This year, the centenary of the start of World War I has led Italy to join others in rekindling the memory of an event that radically changed Europe.
Italy premiered a movie, Return The Lawns, in all its diplomatic missions across the world. In Uganda, the movie premiered at the Italian ambassador’s residence in Kololo last Tuesday.
The balcony to the ambassador’s plush residence was turned into a cinema that hosted several dignitaries, among which was the state minister of Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem. The Lawns Will Return is certainly not a thriller, but a soldier ends on a moving note: “When also this war is over, everyone will go back to where they come from.
New grass will grow and of what took place here and all that we suffered nothing will remain. And it will no longer seem real.”
The movie takes you through the daily life of millions of young men, many of whom would never come home, after the five years of war. It was shot in the snow mountains of the Alps, where World War I in Italy was fought, at altitudes of up to 3,000 metres and temperatures far below zero.
Yet the climax of nationalism that Europe saw right after the war, also as a way to legitimize the unbearable shock it caused, plunge Europe into yet another World War, 1939-45, which turned out to be even worse than the first one, which had been called “The great war to end all wars”.
But as the Italian ambassador to Uganda Stefano A Dejak notes, the war failed to end wars in Europe, though, the lesson learned led to the establishment of the United Nations and the European Union. This war, according to Dejak, cost human lives in Europe that no other continent has ever known in the short space of one generation.
Dejak makes a conservative estimate of 50 million people that were killed in the two wars, without counting 20 million European victims of the pandemic of the Spanish flu, which started the month after the end of the war – to kill in 24 weeks more people than HIVAids has done worldwide in 24 years.
“Reflecting upon our collective past should really lead us to learn from our mistakes, in order to avoid ever repeating them again,” Dejak said.
“This is why it is so crucial to celebrate, as we do today, the memory of World War I.”
According to Dejak, three years after the end of World War I in Italy, a train left the station of Aquileia, a city north of Venice on the Adriatic coast, close to where the whole war was fought. On top of it lay a coffin with the body of an unknown soldier, chosen among 11 similar ones by a woman whose only child died in the war.
The train travelled to Rome amidst the tribute of millions of Italians who kneeled down at its passage in an unending crowd over 800km, in honour of the suffering the war had caused to everyone. On November 4, 1921, the coffin was laid to rest at the centre of the Altar of the Homeland, towering over Piazza Venezia, at the very heart of Rome: the monument known as the Vittoriano, celebrating the unification of Italy, built right after Rome became its capital in 1870.
Ever since the day of the laying to rest of the unknown soldier, a military guard of honour stands by him, day and night, and you can easily notice it when you visit Piazza Venezia in Rome. In fact 36 years after November 4, 1921, just a hundred metres from where the coffin was laid, the leaders of the six pioneer European Union nations laid the foundation of what is today the European Union, by signing in Rome the treaty establishing the European Economic Community.
Source : The Observer