Europe should never be 'tired' of peace
By Honor Mahony
EU leaders attending a commemoration of World War One on Monday (4 August) evoked the fragility of peace and importance of learning the lessons of a hundred years ago.
Representatives from across Europe gathered in the Belgian city of Liege to mark the outbreak of fighting which began on 4 August, 1914 after Germany invaded Belgium, leading to a war that would last four years and the deaths of millions of people.
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French leader Francois Hollande’s speech contained some of the strongest sentiment, including a warning that Europe should not get “tired” of peace and references to the current conflicts on the EU’s borders and in its neighbourhood.
Speaking of Belgium's neutrality at the time, Hollande said: "today neutrality is no longer appropriate".
"How can we stay neutral when a people, not far from Europe, is fighting for its rights and territorial integrity? How to stay neutral when a civilian aircraft can be shot out of the sky? When there are civilian populations being massacred in Iraq, minorities being persecuted in Syria?," he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
His comments were in reference to Ukraine where last month a passenger plane was downed over the separatist-held eastern part of the country, killing everyone onboard. The incident came after months of unrest fermented by Moscow, and after Russia's annexation of Crimea in Spring.
Referring to the building of the EU - the "crazy idea of creating a model of cooperation and progress" - Hollande said the major risk was the return of "national selfishness".
He urged the EU to take on more of its "responsibilities" saying that "Europe must always be moving and never be weary and tired of peace."
The fragility of peace was mentioned by other leaders too.
Belgian leader Elio di Rupo noted that the trade ties between countries one hundred years ago did not prevent war from breaking out.
"Their economic interdependence didn't prevent the disaster we are commemorating today," he said.
German president Joachim Gauck said that Europe must show it has learned from the past "not only through our words, but also through our everyday actions".
“I think we should use the opportunity of World War One to recognise the catastrophe that war is as well as how easy it is to become trapped in a bubble of warlike thinking," Irish President Michael D. Higgins told the Irish Times.
The commemorations were attended by representatives from some 70 countries including the presidents of Italy, Serbia and Romania, the King of Spain, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and US Secretary of the Army, John M. McHugh.
Although initially expected to be a short war, WW1 lasted until 1918 and resulted in around 17 million deaths, of which almost 7 million were civilians.