basis of food since the Genoese, and not around other central crops? In the field of singing, why are the chjami è rispondi, voceri or madrigale (three other forms of singing) in danger of extinction while the pagjhelle thrives? Why have songs of love and macagna (a popular humor in Corsica) rarefied in favor of solemn or even pathetic songs?
Most of the interviewees answer this by evoking the technical difficulty of certain songs, the modern demands of the public who do not wish, for example, to hear interminable laments.
There is no doubt that the success or failure of each product and practice is due to a complex set of circumstances. The reintroduction of certain so-called traditional songs by Canta, such as Sunate lu cornu or A Palatina is also related to an adequacy between the content of these texts (calling for revolt against the Genoese or French armies) and the present nationalist claims. But this strictly political instrumentalization is not enough to explain all the cultural reappropriations.
As a matter of fact, it is possible to notice a characteristic peculiar to most of the traditions highlighted by the Riacquistu: exceptionality. The traditions and symbolic forms most emphasized are those that would express a form of ‘absolute specificity’ 5 of Corsica. The Riacquistu participated in building what Jean-Louis Fabiani calls a ‘myth of cultural autarky’. Such a myth, related to national pride, is only possible by implying the rupture between Corsica and its global environment. Even if ‘insularity does not imply non-insertion in a space of interactions’. Indeed, ‘the banner of authenticity […] contributes to producing fictions that exclude the multiple operations of hybridization from which cultural forms are constituted.’ 6
This search for what would make Corsica original and unique, and thus confer immense dignity to its culture, is not only found in the musical field. The interest in singularity and the negation of resemblances dominates various fields, arts and disciplines.
For example, a former guitarist from Canta talks about his organic chemistry thesis on an endemic island plant, with particular therapeutic values. In linguistics, a professor mockingly evokes the vague attempts of some activists to show that Corsican had nothing in common with Tuscan and was in itself an independent linguistic family (which is of course an absurdity, the two languages are so similar that it is possible to make oneself understood in Italy by speaking exclusively Corsican). The same attempt to singularize Corsican culture by insisting on or reducing it to its most original manifestations can be noticed in architecture, gastronomy, theology, geology, archaeology, literature… A procession of scientists and experts inspired by the Riacquistu have thus participated, since the 1980s, in founding this so vivacious myth of exceptionality and cultural autarky.
The hybridization between scholarship and popular culture makes this period a time of artistic effervescence contrasting with previous decades. Poets, novelists and academics such as Ghjacumu Fusina and Ghjacumu Thiers wrote the most popular songs of Canta, illustrating the powerful links between the scholarly world and popular movements in this boiling age.
The international creation of national identities
The invented tradition may well claim its exceptionality and authenticity, but it is worth noting the banality of this phenomenon. Indeed, many nations were constructed using it. Furthermore, the myth of authenticity and the feeling of belonging to an imagined community are built thanks to tools circulating across the borders they help to erect. The creation of national identities by elites or by certain specific groups responds to a very precise checklist, which almost all nations under construction take up and complete. The attempt at Corsican national construction is no exception to this recurrent pattern: the nationalists draw their inspiration largely from the nationalist movements of the nineteenth century (one can note the resemblance between the Riacquistu and the Italian Risorgimento) and contemporary independence movements. It is undeniable that the comparison is limited, since the Corsicans did not have a State apparatus that could impose the idea of nationhood as effectively. Nevertheless, parallels are present in the minds of Corsican nationalists who seek to reproduce processes that have proved successful elsewhere, adapting them to the local context. Thus, it is possible to identify the use of a veritable ‘kit for the making of national identities’, to paraphrase Anne-Marie Thiesse.7 The nationalists want to create a national narrative postulating the fixity, the cohesion of the Corsican people and its constant resistance against the numerous invasions, as well as the rigorous teleological continuity from the Iron Age to the independence of the 18th century and the nationalist movement of the end of the 20th century. This story echoes with French or Italian own national narrative. The symbols are accumulated to counter one by one the symbols of the French nation: a flag, an anthem, tutelary figures, a timeless culture…
The collective action repertoire of the nationalist movement is also largely inspired by the means of action of its foreign alter egos, be they regionalist, independentist or anti-colonial. For instance, the recourse to clandestine armed struggle is based on the model of the victorious Algerian FLN against the French state. Corsican nationalists even used the same name: Front de Libération Nationale Corse, FLNC. Similarly, hunger strikes and the demand for the status of political prisoners were directly influenced by the Irish Dirty Protests.
Moreover, the post-revolutionary French national construction as interpreted by the cultural actors of the Riacquistu not only serves as a more or less unconscious example (with the same ‘checklist’, the same identity strategies), it also constitutes, in their eyes, a drift to be avoided. In fact, the homogenization of languages and cultures on French territory, which the Jacobin Republic 8 has wanted since 1794, is presented as an almost totalitarian act that threatens the regional linguistic and cultural wealth as much as it threatens collective fulfillment. Thus, the Riacquistu strives not to standardize the multiple linguistic nuances existing between each pieve (Corsican micro-region) and never misses an occasion to recall ‘the unity of the Corsican people in its diversity’. Canta, in its will to represent the Corsican people, gives to hear the Corsican plurality of speaking and singing.
This new authenticity therefore does not imply cultural or ethnic purity. It relies on the diversity of ways of living on the island and on openness to the world.
II. Alterity creates identity
If the invention of a tradition seems to be the work of a limited number of cultural actors and experts, this does not mean that the identity that emerges from it can be understood without reference to the outside world. Focusing solely on internal factors (pressure groups, cultural actors, institutions) to explain these identity dynamics would imply a form of total autonomy, as if Corsica were cut off from the rest of the world and functioned by itself and for itself. Such absurdity is unsustainable when one considers the intense exchanges and flows (human, economic, cultural) that link the island to the Mediterranean area.
One must insist on a conclusion the social sciences have consecrated: the relational nature of identity. In other words, ‘the production of identities […] depicts a relationship to the Other as much as a relationship to oneself’, Jean-François Bayart tells us. 9 Men forge their identity by confronting the past and the Other, through a double process of affirmation and assignment. ‘Culture is less about conforming or identifying than about making: making something new with the old, […] making the Self with the Other,’ the political scientist adds. 10
We will leave aside identity assignment to focus on the identity affirmation. Note, however, that it could be argued that the Riacquistu fought against French definitions of Corsican identity and for a ‘self-determination of what it is to be Corsican’.
New encounter situations
The identity affirmation emanating from the Riacquistu must therefore be situated in a global context of relating to other groups, other languages and other cultures. It is therefore not insignificant to notice that the 1970s are a time when confrontation with alterity abound. Let us detail these situations of encounters, as they often come back in the interviewees’ narratives.
As a former guitarist from Canta tells it, the years of studies that young Corsicans are forced to carry out on the continent constitute a crucial moment in the crystallization of identity and the emergence of the feeling of belonging. ‘It is by discovering other people that we become aware of our own particularities’, he says. Although the experience of being forced to leave for the mainland to get a university degree is not new, it is becoming so common that a significant part of this generation shares this experience. Indeed, access to higher education grew drastically after the Second World War throughout France, while Corsica did not have a university until 1982. The experience of loneliness and confrontation with diversity lead, for a certain number of students, to an overbidding of characteristics and an increased tendency to stay with their peers. Some of them were trying to reproduce a miniature Corsica in this ephemeral diaspora which only dreamt of returning to ‘live and work at home’ (autonomist slogan). Natale Luciani, quoted in the documentary paying homage to him, testifies: ‘The meeting with other Corsican students took place in Nice, and from there political awareness was born.’
‘The production of identities depicts a relationship to the Other as much as a relationship to oneself’
The 1960s saw the emergence of another encounters’ opportunity: mass tourism. Despite the lack of huge infrastructure, the development of tourism is considerable. It soon became the main field of the island’s economy. Faced with these new seasonal travelers, criss-crossing the island between June and September, the locals react in various ways. But here again, the meeting with people of different mores enhanced the distinction of those who begin to claim themselves as ‘Corsicans’.
A teacher of Corsican language and culture, a child at the time, testifies to this: ‘When you grow up in Corsica, you don’t tell yourself that everything is magnificent around you. It’s neither beautiful nor ugly, it’s just our country. But when the tourists arrive and say: ‘It’s wonderful!’ then we start to look at our island differently…’. Pride in natural patrimony is therefore largely linked to the appreciation that comes from the eyes of others.
The same is true of the feeling of belonging. The same professor adds: ‘We saw ourselves as different from tourists. As children, we didn’t wonder what it meant to be Corsican. But when we met the tourists, they didn’t talk like us, they behaved differently. So we started making comparisons. We didn’t want to be like them. We realized that by speaking Corsican, we were even more different. We had this feeling of being together, and being ourselves.’
The installation of the ‘pieds noirs‘ on the island, French colonists present in Algeria and repatriated after independence in 1962, also constitutes a matrix element in the nationalist struggle.
Indeed, the French state offered this farmer population very large compensation packages to offset the losses linked to Algerian independence. They got development aid that the Corsicans had never been granted. The comparison aroused indignation: the Corsicans felt abandoned by the central government, which had done to industrialize and develop the island after two world wars that made it an extremely poor land. The irruption of the « pieds noirs » and the advantages granted to them transform this feeling of being second class citizens into a virulent anger. Conflicts of use ermerged, particularly around the question of the chaptalization of wines. In May 1975, the state sent the army and armoured vehicles to free « pieds noirs » held hostage in a wine cellar in Aleria by a handful of autonomist militants armed with hunting weapons. The violent confrontation resulted in several injuries and the death of one police officer. It was widely reported in the media, helping to make the autonomy demands known nationwide. The ARC was dissolved and the state appeared totally closed to any dialogue. The events of Aleria, filmed and broadcast on television, left a deep impression on people’s minds. It was the starting point for the radicalization of the nationalist means of action. In 1976, the first ‘blue nights’ occurred (coordinated attacks against secondary houses belonging to mainlanders and symbols of the French state).
Although the rest of this story is between the French state and the clandestine army, one should remember that the triggering element of this violence cycle is related to the comparison with « pieds noirs » standards of living.
Moreover, the irruption of new sectors of economic activity (viticulture, citrus fruits and tourism) reinforced the attractiveness of the island. The 1970s marked a demographic revival. 11 The population began to grow drastically from the end of the 1960s, while the natural balance (difference between deaths and births) remained invariant and derisory (almost nil). The growth of the population must therefore be attributed to the installation of the ‘pieds noirs‘, but first and foremost to the continental newcomers, i ghjunghjaticci. This meant an increase of contacts between people living in Corsica for several generations and the newcomers. These (often but not only conflictual) relations are told by several interviewees born in the 1950s.
The decrease in the cost of transportation also broaden the possibilities of travel for the urban middle classes. As an example, Minicale, one of the founders of Canta, is known for his European and American peregrinations.
The song Viaghji (Journeys) illustrates the importance of travelling in the growing awareness of his ‘identity’. Here is an excerpt, translated from Corsican:
‘We were born to discover the winds
Like blessed birds
That leave nest and roof
When winter comes
Our bags are always packed
We are of all movements
We don’t care about the tremors
We don’t care about failures
We are of those who leave
We are of those who return
Thus the embrace reborn
Thus resounds the hope’
The meeting situations listed above are not exhaustive but are striking in their novelty and scope.
However, we must be careful not to believe that these relationships were completely new. Relations with the mainland, human links between France and Corsica obviously existed before. What is notable is that in the past, these links were not experienced as relations between two distinct entities, but rather as a continuum, in which Corsica was inextricably linked to France. The distinction between ‘French’ and ‘Corsican’ was hardly conceivable as the two territories seemed so intertwined. Talking about the relations between Corsica and the mainland thus testifies to the appearance, in the collective imagination, of two distinct territorial entities.
From this brief analysis of the new situations of encounter, one can notice the omnipresence of the relation with France. It follows quite logically that the identity process we are interested in must be studied within the framework of this particular relationship.
The Other against me
The mechanisms of identity affirmation at work in these various situations of encounter are complex and plural. But a general tendency seems to emerge from the testimony of the interviewees: the inclination to trace the contours of Corsican identity as opposed to the values and practices of the French. Affirmation of oneself through the rejection of the dominants’ identity corresponds to a classic stage in most anti-colonial struggles. (Let us repeat: the point here is not to debate the nature of the French presence in Corsica and the relevance of a comparison to a colonial situation, but to study the feeling of colonial domination as a subjective fact, as felt by those who claim to be colonized).
The phenomenon of identification by opposition is certainly linked to cultural actors who convey a depreciative image of France and sometimes tend to represent its inhabitants as enemies. The dissemination of reading grids through artistic works undoubtedly prepares the ground. But the phenomenon cannot be summed up in this way: the direct experience of meeting the French, especially in the minority context where Corsicans studying outside the island find themselves, is crucial in forging this feeling of difference, of particularity.
Let us insist on the stereotypical and largely invented dimension of the portrait of the French which is gradually becoming anchored in the collective imagination. The strength of the clichés seems to be such that the encounters and the diversity of behaviors observed can only fuel the prejudices in question. Let us also insist on one point: it is not a question of saying that the Corsicans would be racist or would only consider the French by the prejudices that we are going to outline. The ‘typical portrait’ evoked acts more like a confused underlying motive, never explicitly formulated but always hovering in people’s minds.
The selfishness of the ‘French’ is denounced in an often caustic tone: they pay for their own coffee instead of offering it to their friends, they run away in great strides if one of their own is forced to fight, they abandon their parents in retirement homes, they sell the land of their ancestors to the highest bidder and willingly speculate themselves on land with which they have no ties. This sketch, which is not without evoking some of Molière’s comic characters, is based on the presumed weakness of the communal bond between French people, projecting the image of an ultra-capitalist, acculturated France, swimming in full anomie, a ‘society of individuals’ where everyone pursues his or her own small interests. But just like the characters of Molière or the comedia dell’arte, character alone is not enough to give an air of reality: it still needs to be given colors, smells, sounds, to be associated with striking (and often hilarious) images. It appears in caricatures of the so-called French accent, obtained by deliberately exaggerating the brutality of this language in which all the syllables are pronounced with more or less the same intensity, contrary to other Latin languages (including Corsican) which have tonic accents, that is to say, variations in intonation within the words (some syllables are less pronounced than others). Similarly, discussions among friends are full of jokes about French tourists with an unattractive smell after a few days of camping, or mockery about the originality of their clothing, which would make them recognizable from afar.
This is how the image of the pumataghju (literally: the tomato eater, i.e. the tourist who consumes nothing and does not serve the island’s economy) is born, an eternal source of hilarity and rejection.
The ‘Corsican way of life’ is thus forged by the negative; the grotesque portrait sketched above serves as a repellent, a shadow against which to assert oneself. This interpretation sheds light on many signs of belonging emerging in the 1970s. To the supposed selfishness of the French, the Corsicans opposed a spirit of community and an unfailing solidarity towards the family. Against the anomie of which the French are supposed to be victims, the Corsicans proclaim their attachment to the land, their respect for the social norms of the village. To the exaggerated harshness of the French language is opposed a Corsican whose musicality and lyricism is cultivated. The same mechanism can be found in many fields and consumer choices are no exception. The criticized frugality of the meals of the French tourists contrasts with the gargantuan banquets that the ‘Corsicans’ pride themselves. Likewise, the inelegance of the travelers who come to discover the island of beauty, dressed in cheap fluorescent clothes and sandals with worn socks sticking out, is radically opposed to the expensive, austere and invariably dark, clothes of the Corsicans.
Once again, the truthfulness of the behavior of the so-called ‘French’ is not at stake here: what matters is not the truth but the capacity of this myth, this largely fantasized narrative, to provoke opposed behavior.
The Other like me
But the figures of alterity do not only play a reactive role in the Riacquistu identity alchemy. Quite the contrary. The foreigner also serve as an example and a mirror, as can be seen in the imported Canta songs (composed elsewhere and adapted to Corsica) or the musical creations evoking the situation of other ‘stateless nations’ struggling against colonialist torments.
By evoking anti-colonial struggles around the world, or struggles against oppression in the face of a ‘murderous state’, Canta constantly draws parallels with the Corsican context. The sense of indignation that the listener may feel in the face of the injustices suffered by these peoples must provoke a similar feeling when looking at the local context. In this way, the displacement of the gaze can offer a reinterpretation in extenso of one’s own situation.
Indeed, the expression of an international solidarity with all other peoples in struggle actually plays, above all, a local role. The ‘love of the furthest’ is here, paradoxically, a ‘love of oneself’, to invert Nietzsche’s terms. 12 All the more so since this solidarity has quite never been anything but rhetorical. The few political initiatives, such as the ephemeral CONSEEO (Conference of Nations Without States of Western Europe), have remained relatively marginal. The Ghjurnate Internaziunale (literally: the International Days) which annually brings together delegations from several ‘stateless nations’ is significant. By confining dialogue with other peoples to a handful of well-defined days, this event shows the marginality of these exchanges and the lack of communication with these movements during the rest of the year. There were hardly any commitments of fighters to go and support these distant armed struggles. The International of Stateless Nations looks more like a metaphor than a political reality.
However, the sincerity of Canta’s words should not be questioned. The song « Missaghju » (Message), of which we present some of the lyrics, is a perfect example.
‘I send a message of hope
To the one who tries to fight
Now my brother
Your struggle is mine
We unite in adversity
Raise your voice
Over the borders
And bring hope there.
Calling for solidarity.’
Let us add that this tendency to look elsewhere, in content as well as in form, has been amplified by the fllowing generations: the percentages presented above would be even more significant for the discography of I chjami Aghjalesi or Voce Ventu, very popular groups that have sometimes been confused with Latin-American bands, so much is this influence.
Border as a bridge
Now that we have unearthed the identity dynamics arising from the encounter and from looking into the distance, we must try to understand the intention of the nationalist cultural actors, and in particular of the members of Canta.
To do so, interviews with former singers, musicians and lyricists have been very useful.
By ensuring Corsican culture ‘solidity’, the intention was not at all to isolate it from the rest of the world. On the contrary, it was a question of putting it in a position to exchange. Without a strong culture and identity, according to one of the group’s leading singers, the relationship with the foreigner is not viable, it constantly threatens to become a situation of domination’. To open up to the other, one must ‘know oneself’, he said. Let us note that what the actors call self-knowledge is in fact a creative, inventive and contingent process, and not the search for an identity-truth hovering in the sky of ideas. We can measure the paradox, since precisely, the construction of one’s own identity is done in the relation to the other! The mechanisms of identification and encounter are thus intimately intertwined.
Having noted this paradox, the authors’ intention was indeed to deepen relations with the rest of the world and not to close in on oneself, as so many detractors have claimed.
The new symbolic frontier erected in the spirit of the Corsicans, separating the human universe between an inside of belonging and an outside of difference, is thus in no way synonymous with rupture from the outside. The essence of the frontier is here to be crossed. Surprisingly, even the promotion of the Corsican language is thought as a means of access, a door through which to dialogue with the other Latin languages (including Italian, Sardinian and even Spanish). Language is not a barrier but a bridge for the particular to dialogue with the universal. The new frontier acts as an interface, as a link to insert oneself into the world, to take a dignified place in it, that is to say, a free and equal place with regard to other cultures. ‘There is no risk of acculturation if our culture has a solid foundation. In this way, one can only be enriched by approaching other cultures’ notes a poet, who claims to have been inspired by Marvel heroes and the American pop culture when he wrote one of the most famous Corsican songs.
This horizontal inscription in the world also appears as a reaction to the hierarchical relationship between cultures imposed by ‘French colonialism’.
‘We wanted to show that we too had a real culture, and that it was not less beautiful than the legitimate French culture imposed to us as the only valid one. Our culture too is worthy of projecting itself on the international scene and meeting others on an equal footing!’
says an old activist who took part in the international broadcast of Corsican culture.
The reference to the colonialist way of thinking, which distinguishes civilized culture on the one hand and the local customs of the colonized (largely despised) on the other, is particularly judicious. However, several studies have shown that ‘among the French regions, Corsica is, in proportion to its population, the one that has provided the greatest number of agents to the colonial administration overseas’.13 Testimonies collected from people born before the war confirm the structuring role of ‘the colony’ (whether in Africa or South-East Asia, the elderly often refer to it in the singular). Conceived as a land of opportunities and often as the only outlet in the Corsican disastrous economic context, providing stable civil service jobs and often real prospects of enrichment, ‘the’ colony has a powerful influence on the islanders’ relationship to the world. Thus, the colonialist scheme is not only suffered by the Corsicans, it is also reproduced by them on other peoples or cultures considered as ‘inferior’. The exhibition ‘Corse-Colonies‘ at the Museum of Corte (2014) has particularly well demonstrated the ambiguity of this colonialism both acted and suffered.
Let us summarize. The Riacquistu does not only mark the accession to a new dignity for the Corsican culture, that is to say not only the invention of a Corsican culture. Creating this frontier also redefined the mental structure of the relation to the world outside Corsica, a relation which was until then largely influenced by colonial representations. With the end of the French colonial empire, the possibility of a career in the (official) colonial structures disappeared. Consecutively, with the emergence of the idea of a Corsican people, the French intermediary between the island and the world fades away (or turns into an enemy), which completely redefines the mental maps. If the frontier between Corsica and France seems impassable, on the other hand, the frontier with the rest of the world (the sea, in this, symbolizes a frontier with the whole world) opens widely. Corsica, by moving away from France, wants to get closer to the world. Or perhaps: Corsica seeks to get closer to the world in order to escape from France. In any case, the two phenomena are deeply intertwined.
This vision defies the classical conceptions of borders and nationalism. Yet, let us recall that this is only the ambition of the cultural actors at the time of the Riacquistu, as they later recount it and as their songs testify. But the ambition of the cultural actors differs both from what what they really and how the public received it. That the Corsicans have turned more to the foreigner since the irruption of the national theme, nothing is less certain. As we will see, the intentions of the founding fathers did not always have the expected influence on the Corsican society. In the same way, the analysis of the songs will inform us about the gap between their retrospective judgments, collected in 2020, and their cultural productions created half a century ago.
III. What’s in, what’s out?
Let us try to outline the Corsican identity as it is affirmed in the songs of Canta. We know the influence of this group on the collective imagination as well as the mission it has given itself to represent the Corsican people, so it is necessary to take seriously the presentation, the content and the dominant themes of these songs. This sketch is not meant to be exhaustive and does not pretend to summarize the Corsican identity, which is in perpetual evolution and cannot be entirely determined by such a limited number of cultural products. It only tries to draw the main lines.
Canta’s vision of Corsica
In the first place, Canta’s songs are eminently masculine, with an overwhelming representation of men among the performers.
This feature reminds of the Chilean group Quilapayun, which became known in Europe after the assassination of Salvador Allende in 1973, year of Canta’s birth. Indeed, both groups present themselves frontally on the stage, with numerous men using and reinventing local musical traditions to serve political purposes.
The dominant virility comes with the omnipresence of war themes. Heroes and martyrs are plenty, with songs such as L’armata di l’ombra (The Shadow Army), Clandestinu (Clandestine), Sunate lu cornu, or A Palatina, referring directly to the clandestine armed struggle. Beyond the lyrics, the rhythmics and melodies of many of the texts borrow a lot from the military register. The Chjami Aghjalesi, born in 1977 in the lineage of Canta, continue, accentuate and sometimes nuance the exaltation of military heroism linked to the ‘national liberation struggles’. The ‘Corsican’ portrayed by these texts is a proud man, rebellious and fiercely attached to his freedom. He is ready, if necessary, to give his life for the cause. The romanticism of such a myth is tangible. One could wonder about the insertion of these characters ‘refusing any compromise with the enemy’ at a time when negotiation with the French State has become the only way to obtain nationalist claims (teaching Corsican in schools, use of Corsican in the administration, special land status linked to the particular conditions of insularity, amnesty for the so-called ‘political prisoners’, more competences for the Territorial Assembly…).
Moreover, the combatants are shown to be the arms of a ‘Corsican people’ united behind them. This deliberately denies the conflictuality existing within the population on the legitimacy of such actions, and ignores the debates within the nationalist movement on the necessity for violent actions.
Attachment to the land and nature, sublimated notably in L’Alta Strada or Alcudina, is also among the recurring themes. We have seen that nationalist demands, born in a context of ecological scandals, privatization and massive artificialization of the untamed coastline, are linked to the struggle for a healthy natural environment.
The nature presented in these songs is the base of the Corsican identity. Its harshness and its wonders seem to have determined ‘the Corsican soul’. Its eternal constancy is the guarantee of the permanence of this supposed immortal identity, even if it is threatened by the ‘French colonialists wanting to exploit and destroy it’. In the same way, the evocations of the ‘traditional and timeless’ agro-pastoral society are recurrent. This insistence on ‘the ways of life, the values and practices of our ancestors, which risk being lost in a single generation’ (to quote a television journalist who has organized numerous reports on this subject) is significant because these ways of life are presented as the original essence of Corsica. No actor is naive about this past society where life was laborious and harder. Nevertheless, the songs refer to this vanished world with an undeniable nostalgia. The ancient strength of intra-community ties, the cohesion of the family and the group are praised. This traditional village union is projected into present and future times and should serve as an example to shape the sacred union of all Corsicans, beyond internal quarrels, to make a common front against the ‘French invader’.
Another recurring theme: religion. The Riacquistu not only exhumed secular songs, it also revitalized Christian masses, passions and requiems. Christian inspiration is very frequent in Canta’s discography, even if certain texts (such as I ghjuvannali) pay homage to pagan rites and beliefs, or at least syncretic ones, which make the specificity of the Corsican practice of Christianity. Apart from this peasant religion resulting from adaptations of Christianity and from the persistence of an ancestral paganism, the other religions present in Corsica are hardly represented in the songs, if at all.
Finally, one must note the predominance, in all the corpus studied, of negative emotions. The ‘sordid and pathetic’ registers are indeed the ‘first component of Riacquistu’. 14 This choice is not unrelated to the often dramatic circumstances of the nationalist armed struggle. The re-actualization of the past gives rise to selections and translations, as we have already mentioned. Thus, the image of the past transmitted by Canta is eminently fragmented, incomplete, and tends to ‘reduce social life to one of its dimensions’. 15 From this incomplete representation of Corsican society results, inevitably, an incomplete and potentially excluding identity.
The enumeration of the dominant themes is in fact interesting only insofar as it reveals the untold and ‘unthought’ subjects. It also allows us to point out the gaps between, on the one hand, the identity discourse of the actors of Riacquistu, advocating its inclusiveness, and, on the other hand, the reality of their cultural productions tending to restrict and freeze the perimeter of this identity.
It is therefore appropriate to highlight the most obvious ‘omissions’ in the cultural identity production.
First, women are surprisingly absent from Canta’s songs. Female interventions are often limited to notes of sweetness, as with the Basque song Rossignyol performed by Anna Rocchi on the record Libertà, or simply referred to the role of mother (with lullabies or letters from prisoners to their mothers). The few female appearances remained anecdotal. Their songs are neither the most committed nor the most famous. Modern emancipated women are absent from the texts studied. Canta does not devote a single song to the heroines who mark the history of the island from Maria Gentile to Danielle Casanova, and who could have been integrated into the narrative of ongoing resistance constructed by the nationalists. This relegation of women is all the more astonishing since the ‘Corsican tradition’ was full of female songs. The operation of relegation may not have been voluntary on the part of the male leaders of the group, but it remains true that some female singers, as we learned in an interview, had a deep desire to become involved in the committed and virulent songs, but were regularly pushed aside.
In the same way, the diversity of geographical, ethnic and cultural origins from which Corsica derives find very rare representations in Canta’s work. The image of the ‘French colonialist’, who is indeed part of Corsican society, is obviously present and plays an antithetical role in relation to Corsican identity. But there is no mention, as far as we know, of the populations originated from Portuguese, Spanish, North African, Sardinian, Greek. Yet they do not stand as « enemies », they are part of the island population. These diverse populations have largely contributed to make current Corsica what it is today. The old tradition of immigration, which has shaped Corsica since antiquity, is avoided by the militant songs of Canta. The same observation can be made about religions. There is no trace of Islam or Judaism in the national narrative sketched by Canta. And this observation is all the more disturbing because some audiences interpreted the redundant theme of resistance against the invader (Italian then French) in a xenophobic perspective of total closure to everything from elsewhere. The drifts towards extreme right-wing ethno-nationalism and racism cannot be attributed to the texts of Canta: however, it must be noted that their songs did not prevent these discriminatory interpretations from appearing.
Thus, there is no room for ‘external’ diversity in this sample of cultural production from the Riacquistu: only ‘internal’ diversity (differences between the valleys and villages of the island) is staged and valued.
This may seem paradoxical. We have seen the importance of the foreigner, of otherness in Canta’s songs. Moreover, Corsican nationalism, nourished at its beginnings by socialism and alter-globalism, intends to propose an inclusive identity. Corsican people was supposed to be open to all, regardless of the origin of the person who wishes to enter it, as long as this person wishes to participate in the common good of Corsica and integrate (by enriching it) into the existing culture. With the concept of ‘community of destiny’ coming back spontaneously among all the interviewees, the Riacquistu discourse promised a nation-contract, as theorized by Ernest Renan, and not a heritage-nation with a strong ethnic component, inspired by the vision of the romantic Johann Gottfried Herder.
Yet the cultural production disseminating the ideas of the Riacquistu did not carry the collective imagination in this direction. As we have seen, Canta offers little room for ethnic and cultural diversity, which leads to the invisibilisation, and potentially stigmatisation of minorities. How can we analyze this incoherence between discourse and cultural productions?
The paradox is in fact present from the very beginning of the movement, and it probably stems from an inadequate conception of what identity is. Indeed, Riacquistu’s mission was to overturn the identity assignments of which Corsicans are victims. So the movement sought to free Corsicans from the depreciative prejudices of which they are victims. Since Prosper Mérimée, a 19th century French author famous (among others) for his works Colomba and Matteo Facone, a certain number of images about Corsicans imprisoned them in clichés. Corsicans were always depicted as lazy, easy trigger, vindictive, rough, ignorant, with no art or ‘true’ culture. Moreover, the novelist attributed to the Corsicans a deep and fixed nature, picturing them as very special. The Riacquistu wanted to reverse this stigma (to use Erving Goffman’s expression) to proclaim the value of ‘Corsicanness’. However, by inverting the scale of values, the Riacquistu did not escape ‘Mérimée’s trap’: 16 the movement consecrated a new substantial identity, invented a new ‘Corsican essence’ that was supposed to be fixed and timeless. In spite of the discourse on openness to the world and the alleged hospitality of the Corsicans towards those who wanted to become one, the Riacquistu endorsed an essentialist conception of identity to which only a certain population could correspond. As if this invented ‘Corsican soul’ was an unchanging given of nature, independent of history and political or ideological wills.
Let us recall ‘that there is no natural identity which would impose itself on us by the force of things’. 17 The affirmation of identity, made up of contingent political choices, cannot be reduced to a geographical or ethnic origin. This reduction raises the spectre of ethno-nationalism.
Thus, the Corsican identity created by Riacquistu did not hold its promise to be inclusive, because the people pictured as Corsican in the songs did not fit to the plurality of identities within the Corsican population. One could even argue that the only people represented by these cultural actors were… themselves.
Conclusion: For a history of possibilities
What have we learned about the making of borders?
In the first place, I have tried to show how the construction of a national identity, claiming to be authentic and autarkic, was done by exhuming and recomposing the past. In this reinvention of tradition, the search for exceptionality and absolute specificity has been one of the most decisive criteria for saving traditions, which gives an evidence of the importance of the Other in the process of singularization. Moreover, this attempt at national construction is highly international as it draws inspiration from historical and foreign models.
Secondly, I have insisted on the relational dimension of identity: whatever the Corsican national narrative may say, identity was not forged by itself in the depths of the mountains, but in the context of accelerated integration in the globalization of the 1960s and 1970s. By opposing the supposed practices and values of the ‘French’, by identifying with other national minorities or peoples in struggle, Corsicans found a way of affirmation. Furthermore, I have argued that this new frontier in the minds of people was meant to be a bridge to the world, not a barrier. Indeed, the said mental frontier leads to a horizontal and post-colonial reconfiguration of the relationship to the world. In other words, the Corsican frontiers were born by being crossed and to be better crossed.
Finally, we have tried to compare the ambitions of Riacquistu with its most influential cultural productions, taking the example of the songs of Canta u populu corsu. The analysis of the texts has made it possible to highlight the inconsistencies between the inclusive discourse carried by Riacquistu and the little representation of diversity in its manifestations. In trying to construct a ‘solid’ and fixed identity, the perimeter of this identity was reduced, excluding entire sections of Corsican society.
The Riacquistu has succeeded in affirming Corsican cultural identity. ‘It has contributed more than any other element to the particular socialization of young Corsicans, by managing to convince them that they were profoundly different from others in a globalizing world.’ 18 But the ambition to create a frontier for dialogue with the world does not seem to have kept its promises. The cultural productions of the Riacquistu are partly to blame, but one must also take into account the armed struggle and the position of the French state. What one must remember is that there is no fatality in this relative failure. There could be happy borders.
This attempt at a genealogical narrative intends to deconstruct the currently reified Corsican identity. Nowadays, most Corsican look at this recently constructed identity as if it was self-evident, natural and irremovable – even if they do not recognize themselves in it. It is well known that identity enterprises, like national constructions, are based on an amnesia of the genesis. By proposing this problematized account on this local identity construction, by showing the choices made in the course of this process, my aim was to sketch out a history of possibilities, woven of contingencies and arbitrariness, where other trajectories remain conceivable. Through this demonstration, the present work hopes to participate, even modestly, in arguing that identity is never given in advance. It is always possible to reshape it, to make it more inclusive, more fruitful, more peaceful.
- Documentaire ‘Natale Luciani. Cresce a voce’, Production Mariteraniu. ↩
- Andreani Jean-Louis, Comprendre la Corse, Gallimard, 2010 (1999) ↩
- Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger, eds. The invention of tradition. Cambridge University Press, 2012 (1984). ↩
- Fabiani, Jean-Louis. « III. La réappropriation culturelle et ses enjeux », Jean-Louis Fabiani éd., Sociologie de la Corse. La Découverte, 2018, pp. 67-92. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- THIESSE Anne-Marie, La création des identités nationales. Europe, XVIIIe-XXe siècle. Le Seuil, 2014. ↩
- Henry Grégoire, Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d’anéantir les patois et d’universaliser l’usage de la langue française, presented to the National Convention on June 4, 1794. ↩
- Bayart, Jean-François. L’illusion identitaire. Fayard, 2014, 102. ↩
- Ibid., 103. ↩
- Salkazanov Nadine, Vienot Alain. La Corse en mutation. In: Economie et statistique, n°123, Juillet 1980., pp23-34. ↩
- Friedrich Nietzsche, 16. Neighbour-love, in Thus Spoke Zarathoustra, 1885. ↩
- Profizi, Vanina. « Chapitre 8 – La légende coloniale des corses : les corses et l’Empire colonial français (XIXe-XXe siècles) », Amaury Lorin éd., Nouvelle histoire des colonisations européennes (XIXe-XXe siècles). Sociétés, cultures, politiques. Presses Universitaires de France, 2013, pp. 103-116. ↩
- Dominique Salini, 2014, quoted by Jean-Louis Fabiani éd., Sociologie de la Corse. La Découverte, 2018. ↩
- Fabiani, op.cit. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Jean-François Bayard, L’illusion identitaire, op.cit. ↩
- Jean-Louis Fabiani, Sociologie de la Corse, op.cit. ↩