Europe unites to mark centenary
French and German leaders lay wreaths to fallen
French president François Hollande and German president Joachim Gauck greet each other during a ceremony of remembrance for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first World War, at the Allied Memorial, in Cointe, near Liege, Belgium, yesterday. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA
On a high ridge in the Vosges mountains, where 30,000 German and French soldiers died in the first World War trenches, the presidents of France and Germany stood side by side in a silence, then turned to each other for a long hug.
The image of reconciliation, in the crypt where the unidentified remains of 12,000 of both countries’ soldiers are interred, came at the start of carefully choreographed ceremonies yesterday commemorating the 100th anniversary of Germany’s declaration of war on France.
François Hollande and his German counterpart, Joachim Gauck, went on to place a wreath at a monument to the fallen at Hartmannswillerkopf, now known as Le Vieil Armand, before laying the first stone of a future Franco-German exhibition centre.
It was the first time that a German president had visited the cemetery, where 1,256 French soldiers are buried. The summit, used to control communications in the valleys of Alsace, changed hands eight times in the 12 months following December 1914.
In their speeches paying tribute to the dead, both presidents sought to present France and Germany as an example to the world of peace and reconciliation, and to revive the European dream. Hollande used much of his 20-minute address to plead the case of a reformed EU, stressing that Europe “doesn’t dilute nationhood”. Recognising that the EU had been unprepared for crisis and that it had failed to bring prosperity to all its peoples, he called for “growth, jobs and solidarity”.
France and Germany had made their voices heard in the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, he said, urging a ceasefire in Gaza “to end the suffering of the civilian population”.
On a more personal note, Hollande mentioned that both his grandfathers had fought in the first World War, although they had rarely discussed their wartime experiences. Gauck picked up the reference, noting that “our grandparents were fighting each other”. – (Guardian service)