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Last updateLun, 27 Feb 2017 8pm

Walking among the memories of the Great War I in Europe. An interview with Nicolò Giraldi

Walking among the memories of the Great War I in Europe. An interview with Nicolò Giraldi

Trieste - Nicolò Giraldi, 30, born in Trieste, is a blogger and journalist, and also a football player; he lived in London for almost two years and he continues to play soccer there. Moving on, with or without a ball at his foot, it is clearly his destiny: on May 10th he made his backpack and set off from London to Trieste.

He made the trip on foot, by public transport and, occasionally, car rides. His purpose was searching the footsteps of the Great War in today's life. He arrived in Trieste on July 9th. His diary, day by day and step by step, with text and photos, can be found on his website: gironellastoria.com.

We put a few questions to Nicolò Giraldi at his arrival in Trieste.

What is the inspiration of your trip?
I had in mind the desire to do something to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War I. This thought went to me from a very impressive book, given to me just before I moved to London: "A Time of Gifts" by Patrick Leigh Fermor, in which he recounts his journey on foot from Hook of Holland to Istanbul, that he undertook at the age of 18. After reading it, I fell in love with the idea to get on the move.

In your journey you did a lot of meetings ....
In the dimension of a trip on foot, I looked for - and found - people who keep alive the memory of World War I through their work or volunteering, and they will continue to do so even after the centennial. They're normal people: curators and museum guides, teachers, members of associations, actors, artists. People do need to listen to their stories: nowadays the lack for interest for politics goes hand in hand with a great curiosity for the stories of everyday life.

You crossed many European countries involved in the Great War: Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy. Each of them has a different way of remembering the conflict?
Yes, they have many different ways, but also terribly alike. In England, for example, we have a special situation: up to the Falklands War, there was no return of the fallen soldiers. They are buried in the battlefields. In England there are only monuments with their names. There is an organization dedicated to the care of the British war cemeteries: the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

France was a fierce battleground. How do French people live their memory?
They are very proud, and at the same time very sympathetic. They are patriotic but with sympathy: I met lovely people.

It is in Belgium that I have heard the most terrible stories. Also civilian population was involved and the wound is still alive. In the town of Virton, in August 22, 1914, the German troops shot 282 people, including children and infants, and burned the village of Èthe. There, you have the feeling that people are not willing to forgive; it's a heavy sentiment. As well, there are groups that work for reconciliation (from 4th to 7th July 2014 went on stage in Virton an "Oratory pour la paix").

What are the memories of the defeated country: Germany?
It's very peculiar: there is a mixture of sense of disaster and awareness. There is the tendency to make a jump in the history, going directly from the events of 1870 to the World War II. The memory flies over the Great War. There is a kind of - understandable - monopoly of World War II.

On the other hand, there is a multitude of institutions (associations, museums, historical groups) who preserve the memory of the history of the Great War. In Munich, for example, at the Jewish Museum, is on stage a very interesting exhibition called "Krieg! Zwischen den Juden Fronten 1914-1918” (open until February 2015) about the Jews who participated in the First World War.

Germany, from the standpoint of patriotism, it's quite similar to Italy: while I was there, the World Cup, which of course I followed as a player and fan, was ongoing. There was a riot of german flags, and some people made me to observe that they only come out when the national team plays and wins. It's all the same: football unites what politics divides.

Finally, Italy ...
I had planned to make a few passages in Austria; however I decided to devote a special attention to the war in the mountains in Italy. Thus, taking advantage of a ride, I went straight into the Dolomites, where memories are very well preserved. I found many contradictions in Italy: in Sappada, for instance, there is a small museum managed very carefully by two passionate people while in Timau the war seems to be never ending, and there is a sense of a continuing conflict among the population.

By the way Italy, did you visit Kobarid? There is a wonderful museum with an outdoor section very well cared ...
Kobarid should be considered a place of pilgrimage for young people. The teachers should bring school children to visit the Museum. There are some great guides there, special people, like for instance mr. Željko Cimprič. I asked him what is his dream and he told me: "I wish I could publish in Slovenian language the memories of the Italian soldiers". These are people who, day by day, build an European identity.

After the trip, have you got a better idea of what is European identity, if you think there is one? And, if so it is, how to build a stronger one?
I'm sure that we can build an European identity in everyday life, telling our own stories in different languages. An identity is gradually raising, and it is created by men and women who — through study, work, friendship —, establish ties and consolidate them. There are people who know 2, 3, or even 4 foreign languages: these are the citizens who work for Europe, without doing anything special. Certainly it's not the bureaucrats, officials, bankers: they are people "out of touch".

So, this is the right time for a trip?
I'm sure it is. The journey is the meeting point of the stories. And there is always something good in people's stories.

Chi siamo

Direttore: Maurizio Pertegato
Capo redattore: Tiziana Melloni
Redazione di Trieste: Serenella Dorigo
Redazione di Udine: Fabiana Dallavalle


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