Waterloo bi­cen­ten­nial unites yet di­vides Europe

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY PHILIPPE SI­U­BER­SKI

Euro­pean roy­als and diplo­mats gath­ered in Bel­gium on Thurs­day to mark the 200th an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Waterloo, a turn­ing point for the con­ti­nent which still touches a nerve and stirs na­tional pas­sions.

“Waterloo, the folly and the grandeur. The hor­ror and the ge­nius. The tragedy and then the hope,” Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter Charles Michel said in an open­ing ad­dress un­der leaden skies.

The stress was on mod­ern-day rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and the sac­ri­fice of some 47,000 dead or wounded sol­diers on the fields around the small drab town just south of Brus­sels, the tar­get of Napoleon’s ill-fated drive north in June 1815.

France and Ger­many how­ever only sent their am­bas­sadors to a cer­e­mony that at­tracted kings and dukes, re­flect­ing the fact that history still runs deep in a cor­ner of the con­ti­nent scarred by cen­turies of war.

Just as two cen­turies ago when the French em­peror faced off against al­lied forces, it rained overnight and the skies were over­cast again for the cer­e­monies, car­ried live on Bel­gian tele­vi­sion.

Michel called for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion through the “Euro­pean pro­ject” and its prom­ise of peace de­spite mod­ern-day chal­lenges of con­flict on its borders in Ukraine and eco­nomic wor­ries.

“The en­e­mies of yesterday are

the al­lies of to­day”

“The en­e­mies of yesterday are the al­lies of to­day,” said Michel.

“This re­al­ity, it is the Euro­pean pro­ject.”

The bat­tle was a piv­otal mo­ment in Euro­pean history, when around 93,000 French troops led by Napoleon faced off against 125,000 Bri­tish, Ger­man and Bel­gianDutch forces com­manded by the Duke of Welling­ton.

Napoleon was ex­iled to the is­land of Saint He­lena in the south At­lantic Ocean, where he died in 1821. The vic­tors re­drew the map of Europe and the con­ti­nent en­joyed al­most a cen­tury of rel­a­tive peace un­til the car­nage of World War I tore it apart again.

Thurs­day’s solemn cer­e­monies in Bel­gium be­gan at 11:00 a.m. (0900 GMT), the mo­ment the first mus­ket balls flew.

In the United King­dom, the fo­cus was on a ser­vice at St. Paul’s Cathe­dral at­tended by the heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

On Wed­nes­day, Charles had un­veiled a me­mo­rial at the Hougoumont Farm­house, where al­lied forces fought off re­peated French at­tacks as Napoleon des­per­ately sought to break their lines.

Just nearby stands the Waterloo mon­u­ment, a mas­sive mound topped by a de­fi­ant lion look­ing south which was com­pleted in 1826 when Bel­gium was part of Hol­land and is said to be a warn­ing to France never to come this way again.

Such sen­si­tiv­i­ties linger, es­pe­cially for France which now sees it­self as a pil­lar of the Euro­pean Union along­side Ger­many.

French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls was am­bigu­ous at best about the cer­e­monies.

“I heard it said this morn­ing that Pres­i­dent (Fran­cois Hol­lande) and my­self should have been there so that we could shed our tears over this fear­some mo­ment for our coun­try,” Valls said.

For France, that June 18 date is a badge of honor when the coun­try found its nerve again af­ter a crush­ing de­feat and dared to chal­lenge the Nazi in­vader.

As for Napoleon, French De­fense Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian ap­peared to sum up the dilemma — he had many great achieve­ments but also “cer­tain fail­ures, this drive for power and ex­tend­ing borders which was not right.”

De­scen­dants of Com­man­ders

A to­tal of 200,000 spec­ta­tors are ex­pected to make their way to Waterloo, start­ing with Thurs­day’s com­mem­o­ra­tive ser­vice and end­ing with two days of bat­tle re-en­act­ments on Fri­day and Satur­day.

Bel­gium’s King Philippe led the at­ten­dance, which in­cluded the Grand Duke of Lux­em­bourg and the Duke of Kent, the cousin of the United King­dom’s Queen El­iz­a­beth II, along with Frans Tim­mer­mans, the first vice pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

The ab­sence of Hol­lande and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel was cause for re­gret.

“It’s a shame,” Charles Bon­a­parte, a de­scen­dant of Napoleon’s brother Jerome, said Wed­nes­day.

Among those proudly present were de­scen­dants of the top com­man­ders on the day — Dutch King Willem- Alexan­der, whose an­ces­tor the Prince of Or­ange was wounded at Waterloo; Prince JeanChristophe Napoleon Bon­a­parte; the cur­rent Duke of Welling­ton and Prince Niko­laus Bluecher von Wahlstatt, whose il­lus­tri­ous fore­run­ner led the Prus­sians who ar­rived just in time to save the day for the al­lied forces.

AFP

(Above) A gallery as­sis­tant poses for pho­tog­ra­phers as she looks at a 20-me­ter-long print show­ing the com­plete fu­neral pro­ces­sion of the Duke of Welling­ton on the 200th An­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Waterloo in Lon­don on Thurs­day.

(Right) Par­tic­i­pants un­roll flags down the “Lion’s Mound” dur­ing the of­fi­cial com­mem­o­ra­tion of the bi­cen­te­nary of the Bat­tle of Waterloo, in Waterloo on Thurs­day, June 18.

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