“Twenty-five years after the death of Claude Erignac, it is time to inaugurate, together, the beginning of the sequel. While presiding over the commemorative ceremony in Ajaccio for the assassination of Prefect Erignac on Monday, February 6, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin came to deliver a message of appeasement, at the very place where the senior official was killed from three bullets by a shooter from a group of independence activists in 1998: the time has come “to write a new page in the history of Corsica”.
The host of Place Beauvau called for dialogue between the State and the elected islanders to prepare for the future: “The government of the Republic is ready for it. He’s waiting for you. On the sidelines of the ceremony, he also proposed a meeting with Gilles Simeoni, autonomist president of the territorial executive, on February 24 in Paris and announced that he would return to Corsica in mid-February. For him, it is now a question of tracing an “institutional, economic, cultural route”, after sixty years of debates about the status of the territory, but also attacks and crimes.
While the political movements favorable to the autonomy or the independence of the island are in the majority in the ballot boxes in Corsica, discussions had been started last year. They had been opened in response to the violent demonstrations following the fatal attack in prison of Yvan Colonna, who was serving a life sentence for the assassination of Claude Erignac. Everything then had to be put on the table, including the possible autonomy of the territory.
But, in September, the rejection by justice of the request for adjustment of sentence of Pierre Alessandri, also sentenced to life imprisonment in the Erignac case, led to tensions which interrupted official exchanges. Since then, the announcement of the granting of a semi-freedom measure for the detainee, who has been released since 2017, has helped to calm the situation. By its tone and content, the speech of the Minister of the Interior should also participate.
The speech contrasts with that delivered by Emmanuel Macron in 2018 at the same place. “What happened here on February 6, 1998 cannot be justified, cannot be pleaded, cannot be explained”, declared the President of the Republic at the time. These remarks had been received like a slap in the face by the nationalists, including Gilles Simeoni, who was one of Yvan Colonna’s lawyers. “Gérald Darmanin is more in a logic of conciliation and reconciliation”, comments Thierry Dominici, teacher-researcher at the University of Bordeaux. For this specialist in Corsica, the minister did not only address the nationalists. “His outstretched hand is addressed to all Corsicans and especially to young people, those who demonstrated during the mobilization following the assassination of Yvan Colonna, he notes. He also depoliticized the commemoration. He did not talk about status, but about culture or economy. It’s rather interesting”.
Political scientist André Fazi, lecturer in political science at the University of Corsica, also found the speaker “to say the least skilful”. “He made declarations of goodwill that we expected,” he continues. But that solves nothing, neither in Corsica nor in Paris. In Corsica, the nationalist family remains divided. And in Paris, an advance of the island towards autonomy demanded by the camp of Gilles Simeoni would imply a constitutional revision, while Emmanuel Macron does not have a majority either in the National Assembly or in the Senate.