Representatives from more than 80 countries have gathered in the Belgian city of Liege to commemorate the opening hostilities of World War One.
The city’s heroic resistance ruined Germany’s plan for a quick victory over France and bought British and French forces vital time to organise. Belgian soldiers and civilians bore the brunt of an assault that was shocking in its savagery and, after having its neutrality violated, much of the country remained under German occupation for four long years.
Germany’s current president urged those present to remember the gains made at the cost of such bloodshed.
“We have to actively defend freedom and rights, be the bearers of the truths of tolerance, justice and humanity. Ladies and gentlemen, we had to learn bitter and dreadful lessons from the two World Wars,” said Joachim Gauck.
Among the British, Belgian and French representatives at the ceremony French President François Hollande was the only one to pointedly draw parallels with ongoing conflicts today, with Ukraine at the head of his list of causes he believes Europe should more forcibly defend.
“How can we stay neutral in Gaza when a murderous conflict has lasted nearly a month? We cannot stay neutral, we have an obligation to intervene. It is Europe that has to face its responsibilities, along with the UN,” he insisted.
While those present praised the Europe that emerged from the great war and following Second World War, and acknowledged its potential as a democratic model for other regions, the great unspoken comment was the nagging wondering what Europe might have been today had it not torn itself apart so suicidally?
At the same time as the Liege events the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was staging one of its own; a reconstruction of its original anti-war protest in London on August 4 1914, near Holborn tube station.