Address by H.E. Mr. Yves Carmona on the occasion of the 96th anniversary of the Armistice
"On November 11, 1918, at 11 am sharp, bugles at the front sounded the cease-fire. A few hours earlier, the Armistice - the 96th anniversary of which we are celebrating today, was signed in Rethondes, ending the First World War.
However exactly 100 years ago, in November 1914, hostilities were far from over. After the bloody war of movement, the horror of the trenches was awaiting the survivors.
Four long years among mud, blood and fear. A long war of attrition, punctuated by deadly and absurd offensives and by hand to hand combats, and ending with a breakthrough of a few miles only. Between February and June 1916, 300,000 men fell at the Battle of Verdun, the most terrible of the conflict.
"I think it’s a victory, because I came out alive," French writer Roland Dorgelès said. After the euphoria of the Armistice, it is indeed difficult to rejoice when facing the figures of the conflict : a soldier in six died in combat, one in three is injured. 18 million deaths, 6 million invalids, more than 4 million widows and 8 million orphans...
The war spared no one. For the first time, the conflict was global. Peoples of the colonial Empires were sent on the battlefields. My thoughts go, of course, to these 40,000 Indochinese sent to fight in France and on the Eastern front between 1916 and 1918. More than 1,000 did not return. At least five among them were born in Laos ; we paid our respect to them earlier today at the cemetery. For this, I would like to congratulate the students of the French high school Josué Hoffet and their teacher, Mrs. de Vathaire, who are behind this beautiful iniative.
If this conflict became global, it is also thanks to the intervention of allies geographically distant, but who came to defend the values they believed in. I am thinking in particular to Australia, where President Hollande will travel next week. In 1914, the Australian population was less than 5 million, but 400,000 men, all volunteers, joined the army. On the Eastern Front, the Battle of Gallipoli, on April 25, 1915, when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was deployed, is now celebrated every year on ANZAC Day. In France, no one has forgotten the role of Australian soldiers during the battles of Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres, or Fromelles.
No, France does not forget. Each November 11, France remembers the First World War. Each November 11, France honors the memory of those who sacrificed their lives defending her, who fought for peace and freedom.
As this year marks the centennial of the beginning of the war, commemorations in 2014 are highly symbolic.
The beginning of the centenary celebrations began this summer in Sarajevo, Bosnia, precisely where 100 years ago, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria drew the world into the war. This summer, during the operation "Sarajevo heart of Europe", France, Germany and Britain but also the European Union have organized cultural, sporting, educational and scientific events commemorating a century of European history.
A little later, on Bastille Day, representatives of the 70 countries whose people had taken part in the First World War were invited to attend the traditional parade on the Champs-Elysees. I know that the Ambassador of Lao PDR to France, HE Mr Ouan Phommachak was present on this occasion.
Finally, today, only a few hours ago, President Hollande, inaugurated the International Memorial of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region. There, the names of the 600,000 men who died on the battlefields of the region are listed in alphabetical order, regardless of nationality, in order to pay tribute to all the soldiers of the Great War.
Celebrating November 11 is to celebrate the day when, finally, the killing ended. That day when we hoped it would be the last, "la Der des Ders." That day when we did not know yet that the horror had only temporarily stopped and would start again only two decades later.
But today at last, our contry is at peace. This peace has a name, it is the European Union. The EU is the daughter of courageous leaders, members of a generation marked by two world wars, who succeeded to agree and to end the barbarism in Europe.
France no longer fears its neighbors and yet it does not lower its guard. Despite budget constraints, in value terms, the French defense budget makes it the fourth world military power. There is no lasting peace without continuous effort in the field of defense. Thanks to this effort, France is capable to conduct peacekeeping operations under UN or EU mandate, in Africa, in Sahel, and more recently in the Middle East. Thanks to this effort, France will relentlessly support operations at the service of the universal values of peace, human rights and freedom.