Dozens of leaders from around the globe on Sunday converged in Paris to attend a portentous ceremony commemorating 100 years since the armistice that put an end to the brutal conflict now known as World War I.
Some 70 heads of State and government were among the guests of an event hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who gave a solemn speech exalting the millions of young men who were tragically killed fighting in the Great War and criticized what he identified as the root of the global-scale bloodbath, the ideology of nationalism, reports Efe news.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said. “Nationalism betrays it.”
“Old demons are resurfacing. History sometimes threatens to take its tragic course again and compromise our hope of peace. Let us vow to prioritize peace over everything,” the French leader added, in what appeared to be a reference to the surge of far-right nationalist parties and movements across Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Before Macron’s speech, the world leaders walked side-by-side under an unforgiving downpour towards the iconic Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs-Élysées avenue while the bells of the French capital’s churches tolled to mark the exact time the 1918 ceasefire went into effect, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Attending dignitaries included the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who all represent the successor states to the Central Powers that ended up being defeated in the war (the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires).
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – as well as leaders of former parts of the British Empire such as Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar or Indian Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu – symbolized the Allied or Entente coalition that emerged victorious in the struggle, despite the heavy losses suffered in terms of military and civilian lives. US President Donald Trump skipped the meet, inviting global criticism.
While a youth orchestra as well as renowned Chinese-American cellist Yo-yo Ma provided the musical aspect of the ceremony, the leaders held a moment of silence around the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.
Merkel was later set to give an opening speech alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the start of an international peace forum concocted by Macron as a tribute to multilateralism and a bulwark against nationalist tendencies.
Some 10,000 police officers provided security for an event filled with VIPs in a city repeatedly targeted by terror attacks.