For about a year now, I have been trying to interview my Dad about the civil war in Yugoslavia during the second world war, and why he was a refugee. He has never wanted to talk about it. But now he is dying, I am desperately trying to get him to talk. I visit at least once a week to see my Mum and Dad, sometimes Dad is too unwell or in too much physical pain, but occasionally I can get him to talk. It’s a difficult balance as it can make him very low talking about it and he is suffering from depression alongside his illness. But there are times when he wants to talk. As it’s so hit and miss, I’ve found that setting up a camera on a tripod is not good. He is more likely to talk if I use an iPhone or just tape his voice. It means that the quality of the recording is varied. My aim is, first of all, to understand what happened. Then record it to pass it on. But also to make an art project of it that looks at empathy. What I’ve found though is it’s not that easy to control the content of interviews, unless you edit so much out for the sake of the aim, that it isn’t true to what was said. Creating empathy should be so easy, they were tortured and killed, Dad didn’t kill anyone, he was a child of 15 when he took up arms. However, what I’ve realised is that unless you actually walk in someone’s shoes, it’s so hard to have real empathy for the emotions of that person. I will never understand what it’s actually like to go through a civil war, or a revolution, as I have never experienced it. The nearest I’ve come to a divided country is Brexit. I can try to imagine, but, the mere fact that I am still shocked by what my Dad says, shows how far away I still am from empathy. Yesterday, when I asked him if he had any regrets from those times, thinking he might say something like he wished he hadn’t taken up arms, he said that he wished he had shot a few of them. This is my Dad, a man who I admire for being so kind, so patient, so even tempered. Of course he still hates them, they destroyed his life, took away his land, killed his friends and brother, killed hundreds of thousands of people in revenge massacres. Of course, the Communists would also still hate those that opposed them. Does civil war ever end? Or does it just get watered down and die out as the generations pass? Is that the only way a country can heal? The more I do this project, the more I think it should be about forgiveness, not empathy. Forgiveness, in a Catholic country, the basis of confession for the Catholics. Tito was forgiven by the Catholic Church for the massacres, but why haven’t the Home Guard been forgiven? Why haven’t the British Government apologised for knowingly sending the Slovene Home Guard to their deaths? Or am I still missing some important information? I can only research further. There’s still so much to learn.
All my life, my family have been aware of a dark shadow over my father. His childhood and the time before he met our mother, was a subject he would not talk about. We knew very little, he was a refugee after the second world war and could never return to Slovenia (formerly Yugoslavia). He was a child during the war and had fought from the age of 15 to nearly 18. We knew that he had fought the Communists and so had been an ally of the Germans, that he had fought to defend his religion as a Roman Catholic and had wanted to be a priest. We knew he had been sent back to Yugoslavia by the British after the war, to his death, and had escaped.
My dad just wouldn’t tell us what happened. or anything about the complexity of the situation in Yugoslavia at that time. My Father is now quite ill and facing death. I have been moved by this and the plight of the refugees fleeing Syria, and the threat of ISIS. This has prompted me to try to find out what happened all those years ago. I want to know what happened to make him the man he is today. The man I want to remember.
I have just started looking at this subject and getting my dad to talk, but it is still very painful for him. Interestingly it seems that there are very few people who really want to talk about those times, that many of those surviving have consistently refused to talk about it. Only a few have dared. My investigations have shocked me, as it appears it was a time of war crimes, which some describe as genocide. The British army were complicit in it. Knowingly sending the refugees back to their deaths. Over 100,000 people were killed.
I want to explore the idea of being on the wrong side. These acts were horrific and inhumane but apparently there was little sympathy because the Communists were on the winning side. Yugoslavia was being invaded by the Communists, the Italians, the Hungarians and the Germans. They all wanted the land. My father was in the Home guard defending the country from them all, but mainly from the Communists who had murdered children in their beds while asleep. His best friend had been one of them. That was when he took up arms at 15. “To save my life” The communists had originally been allies of the Germans then switched. The Germans gave the home guard their weapons to fight them.
There are over 600 death pits in Slovenia alone. The British have never apologised for sending the refugees who had surrendered to them, to their deaths and very few people know that the British had done this. The British lied to get the Yugoslavs on to the cattle trains, then padlocked the doors and handed them over to the Partisans (Yugoslav Communists).
I have decided to use a different name now. My maiden name used to be Peršin,
When I got married I changed it to Reid, but to my dismay have found that I have given up an unusual name to find I share my name with countless others, some of whom are not only artists but also photographers. This means people searching for me are thinking I am someone else. I was prompted to reintroduce my maiden name alongside my married name, after starting a new project about my father and the death pits in Slovenia. This will be a long project and it will be useful to me to have my Slovenian surname back, to make it easier to approach people in Slovenia. Plus, it will now be harder to be mistaken for someone else!