World War I "has defined European history"

This weekend, political leaders joined in the commemorations of the centenary of the end of the First World War.

On Sunday, the European Green Party co-chairs Reinhard Bütikofer and Monica Frassoni issued a statement to mark the moment when the guns fell silent.

They said: “The First World War was the first industrialised war in human history. Three quarters of the countries that existed in the world at the time were drawn into this war, in which 17 million people lost their lives. In the Battle of the Somme alone - the bloodiest battle in human history - 1 million people were killed."

The statement went on, "The murderous character of war was exacerbated in ways that had been unimaginable just a few years before European powers sleep-walked into this global war. To commemorate this anniversary pays homage to the victims and also the positive heritage of overcoming Europe’s divisions and leaving behind the antagonisms of nationalism and chauvinism."

They added, "World War I has defined European history ever since. It has taught us never to forget that peace cannot be taken for granted and that it is our solemn duty to ensure that it prevails. After seven decades of relative peace in Europe, it is crucial not to become complacent. As we mourn the many millions of Europeans that died on the battlefields in the First World War, we should also show gratitude to the individuals that have helped keep a lasting peace in Europe.”

Meanwhile, European council president Donald Tusk, speaking on Sunday, has told of his personal connection to Armistice Day.

He said, "I am very moved to have the opportunity to meet with so many circles of people for whom the Freedom Games are the place for an annual meeting which is important not only for those taking part, but also for everyone who believes that freedom in Poland has a future.

This day is especially significant for me because it was exactly 40 years ago, minus one day, that I first had the opportunity to take part in a demonstration on the anniversary of independence - which was illegal at the time - beneath the Jan Sobieski III statue in Gdańsk. 40 years ago.

I remember that day very well because two weeks later, I married my wife. As you can imagine, those events of 11 November ended in what was for me my first personal experience of political repression. But it wasn't the citizens' militia or the security service, just the reaction of my then fiancée when I was late because of the demonstration and I attempted to give politics as an excuse for my lateness to our last date as an engaged couple. If my wife had known at the time that this explanation would pop up so often over the next 40 years, then my personal history might have looked completely different.

That day I wondered - I was a history student back then, and I was passionate about the history of, what else, the 20-year inter-war period and the life of the politician Józef Piłsudski - I wondered whether I was expecting freedom and independence, whether I was expecting the same sort of miraculous conspiracy of events as those which, 60 years earlier - it was then the 60th anniversary - had led to Poland gaining its independence. I wondered whether something that was impossible could once again turn out to be possible, like it had in 1918. Because exactly what had happened then really had been impossible.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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