King Peter II of Yugoslavia
Aleksandra's Note: The following is a real conversation that took place between the legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the young Serbian King Peter II, who spent the last four years of World War II as the recognized King of the Royal Yugoslav Government in Exile after the Nazis invaded and occupied Yugoslavia in April of 1941. He became "officially of age" as King in March of 1941 at the tender age of 17 and was forced to escape his homeland less than a month later. He would remain in exile for the duration of the war under the "protection" of the British.
There are many anecdotes that remain permanently embedded in one's memory when we watch and hear and read the stories of war. War is like that. The impact of each anecdote varies, depending on its nature and what it says about humanity.
This is one of those anecdotes, especially for those who are familiar with the way things turned out in Yugoslavia after Hitler was vanquished, that will stay with you. It is particularly revealing about the hearts of men whose reputations as great leaders are perhaps greater than the true nature of their character deserves.
From "Shadows on the Mountain":
Of course, the thicket of intrigues that conspired to bring down King Peter at the war's end might have been best avoided had, early on, Churchill simply uttered to the king the one statement that summarized the future of the monarchy in the eyes of the king's allies. The statement came at the end of a conversation they had at the end of one of their last meetings in late 1944. Churchill had begun by saying to the young monarch,
'You know I do not trust Tito....He is nothing but a Communist thug, but he is in power and we must reckon with that fact. President Roosevelt, Stalin, and I have agreed that there will be a plebiscite by which the people of Yugoslavia will decide on the question of the Monarchy, and your return, therefore, will have to be postponed until the plebiscite takes place.'
King Peter held firm.
'What chance do I have in a plebiscite when Tito is in Yugoslavia? It will be nothing but a farce and I will have no chance whatsoever,' he replied.
'I shall see to it that there will be impartial umpires supervising the plebiscite,' Churchill assured him, 'in which the British, Americans and Russians will act as the umpires.'
'I have followed your advice, Mr. Prime Minister, since I escaped from Yugoslavia, and look where I am today,' said King Peter.
To which Churchill coolly answered:
'Would you have been better off if you had followed Mr. Mihailovich?'
Shadows on the Mountain: The Allies, the Resistance
and the Rivalries that doomed WWII Yugoslavia
by Marcia Christoff Kurapovna
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