France marks WWI without veterans as questions grow

Mon Nov 10, 2008 9:26am EST
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By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - France celebrates the 90th anniversary of the end of World War One Tuesday as a government-commissioned report said the country should cut back on the number of official memorial days.

World War One, fought in large part on their home soil, cost more than 1.4 million French lives between 1914-1918 and remains firmly anchored in the country's memory even after the death this year of Lazare Ponticelli, its last surviving veteran.

But with 11 other national days ranging from memorials to the dead of France's colonial wars in Algeria and Indochina to the abolition of slavery, some believe there can be too much official commemoration.

"It is not healthy that within half a century, the number of commemorations has doubled," the report of the commission headed by historian Andre Kaspi, said, according to an extract quoted in the daily Le Figaro Monday.

"It is not acceptable that the nation gives in to communitarian interests and multiplies the number of days of repentance to satisfy a group of victims because that would be to weaken the national consciousness," it said.

The commission recommends retaining Armistice Day, the May 8 celebration to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the Bastille Day celebration on July 14, relegating the other commemorations to local or regional events.

Some critics have also said that in the interests of European unity, commemorations of the wars that tore the continent apart last century should lose some of their purely national emphasis.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to attend an Armistice Day celebration Tuesday but in a break with tradition, will not commemorate the event at the tomb of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in the heart of Paris.   Continued...

<p>A colour party marches away from the Canadian National Vimy Memorial following a Remembrance Day ceremony to commemorate members of the armed forces who were killed since World War One in Vimy, France, November 9, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>