Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and dozens of other world leaders gathered in Paris on Sunday to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War — also attending a peace forum after the Remembrance Day ceremony led by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched the three-day peace forum aimed at encouraging multilateralism, using their countries’ reconciliation as a global example.
Trudeau sat in the front row at the opening session. Before the event started, Russian President Vladimir Putin came and sat beside the Canadian prime minister. Canadian media in the room covering Trudeau on Sunday afternoon reported that the two shook hands and appeared to make small talk, but were unable to hear what was said.
‘Lack of communication and unwillingness to compromise’ can have deadly consequences.– Angela Merkel , German chancellor
Macron opened the forum by saying the world’s stability is threatened by nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism and extremism as well as by economic, environmental and refugee challenges.
In a speech inaugurating the conference, Macron said “what is important for the future is the way this image will be interpreted,” as the “symbol of durable peace between nations” or as “a picture of a last moment of unity before the world goes down in new disorder.”
“It depends only on us,” he added.
Merkel made an impassioned plea for world peace, saying “we must not simply stand by and watch” as more conflicts continue to unfold around the world.
She denounced the “national vaingloriousness and military arrogance” that led to the “senseless bloodshed” of two world wars.
In a veiled dig at U.S. Donald Trump’s America-first policies and skepticism toward multilateral co-operation, Merkel warned that “lack of communication and unwillingness to compromise” can have deadly consequences.
After attending the morning Remembrance Day ceremony, Trump skipped the peace forum, moving on to his own itinerary in the afternoon, delivering a speech at the Suresnes American Cemetery, which is near Paris.
The Paris Peace Forum’s aim is to promote concrete actions toward peace and should be repeated every year, Macron said.
Earlier in the day, more than 70 heads of state and government gathered — silent, sombre and reflective — gathered under the Arc de Triomphe at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the mute and powerful symbol of sacrifice to the millions who died from 1914-18.
With cellist Yo Yo Ma and the European Union’s youth orchestra performing, the leaders heard high school students recalling the joy felt by soldiers and civilians alike when the fighting finally stopped at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
“I only hope the soldiers who died for this cause are looking down upon the world today,” American soldier Capt. Charles S. Normington wrote on Nov. 11, 1918, in one of the letters read aloud by the students. “The whole world owes this moment of real joy to the heroes who are not here to help enjoy it.”
Macron also spoke at the morning ceremony, warning about the fragility of peace and the dangers of nationalism.
“The traces of this war never went away,” he said. “The old demons are rising again. We must reaffirm before our peoples our true and huge responsibility.”
Macron also said: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying, ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”
Commemorations start late
The ceremony started late, overshooting the centenary of the exact moment when, 100 years earlier at 11 a.m., the eerie silence of peace replaced the thunder of guns in western France.
Under a sea of black umbrellas on a grey and rainy day, a line of leaders led by Macron and his wife, Brigitte, marched in silence on the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées, after dismounting from their buses.
Trump arrived separately, in a motorcade that drove past two topless female protesters with anti-war slogans on their chests who somehow got through the rows of security and were quickly bundled away by police. The Femen group claimed responsibility.
Last to arrive was Putin. Merkel was positioned in pride of place between Trump and Macron, a powerful symbol of victors and vanquished now standing together, shoulder to shoulder. Overhead, fighter jets ripped through the sky, trailing red, white and blue smoke.
The geographical spread of the leaders in attendance showed how the “war to end all wars” left few corners of the Earth untouched but, little more than two decades later, was followed so quickly and catastrophically by the even deadlier Second World War.
Macron, Trudeau and other leaders came to Paris hoping to use the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War to renew calls to quash festering tensions across the globe.
“There is a general sense and desire among many countries, including Canada, to do whatever is possible to sustain the institutions of the international order and practical, multilateral co-operation. And so you see that in Canada, you see that in Germany,” said Roland Paris, Trudeau’s former foreign adviser.
“Macron [is] essentially making that point; that we can sustain co-operation, we must sustain co-operation.”
Trudeau is scheduled to participate at a side event at the peace forum, which was organized by Reporters Without Borders. Macron, Merkel and four other leaders representing Tunisia, Costa Rica, Senegal and Norway will all announce their countries’ support for a new declaration by Reporters Without Borders on information and democracy, a six-page document that sets out “democratic guarantees for the freedom, independence, pluralism and reliability of information at a time when the public space has been globalized, digitalized and destabilized.”
Trudeau will then stop at a new Peace Library established at the forum, to hand deliver two copies of Canadian books: Romeo Dallaire’s J’ai serré la main du diable: La faillite de l’humanité au Rwanda (Shake Hands with the Devil) and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World.
The final event on the prime minister’s schedule Sunday evening is a one-on-one meeting with Macron on the sidelines of the forum.
Reject a ‘culture of war,’ Pope says
For his part, Pope Francis said from Italy that the First World War should serve as a severe warning to reject a “culture of war.”
But Francis observed that the war’s lessons have been ignored, saying “it seems we never learn” as he addressed faithful in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.
The Pope, who often decries the arms industry, added: “Let’s invest in peace, not war!”
Dignitaries and guests at the official ceremony in Paris weren’t the only ones honouring the fallen. On the streets, people from around the world said it was important to honour their sacrifices.
It’s a good opportunity to look back at what actually happened 100 years ago and how many people actually died in some pretty grave circumstances.– Paul Thomson, Guelph, Ont., resident in
Christopher Federico, a Toronto school teacher, said he was a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian army reserve and “as a soldier and a veteran, to be able to remember all the soldiers who died in World War I and since, it’s obviously very important to me personally and to us as a country.”
Paul Thomson of Guelph, Ont., said he was in Belgium to visit the grave of his great-uncle, who was killed in the First World War, so went to Paris as well.
On the other side of the globe, Australia and New Zealand held ceremonies to recall how the war killed and wounded soldiers and civilians in unprecedented numbers and in gruesome new, mechanized ways.
Those countries lost tens of thousands of soldiers far away in Europe and, most memorably in the brutal 1915 battle of Gallipoli, in Turkey.
In London, Queen Elizabeth, dressed in black, watched from a balcony in central London as her son Prince Charles laid a wreath on her behalf at the foot of the Cenotaph, a memorial honouring the fallen. The solemn act marked by two minutes of silence was repeated in dozens of towns, cities and villages throughout Britain. Prince William and Prince Harry were among Royal Family members who also laid wreaths. Canada’s national ceremony will be held in Ottawa.
In Scotland, veterans and members of the armed forces community attended a ceremony at the City Chambers in Edinburgh.
Remembering Canada’s contributions
Kareen Rispal, France’s ambassador to Canada, says Trudeau’s appearance at the ceremony in Paris is a reminder of Canada’s contributions during the First World War that aren’t always recognized.
Some 650,000 Canadians served in the First World War, and more than 66,000 of them lost their lives. About 172,000 more were injured. Others served behind the front lines, working with locals to aid the war effort.
“We as French, we as Europeans — I think we don’t value enough the effort made by the Canadians,” Rispal said.
With files from CBC’s Janyce McGregor, The Associated Press