Unless you’re pretty familiar with geography, you might not know where New Caledonia is. The Pacific island is about 2,000 miles off the coast of Australia, but officially speaking, it’s a part of Europe.
This is because the island has been a French territory since 1853, when it was used as a French penal colony. Deadly disputes between French colonizers and the local Kanak population led to a violent independence movement in the 1980s, when Kanak separatists took several people hostage and killed 4 members of the gendarme. But a referendum was held this weekend to re-address the issue, with French loyalists facing off against native Kanaks who still see the French as oppressors. And though the French government, including President Emmanuel Macron, officially holds a neutral stance with regard to the vote, the island is an asset both in terms of resources, and as a solid base of French culture in the Pacific.
The vote went in the favor of staying with France, but the margin was smaller than loyalists had hoped for, with 43.6% of the population voting to leave, and only 56.4% supporting remaining a French territory. But while Macron breathes a sigh of relief, separatists are likely gearing up for the two more chances they will have to break up with France within the next four years.