In May I had the honour of being part of the Canadian delegation that went to the Netherlands to take part in the commemoration of the liberation of that country from the Nazis by Canadians 70 years ago. In addition to the Prime Minister, MPs and officials we were accompanied by approximately 60 WWII veterans and their caregivers.
While there, we participated in ceremonies at two Canadian cemeteries, attended a special concert in the Cathedral and watched a parade of veterans, WWII vehicles, military personnel and marching bands in Wageningen, the town where German forces capitulated to Canadian forces.
I was particularly moved by a speech delivered by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Minister of Finance, which began with the story of his father who at 15 years of age left home after the liberation to bicycle through Flanders and Britain during which time perfect strangers would invite him to stay in their homes.
In the new era of peace and post-war reconstruction there was a very special sense of optimism and most importantly trust. In his speech Minister Dijsselbloem highlighted the relationship between trust and peace.
“Peace requires trust; even when you’re still far apart. Peace requires a willingness to move closer to others; even if your minds never quite meet. Peace requires willingness to compromise; even if you never reach complete agreement. Peace requires a willingness to come together; even if you can’t quite join hands,” remarked the Minister. “History compelled us to overcome mistrust. Peace requires trust. Trust creates freedom. What happens in a society dominated by mistrust? Suspicion and fear thrive. These are the enemies of peace and freedom in which we live. Mistrust creates deep divisions and can lead to conflict. Mistrust, hatred and conflict go hand in hand.”
The Minister ended his speech by reminding us that only a society built on trust can know genuine freedom and that this is not something to take for granted. “Indeed, it’s far from commonplace. So let’s celebrate in the knowledge that peace brought us freedom; and that we have a duty to use our freedom to promote peace.”
In another powerful speech Mayor Harry Keereweer of Groesbeek, compared the nature of freedom today to that which existed 70 years ago and noted some of the different challenges we face today such as how to preserve our planet for future generations.
He worries that humanity is in danger of going metaphorically blind by failing to remember the real foundations upon which our free and safe societies were built. “Over these seventy years, we, as a society, have been given the opportunity to pass on that freedom and change history forever. We have been given the opportunity to open our eyes, and look back.
To look back at the atrocities committed by occupying forces, but also at our own wrong-doing. At our pain, but also at the pain of the people of the aggressors. Although difficult, it’s not impossible. More than anything else, it requires time. Peace time. Time we will not have if we engage in new wars, of any kind, anywhere.”
In expressing his hope for seventy more years of peace Groesbeek’s Mayor warned about taking for granted the sacrifices it took to build the strong foundations of today’s society.
This is especially important in the face of economic uncertainties and the anti-social behavior taking hold in many urban areas. The danger lies, “In closing our eyes to patterns repeating themselves. Patterns of us against them, putting our own people first, closing borders to foreigners,” declared the Mayor. “If we are ignorant to the signals from within our community, we will surely go metaphorically blind.”
These were two powerful speeches by those whose families lived through the horror of war; a strong message for all of us in these turbulent times.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior