In the past few days the Corfiots are frustrated by an issue derived from reportages published by The Guardian and BBC, following the allegations of a small group of residents of Corfu, concerning their wish to “split” from Greece.
It is a fact that many Corfiots still carry the memory of the distinct past of the island, when, together with the other Ionian Islands, formed the Septinsular Republic and later the United States of the Ionian Islands, under the British Protection. It appears that in those times the separate Ionian state was far more efficient than Greece, as far as it concerns investments in infrastructure and generally administrative and financial organization. It is also a fact that the Corfiots have many reasons to complaint about the lack of public investments in Corfu along with the negaqtive effect of the endemic Greek corruption, which is blamed for the country’s misfortune.
But, are these the only reasons why a small and yet unidentified group of Corfu’s residents ask for “split” from Greece and “autonomy”?
In the recent few years there we observe a lively activity by some international forces, such as Russia and Italy, who are trying to build up a status of interference in the region, in order to gain a position of control over the petroleum deposits of northern Ionian Sea and the endings of the natural gas pipelines in the area. One could interpret the interest of The Guardian and BBC for the Corfiot “autonomy” issue, as an effort of the British to take part in this game. After all, Corfu used to belong to the British sphere of power once.
In 1864, after many years of the Eptanesians (Corfiots and residents of the other Ionian Islands) struggling for Union with the Greek Kingdom, the British were forced to withdraw from the Islands and sign the Treaty of London, by which the Union was proclaimed. In the last couple of years before the treaty, the British were trying to keep Corfu and Paxos out of the forthcoming Union, and to transform them into a colony. Since they did not achieve that due to the reactions of the Corfiots, they managed to introduce an article in the Treaty of London, by which it was proclaimed that the two islands should remain in an “eternal neutrality” status. Later, they also managed to ensure the same status for the Corfu Straits between the island and the Balkan Peninsula. It seems that some people, one and a half century later, are considering to make use of this facts.
It is so far uncertain what the motives of the “autonomy” group are. The point is that regardless of their own intentions, they may serve foreign interests by setting the status of Corfu under revision. It is certain, though, that the vast majority of the Corfiots are not attracted by their ideas. Corfiots have always been proud of their Greek nationality, and have fought hard, in many occasions, in peace and war, for the national independence and welfare of Greece.
Note that many Corfiots have foreign origins: Italians and Dalmatians settled in Corfu during Venetian rule (1386-1797), Albanian and Arvanite populations came to the island (15th to 18th c.) and Maltese emigrants settled around Corfu Town during the British Protection (1820’s – 1860’s), but they all consider themselves as Greeks, and no other language is spoken by the natives but Greek. So, any thought of separating Corfu from the Greek state is at least mistaken, if not dangerous for the interests of the Corfiots. The populace of Corfu forms a solid Greek population so any separatist movement has nothing to be based on.
What the Corfiots (as most of the Greeks living in the provinces, i.e. not in Athens and a couple more metropolitan cities) could really ask for is the direct transformation of the Greek administrative system and the self-government of the provinces, concerning issues of public investment and aspects of local interest. It is commonly accepted that the Greek administrative and political system has reached to a dead end – the reestablishment of the structures of the state is a “sine qua non” demand for a better future.
Hence, any calls for “autonomy” are either ridiculously away from the will of the Corfiots, or against their interests, serving foreign stakes. Nevertheless, the Corfiots are getting tired by the international games on their island and the inertia of their government.