World leaders evoke WWII spirit in virus battle

A family in Britain watching Queen Elizabeth II making her televised address to the nation on Friday, at the same time that her father, King George VI, gave a radio address marking VE Day in 1945. "Never give up, never despair - that was the message
A family in Britain watching Queen Elizabeth II making her televised address to the nation on Friday, at the same time that her father, King George VI, gave a radio address marking VE Day in 1945. "Never give up, never despair - that was the message of VE Day," she said.PHOTO: REUTERS

Europe, US hold scaled-down sombre events amid their fight against invisible deadly enemy

BERLIN • Global leaders marked 75 years since the end of World War II in Europe on Friday, urging citizens to draw inspiration from the historic victory as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.

With parades and commemoration events cancelled or scaled down as part of efforts to contain the outbreak, Europe and the United States marked the defeat of Nazi Germany in sombre mood.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who as a 19-year-old princess joined the celebrations in London's streets, delivered a televised address to the nation at the same time that her father, King George VI, gave a radio address marking VE Day in 1945.

She recalled the millions of people who died "so we could live as free people in a world of free nations", adding: "The greatest tribute to their sacrifice is that countries who were once sworn enemies are now friends, working side by side for the peace, health and prosperity of us all.

"Never give up, never despair - that was the message of VE Day."

US President Donald Trump said the anniversary served as a reminder "that no challenge is greater than the resolve of the American spirit".

"Over the past months, our nation has faced remarkable adversity during the coronavirus pandemic. But just as we have so many times before, America will triumph," Mr Trump said ahead of a ceremony at Washington's WWII memorial.

In Berlin, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel stuck to social distancing guidelines as they laid down their wreaths.

In his speech, Mr Steinmeier recalled how nations joined forces to fight the tyranny of Nazism and said the same unity was needed to defeat the virus.

"For us Germans, 'never again' means 'never again alone'," he said. "We want more, not less cooperation in the world - also in the fight against the pandemic."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also drew wartime parallels with Covid-19.

EVENTUAL TRIUMPH

Over the past months, our nation has faced remarkable adversity during the coronavirus pandemic. But just as we have so many times before, America will triumph.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP 

MORE COOPERATION

We want more, not less cooperation in the world - also in the fight against the pandemic.

GERMAN PRESIDENT FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER 

SPIRIT OF ENDEAVOUR

On this anniversary, we are engaged in a new struggle against the coronavirus which demands the same spirit of national endeavour that you exemplified 75 years ago.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON

"On this anniversary, we are engaged in a new struggle against the coronavirus which demands the same spirit of national endeavour that you exemplified 75 years ago," he said in a letter to veterans.

The muted commemorations come as the continent grapples with its biggest crisis since World War II - this time an invisible enemy that has killed more than 270,000 people worldwide.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron attended a low-key ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe on a near-deserted Champs-Elysees avenue.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country celebrates Victory Day on May 9, recorded a special video message for the Austrian people to mark the anniversary, wishing them "peace and prosperity".

"We are all fighting against this epidemic and mutual support is very important at this difficult time," Mr Putin said in the message shown on Austrian TV.

Russia had originally planned a huge military display on its May 9 Victory Day, with world leaders including Mr Macron on the guest list. But now, only a flypast will take place over the Red Square in Moscow, as the country becomes Europe's new hot spot of coronavirus infections.

Germany does not usually mark the anniversary of the Nazis' unconditional surrender to the Allies with much fanfare. This year, however, the city of Berlin declared a one-off public holiday on Friday.

President Steinmeier urged Germans to see May 8 as "a day of gratitude" because it freed Germany from the terror of the Nazis and brought peace to Europe.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 10, 2020, with the headline 'World leaders evoke WWII spirit in virus battle'. Print Edition | Subscribe