Remembering the armistice 100 years on

More than 60 heads of state and government including Trump, Putin, Merkel and Macron commemorated the end of World War I in Paris on the weekend. The French president warned of the threat posed by the rise of nationalism. One hundred years after the signing of the armistice in the Forest of Compiègne, Europe's commentators ask if the date really is cause for celebration.

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Karar (TR) /

Muslim world must stop casting itself as victim

The Middle East is still shaped by the consequences of the First World War, Karar stresses:

“We have to come to terms with the fact that the Muslim world experienced the worst destruction in World War I. ... With the legacy of the Ottoman Empire Turkey is among the most developed countries in the Islamic world. But here too, we've been struggling for decades to overcome the 'birth pangs of the system' and fully realise the constitutional state. ... If the lawlessness in our region has become systematic, this is because the problem is very deep-rooted. In the last 100 years the imperialists' imperialism hasn't changed. However, if we had corrected our weaknesses the world would be a different place. We'd do well to put some thought into that.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

The peace that gave birth to the Holocaust

No peace has brought as many catastrophes as that of 1918, remarks El País columnist Guillermo Altares in an opinion peace in La Repubblica:

“Of course the truce that ended the First World War 100 years ago, ended the fighting - albeit on the Western front only - and saw millions of men return to their homes. ... But what happened after 1918 led to a dreadful combination of violence that ultimately resulted in the Second World War and the Holocaust. ... The Treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919 was the worst possible peace treaty. The humiliation heaped upon the Germans by the victorious powers was the seed that bore the fruit of the swastika. But the problems had begun before then, with the explosion of all kinds of nationalisms.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

Who has cause to celebrate - and who doesn't

The former Western powers France, Britain and the US may have cause to celebrate but the others most certainly do not, Ria Novosti notes:

“For some countries - Russia, for example - the armistice of Compiègne was much ado about nothing. Firstly because on 3 March 1918 Russia had signed the separate peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Secondly and more importantly: at the end of 1918 civil war broke out all over our country. The fact that the killing had stopped on the fields of Flanders in 1918 was not particularly relevant for the Russians. ... For other countries, first and foremost the Central Powers Austria-Hungary and Germany, there was no particular reason to celebrate either. What they experienced in November 1918 was a collapse of their statehood, and the winners - above all the French - were keen not to leave the Germans anything but their eyes, so that they could weep over their defeat.”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

This war never ended

Naftemporiki questions whether 11 November 1918 really marked the end of the war:

“Why did all that happen? A century has passed since the end of the Great War yet the uncertainty about the reasons for the bloodshed still exists. There is no classical contrast between 'good' and 'evil', there was no 'monster'. ... Was the war that created the facts that have shaped today's world unnecessary? Did it end on 11 November 1918 or did the massacre in Eastern and Southeast Europe never end, as it did for the British and French in 1918? And lastly: Has this war ended or is it still raging in the Middle East?”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Symbolism alone is not enough

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron unveiled a commemorative plaque in the Forest of Compiègne. A fine symbol, Le Figaro writes, but not much more than that:

“The image of the president hugging the German chancellor in the Glade of the Armistice will be remembered. ... Europe has experienced 70 years of peace. ... Protecting this heritage is necessary, but not in everyone's eyes. The 'magic of the spoken word' has its limits. ... The Franco-German motor has broken down. Paris and Berlin are no longer able to achieve a consensus with strong initiatives in order to revive the meaning of the European project. Something has to happen. Simply relying on symbols, no matter how strong they may be, is not enough.”

Delo (SI) /

Fake peacemakers

Delo seriously doubts whether the politicians in attendance really want peace:

“Many of the leaders who celebrated the 100th anniversary of the armistice yesterday are caught up in dirty wars today. True, their conflicts aren't being fought on the same front lines as in the 1914-18 war. Nevertheless the powers involved in modern wars are at least somewhat similar to those that fought in WWI. The many politicians who were gathered in Paris do not inspire trust. The demonstrators of the feminist Femen group who dashed out onto the Champs Elysées near the Arc de Triomphe had every reason to write 'fake peacemakers' and 'hypocrisy parade' on their chests.”

El País (ES) /

A continent unites around graves

The commemoration of the dead will be a lasting reminder to Europe of the incalculable worth of peace, El País hopes:

“The ceremonies held among the graves on the fields between Flanders and the Somme, where an entire generation of young Europeans lies, testify to the best values this continent has been able to construct over the last few decades. This commemoration has demonstrated the unity of its politicians, but above all that of its citizens, who all stand by the principles that should always dominate Europe's horizon. The most important achievement is the most obvious, and at the same time the most relevant: peace. These old battlefields are a reminder of its fragility and also of the persistence of war in Europe's history.”

Kommersant (RU) /

With Macron immigrants can also feel like heroes

Kommersant's France correspondent Alexei Tarkhanov analyses Macron's version of World War I remembrance:

“In practice the president's goal is to unite in common remembrance all kinds of people who don't have much to do with each other in today's France - from dyed-in-the-wool conservatives to representatives of the 'new French'. According to the academics many of the immigrants who live in France today are descendants of participants and heroes of the Great War. Because as a major power France mobilised the inhabitants of its colonies. 'Coloured' military units - Arabs, Africans, Vietnamese - all contributed to the victory. It's no mere coincidence that Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, president of Mali, where many descendants of soldiers who fought for France live, is among the star guests Macron is meeting to mark the 100th anniversary.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

The world must stand together

Lech Wałęsa, co-founder of the Solidarność movement and later president of Poland, calls in Gazeta Wyborcza for more solidarity in Europe and worldwide:

“The strengthening of the state necessitates the reinforcement of procedures and institutions. Year after year, mandate after mandate, generation after generation. History has robbed us of our time, we are impatient. Both in the Second as well as in the Third Polish Republic, we've become used to taking shortcuts. ... I would like to live in a Poland that is governed by self-confident, ambitious, educated European democrats. The changes in the world, demographics, climate change, growing inequality, modern technologies, the use of artificial intelligence: these are the problems we must face - on a global level!”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Neighbours become the enemy far too quickly

Europe's nations risk falling into the same trap as they did in 1914, Novaya Gazeta laments:

“Humanity has entered the 21st century just as divided as it was a hundred or even a thousand years ago. The old wounds can open up any time. In 1914 entire nations were seized by nationalist ardour and irrational madness. Only later did the pointlessness and absurdity of that war become visible, the powerlessness of people against the machinery of the state that sent them to their deaths. ... The Great War showed how easy it is to manipulate entire nations. You only need shout: 'We must kill the treacherous enemy!' No one asks: 'Why is my neighbour suddenly my enemy?' ”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Colonies were not a sideshow

The Süddeutsche Zeitung's France correspondent Nadia Pantel hopes that the colonies won't be overlooked in Europe's commemorative ceremonies.

“The Grande Guerre became a world war because the Europeans extended their power grabbing to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The battles fought in the colonies were not a sideshow; the local populations were forcibly recruited or enlisted to join the armies of the occupiers under false promises. ... Under Macron, France is at last showing the first signs of wanting to tackle its colonial past more directly. It is coming at it very late in the day and very timidly, but the longer this is put off, the more implausible the grand peace gestures become. ... Europe's politicians can only win if they grant a central place in the national narratives to those they once oppressed.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

The best Europe we have

The Brussels correspondent of De Telegraaf, Ruud Mikkers, complains about a lack of historical consciousness in the discussion about European politics:

“Germany today is the very model of European collaboration. And yet there is much bitterness about Merkel. Views of her legacy are dominated by her decision to take a generous stance vis-à-vis refugees in 2015. She knew that this wasn't going to win her the popularity prize at home. But the price that would have had to have been paid had she not done this - the likely collapse of the union with all its consequences - would have been greater still. She is certainly a chancellor with a huge sense of responsibility. ... I know too that the situation here in Brussels is not often that pretty. But what is the alternative? The debates are often lacking in historical consciousness.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

French avoiding Poland

The end of the First World War also brought independence for Poland. Rzeczpospolita is disappointed that no French politicians are coming to Warsaw to honour this:

“The leading politicians of the world, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin among them, will go to Paris on 11 November, one hundred years after the end of World War I. Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz will represent Poland. But no one from France will be coming to Warsaw on that day, and this is sad and paradoxical when you recall that a few days ago Chancellor Merkel laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw. Because one hundred years ago Poland was building up its independence against Germany's resistance. And France was the only country which really supported Poland back then.”