The only free Kanaks are dead ones, the outgoing French government might have argued. In principle, all the inhabitants of New Caledonia are French citizens, and the great sin of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (F.L.N.K.S.) was to have rejected this privilege and demand independence. But when, for obviously electoral purposes, an assault was staged on May 5 to free French gendarmes held hostage by the Kanaks on the island of Ouvéa, and the resulting carnage proved too bloody, Prime Minister Jacques Chirac found a way to minimize the massacre. Only two Frenchmen, he claimed, had been killed-meaning the two soldiers of the intervention force; the nineteen murdered Kanaks had simply been deprived of their nationality. Kanaks, in this version, regain their independence on the way to paradise.
It would all be bizarre if it were not so cynically sinister. The French hostages were unscathed, even during the assault. Their Kanak keepers were slaughtered–some, witnesses allege, after they had surrendered. The Socialists are thus inheriting an additional deep division in an already messy situation. In economic and social terms, New Caledonia is a typical case of colonialism, with the power, the best land, and nickel and other wealth concentrated in the hands of the white settlers. But in electoral terms, it is not typical. The Europeans and their imported supporters have a slight numerical edge and will keep it for a few years until the rising Kanak generation comes of voting age. The new government has sent a commission of inquiry to find out what–if anything–can be done to reconcile the two communities. It would do well to order an investigation of the Ouvéa massacre in an effort to gain the trust of the Kanaks and warn the Caldoches, as the French settlers are called, that their days of unpunished arrogance may be over.
At least it can be said that the crime did not pay. The whole circus of Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, of which this episode was a crucial act, was of no electoral avail. Some National Front votes were certainly bought with Caledonian blood. But they were probably balanced by the resulting mobilization of liberal and leftist supporters. The second ballot of the presidential poll thus contained two consoling thoughts. First, that you can’t fool all of the French all of the time; second, that for the time being at least, the presidential candidate openly wooing the National Front is in for a beating. Chirac’s mere 46 percent, after the right had been ahead in the first ballot, is convincing proof.