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Culture in France

Paris exhibition maps out post-WWI turmoil in the east

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The first day of work on the WW1 Peace Conference, 18 January 1919, The Clock Room at the French Foreign Ministry, Paris
The first day of work on the WW1 Peace Conference, 18 January 1919, The Clock Room at the French Foreign Ministry, Paris ECPAD/Marcel Loirée

An exhibition that is part of the French centenary commemorations for the end of World War I provides a fascinating historical and geographical eye-opener, centred on the peace treaties signed after the war and what came next in central and eastern Europe, as well as in the Middle East.

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The Museum of the Armies, set in Paris's imposing Invalides complex built in the 17th century under Louis XIV, has brought together rare documents and artefacts, parts of uniforms or weapons, propaganda tools like posters from some 20 collections in France and Europe, east and west.

The museum's film department has joined Gaumont-Pathé in digging out and restored some rarely seen footage.

As part of the many events being organised in France this year for the centenary of the end of World War I, on 11 November 2018, the exhibition sheds light on the lesser known consequences of the devastating war on countries west of France and Italy.

Without ignorng the suffering of the soldiers and their families in the Flanders fields, the exhibition, put together by military historians and geographers, looks at what happened after the fall of four great empires, the Russian, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and German.

It shifts the historical emphasis to the east and reveals that after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919 conflict and crises were not over.

Geographically, the show moves from the treaty room on to Germany, Poland and the Baltic States and Russia. It pursues its course in Mitteleuropa, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Albania.

The last room's focus is on the Levant, on Greece, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon (including Sykes-Picot sketches and a costume worn by TE Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia).

Visitors can take in European border changes in the first room, since the 13th century. Then they can contemplate the question of nationalities and borders, revolutions, counter-revolutions, civil wars and civilian casualties. Finally they can examine the role of France, a country which emerged as a military power to be reckoned with, whose ambassadors and soldiers were highly influential in reestablishing stability.

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