May 8th Remains a Celebration of Unity for France

PARIS – On May 8th the French celebrate “Victory in Europe Day”, in commemoration of May 8, 1945, the day that the Allied Powers accepted the surrender of the Axis powers and the official end of the Second World War in Europe. The ceremony takes place at L’Arc de Triomphe on the Place de Charles De Gaulle Etoile.

Adolf Hitler symbolically led the German army through the Arc de Triomphe when he invaded and occupied Paris in 1940. The ceremony has significant emotional importance for France, and each year the image of Hitler marching through L’Etoile is replaced by the President doing the same.

The President of France, officially Nicolas Sarkozy, led the ceremony as is tradition. However he also invited the new President-Elect Francois Hollande and together they placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The two political leaders, rarely seen together as a unified force, were a iconic picture for France going forward. From the greeting of veterans (including Charles De Gaulle’s son) to the singing of the Marseillaise, the former Presidential competitors conducted the entire ceremony together.

“A campaign is always tough, this one was in particular. It was therefore useful and valuable for the country to know that it was gathered around the president still in office as well as the new,” said Hollande about the event.

The two former rivals have been relatively amiable since the election on Sunday. That night Sarkozy said to disappointed supporters, “Francois Hollande is the President and he should be respected.” When Sarkozy invited Hollande to take part in the May 8th, ceremony, the President-elect is said to have been appreciative, saying, “That we can have, on May 8th, the acting President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and he who is has from here on been elected by the French, I think is a beautiful image.”

Sarkozy did solely re-light the flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and signed his name as “His Excellency Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic” in the golden book underneath the Arc de Triomphe as is traditionally done by the head of state. Hollande signed his name normally.

The ceremony was a symbol of a peaceful and respectful transfer of power after a particularly competitive and at times vicious election. “This is a transition, I believe, that is in honor of the Republic,” said Hollande.

Hollande officially takes over power as President on May 15. The ceremony will take place at Elysée Palace.

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