What do we know about World War One

A hundred years after World War One ended, twenty students from Germany, France and Bosnia and Herzegovina gathered together in Sarajevo for the seminar 1918-2018 Building peace- lessons from World War One”. From the 7th to the 13th of November, we talked about different perspectives, consequences and dealing with the past. We asked six of them to tell us what they know about the war. Their perception of the conflict and its consequences is influenced by the society in which they grew up.

Ajša, student of Psychology at the University of Sarajevo

My great-grandfather was fighting on the Front at the river Soča for two years. That was the front which had a Bosnian regiment. After he was heavily injured, he was taken back home. Also, my other great-grandfather had the opportunity to meet with Sofia Chotek, the wife of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the day before her assassination and to show her the historical centre where he had a shop. He did a little trick putting coins into his ripped pockets, so they could slip out while he was walking. So everybody was thinking that Sofia was distributing them money and they started greeting her and cheering.

The main thing that we learnt in school about World War One was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the story of Gavrilo Princip, the man who killed the Archduke.

The interesting thing about Gavrilo is how he is being portrayed in different societies. For some people he is a hero, and for some other a criminal. There is theory that he met the Archduke by accident. After the attempt by his young colleague Nedeljko Čubrinović to kill Franz Ferdinand failed, the car turned in side street, where was Gavrilo Princip. His attempt obviously succeeded. That was followed by the ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to Serbia, from which Serbia accepted nine conditions but denied to accept one. These were some of the several factors that led to the start of World War One.”

Amar, studying International Relations at the International University of Sarajevo

“The main thing related to World War One that comes to my mind is the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, because I come from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also, the ultimatum which was given to Serbia from Austria-Hungarian empire. In schools, the time given to these lectures was very short. Most of the time we learned about general facts and the assassination.

World War One does not receive much attention in comparison of World War Two and the Bosnian war.

Caroline, German master student of “Eastern European Studies” at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

“The first thing that comes to my mind about World War One is that it represents one of the biggest tragedies of Europe and one of the turning points in the European history, because several empires have fallen apart. I am glad to say that in school I had special classes of history, 5 hours a week, so I probably learned more than most students do, but it was still really little. Also I have a personal story about the grandfather of my mom, who was fighting in the war. He lost both of his legs and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He died in the sixties.
When it comes to d
ealing with the past today, I would say, it’s slightly forgotten in Germany today, because World War Two plays a way bigger role for the German collective identity and World War One is not so present anymore in our collective memory.”

World War One represents one of the biggest tragedies of Europe and one of the turning points in the European history, because several empires have fallen apart.

Vanja, student of History and Southeast European Studies at the University of Regensburg in Germany

The first thing that comes to my mind about World War One is the assassination in Sarajevo that was committed by Gavrilo Princip, the Crisis of July and that World War One was the end of the long 19th century. It was a terrible way for the 20th century to begin. Many people died also because of the new war technologies that were being used.

In school we learned a lot about the causes of World War One, especially in Germany, and about the political crisis that lead to the war. We also talked a lot about France because I am from Freiburg, which is close to France. However, we didn’t mention the eastern part.

In school we learnt a lot about the causes of World War One, especially in Germany, and about the political crisis that led to the war.

The consequences in Germany were important because there was a democratic revolution (November revolution of 1918), and the fight between the left and the right-wing parties and everything that followed was a step closer to Hitler and World War Two. When it comes to dealing with the past and remembrance, I have the feeling that many memories of soldiers who died in this war are forgotten, and that it is really sad.”

Carla, student at Sciences Po Paris, on the specialized campus on Central and Eastern Europe of Dijon, France

“For me, the main association about World War One is Verdun, place of great importance and one of the bloodiest battles in the war. The things we were taught in school were quite francocentric, but we learnt general facts also. I was taught that the assassination in Sarajevo was just a trigger for the start of World War One and that the real reason for World War One was the shifting of power. I come from Provence where, during World War One, soldiers (15th regiment) were considered incompetent in comparison with other regions of France. I’m happy to be here in Bosnia and Herzegovina to honour them and raise awareness of their importance abroad since they didn’t receive this treatment during the war. As a Frenchwoman I can only conclude these few words with a quote on the peace and its fragility of a French poet dear to my heart, Aragon, declaiming « Je dis la paix pâle et soudaine /Comme un bonheur longtemps rêvé/Comme un bonheur qu’on croit à peine/ Avoir trouvé », namely « I say the peace pale and sudden/Like a happiness long dreamt of/ Like a happiness you barely/Believe you’ve found ».

Alexandre, Master Degree Student in History at the University of Artois- Arras, France

“I have a direct link to World War One. The uncle of my great-great-grandfather was fighting in the siege of Maubeuge (near Lille in northern France), but he was taken prisoner and he died of a disease in a camp in Germany because the health conditions were not that great.

Main things that cross my mind are the new technologies that were used during World War One, like for example the shell that the armies used as weapons.

There are still inactive shells from the war time in the vicinity of my town.”

From these answers we can conclude that all the participants were taught very little about the events of World War One outside of their own country. This kind of education excludes the perspective of the others, thus simplifying the complex historic events.

International events like this seminar give us the opportunity to gain a new perspective and rise our awareness of grey areas of the world history so that in future we may implement this experience into peace-building efforts.

Lejla Burgić, Tarik Ekmeščić, Vladana Perlić, Johannes Nüßer


Next part: On the traces of the First World War

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