In World War I remembrance, France’s Macron denounces nationalism as a ‘betrayal of patriotism’

(Benoit Tessier/Pool Photo via AP) French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech as he attends a commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, Sunday, November 11, 2018.

Paris • In the shadow of a grand war memorial here, French President Emmanuel Macron marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by delivering a forceful rebuke against rising nationalism, calling it a “betrayal of patriotism” and warning against “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death.”

Macron's speech in French to more than 60 global leaders, including President Donald Trump, aimed to draw a clear line between his belief that a global order based on liberal values is worth defending and those who have sought to disrupt that system.

Those millions of soldiers who died in the Great War fought to defend the "universal values" of France, Macron said, and to reject the "selfishness of nations only looking after their own interests. Because patriotism is exactly the opposite of nationalism."

His words during a solemn Armistice Day ceremony under overcast, drizzly skies at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in the heart of the French capital were intended for a global audience but also represented a pointed rebuke to Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and others in the audience.

Macron has attempted to stand as a vocal counterweight to Trump, who recently called himself a "nationalist" and has moved to set the United States apart from global treaties, including the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord ad a U.N. program for refugees.

Amid growing divisions in Europe that have strained the European Union, Macron defended that institution, along with the U.N., and declared that the "spirit of cooperation" has "defended the common good of the world."

"By saying, 'Our interests first,' we erase what a nation holds dearest ... its moral values," Macron said.

He denounced rising ideologies that have warped religious beliefs and set loose extremist forces on a "sinister course once again that could undermine the legacy of peace we thought we had forever sealed."

The powerful remarks came as the world leaders gathered here have sought to mark the 100 years since the war by honoring those who served and died.

(From L) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Morocco's Prince Moulay Hassan, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, US First Lady Melania Trump, US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Governor-General Peter Cosgrove attend a ceremony the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, as part of the commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)

Among those who participated were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

British Prime Minister Theresa May did not attend, remaining in London to preside over a war remembrance there, though she had visited France last week to lay wreaths at military cemeteries and meet with Macron. Chinese President Xi Jinping also was not present.

Putin told Russia's RT network after the ceremony that he and Trump might have a conversation during the leaders' luncheon, but a formal meeting would wait until they cross paths at the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aries later this month. Putin said the two leaders agreed to a request from French officials not to overshadow the war remembrance ceremony.

"We are ready for dialogue," said Putin, adding a dig at the Trump administration for announcing the United States would exit a landmark Cold War arms treaty. "We're not the ones exiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty."

Ahead of the ceremony, dozens of world leaders dressed in black strode shoulder-to-shoulder along the Champs Elysees toward the Arc. Military jets streaked overhead, emitting red, white and blue smoke, the colors of France.

Yet Trump and Putin did not participate in the processions. The group, which had first gathered at the Elysee Palace, had come to the Arc on tour buses along the 230-foot wide boulevard. Bells at Notre Dame cathedral tolled at 11 a.m., marking the signing of the armistice of a war in which 10 million military troops perished.

Trump and Putin took their own motorcades to the event and made separate entrances a few minutes after the main group. A White House spokeswoman said Trump arrived separately due to "security protocols," though she did not elaborate.

Trump and Putin shook hands with members, now assembled on risers a the foot of the monument, and took their own positions. Trump and first lady Melania Trump took positions next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Putin stood next to Macron.

The ceremony could begin.

To the sound of a military brass band, Macron inspected French troops standing at attention and a choir sang the national anthem. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed a solo piece.

For Trump, dressed in a dark blue suit and red tie, the ceremony marked the beginning of a day in which he is scheduled to participate in a luncheon with the world leaders and then visit the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial - a day after he skipped a visit to a different cemetery.

The relationship between Trump and Macron has soured as the U.S. president has promoted an "America First" foreign policy that has unsettled allies on trade and defense. Macron has sought to counter some of Trump's agenda and he has organized a three-day Peace Forum that will begin Sunday afternoon, just as Trump heads home to Washington on Air Force One.

For European observers, the commemoration was a somber event - and not exclusively because of the war dead it honored.

In a climate of resurgent nationalism - which has seen upheavals in Rome, Budapest, Warsaw and even London - Macron was alone on the dais, preaching the virtues of multilateralism. Merkel, his most loyal partner in this endeavor, has announced that she will soon leave public life behind.

"Franco-German reconciliation was at the very heart of what we've been seeing together," said Dominique Moisi, a French foreign policy expert at the Paris-based Institute Montaigne and an informal adviser to the Macron campaign.

"But she's out," he said of Merkel. Her lame duck status means Macron "is orphaned of Angela Merkel already. That's already something sad. The spirit in which we are commemorating the events is no longer fully present."

Macron's speech was full of literary allusions, such as the French poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Charles Péguy, both of whom served in World War I. (Péguy was killed in combat in 1914.)

Sunday's address also contained a number of historic rebukes, such as a subtle reference to a well-known 1927 French book that decried the elites at the time, who embraced reactionary, nationalistic ideologies at the expense of a rational consensus.

Macron warned of the spread of falsehoods that fuel extremism, and he encouraged the pursuit of science and art.

"The worst can be overcome as long as we have men and women of good will to guide us," Macron said. "Without shame, let us be the men and women of good will."

In the end, more than five dozen world leaders accepted Macron's invitation to Paris for the Peace Forum, an attempt to revive multilateralism. But on this day, on this stage, the young French president was the only one delivering the message to the world.

“The president himself looked tired,” Moisi said.