Erstellt am: 11. 6. 2016 - 11:37 Uhr
In the Schengen Zone, over 4,000 kilometres away...
FM4 Reality Check: This week's Reality Check Saturday Special takes a tour around the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon.
The adventure will become available as a podcast and a "Saturday Special" on today´s Reality Check.
"A place like [this] in the middle of the continent would be just a little town; HERE, it's an entire world."
Those are the words of an architect named Benjamin, who I couchsurfed with in the island capital: St. Pierre. But let's back up a little bit before I introduce you to him, so as to provide you with a little context.
St. Pierre et Miquelon are two tiny islands, located 25 kilometres off the coast of Canada's most eastern region, the island of Newfoundland. What makes them special, however, is that they belong to France - indeed, they are France's last remaining outposts in the entirety of North America.
Over the course of about a week, I visited both St. Pierre and Miquelon, and found myself in conversations both with locals whose families have lived there for generations already, and new French migrants who have moved over from the mainland, in the hopes of finding a different way to experience their own French Identity.
One of those people was the aforementioned Benjamin, who actually hails from mainland France. He told me he had actually been having difficulties finding a job in his field in France; so when one opened up over here, he jumped at the chance and took it! This, although he initially didn't know anything about St. Pierre, including where it was in the world, or its climate.
* Imposed on the entire region by the Canadian government
However, Benjamin's experience was sort of unusual... actually, in St. Pierre et Miquelon, there are hardly any jobs anymore, given that the islands from the onset were almost entirely financed by commercial fishing, which lasted until the early 1990s. As it turned out, between St. Pierre and nearby Newfoundland (Canada's easternmost frontier), the fishing had been a little too successful, and the main species of cod had gone nearly extinct from over-fishing. What followed was the (in)famous "Cod Moratorium*" of 1992, which - in one fell swoop - put tens of thousands of people out of work, and very probably saved a species of fish at the brink.
But in the absence of their primary industry, what have the islanders of St. Pierre and Miquelon done instead? With unemployment high for the very small local population, and a not-very-active tourism sector, one could imagine life being very lethargic and listless on such islands.
At St. Pierre's small tourism office, I met Anais, who is from St. Pierre, but travelled around a lot in her youth, only to come back because she missed the place. (Remote and quiet St. Pierre may be, but if this was what you grew up with, then it apparently has a certain magnetism!)
Anais told me that life on the island is (in many respects) only made possible with the assistance of the French government, who fund public sector jobs and infrastructure, including a kind of police force, fire fighters, a hospital, and other services deemed essential. (For many locals, one of the most essential of these services is welfare, or unemployment benefits.)
* There is also a ferry, but that's slower and from a kinda out-of-the-way part of Newfoundland. I'm lazy, and I was already in the provincial capital St. John's, so propeller plane it was!
I met both Benjamin and Anais on St. Pierre. However, I also visited the neighbouring island of Miquelon. To get to St. Pierre alone, I had to take a small propeller plane from neighbouring Newfoundland*. To get further, to Miquelon, I had to book a seat on a small charter zodiac motorboat, and spend more than an hour getting soaked by rather large waves en route.
Geographically, Miquelon is much bigger, but it is also much more treacherous for ships coming into the bay and was the site of many serious shipwrecks... therefore the considerably tamer, flatter island of St. Pierre was selected as the population centre and main harbour of the islands.
The population differs by a factor of ten; just over 600 people live on Miquelon, and just over 6000 live on St. Pierre. After a day or so in bucolic Miquelon, St. Pierre begins to seem in contrast like a thriving metropolis!
To hear excerpts from my journey to both of those islands, and some illuminating thoughts from Benjamin and Anais, tune in today at 12 o'clock midday, for an FM4 Reality Check Special!
FM4 Reality Check
If you miss the program, you can still stream it via the Reality Check podcast or at fm4.ORF.at/player.