The commemorations with the parade of political leaders, flags and national anthems could be great set-ups organized for particular interests, but “returning history to the young generations means remembering that war is always possible and that it stands as a warning not to repeat the mistakes of the past.” Dominique Quinio, editor-in-chief of the French Catholic daily “La Croix” for ten years, incumbent President of the Social Weeks of France, thus commented on the commemorative ceremony held in Paris marking the end of the First World War with the signature of the Armistice one hundred years ago. Over 70 heads of Government and State walked along the Camps-Elysees under the pouring rain up to the Arch de Triomphe. The ceremony was followed by a two-day Peace Forum where both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly voiced their rejection of “nationalisms” and populisms. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, spoke of a “mechanism” whose many parts seem to bring us back to the early 20th century and to the 1930s. Mr. Macron declared: “We must build our hopes rather than playing our fears against each other.” His words were echoed in Rome by Pope Francis: “The historic page of the First World War – His Holiness said on Sunday 11 November after the Angelus prayers – should be a warning for everyone to reject a ‘culture of war’ and seek every legitimate means to put an end to the conflicts that still bleed several regions of the world. It seems that we don’t learn.” Too bad that after the ceremony US President Donald Trump chose to pay tribute to US fallen soldiers at the American cemetery of Suresnes on the outskirts of Paris, thereby deserting the Peace Forum.
Dominique Quinio, what are your impressions of the Commemorations and of the Forum?
I was impressed by the distinction between patriotism and nationalism. We can love our homeland and love the world, working for the establishment of peace and for peoples’ development worldwide. The words of President Macron and of Chancellor Merkel, just like the warning of the UN Secretary General, are deeply significant in our world today, faced by the resurgence of forces that could pose a threat to Europe and thus to the stability of the whole world. The issue of unilateralism was questioned, reiterating the determination to strengthen international cooperation.
Yet, the fact remains that the United States did not attend the Peace Forum, which is reason for concern.
What leads world Countries to close off their national boundaries?
It’s no longer a matter of ascribing the responsibility of our own situation onto others. In fact, globalization per se is being questioned, highlighting its negative consequences on people’s lives.
Thence derives the need to feel protected. It’s about me and my region, me and my city, me and my country. Security and superiority: being closed off meets these aspirations.
Donald Trump, who exploits this need, made it clear. Evidently, there are people who feel more protected if their Countries are not open.
The wars of the 20th century were the outcome of exasperated nationalisms. In this respect, at the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, what lessons has the Great War left in its wake?
A message of peace. Europe is a continent which experienced a long period of peace after having been devastated by the war. The ceremony in Paris was an occasion to affirm that unlike what young generations tend to believe, peace is not a condition achieved once and for all. Indeed, the great tragedy of war belongs to the past. But we must beware of the germs capable of reigniting violence, resentment and hatred against one another, which could continue intensifying day after day.
Remembering the past means understanding today how we can hope in the definitive end of 20th century world wars and avoid the resumption of extreme forms of nationalism that could trigger further conflicts.
Seventy world leaders walked along the Champs-Elysées. Is it a mise-en-scene or do these commemorations have a purpose?
Indeed, a part of it is a mise-en-scene, along with the determination of President Macron to give prominence to France in the global arena. On top of this there is a shortage of means. In other words, all these issues can’t be addressed without the participation of the United States. But bridges can’t be broken up. It is necessary to continue nurturing international agreements on climate, on nuclear disarmament, through dialogue. The effectiveness of these celebrations can be questioned at geo-political level, but in people’s conscience, in that of young people in particular, they are important events.