Philip Oltermann in Berlin
March 2, 2014
No plans for Angela Merkel to attend events as Germany puts aside €4m to mark war, while UK and
A German trench in Poland, 1915.
The lack of plans to commemorate battles on the eastern front
was criticised by German MP Sevim Dagdelen. Photograph: PA
Five months before the start of the centenary, the German government's plans for marking the 1914-18 war amount to events costing less than €4m – a fraction of the budgets put aside by other key actors in the conflict.
Britain and France have promised to spend about €60m each. Australia has set aside €50m, and even New Zealand has promised to devote €10m to commemorative events to mark the war, which left 37 million people dead or wounded.
Details of Germany's plans have emerged in response to a parliamentary question submitted by leftwing party Die Linke. They also reveal that there are no plans for Angela Merkel to attend the commemorative events, and just two state visits have been scheduled for other cabinet
At the start of the year, German media reported disagreements in the German government over which ministry was responsible for co-ordinating events to mark the centenary.
Sevim Dagdelen of Die Linke, who submitted the parliamentary question at the end of February, was also critical of the heavy focus on the western front. A Franco-German culture fund will support events in South America and west Africa, but there are few events planned in eastern Europe.
"It is extraordinary that the German government is organising events in Benin and Bolivia while the eastern front will hardly
"The millions of victims of the first world war in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia don't appear to be significant enough for the German government. That's scandalous."
In the past, Die Linke has taken a pacifist stance in foreign policy matters and still calls for the abolition of Nato, so its criticism of Germany's passivity may appear counterintuitive. But Dagdelen said there was a need to teach a new generation about the horrors of war. "This is not about glorifying the war – on the contrary: 100 years after the first world war, Die Linke's motto is still: no more war," she said.
Historians have supported the call for more attention to the eastern European theatre of war, even if not all agree that sole responsibility for marking the conflict should lie with Germany. "In western Europe's memory of the first world war, there's a massive hole where the eastern front should be," said Mathias Niendorf, a historian at Greifswald University. "We have this clear sense of what happened on the western front, aided by countless books and films. The assumption is often that the eastern theatre of war was less significant, or more traditional – but that's not true."
Niendorf said more education about events such as the battle of Tannenberg, the battle of Gorlice-Tarnów or the Brusilov offensive would aid understanding of the conflict, not least because experiences on the eastern front went on to inform German anti-Bolshevik propaganda in the second world war.
In Russia and Poland, the revolution of 1917 and the Polish reconstitution of 1918 have traditionally overshadowed the military conflict. But critics argue that Germany owes it to the rest of the continent to take a more prominent role in the commemoration of the war.
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