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Mária Schmidt: First World War Lessons Should Be Used To Build Partnership


Remembering the First World War is worthwhile if it serves as an instrument to build cooperation and to foster relations, Mária Schmidt, director of Budapest’s House of Terror Museum, said at a conference on Wednesday. Italian speakers at the event pointed out that in their homeland, many regard the First World War as a prelude to fascism rather than a victory.

The First World War was, first of all, a war between brothers fought by the peoples of Europe; remembrance and recalling what happened is worthwhile if it serves as an instrument to build cooperation and to foster relations in the present, Ms. Schmidt said. At the Hungarian-Italian joint conference, entitled “Turning Times: The First World War as the Divide Between the 19th and the 20th Century”, the historian explained that the government established a memorial committee for the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War to enable us to draw lessons and see the events of the time in a new light.

In connection with the terrible tragedy that was the First World War, it is important for experts to pay more atention to events with relevance to Hungary and such events did take place on the Italian front, she said. Many Hungarian soldiers fought on the Italian front and for many of them, the First World War meant the Italian front.

Ms. Schmidt pointed out that until the United States joined the war, it was a European war, fought between brothers, and it would be good if this could never happen in the future. For this reason, recalling what happened during the First World War and drawing the lessons learnt has to serve cooperation between the peoples of Europe in present times.

Claudio Cappon, Vice President of the European Broadcasting Union and director of Rai World, the Italian public broadcaster, explained in his speech that the First World War has had a profound influence on the hundred years that have past since then; it was a total catastrophe for Italy in military, moral and economic terms alike and not all wounds obtained at that time have been healed.

The memory of the First World War is not understood in the same manner by the countries concerned, he added. Italy was affected by the war gravely, the number of mortal casualties was very high and while the country counts among the for victors, this is less emphasised these days. Unlike Great Britain or France, where a great deal of attention is dedicated to the events of the First World War, the remembrance of the centenary in Italy is far more low-key. This is explained by the dominance of the consequences of the war – the rise of fascism, the alliance with Nazi Germany and the Second World War – in Italian collective memory. The First World War is regarded not as a glorious victory but rather as the “great and tragic premise” of fascism, he said.

Gina Giannotti, director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Budapest, highlighted that six million Italians took part in the First World War, of which 750 000 perished, 680 000 on the front, the remainder being civilians. Therefore, the First World War had a profound influence on subsequent Italian history in social, political and economic terms. Many see the First World war as the end of an era, when the great civilisational construction of the 19th century collapsed, and the Hungarian-Italian conference is a good opportunity to address this tragedy.

In his lecture on Italy’s entry into the war, Giorgio Petracchi, professor at Udine University, emphasised that all contradictions that amassed between the great powers in the preceding years came to light in 1914 and events accelerated unbelievably fast. In this situation, Italy initially remained neutral but intervened in the war after ten months, a move which irreversably altered its fate and brought about an extremely deep cleavage in Italian history, he said.

The conference was organised by the First World War Centenary Memorial Committee, the Twentieth Century Institute and the Institute of Habsburg History, together with the Italian First World War National Remembrance Commitee and the Italian Cultural Institute in Hungary. The objective of the academic meeting was to present the war that ravaged the world between 1914 and 1918 as the dividing line between the 19th and 20th centuries.