PAPEETE, Tahiti — France has rebuffed new protests against its nuclear testing in Polynesia, and turned la bombe into a political weapon for independence activists in these storied South Sea isles.
Prying Polynesia from the French colonial grasp remains a distant goal, however. This, the Tahitians explain, is not New Caledonia.
In that sister colony across the Pacific, racial tensions between indigenous black Melanesians and white French settlers have exploded into violence over independence.
Here in the eastern Pacific, by contrast, generations of intermingling between the French and the golden-hued Polynesians have produced a more harmonious society, in a languid South Seas "paradise."
"It's difficult," said one frustrated anti-nuclear activist, Swedish anthropologist Bengt Danielsson, a long-time Tahiti resident.
No Protests in Streets
"The Polynesians simply don't see the point of protesting in the streets. It's such a European thing to do."
But the Polynesians' laissez-faire attitude is not the only factor that keeps them inside a shrinking French empire.
For the French military, the nuclear testing station has simply become too important for independence even to be contemplated for Tahiti and French Polynesia's 130 other scattered islands. And for the Polynesians the military establishment is an economic necessity--their standard of living would collapse if they had to depend on coconuts, pearls and tourism.