millisphere (noun) a discrete region inhabited by roughly one 1000th of the total world population. About 7 million people, but anywhere between 3.5 and 14 million will do.

This month French president Emmanuel Macron visited the fractious French Mediterranean island of Corsica, where nationalist, anti-French sentiments go back centuries. If Spain has Catalonia, France has its own independence movements in Brittany, Alsace, Provence and Corsica.

"France is playing with fire by rejecting Corsican demands for autonomy," said newly elected Corsican Nationalist leader Gilles Simeoni.

DH Lawrence, when he visited, described Corsica as "belonging to nowhere, never having belonged to anywhere."


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With a population of 330,000 Corsica doesn't qualify as a millisphere. Combined with its Italian near neighbour, Sardinia, (population 1.7 million) they make two million but don't meet the 3.5 million cut-off.

Divided by the narrow Straits of Bonifacio, they share an ancient history, including being conquered by Rome. The fierce and rebellious inhabitants were not considered good slaves and the mountainous centres of the islands were avoided by the Romans.

Complex shifting alliances orbited around northern Italy and Pisa until Genoa sold Corsica to France to pay off debts in the 18th century. To this day the Corsican and Sardinian bourgeoisie send their children to be educated in Pisa, and if more people are needed to form a millisphere it should be with Tuscany in Italy, not Provence in France. Steamboats, Napoleon, jobs in the army, language, empire and prestige drew Corsica into France's orbit in the 19th century.

Taking advantage of the chaos of the French revolution, Corsican soldier Napoleon Bonaparte (of Italian descent) quickly rose through the ranks of the French army, becoming first emperor of France and then king of Italy as well before being exiled to the island of Elba (between Bastia in Corsica and the Italian mainland).

Bastia Hill, in Whanganui, is named after the town in northern Corsica where the Georgetti family came from, and a friend of mine (and Georgetti descendant) went there to check it out.

"There would be men outside drinking coffee, and there would always be one watching you," he said, sensing its reputation for banditry. He told me that Corsican number plates ensured avoiding road rage while driving in "the continent" (as Corsicans call France). "No French driver in their right mind would pick a fight with a Corsican."

From the days of Carthage, before Christ, Sardinia in the south has had links with North Africa. Barbary pirates from Tunisia raided for slaves until the late 18th century and today there is a weekly ferry from Cagliari in Sardinia to Tunis. In good weather a fast boat carrying illegal immigrants can cross from Algeria in one night.


During the Algerian war for independence thousands of "Pied-noir" (European Algerians) were resettled in Sardinia where they found the locals less than welcoming. Around 100,000 boat people from North Africa arrive in Italy every year, 10,000 of them in Sardinia. Once again finding the locals less than welcoming these refugees try to carry on to the Italian mainland and the capitalist cities of Western Europe.

Fred Frederikse
Fred Frederikse

The people of the rural villages of Sardinia, along with some Japanese in Okinawa, have the longest life expectancy in the world, but because of emigration and a low birth rate in some years, the island's population is shrinking. Lacking the people to care for an ageing population, some North African immigrants might be useful for Sardinia.

Recently some Corsican youths photographed Muslim women tourists swimming in "burkinis". When one of their menfolk protested and stabbed a Corsican youth, the youths returned with the entire village and attacked the bathing tourists and torched their cars.

Corsica, which is included in the Provence, Alpes, Cote d'Azur European Union region, receives too many subsidies from Paris to want full independence from France, but it now wants more autonomy, language recognition and the release of nationalist prisoners held on the French mainland.

As the steamboat changed geography in the 19th century, cheap air fares have changed the 20th century. Corsican grievances now include absentee holiday home owners from Europe pricing the locals out of the housing market.