Fighting to defend the law is not
easy on a Mediterranean island where clans, mafia godfathers and
armed separatists crisscross in a nebulous atmosphere of omertà
(code of silence), clientelism and protection rackets, and where
property speculation is the fast money earner.
Corsica is reeling from a spate of
murders of crime barons. Cucchi's husband, a fisherman, has had his
boat sunk, and she has received death threats. Locals call her
brave. "Frankly, we have no choice but to act fast to stop Corsica
becoming 'paradise lost'," she said.
But the fight to protect the so-called
Island of Beauty has taken on a new fervour in recent weeks,
reaching the top of Paris's political class and Sarkozy's jet-set
friends. Corsica, 100 miles south of the French coast, is one of the
last remaining unspoiled corner of the western Mediterranean. Due to
France's stringent coastal protection measures and the spectre of
violent separatism, the mountainous island still boasts large
expanses of coastline that have been spared mass construction. Now
the Corsican executive, headed by a member of Sarkozy's ruling
centre-right party, has proposed a new 20-year development plan to
boost the island's economy, which will declassify stretches of
protected land to allow for more building. Environmental groups warn
that Corsica risks repeating the concrete nightmare of Majorca or
France's Côte d'Azur.
The plan, known by its acronym
Padduc, has spawned a movement called the anti-Padduc front, made up
of 80 different groups including trade unions and ecologists. The
row has also boosted the island's nationalist and separatist cause.
This weekend, Corsican hardline nationalists will launch their new
political party, Corsica Libera. They oppose building developments
which, they say, threatens the island's national identity.
This month, one of Corsica's main
armed separatist groups, the FLNC-UC, issued its strongest statement
in which it made death threats against the island's ruling political
class, warned against the building plans and laid claim to 14 bomb
attacks over the last six months.
In the low-level separatist
violence that has simmered on the island for 30 years, empty holiday
homes have been sporadically targeted with homemade bombs. While
tourists are welcome, mainland French "foreigners" acquiring land
Above one of Porto-Vecchio's bays,
a bus of gendarmes sat guarding the entrance to the holiday villa of
one of Sarkozy's best friends, Christian Clavier. Last month 10
Corsican nationalists were fined after dozens of pro-independence
supporters broke into the actor's garden and "occupied" the area
around his swimming pool to protest against the proliferation of
outsiders' holiday homes. The island's police chief was sacked for
not preventing the occupation. Those convicted are appealing against
their fine, but the case dossier has been mysteriously stolen from
Below the villa, Santa Giulia bay
is an example of the dense tourist building on the southern coast
that campaigners say must not be allowed to spread to protected
areas elsewhere. Rows of luxurious villas, bungalows and snack bars
sit empty in what locals call a tourist "ghost town". The area is
only active for two months of the year but has forced up prices. In
the Bonifacio region, more than half of all residences are second
homes empty for most of the year.
"It is harder and harder for
Corsicans to live in their own villages, this is catastrophic, it's
threatening the very Corsican people as they are forced to move off
the island," said Jean-Guy Talamoni, the leading nationalist
politician who led the Clavier occupation.
Despite Corsica's reputation as an
upmarket destination, the island is one of the poorest regions in
France, with an aging population kept afloat by the French state.
Tourism brings in €1.3bn (£1.2bn) each year, but 10% of islanders
live on precariously low incomes.
"We definitely need some kind plan
for developing the island's economy," said Moune Poli, a member of
Corsica's economic advisory committee and key figure of the
anti-Padduc front. "But the island cannot depend on unfettered
tourism and building speculation." The economic committee opposed
the Padduc plan, which will now go before the Corsican assembly in
Ange Santini, the head of the
Corsican executive, argued his plan would simply open Corsica to
investment and clarify its coastal laws. He has said only 10% of "remarkable"
protected spaces would become available for development. Opponents
said the figure was higher and could prompt wider property
In Porto-Vecchio, Gerard
Bonchristiani, a former fisherman, campaigns for access to public
beaches and coastal protection. He said: "Intelligent tourism is
about balance, not turning an island's coast into a concrete 'tanning
drome'. This is about what kind of society we want to live in. There
is a visceral attachment to the land here. We like to say: 'You
don't live in Corsica, Corsica lives in you.'"
Angelique Chrisafis in Porto-Vecchio (Source