Jorsala: A 3,600km walk to end war
A group of walkers have set off from Ypres to Istanbul in a First World War centenary event aimed at promoting intercultural dialogue
The Jorsala concept came to founder Sébastien de Fooz in 2005 when he walked for 184 days from Ghent, where he grew up, to Jerusalem (“Jorsala” is an Old Norse term meaning Jerusalem). “During my walk, I was warned at each approaching border about the next country and its people. Yet each time I was well received,” says de Fooz, who runs his Jorsala project from Brussels, where he now lives.
So he began the Jorsala Walk as a citizens’ movement promoting dialogue and understanding between people of differing cultures, backgrounds and ways of life. The first walk was organised in 2012, when 60 participants walked 200km from Brussels to Aachen in Germany. This year, the second Jorsala Walk extends from Ypres to Istanbul, a walk beyond Belgium and “into the unknown”.
Fear of the unknown
“The unknown is perceived as dangerous and creates fear,” says de Fooz. “Jorsala’s walk along Europe’s former geopolitical fault lines will allow us to meet people from all walks of life, with whom we would perhaps never cross paths otherwise. These dialogues are exactly what we need to stop conflicts like the First World War in the future; after all, war is a result of failed dialogue.”
The walkers began their historic march with ceremonies at Ypres’ city hall and Menin Gate. De Fooz: “We chose Ypres as a starting point for our journey given its First World War significance and the undeniable fact that it’s a real city of peace.”
We chose Ypres as a starting point as it’s a real city of peace
Ypres alderman Jef Verschoore also gave the group an authentic lantern used in the trenches 100 years ago. This powerful symbol will travel with them until they reach Sarajevo on 18 or 19 August, the city where the Great War broke out following the death of Franz Ferdinand.
From Ypres, the walkers headed to Brussels, via former battlegrounds and a visit to Bedford House Cemetery. Rotary Club Europe, public authorities and citizens offered them food and lodging. On 15 May they reached Brussels, where they were welcomed by Peter Van Kemseke, representing Jorsala sponsor Herman Van Rompuy.
“Once past Brussels, the participants choose their own routes,” explains de Fooz. They will convene every 400km “for a moment of reflection” in cities that mark cultural crossroads or an important moment in European history. These 17 intersections are points where people can join in or step out, and include Strasbourg, Trieste, Mostar, Sarajevo, Pristina, Skopje, Plovdiv and Istanbul, which they hope to reach by 17 October.
“It’s up to each individual to decide how they want to participate,” explains De Fooz. “They can join us for one day, one week, one month, five months.”
One of Jorsala’s walkers is Willem Vermeersch, a Brussels visual artist born in Poperinge, near Ypres. “This is going to be one of the greatest adventures of my life,” he says. “I can’t wait. I didn’t bring a tent, so I’ll be forced to come out of my comfort zone and meet lots of people.”
De Fooz adds: “We hope to come into contact with many individuals and show that the differences between people on two sides of a conflict are not as big as one thinks.”
Photo: Walkers on the 2012 Jorsala walk from Brussels to Aachen in Germany
First World War
lives lost in West Flanders
annual visitors to the Westhoek
First Battle of Ypres