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The Great War Centennial, 2014-2018

The Great War Centennial, 2014-2018

Commemorating the Centennial of the First World War in Flanders and the United States - 02/16/12
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World War I, also known as the Great War, was the first international conflict of truly world scale dimensions. The War raged from 28 July 1914 until 11 November 1918 and claimed millions of military and civilian casualties. Today, nearly one hundred years later, we remain firmly convinced that the events of the years ’14 -’18 continue to exert a fundamental influence on our society and that the victims of this horrendous war are deserving of a dignified commemoration.

It is for such reasons that the Government of Flanders has decided to frame the commemoration of the Great War Centennial within an overarching compass that embraces themes like...
‘war and peace’,
‘remembrance and awareness’,
‘the European idea’,
thus to open our minds to the perpetuating memory of our past...
thus to learn an indelible lesson for the future.

The Centennial project

The project ‘The Great War Centennial (2014-18)’ aims at promoting Flanders’ visibility across the international arena during the period 2014-2018 and thereafter, by conducting this commemoration as a top-level, yet serene event, within Flanders itself but likewise around the world.

The concrete programming of the commemorative activities of the First World War Centenary is meant to project the name ‘Flanders’ upon a broader international canvass, creating in the process an enduring association with the theme of Peace. Another objective is to create amongst the present and future generations in Flanders an awareness of themes such as tolerance, intercultural dialogue, and international understanding, this with a view to fostering an open and tolerant society and an active international orientation.

And, finally, there is also the further objective to considerably increase peace tourism in Flanders. The commemoration project is comprised of two components, these being an investment program and an events program.


The First World War has left a great many visible scars upon the landscape. Aside from the numerous military cemeteries, graveyards and war memorials, there is a host of other landmarks to remind people of the events that happened during the Great War. For that reason, Flanders considers it important that relics of the War be suitably maintained and preserved. To achieve that aim, investments are made in the renovation, restoration, and maintenance of World War I sites.

Further efforts are devoted to easing access to these sites, unlocking them to local and foreign visitors. This has created a more focused attention on improving both visitor reception
infrastructures and the accessibility of the commemorative sites. As a further element to this investment component, Geert Bourgeois, Minister of Tourism, introduced a new instrument, called the ‘Great War Centennial Impulse Fund’.


The events policy as devised for the project is to unfold in various stages, thus allowing organisers to select specific accents each year. This approach not only offers the public greater structure to the numerous anticipated initiatives, but will no doubt also be conducive to repeat visits. In working out the events policy, designers are during the initial phase concerned with building a structure that allows a well-ordered provision of events.

Geert Bourgeois, Minister of Tourism, will earmark out of his tourism budget the sum of 5 million euro in support of a series of top international and Flemish events. These will have a Flemish character and be dedicated to the proclamation of the Peace message. They will likewise emphasise the Tourism dimension, namely the type of tourism that is imbued with an appropriate sense of reflection and serenity. The project will also feature a foreign dimension in the nature of its events, with its focuson those nations that dispatched soldiers to fight on Flanders Fields.

In the world

The 2007 study conducted by the Flemish Support Centre for Foreign Policy shows that soldiers from no fewer than 50 modern-day nations joined the military action in the
Westhoek (Flanders Fields). Not surprising then, a lot of these nations are now in the process of drawing up their own national commemoration agenda. In the preparation of these events, timely coordination and information exchange are essential elements. A number of steps have already been taken, for instance, the conclusion of bilateral agreements with New Zealand and Australia.

The Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs organised in 2010 and 2011 a joint commemorative consultation meeting with diplomatic representatives from thirteen countries, namely Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, France, Ireland, Morocco, Canada, Italy, Germany, India, Poland and South Africa. The discussions make it clear that there exists a very lively interest in this commemorative project. Two themes were discussed: the planned national commemorative initiatives and the design of an international events calendar, on the one hand, and the ’Flanders Fields Declaration’, on the other.

Minister-President Kris Peeters has proposed the signing of this Declaration to be conducted in November 2012.

Flanders Fields Declaration

On 11 November 2008, during the official commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Armistice in Ypres, Minister-President Kris Peeters called for the drafting of an international declaration. This declaration has received the working title ‘Flanders Fields Declaration’. It is the Government of Flanders’ intention to structurally anchor the commemorationof the Great War in this Declaration. Geographically, the focus lies on the more than 50 nations that dispatched soldiers to fight in ‘Flanders Fields’. The Declaration will be structured around the following dimensions:

Enduring remembrance
WW I continues to live on in very divergent ways within the collective memory of modern states as, indeed, the perspective on commemoration may vary from remembrance of the military victory to the War’s role as a source of inspiration towards the pursuit of peace and conflict management in modern times.

Scientific research
To the present day, historical research has almost exclusively focused on the history of the battlefields and this, moreover, from a strongly Eurocentric perspective. What is needed is an integrated historical account that looks at WW I west to east from a holistic angle.

Awareness raising and remembrance education
The lessons to be learned from WW I constitute an important source of information and inspiration towards the promotion of peace and mutual understanding that transcends ethnic, religious, and political boundaries. In the process, our focus needs to be directed towards both the public at large and the younger generations. The already acquired expertise of the Special Committee for Remembrance Education, as active within the nonprofit organisation ‘Dossin Barracks’ (Dossinkazerne), may to this end prove especially useful.

UNESCO World Heritage

Flanders plans to propose in 2014 the sites that are the last witnesses of the WW I battles in the Westhoek as UNESCO World Heritage. This UNESCO candidacy is to form the coping stone to an integrated and supported heritage strategy that is meant to realise an enduring and sustainable anchoring of our First World War heritage. The ‘Great War Centennial’ commemoration presents us with an excellent opportunity to propose to unesco that the legendary front lines along the Somme, Marne, and Yser be henceforth recognised as UNESCO World Heritage. The cooperation between Flanders, Wallonia and France is an obvious one since those front lines will remain forever the physical witnesses to a conflict such as the world had never seen before, to wit, a war that continued uninterruptedly for many years and in its course claimed the lives of millions of victims. Viewed from that perspective, WW I presents us with a global conflict that never after really has known its equal. This conflict triggered a gigantic deployment of troops, assembled worldwide and hurled into deadly combat across a very small expanse of ground during a protracted period of time quasi without end. This aspect constitutes precisely the exceptional universal value so greatly favoured by UNESCO. As a matter of fact, it is exactly these elements that, at the conclusion of the conflict, brought about the very quick acceptance of the remnants of the First World War in West Flanders and Northern France and their recovery in order that they might serve as peace monuments.

In the context of this UNESCO candidacy, the World Heritage Tourism Research Network, an independent academic research group, is pleased to implement an international survey to learn more about present day reflections and perspectives regarding an event that significantly impacted our modern world. Views and opinions from people around the world, especially those from countries that were involved in some way in WW1 are questioned. Because your views on WWI are very important for this project, you are cordially invited to participate in this online survey. It should take approximately 15 minutes to complete and it can only be taken once. By participating in this survey, you will contribute to a global understanding about the values of people today regarding heritage and remembrance of WWI. This knowledge is needed to sustain the unique heritage for future generations.


On 22 April 2009, the Flemish Parliament adopted an Act that introduced new attainment targets and developmental objectives in primary and secondary education. Two of these new cross-curricular attainment targets in secondary education are oriented towards the themes of tolerance and gaining insight into the role of conflicts, hence contributing to what we call ‘peace education’ and ‘remembrance education’. These attainment targets read as follows:

• the pupils draw lessons from historical and contemporary examples of intolerance, racism, and xenophobia
• the pupils present examples of the potentially constructive and destructive role of conflicts.

Within the educational sector, the Special Committee for Remembrance Education will assume a key role in the commemoration of the Great War Centennial.

For more information, send an email to or visit the 2014-2018 portal of the Government of Flanders.