First world war: how countries across Europe will mark centenary

From exhibitions and concerts to a movie and football match, a host of events will take place to commemorate anniversary

Germany is lagging behind its European partners in devising plans to commemorate the centenary of the first world war. A press conference in Berlin yesterday has revealed a single concrete event – a small-scale "exhibition" telling the story from 1914 right through to the eastern expansion of the EU in just 26 posters.

The foreign ministry appointed a special commissioner for commemorative events, but the remit of that role lies solely in coordinating the German attendance of events abroad. It remains unclear which ministry is in charge of organising events inside the country.

Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, hinted at the reason for her government's reluctance to take a lead in shaping events last week, when he said that Germany did not have a staatliche Geschichtspolitik, a state-approved policy on historical matters. Commemorative events are usually organised at federal level, rather than decreed by Berlin. The only public event scheduled for a German official won't even happen in Germany: the president Joachim Gauck will join François Hollande in Alsace on 3 August for an event to start the commemorations.

Germany's bureaucratic stasis contrasts with a welter of events, official and unofficial, digital, public and private, in the other former belligerent countries.

France has two big commemorations to mark the centenary: the first, involving more than 1,500 exhibitions, concerts, ceremonies, debates and public events to be run by an official body created for the purpose, the Mission du Centenaire ("centenary mission"). For the second it will invite thousands of descendants of war from 31 countries, from Albania to Yemen, to organise marches commemorating the destiny and suffering of their men.

In Italy Giovanni Legnini, under-secretary to the prime minister's office, has been entrusted with the programme, but a more complex array of bodies will be working together, including the ministries of defence, education and cultural heritage. Italy will kick off its commemoration events in Sarajevo. The Italian programme runs on a larger scale, from 2014 to 2018, but is limiting itself to specific war-related stories, to deliberately rein in resources.

To crown it all, an Italian movie provisionally called 14-18, written and directed by Ermanno Olmi, is earmarked to premiere at the 2014 Venice film festival.

Britain's official commemorations will include the centenary of the first day of conflict on 4 August, the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 2016 and further events to mark the battles of Jutland, Gallipoli, Passchendaele and Armistice Day in 2018.

Funds are being distributed to hundreds of groups and communities for large and small schemes, including a grant that will allow the twinned towns of Newark in England and Emmendingen in Germany to recreate the Christmas 1914 football match in which opposing forces from the trenches on the western front came together in an unofficial truce.

Other beneficiaries of funding include, to their surprise, pacifist campaigners who have been allocated £95,800 for projects to raise awareness of the role of the more than 16,000 conscientious objectors.

However, the plans are not without critics, most vocally in the form of anti-war activists who have come together in a No Glory campaign backed by high-profile supporters such as the actors Jude Law and Alan Rickman and the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Digital legacies of the centenary will be launched in most countries. In France the links between each family and what was historically the gravest test to the country's existence will be symbolised in a website created by the ministry of war veterans. There will be individual files on every soldier who "died for France".

The Italians are going for a more studious approach by implementing initiatives to create a "virtual memorial" using audio-visual, investigative and documentary elements, aimed at researchers as well as schools.

Some of the five projects that will go into the work around this site will include a sensory reconstruction of life at the front and an interactive map of the 930-mile route between the Stelvio Alpine pass (the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire) and Redipuglia (at the eastern end of the front of the Italian campaign against Austria-Hungary).


Ben Quinn, Antoine Reverchon, Raffaello Masci and Dr Joachim Käppner

The GuardianTramp

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