France’s president used a global commemoration of the end of the First World War to remind leaders today that the peace forged a century ago can be easily undone by rising nationalism wrapped in the mask of patriotism.
Emmanuel Macron told a gathering of more than 60 world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that those among them who call themselves nationalists threaten to erase the moral values a nation has by putting their own interests first regardless of the effects on others.
The message seemed directed at U.S. President Donald Trump, who in recent weeks described himself as a nationalist.
Trump and Macron said during a meeting Saturday that they had calmed stormy waters after the two sparred over a trans-Atlantic military alliance, better known as NATO, and the American president’s continual unease about spending by member countries.
But Macron appeared to stir the seas anew in his speech, given as a cold rain pelted the French capital.
Macron warned how fragile peace can be in an age where the tensions that gave rise to four years of bloody battle, costing millions of lives, appear to be festering again. He told the assembled masses that the “traces of this war never went away.”
He urged the leaders present to promise their peoples that the resurgent ”old demons” would not be able to return, sowing “chaos and death.”
“New ideologies manipulate religions, push a contagious obscurantism,” he said. ”Sometimes, history threatens to retake its tragic course and threaten our heritage of peace that we believed we had definitively settled with our ancestors’ blood.”
Macron, Trudeau and other leaders came to Paris hoping to use the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War to renew calls to quash festering tensions across the globe.
“There is a general sense and desire among many countries, including Canada to do whatever is possible to sustain the institutions of the international order and practical, multilateral co-operation. And so you see that in Canada, you see that in Germany,” said Roland Paris, Trudeau’s former foreign adviser.
“Macron (is) essentially making that point: that we can sustain co-operation, we must sustain co-operation.”
Trudeau, who is on a 10-day trip across Europe and Asia, will come face-to-face with three of the nations sowing some of that tension: Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trudeau spoke with Trump at a dinner Macron organized on Friday night — although government officials wouldn’t say the exact topic of conversation. Trudeau will also attend summits this week in Asia that Putin and Xi are scheduled to attend.
Trump did not shake Trudeau’s hand when he arrived with wife Melania at the iconic Arc de Triomphe. Neither Trump nor Putin walked a bit of the Champs-Elysee with other leaders after church bells rang out as the hour turned to 11 a.m. local time, marking the moment the guns fell silent across Europe a century ago.
Trudeau has had to navigate the mercurial American president, and on Sunday afternoon he will navigate that line again when he takes part in a panel discussion about freedom of the press — another group with whom Trump has frequently sparred.
The panel is part of a peace forum organized by Macron, described by France’s ambassador to Canada as intended to amplify the voices of non-governmental organizations and prod political leaders present to commit to Macron’s call for peace.
“If you’re not backed up by the highest political authority, nothing will happen,” Kareen Rispal said in an interview Friday.
“You have to get the real commitment from the political leaders.”
Rispal also said Trudeau’s appearance at the Arc de Triomphe ceremony would be a reminder of Canada’s contributions during the war, which aren’t always recognized in Europe.
Some 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the First World War, and more than 66,000 of them lost their lives. About 172,000 more were injured.
Others served behind the front lines, working with locals to aid the war effort.
“We as French, we as Europeans — I think we don’t value enough the effort made by the Canadians,” Rispal said in an interview Friday.
— With files from the Associated Press.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press