Every year the Maire receives the President of France's official Armistice Day speech to read at the local ceremony.
This year the speech emphasised the need to acknowledge all those who have 'died for France'. With the death several years ago of the last of the poilus (the French First World War soldiers are affectionately known as 'Beardies' because of their often luxuriant facial hair), Nicolas Sarkozy has been introducing more and more references to other conflicts where French soldiers have died. He has announced a proposal to change the law, making it obligatory to have the names of all the fallen, whether from wars fought on the home front or overseas, carved on war memorials. The name of the memorial day will be changed to include tous les morts pour France. A new monument is to be constructed in Paris to commemorate those soldiers killed in overseas operations (154 in the last 10 years, 24 of those in Afghanistan in the last year).
This change of focus has not gone uncriticised. Some people feel the sacrifices of the First World War, made on French soil for French people, will be sidelined. Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate for the 2012 presidential election, says that Sarko is trying to manipulate history. Sarkozy's response is that 'those who have fallen in IndoChina, at Suez, in North Africa, but also in the Balkans, the Middle East, in Chad, in Ivory Coast and in Afghanistan have the right to the respect and honours that the Nation reserves for those who have sacrificed their lives for her'.
After participating yesterday in the ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe and tomb of the unknown soldier, Sarkozy travelled to Meaux to open the new musée de la Grande Guerre. With the centenary of the start of the war coming up in 2014, this new museum will play a key role in the programme of commemorative events. In his speech Sarkozy took the opportunity to say that Europe is 'an enterprise of peace constructed on the blood spilt in three wars' which he 'intends to defend with all his might' as 'we have a duty to preserve it at all costs'.