Celebrate peace rather than commemorate wars

2014-2018 VoCe project was born at the time when Europe was about to start commemorating the Centenary of the First World War.
The thought of its proponents, who are citizens from several countries like Germany, France, Poland, soon joined up by members from Bosnia and more recently from Rumania and Hungary, bore essentially on the way to celebrate differently this sad anniversary.
They decided that artistic practice should be the main motive for the actions which were to mark out each meeting, whether already planned or due to be held in the forthcoming months.
European citizen-choristers brought together for the important event that has just taken place in Wrocław (Poland) will mainly remember those moments of musical and festive togetherness they shared with each other.
However, the time for remembrance was not totally out: during our stay, we were honoured to meet three Polish historians who initiated and took part in a debate on peace: Tomasz Pudłocki, a research fellow of the Jagiellonian University, Crakovia – the oldest Polish university, accompanied by Magister Stanisław Szynkowski – PhD student at the University of Opole and Mag. Magda Arsenicz – PhD student at the Jagiellonian University.
IMG_0954IMG_1022          Tomasz Pudłocki – Jagiellonian University, Crakovia  and Mascha Join-Lambert, président and initiator of VoCE project

From the historical point of view, one must bear in mind that Poland didn’t existed previously as a political State, as shown on the map below. The city of Wrocław was under German rule and was then called Breslau.

Nevertheless, there was an awareness of a Polish nation among citizens, especially artists and musicians. This corresponds to what historians called « The awakening of the nations », a movement that began in the middle of the 19th century, and which was echoed in a number of works by European musicians, such as Smetana (Vlatava,my homeland),  or by Albeniz (Spanish Suite). The suite Finlandia (1899) by Sibelius provided Finland its present (unofficial) hymn, and the latter was sung several times under the title A song for Peace by the choristers in Wrocław and Łambinovice

From 1914 to 1918, three armies thus fought on Polish ground. It may seem difficult to know who the « winners » of those battles were. It will be remembered that the State of Poland was born at the end of this conflict, thanks to the notion of the Right of peoples to self-determination and to the support of countries such as France. It is also important to remember that, whatever the country implied in the war, whatever its alliances and beyond the notion of victory, some common points clearly appeared:
– Hatred for fights and for the mass slaughter of a whole generation of young men.
– In most families, at least one member had been killed or had been seriously wounded.
– Sufferings and poverty were endured during and after the conflict by soldiers and civilians alike.
– Emancipation of women
– Setting-up of war memorials to the victims even where there had been no fights (i.e. Budapest). In contrast, those memorials are fairly rare in Poland where the sufferings of the Second World War, which were even worse, are more vivid.

At the end of the lecture, groups of thought were formed to exchange ideas on the theme of commemoration and especially of peace.
Different topics were debated: the issue about minorities in Poland today, the memory of deported people, especially people who were living in the East, this correspond to the current Ukraine, to the West, the identity of people at major events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Balkans War.
This conference led us to the heart of issues concerning European citizens now a day: is it possible to find ourselves while closing our doors?
And can we heal from painful memories without turning to others who feel the same pains?

Here are some testimonies:
« For me, who was only five when war began in my country, the Stones of Memory are the traces of bullets, hand-grenades or shootings one can still see on the walls of houses.  They are also the roses painted on the ground. These traces enable us to remember this must not happen again ». (Dunja, from Bosnia)
 » My grand parents were deported from Ukraine near Wrocław. They thought they could be back home during 40 years… » (Terenia, from France, born in Poland)
« It is difficult to convey memory to children. We often teach from the point of view of our own country. Sometimes it’s too emotional to sing pieces that remind us of such painful experiences ». (Anne-Marie, from France)
« It is a good idea to commemorate in a feeling of brotherhood. We can always say we are sorry, but our generation is not responsible. If we had met a hundred years ago, we might have been enemies ». (Levente, from Hungary)

« We don’t necessarily learn from the past. There is always a war going on somewhere, even if it is not within Europe. Today there is terrorism. Often, the media and politicians play at dividing people ». (Olivier, from France)
« Near where I live, there is a war memorial to the First World War. I walk past it every day but I don’t think about it every time, it is not possible ». (Ildiko, from Hungary)
« We must find something that will keep us together, not just our nation or our religion, as it has been in the past. This is why your VoCe project is original and interesting: rather than commemorating wars, it celebrates peace above all, and this is why I encourage you to keep up in this direction ». (Tomas Pudłocki, Polish historian)

The next day, all the choristers taking part in this event were driven to Łambinovice, 90 kilometres South of Wroclaw: this is the site of former Stalag (camp for war prisoners) and of a war cemetery where thousands of soldiers who fell during the First World War are buried. Most nations are represented: Poland, Russia, Rumania, Serbia, Germany, Great Britain, France…
This is where we sang Sibelius’s Song for Peace again and formed a chain of friendship in the paths between the graves.
See the video of the event: lambinowice