Aleria, the great turning point of nationalism



From our special correspondent

« Lhas Depeille cellar? It was razed, there is now the recycling center instead. But there is a stele. You will see, it is easy to find. It’s five minutes away. » Coming to participate in a rally in front of the local gendarmerie, this activist from Aiutu Paisanu, an association supporting Corsican prisoners, knows what a GPS ignores. At the edge of a very busy road, at the exit of Aléria, a modest monument actually designates the location of the wine building, destroyed in 2012, where an event that marked the history of Corsica took place.

On August 21, 1975, separatist activists from the Action for the Renaissance of Corsica (ARC), armed with hunting rifles and led by Doctor Edmond Simeoni, occupied a wine estate belonging to Henri Depeille. Accused of tampering with his wine, this pied-noir is one of those winegrowers repatriated from Algeria whom the public authorities have helped to settle, while local farmers are struggling to survive. The operation is intended for the media, to denounce a “agricultural colonization”. It turns to drama.

Two thousand members of the forces of order are deployed, helicopter engines roar, gunshots ring out, two gendarmes die, an occupant of the cellar has his foot torn off. A turning point. Less than a year later, on May 5, 1976, more radical minds founded the Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC), a birth recorded by a « blue night », a series of bomb attacks. Since the 1960s, Corsica had already heard bombs explode. A boat had even been plasticized to denounce the dumping off Cap Corse of red mud, waste from aluminum production. Finally little noise compared to the suite.

To meet a witness of this troubled time, you have to cross the road that borders the stele and take a narrow road, towards the pond of Diane. Bernard Pantalacci receives off the cuff in his business manager’s office. He is a successful producer of oysters, nustrale di Diana. « Aléria is a moment of changeover », he summarizes, while managing a pump problem with one of his employees. Close to Edmond Simeoni, who died in 2018, he is responsible for the Aléria 75 association, which organizes a commemoration on site every year. “Aléria belongs to all Corsicans, takes over the oyster farmer. It is not the property of the national movement. »

He was not in the Depeille cellar. But this sixty-year-old, good-looking boss was part of the generation that took up arms and then put on a balaclava. Young people filled with idealism and often students, who have nonetheless brought the island into a cycle of extreme violence. In 1984, he was one of three members of the commando who broke into Ajaccio prison to kill two prisoners, suspected of having eliminated a young nationalist. He was arrested, convicted and served his sentence. In the 1990s, the early activist changed his tune. He was one of the voices that denounced the « cult of militarism » of some of these former fighting brothers, who fell into a bloody and sometimes villainous drift.

Bernard Pantalacci does not dwell on this past that his clients are unaware of, but he has not forgotten his youthful convictions: “We were simply Corsicans who were aware of our identity and wanted to live it normally. » Today, while the nationalists have finally won the polls after abandoning the armed struggle in 2014, he supports the autonomists who won the territorial elections. Moderates highly criticized by young Corsicans. « Participating in power has generated a lot of hope, it’s human, he comments. The confrontation with reality is not always easy. »

To see another actor from this period, this time it is necessary to wait in the traffic jams at the entrance to Ajaccio. The most populous of Corsican cities is surrounded by peri-urban areas, symptoms of the strong demographic growth of a region which has 340,000 inhabitants, against 225,000 in 1975. « This is taking on catastrophic proportions », sighs Pierre Poggioli. He is quietly seated on the terrace of a café opposite the prefecture. At other times, he was a nationalist leader wanted by the police.

This client with morning habits was one of the students surrounding Edmond Simeoni in Aléria. Later, he was one of the leaders of the FLNC in the 1980s and one of the first nationalists elected to the Assembly of Corsica, in 1984. Returning from clandestine action, he too did not want to dwell on the past. « It’s the future that interests me », he lets go. And this future worries him. He deplores the proliferation of second homes, « we can’t take it anymore »the « Mafioization of society » and control of the island « of people who monopolize the majority of the tourism economy ».

In 2011, Pierre Poggioli obtained a doctorate in political science. His thesis was devoted to the comparison between the FLNC (Corsica), the ETA (Basque Country) and the IRA (Ireland). He now writes books and comments on the news on a blog. He shows a photo from the 1980s. Yvan Colonna, the man sentenced for the assassination of the prefect Erignac, is at his side. In March, after his attack in prison, he also demonstrated. » With pleasure, he specifies. We were told: the nationalists are old, they are no longer moving, the Corsican question is settled, the economy is doing well, everyone is happy… That is not true. The access to power of the nationalists and the pandemic have just served as an extinguisher. »

We end up believing him disillusioned. » Nope, he cuts off. It is sure, it is not Corsica as I dreamed it. I dreamed of it being emancipated, with an economy that benefits the greatest number, balanced between the coast and the interior, a Corsica with a certain solidarity and fraternity. And without mafia. But Corsica will be autonomous, one day or another. »

Again, you have to cross the Col de Vizzavona, which separates Corsica in two. Léo Battesti lives on the other side, in Venaco. While studying in Nice, he too was in Aleria on August 21, 1975. Three years later, he was sentenced as a member of the FLNC. He earned his law degree in prison and was granted a pardon in 1981. “We were there to shake the coconut tree, so that the Corsican people and the Corsican language exist, he says. We were pure and hard, we were in a logic of rupture. »

The clandestine organization could then organize several hundred attacks per year. « It wasted our time. he estimates with the hindsight of his 68 years. Instead of multiplying the attacks, we should have multiplied the legal actions and the actions on the ground against speculation, to create the conditions for a citizen counter-project. » While the FLNC threatened to take up arms again and claimed a series of 12 « shares » this year, he is now fighting the « myth of the armed man » and “the culture of the Corsican warrior”. “Armed struggle is madness, he said. Elders like me want peace, they know what war is, they gave. »

In 1992, Léo Battesti had also called for the dissolution of the FLNC, whose factions were soon to kill each other: « Clandestineness is exhilarating, but it’s a dead end because its opacity allows all maneuvers and transforms us into monsters. I saw how some worked and I still blame myself, I will always have this problem of conscience because I knew things. I prevented assassinations, not all. »

Since then, the Venacais has contributed to developing the practice of chess on the island. Having become a business manager, he also fought against the mafia in Corsica, with the collective Maffia nò, A vita iè (No to the mafia, Yes to life). But in March, after the fatal attack on Yvan Colonna, Léo Battesti took part in only one rally in memory of the activist, in Corte, after offering his condolences to the bereaved family. What he saw did not make him want to come back: “The emotion was legitimate, this death affected everyone, but there were intolerable outbursts. » Rattles of voices echo inside the café, words in Corsican. An argument ? « No, that’s a joke. »


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