During the 1980s, the clash of the irresistible force of Kanak nationalism against the immovable mass of entrenched French settlers catapulted the territory into world headlines more than once. Then in 1988, a 10-year truce was signed, consolidated in a 1998 referendum.
The French government bought time by offering an increase in local autonomy and the possibility of full independence after a 15 to 20-year transitional period. The tactic worked and France remains in firm control of the "Great Land" and its adjacent islands.
New Caledonia can be a troubling place to visit. The French authorities try to keep the territory's contradictions tucked away from the eyes of tourists, but unless you spend all your time in Nouméa, you're bound to notice the striking differences between the affluent French and the displaced, disadvantaged Kanaks.
New Caledonia is an anachronism in the South Pacific, a bastion of old-fashioned European colonialism held aloft by massive subsidies from France. Over the past two decades, the French government has thrown huge sums at the Kanak elite, with the clear intent of making the entire concept of independence irrelevant. And as long as the subsidies keep flowing and the Melanesians can be intimidated or sidelined, not a lot is going to change.
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