The First World War, a major event in the 20th century
The Great War (1914-18) commemorations in Brussels-Capital Region are an opportunity to underline the timeless nature of values such as memory, freedom, solidarity, social cohesion, country, independence and democracy – all of which were highlighted during this first global-level war.
Memory is vital, because "A people without memory are a people without a future." Hence the importance of recalling the nature of this war: its origin, different episodes, its characteristics such as extreme brutality, the fate of civilians, and the way that values such as solidarity or freedom were experienced. The consequences of the war should also be remembered, such as the impact on democracy, social security, and Belgium’s language communities, not forgetting the long march towards the Second World War.
In view of our ideas today about war, it goes without saying that our conceptions of peace, freedom and democracy are very important, and that the events of 1914-18 must serve to build tomorrow’s democracy.
Brussels and the war
Brussels was occupied by the Germans for four years, but did not suffer any destruction. Ci-vilians took part in the war effort and some were executed by firing squad, thus turning them into heroes.
Brussels will honour those who fought: famous people, the units, and the military and civilian victims, especially leading figures in the Resistance. As a capital city, Brussels will pay na-tional homage to the combatants and victims. Given that Brussels is made up of districts, local homage will also be paid widely across the Region.
Brussels was the only capital to have been occupied and, when the war was over, to have served as the location of national homage as a capital, whilst organising commemorations of local links in the city’s districts.
It is essential to build momentum in order to reach the widest possible audience by combining symbolic events, events for the public at large, and targeted events.
The focus will be on: raising people’s awareness and that of young people in particular, the building of Europe as a model of peace and the role played by Brussels as capital of Europe; and the place and role of Brussels in the war and what remains of this memory across the Re-gion.
An outline of the programme of commemorations
The cross-cutting objective is to learn from the Great War, with a view to pursuing the con-struction of a democratic Europe where Brussels is the capital. This will be done through three priority areas: the international role of Brussels, raising awareness among young people, and raising awareness of people in Brussels.
The programme of official commemorations of the Great War already includes a number of major gatherings and initiatives. Many other projects will gradually be unveiled over the coming months.
As of today, the main areas of activity are:
• A call for proposals for highlighting the memory of 1914-18. A procedure to be launched in late October 2013 will help to support a variety of projects such as exhibitions, teaching activities, publications, etc.
• A major national commemoration is planned in Brussels on 11 November 2018, to coincide with the date of the end of the conflict.
• A mapping show will look at life during the occupation in the summer of 2015.
• The Region will launch in 2015 a call for proposals aimed at building a new monument dedicated to the transmission of memory on its territory.
• The Region will be responsible for the publication of books on memory traces to be found in Brussels as well as the history of the Region’s occupation during the war. These publications will take many forms: on paper; on the website, where all traces will be mentioned and explained; an educational publication; and a publication for use during guided tours of the different sites or monuments.
• A educational website covering details of the Great War, focused on Brussels, will go live in early 2014.
• Public space signage will be installed to identify and explain several memorial sites. These signs will also enable the development of thematic walks and/or guided tours.
• Specific brochures and plans will be made available for local people and tourists. They will be in paper form and as applications for smartphones and tablets.