A barren island in the Adriatic Sea was between 1949 and 1956 the site of an internment camp where Tito’s regime sent its opponents for “re-education.” At Goli Otok, the newly minted anti-Stalinists were fighting Stalinists with Stalinist methods. How did the prison and labor camp at Naked Island come about and what happened there? How do people remember and commemorate this dark stain in Yugoslavia’s history?

With Tiha Gudac. Featuring songs titled “Goli Otok” by Ratsmagick, Valter i Perspektiva, and Voyvoda.



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Long Live Lepa Brena! Podcast Episode Transcript (and More)

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PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your guide Peter Korchnak.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Goli Otok” by Voyvoda]

In the dead of summer, one of Croatia’s 718 Adriatic Sea islands stands especially scorched.

From its creation during and particularly in the years after World War II, Yugoslavia stood firmly in the Stalinist camp. Yugoslav communists followed the Soviet model in all aspects of life, pursuing intense Stalinization policies; the picture of Stalin was as ubiquitous as Tito’s.

But, having won the war largely by themselves and bent on playing a strong regional role in spreading the gospel of communism they soon began to clash with the Soviets.

So when in 1948 the Communist Information Bureau, or the Cominform, issued a resolution expelling the Communist Party of Yugoslavia from its ranks for pursuing independent policies, everything turned upside down. Stalinism was out, Titoism was in, and the Yugoslav government feared the Soviet Union would invade Yugoslavia–with the help of its domestic supporters.


“The Cominform resolution isn’t just an attack on our leadership, Comrades,” said Tito at the 1948 Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. “It is an attack on the unity of our party; it is an attack on the unity of our peoples, accomplished in blood; it’s a call for all destructive elements to overthrow everything we’ve happily built to this day; it is a call for a civil war in our country, an invitation to destroy our country…”

A lot of people sacrificed a lot during the war to make socialist Yugoslavia a reality–and they weren’t going to let anyone destroy it. A few months after the split, Yugoslavia launched a brutal purge to eliminate the people who remained or purportedly remained supportive of Stalin and allegedly intent on overthrowing Tito’s government. The UDBA, Yugoslavia’s secret police, arrested and imprisoned thousands of people, from high-ranking officials who supported Stalin openly to regular people overheard cracking a joke. Many of these Cominformists, known in Serbo-Croatian as ibeovci, short from the local acronym for Information Bureau, IB, seemed to have been on the bad side of someone in power or seen as affiliated with the wrong people or simply confused about the sudden political U-turn. In many instances spouses got nabbed as well.

The question was, what to do with these enemies. The Yugoslav regime established a network of facilities where political prisoners were to be re-educated and put on the right, or perhaps righteous path. While a number of existing prisons accommodated some of them, most Cominformists ended up in a new facility located on an island where they were subjected to harsh weather and even worse treatment.

Goli Otok, translated sometimes as Naked, other times as Bare Island, was between 1949 and 1956 the site of an internment camp where Yugoslavia’s communist regime sent its opponents for so-called re-education. Imprisonment, forced labor, dehumanization, torture… The new anti-Stalinists were fighting Stalinists with Stalinist methods.

“Had we not sent the Cominformists to Goli Otok, the whole of Yugoslavia might be a Goli Otok today,” said one official years later.

Goli Otok remains “a thorn in the side of most Yugonostalgics,” to use the words of one of today’s guests, a dark stain on Yugoslavia’s memory. Or, from another perspective, simply a natural phenomenon occurring in a Communist country.

In today’s episode of Remembering Yugoslavia: Goli Otok and its memory.

[SOUNDBITE – “Gone Beyond” by Kevin McLeod]

Before we get to the island, a note about the music in this episode. I am using all tracks that are not licensed under Creative Commons with permission of their authors or publishers; they’re all titled “Goli Otok.” You’ve already heard “Goli Otok” by Voyvoda, a band from Sofia.

Two more “Goli Otok” tracks will follow, by Valter i Perspektiva and Ratsmagick.

Please follow all these bands on social media and double please buy their music. All the links are in the episode blog post at RememberingYugoslavia.com.

[SOUNDBITE – “Gone Beyond” by Kevin McLeod]

PETER KORCHNAK: Nearly 16,000 Cominformists were imprisoned between 1949 and 1956; fewer than 900 were women. The prisons for Cominformists at Bileča, Stara Gradiška, Ramski Rit, Stolac, Ugljan, and Požarevac soon ran out of room amidst the intensifying purge. So a decision was made to build a new, bigger place. Some 83 percent of all Cominformists ended up in the new internment facility on the island of Goli Otok.

Located in the northern part of the Adriatic, between the island of Rab and the Velebit mountain on the mainland, Goli Otok is an isolated, uninhabited island with no drinking water or trees. It is 4.5 square kilometers in size, it is exposed to the Bura wind of up to 150 kilometers per hour, it has inaccessible limestone cliffs all around except a partly sheltered shoreline in the southwest, and the surrounding sea is between 30 and 103 meters deep.

The creation of the Goli Otok prison remains shrouded in mystery. Though the idea is generally attributed to the interior minister and Yugoslavia’s third in command Alexandar Ranković and the logistical execution to the UDBA general Jovo Kapičić, the full story is a little more complicated. Speaking with his biographer in 1979, Tito pointed his finger at Yugoslavia’s second in command, Edvard Kardelj, who had proposed “isolating all those in favor of the Cominform resolution on an island.” Kardelj, in turn, received a proposal to site a prison for Informbureauists at Goli Otok from the Croatian UDBA head Ivan Krajačić and the sculptor Antun Augustinčić who liked marble from the island; it would be interesting to find out which, if any, of his statues are from Goli Otok rock. Anyway, there was no official resolution or law establishing the prison until after the fact; Tito simply ordered Ranković and the UDBA to make it happen, and Ranković delegated the task to Kapičić and two other UDBA generals, Voja Biljanović and Slobodan Krstić.

Construction began in June 1949; by then more than 3,700 Cominformists had already been arrested. Two hundred regular prisoners from Lepoglava prison were transported to Goli Otok to work on the project. The first batch of Cominformists, comprising 28 Slovenes and Croats, arrived at Goli Otok on July 7th, 1949. These and subsequent prisoners continued the construction of the facility. The first big transport, of some 1,200 prisoners, arrived on July 9th. By the end of the conflict with the Soviet Union, in 1956, some 13,000 people had been interred at Goli Otok.

Cominformists were sent to Goli Otok via either an administrative or a judicial route. Two thirds of inmates were kažnjenici, who were sent to prison based on an administrative decision, typically by the UDBA which served as a judicial arm during this period. UDBA agents received bonuses for the number of Cominformists they put away (whether they were real or alleged didn’t matter). Forty-seven percent of kažnjenici were Serbian, 22 percent Montenegrin, and 17 percent Croatian.

Osuđenici received an actual court sentence. Forty-two percent of osuđenici were Serbian, 22 percent Montenegrin, and 12 percent were Croatian.

Of the 13,000 Goli Otok prisoners, some 550 were women. The women’s camp at Goli Otok operated for only about a year; for the rest of the Cominform period women were interred at the nearby Sveti Grgur island and other prisons around Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav communists were barred from calling Goli Otok and similar facilities camps; those were labels applicable to what the Nazis and the Soviets had done. Goli Otok was one of the “worksites of socialist construction.” Its official name was Mermer Radilište (Marble Worksite).

The place was conceived as a place for reeducation.

The reality was much different.

One former two-time inmate, Alfred Pal, has described it thusly: “You came here as a man who had, more or less, some self-respect and a past. They tried to convince you you’re nobody and nothing, that you’re a piece of shit, and that the Party makes all the decisions about you, your character, and what you will say or do.”

Cominformists were transported to Goli Otok by boat from the port of Bakar, where they had arrived mostly by train, in boxed cargo cars normally used for livestock.

Beginning about a month into the prison’s operation, new arrivals first had to pass through špalir, a corridor of inmates facing each other who yelled insults and slogans at them, spat at them, and beat them, often with sticks or whips. Everyone had to participate in the gauntlet; when the number of inmates swelled to thousands, this became quite an ordeal. The gauntlet was sometimes called the machine or warm rabbit. Guards observed the proceedings.

Re-education took place first and foremost through labor. During the day inmates worked on construction sites, at a quarry, planting trees, or simply moving rocks from one place to another for no reason other than punishment.

Tito said it himself, with a smirk no less:


“The so-called Cominformists who appeared were individuals who were adventurers, factionalists, waverers, or ordinary spies as well as a small number of young misguided people without Party toughness or Marxist education. All of these people, of whom there remained but a small number, would consider their treason while performing community work.”

At the 1952 Communist Party of Yugoslavia congress Ranković said that “punishment was an educational tool, not retribution, because comrades punished by the Party need to be helped to live out their weaknesses through work.”

In 1953, prisoners built a monument on the nearby island of Rab to the victims of the World War II-era Italian concentration camp. In an interview for the New York Times, the Slovenian historian Božidar Jezernik, whom you may remember from Episode 24 “Tito and His Biographers,” recognized “the tragic irony of political prisoners building a monument to victims of Fascism. [Jezernik] once interviewed a man who was a prisoner of the Italians in Rab and subsequently a political prisoner at Goli Otok who helped build the monument in Rab. ‘He was building a monument to himself,’ Jezernik said.”

Rock from Goli Otok was processed into terazzo tiles which were used in construction of both private and public buildings all over Yugoslavia; for a spell Goli Otok was Yugoslavia’s sole supplier of terrazzo tiles. In addition to quarrying and stone masonry, other industries powered by prison labor on the island included furniture manufacture, carpentry, wood- and iron-working, sand extraction, boat repair, fishing, sewing, and shoemaking, both for the prison’s needs and for sale on the mainland to generate revenue for the UDBA.

While convicts worked mostly on the island, on occasion the facility supplied work crews for projects on the mainland, including mines, power plants, buildings, railways, and roads. One portion of the Brotherhood and Unity Highway connecting Zagreb and Belgrade, near Garčin, Croatia, was built with Goli Otok labor.

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Goli Otok was truly bare; there were no trees here and thus nothing to shade you from the harsh Dalmatian sun. Sunstrokes were frequent, the bura wind brutal, winters piercingly cold.

Even worse was the physical violence. The gauntlet was just the beginning. Those who made it through had to point out the prisoners who had not beaten them hard enough.

Indeed, the worst torture inmates suffered on the island was at the hands of other prisoners.

Inmates had to regularly confess to the UDBA agents at the prison their own crimes and to report on people back home as well as on other prisoners. Who did not work hard enough, who associated with whom, who complained and was thus an internal enemy within the camp, who refrained from discussions during political education classes. Failing to denounce others resulted in a black mark on your own record. This too was part of re-education.

At the barracks, another torture tactic was employed. The former prisoner Alfred Pal described the boycott as follows: “Your fellow inmates in your barrack would not talk to you, they would not share cigarettes with you, you’d eat last, they’d wake you up at night and force you to bend over the bucket into which the barrack pissed and shat.” End quote. This was called guarding the bucket. Moreover, boycotted prisoners had to stand when others were seated, they got smaller rations, they got extra difficult work tasks like cleaning latrines, and they were subjected to additional gauntlets. And they had to wear red stripes and black shirts so that other inmates could shun and beat them too. The one way to stop the boycott was to confess your crimes, denounce other Cominformists, and report on other prisoners.

If nothing else broke you, you got solitary confinement in a dark pit.

At its peak, there were four camps on the island, each enclosed with a 3-meter or 9-foot tall barbed wire fence, guard towers, and lights. Inmates lived packed in barracks, sleeping in three-level bunk beds; they used collective latrines, an open pit with planks across it. Additional buildings were built for administration, guards, storage, kitchen, laundry, infirmary, and workshops. A few years in, a library and a football pitch were added. Water, always in short supply, came from rainwater collection tanks and by boat from the mainland.

Petrova Rupa, Peter’s Pit, also known as the Monastery, was a camp within the camp, reserved for high-ranking and long-serving Communists and military brass as well as for the most resistant, incorrigible Cominformists. Located in a former bauxite mining pit apart from other parts of the camp, Peter’s Pit was the most isolated and the most brutal. It was eventually demolished and turned into a sporting field in 1954.

As in the Soviet Gulag or Nazi concentration camps, below the official administration and guards there was another layer of management, or perhaps self-management: inmates themselves, in several layers and functions like barracks elders, hygiene managers, labor foremen, cultural-political or re-education leaders.

Every day at the prison was regimented. Wake up at sunup, a quick constitution and breakfast, work, lunch, work, rest, dinner, political education and cultural activities, rest, and lights out at 22:00.

The work portion of the day lasted 8 to 12 hours per day, depending on the time of year. Food was bad and lacking, water even more so.

The daily political conference or political time centered around self-criticism, whereby inmates confessed their own enemy activities and were judged by their fellow inmates. Cultural activities included the collective reading and discussion of official newspapers and listening to official radio programs. Occasionally inmates organized theatrical performances, watched movies, or played football.

Throughout the day, convicts were forced to chant pro-regime slogans and sing songs. These were the more benign among re-education activities.
Because of the conditions in the colony, frequent outbreaks of disease occurred, like dysentery or typhus. Some 150 inmates died in the typhus epidemic in the spring of 1951. During the 1949 to 1956 period, 399 political prisoners died in custody, of whom 287 at Goli Otok. While most died from disease, prisoners at Goli Otok also died from various injuries, accidents, and suicide. Meanwhile, according to Kapičić, the only victim of Goli Otok was an inmate who was beaten to death by other inmates for betraying them.

There was a point to having prisoners torture other prisoners: UDBA and the regime kept their hands clean. “I will not say we deliberately tortured the Cominformists,” Kapičić said in an interview. “I will not because we did not.”

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[SOUNDBITE – “Gone Beyond” by Kevin McLeod]

Inmates at Goli Otok included Alija Izetbegović, later the first president of independent Bosnia and Herzegovina, imprisoned for nationalism and hostile propaganda, and Šaban Bajramović, a singer of Roma origin, for desertion. It is in honor of Bajramović, who played goal on the prison football team, that Dennis Martinelli AKA Ratsmagick out of Philadelphia made the song “Goli Otok,” released earlier this year. Yes, the song is about a goalie on Goli.


PETER KORCHNAK: You were released from Goli Otok when the UDBA decided you completed your sentence, when you were re-educated. Criteria included your behavior at Goli Otok and how well you collaborated with them.

Upon release inmates had to sign the so-called “Commitment,” a pledge to keep silent about the camp and to collaborate with the UDBA in finding additional enemies, basically becoming an informant, informing mostly on other returnees. For the rest of your life.

After the release you were forever branded with Goli Otok.

Many prisoners returned with various ailments and suffered from the consequences of injuries. Some became incapable of making life’s decisions for themselves and would even consult their UDBA handlers for advice or permission.

Golootočani faced a difficult return to normality. They couldn’t and didn’t talk about their experience with anyone, including their closest family. Until the 1980s, the existence of Goli Otok wasn’t common knowledge; there was no public discussion about it, no media attention. It was just an open secret.

Their friends and community shunned the returnees. Children wouldn’t play with theirs. They couldn’t get appropriate jobs so many ended up doing manual labor; some couldn’t get a job at all. Some were driven out and had to move to a new town.

A few golootočani did pursue successful careers. Alfred Pal became a painter and designer. Mihailo Simić a journalist. Ivo Kuvačić a university professor. Jovan Ševaljević a psychiatrist. Velibor Mačukatin a sculptor. Dragoslav Mihailović a writer.

After 1956, Goli Otok was temporarily closed. But the revenue generated by prison labor proved to be too lucrative. So the place was renamed, to the Penitentiary and Corrections Facility, and repurposed into a regular prison for criminal offenders, juvenile delinquents, and occasional political prisoners whose charges were mostly related to ethnic nationalism.

In 1970, the ever poetic CIA, called Goli Otok, “Tito’s Devil Island.” It has since been called Tito’s Gulag or Tito’s Guantanamo.

[SOUNDBITE – “Gone Beyond” by Kevin McLeod]

PETER KORCHNAK: As you heard in Episode 36, “Dream of the Yugoslav 80s,” after Tito’s death and through the ongoing economic crisis, Yugoslavia became much more relaxed and open in terms of public discourse. Artists, activists, academics, journalists, and others began tackling heretofore taboo subjects, including the country’s core myths: Tito (now dead), the Party, the National Liberation Struggle and the Partisan mythology, the Ustaše and the Četniks, brotherhood and unity–and Goli Otok.

Of course, first came the punkers. In 1979, the Rijeka-based band Paraf performed at its concerts the song “Goli Otok.” Forty years later, the former Paraf member and the song’s creator and writer, Valter Kocijančić, re-recorded the song for his band Valter i Perspektiva. The song is owned by Dallas Records, which kindly gave permission for its use here, and published by Mars Music.
“Naked Island, the sun is shining, the rock is burning, that’s the Naked Island, mother. You can hear the pounding, the rock is breaking, plaques are made, bura is blowing.”

PETER KORCHNAK: In July 1982, the Washington Post reported on, quote, “a fit of public soul-searching about one of the most controversial episodes of [Tito’s] long rule: the physical and psychological tortures inflicted on thousands of pro- Soviet Communists who opposed his break with Moscow in 1948.”

After Tito’s death, novels, plays, memoirs, essays, nonfiction books, and newspaper articles tackled the period of the Tito-Stalin split, and among those themes the topic of Goli Otok emerged.

You have novels by the Slovene authors Branko Hofman and Vitomil Zupan; Kosovar Teki Dervishi; Serbs Slobodan Pauljević, Dragan Kalajdžić as well as Antonije Isaković whose best-selling and award-winning novel Tren 2 was after its publication in 1982 compared to Dante’s Inferno. Isaković who also wrote a play about the treatment of Stalinists after 1948, told the Post he saw the spate of works about Goli Otok as a kind of national cleansing or catharsis and compared it to the soul-searching that went on in the United States following the war in Vietnam. “We have to tell the truth about our past,” he said.

You have nonfiction books based on personal experiences by the Slovene Igor Torkar and by the Bulgarian/Macedonian Venko Markovski. History books by Radovana Radonjić, Dragana Marković, and Branko Petranović tackled the historical aspects of the camp.


The film comedy from 1984, Balkan Spy, stars Bata Stojković as Ilija Čvorović, a former Stalinist and Goli Otok prisoner who spies and reports on his tenant, a returnee from France. Ilija becomes increasingly paranoid, takes matters in his own hands, and shenanigans ensue.

In 1985 the award-winning film When Father Was Away on Business by the erstwhile admired director Emir Kusturica told the story of a boy whose father makes a disparaging comment about a newspaper cartoon attacking Stalin. He gets ratted on by a jealous love foe and serves three years quote unquote “away on business,” i.e. at a labor camp–we never learn where exactly where except that his family once visits him at a mine near Tuzla.


[SOUNDBITE – “Gone Beyond” by Kevin McLeod]

The prison at Goli Otok was closed in 1988 and the following year the premises vacated. Goli Otok became a memory.

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It is in the 1980s that the story of Tiha Gudac began.


PETER KORCHNAK: That’s the writer and director Tiha Gudac in the opening frames of her documentary film Goli, released in 2012. Gudac was born in Zagreb thirty years prior.

TIHA GUDAC: I grew up without a father in a way. My parents divorced when I was four, and my father was not present in my upbringing and in a way a substitute father for me was my grandpa. He had scars on his body, and I knew that he was in a prison. This was something that we the children were told, that he was in a prison and it was, it was very clear that this was something very painful. And for that reason, we never asked about it. And I knew fragments which were coming our way even as kids, such as that there was a name on the tombstone, on the family tombstone, of a girl who was two years old, and she was my mother’s sister and somehow the date of her death was the same as the date of the birth of my mother. And so I mean obviously we would ask and they told us that she was killed the same day that my mom was born because grandpa was in the prison.

So obviously, I mean even as a kid and I think I’m a very sensitive individual and a very empathetic individual, probably I was born that way, I mean, you just don’t want to dig into those things. It’s not per se that I felt any kind of formal ban, I think I was too small, too young to perceive any formality. It was just on an intimate level, you could understand this is something very painful and you don’t want to touch it. You don’t want to bring more pain or make your grandma, grandpa, mother sad.

My grandpa passed away before my teen years, and my grandma was with us even into my 20s but I think this feeling was the same all the way until that age.

PETER KORCHNAK: Gudac’s grandfather died in 1992.

In the 1990s the abandoned facilities on the island were looted and pillaged and in the ensuing decades the place fell into disrepair and neglect.
The wars of Yugoslavia’s dissolution overshadowed any potential for dealing with the history of Goli Otok both by historians and the population at large. “Among other things, it was hard or impossible to ethnically label the victims or the perpetrator [because] both came from all Yugoslavia’s various ethnic groups,” said the historian Martin Previšić for Balkan Insight. Relatively few Croats had been interred at Goli Otok, so the site wasn’t as important for official memory making in Croatia.

An additional factor: at Goli Otok communists were both the jailers and the prisoners. Ideologically opposed as the Cominformists (or the alleged Cominformists) and the Titoists were, in the nationalist discourse they were all communists and hence, well, good riddance. The anti-communist discourse has little room for sympathy with Stalinists and their suffering.

It wasn’t until about the mid-aughts that serious memory work about the island emerged.

On the political front, in 2003 Slovenia offered survivors a reparation payment of 6,300 euros for each year spent at Goli Otok; in 2012 Serbia followed suit with an offer of about 2,500 euros per year of internment.

In 2011, a memorial plaque sponsored by the Government of Croatia was placed on a wall at the former prison saying, “In memory of victims of the Communist regime who suffered at Goli Otok, on the occasion of the 23rd of August, Day of Remembrance of Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes.” I’m going to leave aside the problematic equating of all those regimes and point out that the prime minister of Croatia has recently been making a commemorative visit to the place on that European Union-level observance.

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PETER KORCHNAK: On the cultural front, in the 1990s a number of memoirs by former prisoners came out, most prominently a lengthy work by Dragoslav Mihailović in Serbia.

The 1996 Croatian film Sedma kronika (The Seventh Chronicle) fictionalized the story of the only person in 40 years of the prison’s existence who managed to escape.

In the early aughts the last survivors began dying out in large numbers and the generation of their grandchildren started coming of creative and remembering age. And as the ensuing 2010s decade progressed, talking about Yugoslavia became more acceptable as well.

More survivors published memoirs. I’ve counted three by Croats, Josip Ercegović Miloš in 2002, Josip Zoretić in 2007, and Vladimir Bobinac in 2017; one by a Macedonian, Toma Batev in 2006; and in 2018 the English version of a decades-old memoir by Radovan Hrast, a Slovene Goli Otok two-timer, was published on demand as Stripped of My Time: A Survivor of the Political Prison on Goli Otok.

Goli Otok has featured in foreign fiction as well, most recently last year in a novel by International Booker Prize-winning author David Grossman. More Than I Love My Life is a story of Vera, inspired by the life of Eva Panić Nahir, a Jewish woman from the former Yugoslavia who was imprisoned at Goli Otok for refusing to denounce her husband. “The series of passages in which Grossman recreates Vera’s life on Goli Otok,” wrote Alex Clark in The Guardian, “where she is forced to stand on the top of a mountainous outcrop in baking sun for hour after hour in an attempt to break her will, take on a horrendous dreamlike quality.”

Documentary films appeared. Panić Nahir’s story centers the film Eva from 2002. The 2009 German film Horror: The History of the Prison Island Goli Otok features 8 former prisoners; and in 2010, the Albanian director Shkëlqim Krasniqi released a film documenting a group trip of 40 former prisoners to the island. The documentary is available on YouTube, albeit with no subtitles.

Two documentaries came out in 2012. Gradimo novi svet (We Are Building a New World) by the Slovenian director Marko Kobe, and Goli Otok, translated as Bare Island, by the Croatian director and photographer Darko Bavoljak. The latter film is built on three sources: the former prisoner, Alfred Pal, who is on location at the island and speaks about his experience there; a sit-down interview with Jovo Kapičić, the prison’s creator; and archival materials about the prisoner named Milovan Zec, including police reports and his own writings. The juxtaposition of the two sides, the prisoners and the jailers, makes for a powerful and dramatic narrative. The film is available with English subtitles at CultureUnplugged.com.

Bavoljak also heads the association of Goli Otok prisoners Ante Zemljar, in which capacity he has called on authorities to establish a memorial center on the island. “We want to preserve the memory of the slave work of the prisoners and build a memorial center…lest something like this should happen ever again,” he told Reuters.

Other associations have been repeating a call to turn the island into a memorial area as well.

In 2014 Croatia’s government solicited development proposals for the island. Famously, one of the proposals pitched turning the isolated island into a gay tourism hub. It never came to be. Nothing else did either.

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Tiha Gudac’s documentary Goli came out the same year. Its description reads:

“Sixty years ago, a man went missing for 4 years. He returned a changed man, carrying along a painful secret, built his family’s life around this unspoken secret and died without revealing the entire story to anyone. “Naked Island” is an investigation of his granddaughter, a mosaic made of clues–family photos and intimate testimonies of a tight-knit group of people who were brought together by the same place, the mysterious island, and consequences that this place left on three generations.”

TIHA GUDAC: The documentary has different titles in English and in Croatian, or any most ex-Yugoslav languages, which is important. In English, obviously, it’s called Naked Island. But in Croatian, I’ll just call it Croatian for the purposes of the conversation, although it’s the same in Serbian, Bosnian and other languages in former Yugoslavia, it’s actually called just Goli. The same word is used as an adjective for anything naked and as a plural for [the] adjective naked. It basically has the same form as it would have for naked people or bare people, people who have bared everything, like taken off their clothes and stood bare in front of you.

PETER KORCHNAK: Unlike other documentary works about the island, which tend to be journalistic, historical, and descriptive, kind of like this podcast, Gudac’s Goli is personal, a story of her own family.

TIHA GUDAC: It’s basically a very, even an uncommonly or an unusually intimate and honest level of storytelling in terms of what that place did to individuals, humans, and in particular [a] few generations of a family of my family to this day.

The first place in terms of storytelling and my focus and importance and in my voice as a storyteller, was given to individuals, to the human story. And it was less political, and less investigative on a formal level, there may be some other documentaries, which were done on the subject. I mean, I’ve worked on the film for six years and I’ve gone through a lot of research and I became a bit of a scholar of the subject. And of course, all these very studious books that I could have read and films or other types of audiovisual, investigative material that I came across was very useful for me but at the end, the reason why I had to go to back to the start, which was the reason why I even started the journey of making that film and that is because I’m a granddaughter of a survivor.

My grandparents obviously they had good friends, people who were a part of our households, and when I was well into my film school, there was a journalistic piece, and all of these friends, my best friends of my grandparents were there was a photo of them together, saying Naked Island survivors speaking up for the first time. And this was a huge shock for my family. We call them and we said, so wait, you were all there together? And this was 60 years later. And they said, yeah, maybe it’s time that will tell the story.

I talked to this woman called Vera Vinter, who was really a best friend of my grandparents, she and her husband, and she said, “Yes, both me and my husband we were both there. We were there together with your grandpa.” And then she called another family friend and she said the granddaughter of Marijan is here and should we share the story with her now?

PETER KORCHNAK: Vera Vinter, née Barišić, worked at a federal ministry in Belgrade. One of her superiors was a Stalin sympathizer and at some point she told UDBA officers at her office she listened to Radio Moscow. She spent 3 years at Goli Otok and Sveti Grgur.

TIHA GUDAC: At that moment, my ability to tell the story in terms of filmmaking, my ability to be a film director was [a] secondary concern. At that moment, the only thing I felt was, this is something that needs to be recorded since they were only going to talk to me, obviously, I was the only one who could start making a documentary.

It took me six years, it was a very big emotional process, intellectual process, even probably therapeutical [sic] process. Yeah, I went through a lot of anger, I went through a lot of frustration, I went through activism, the need to straight [sic] all the wrongs of the history, of histories, right. But then in the end, I just went back to where it started, and it started with a granddaughter and her grandpa. And I realized that that’s the value of this film, of my story, of my impulse, why I’m making it, of my decision to really sacrifice a lot in order for this film to be made, and the reason why all these people decided to speak out for the first time. I mean, some of them did speak before in some more formal ways, because there is no formal then or problem to talk about it these days. But the spirit that was between us and the commonness that we had was really special. So I just said, “Okay, I’m not a journalist. I’m not an investigator, I’m not a historian, and everyone else in my film is here because we’re family.” So we really made a family story, which I think is quite unusual in how honest and open it is. And quite specific in that way. And I guess that was the reason why the film was, so to say, so successful.

PETER KORCHNAK: Recall that some 13,000 people did time on Goli Otok between 1949 and 1956.

TIHA GUDAC: And if you multiply that by all their family members at the time who absolutely had to be impacted by the imprisonment of an individual and then what happened to those families, which was very specific and kind of copy-paste, and then you take up to three generations of individuals who were influenced by that trauma. And that’s a lot of people. And a lot of them never talk to their fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, mothers, sisters. And it seems like that was my experience, that in former Yugoslavia my film was a conversation for many families and individuals, which then they unfortunately never had the opportunity to have with their loved ones.

PETER KORCHNAK: One part of the story I felt missing from the film was the reason for Marijan Fučkan’s imprisonment at Goli Otok.

TIHA GUDAC: Yes, this is a question that remains unanswered. I did not put it in the film, I did find the actual reason through the research that I’ve done.

My grandpa, which is in the film, he was a young and upcoming businessman. During the Second World War, there weren’t too many people who were able to gain education for obvious reasons of the war. He was well educated, and when the war ended he was headhunted to be among the young managers who were setting up factories. And he would be given a factory for six months, and then move on to another factory and so on.

PETER KORCHNAK: You may even know some of these factories from the supermarket shelves: Badel, Kalnik, Kraš…

TIHA GUDAC: And he was a protege of a minister called Rade Žigić who was actually really a part of the clash between Tito and Stalin, and he was a part of a group who was sympathetic towards Stalin. So basically, everyone he was protecting was, they were all sent as a group. And my grandpa was a part of that group because he was a protege, because all of his promotions were signed by this minister. And it was the same for Teta Vera’s husband, Auntie Vera’s husband, Gabriel, who’s in the film.

PETER KORCHNAK: Rade Žigić was a Croatian Communist and Partizan. After the war he was in the Politburo of Croatian Communist Party’s Central Committee, Minister of Industry of Croatia, and a reserve Yugoslav People’s Army general. During the Tito-Stalin split he advocated for reconciliation with the Soviet Union. He ended up at Goli Otok in 1951. According to eyewitnesses, no one in the welcoming gauntlet so much as touched Žigić; everyone just spat at him. In 1954, still on the island, he committed suicide.

At any rate–

TIHA GUDAC: For me, I had a total anticlimax when I found out what the actual reason was. So I just felt like, I didn’t want to bore people with the details. But basically, what I did put in the film was that it was a time of paranoia. Everyone had the not just the right but an obligation to point fingers at others, to show their loyalty to the system in order to protect themselves. So in this time of paranoia, for as little as one sentence, people would be disappearing. I didn’t name the reasons for most people in the film because they’re so banal.

PETER KORCHNAK: Another thing that gets all but one mention in the film is the jailers.

Way back, in Episode 16, “Diaspora Voices,” I spoke with Andrea Jovanović who had met Kapičić, albeit briefly and without conversing with him, through her grandfather who had been a Partisan and who later emigrated to the UK.

ANDREA JOVANOVIĆ: So my grandfather while he was alive had a pretty bad habit of understating things. So he’d invite me to something, you know, he’d say, let’s go for a casual lunch, and it would turn out to be at an embassy. And I’d turn up in some scrappy t-shirt that said, you know, Partizan FC or something and be very embarrassed. And this happened a few times, and he once invited me to lunch and again, I turned up, not overly well dressed. And it turned out we were having lunch with Jovo Kapičić, who was at least on paper in charge of Goli Otok.

PETER KORCHNAK: Of course I ask Andrea what they all talked about but unfortunately, she didn’t speak Serbian well enough at the time to follow the conversation…

Jovo Kapičić was a Montenegrin Communist who fought in Tito’s army at Neretva and Sutjeska and participated in the Igman March. After the war he was proclaimed a national hero, he coordinated the arrest of the Četnik general Draža Mihailović, whose rehabilitation some 60 years later he opposed, and he was promoted to general of the UDBA, the Yugoslav Secret Service. It was in that capacity that he organized the Goli Otok internment camp.

In interviews Kapičić would say Goli Otok had been a success. To his dying days, in 2013, he would claim no torture or any other mistreatment of prisoners at Goli Otok ever took place. “They’re tales for children,” he said in one interview, for B92 television. “A scam,” he called them in another.

He also said that, “Those people were all there because they were a Fifth Column waiting for Russians to arrive.” In Darko Bavoljak’s documentary, Kapičić called the Informbureauists, “bacteria that infected a healthy organism.”

PETER KORCHNAK: It seemed much more difficult for your mother and your sister to speak about this, especially on camera, than for the two people who actually were at the actual prison, at the actual island. So what do you think that is, I mean, they experienced the worst, you know, horrific things. During that time, they were beaten, tortured, forced to torture others, etc, you know, had to live in, in silence. And then it seemed, not that the words were kind of rolling off their tongues, but it seemed much, much more straightforward for them to speak about this versus your family members.

TIHA GUDAC: So in my film, I have two survivors. It’s Alfred Pal and Vera Vinter.

Alfred Pal was a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust, as the sole person who survived the Holocaust from his family, his entire family. He was also imprisoned in fascist camps during the Second World War. And then he went to Naked Island twice.

Because he was an artist, [the] first time he was in prison as part of a newspaper office, where they were all collectively sent there. And then he went out and he didn’t obey, he wasn’t reporting on others and spying and then they sent him then back. And he was dead, tied with my grandpa in chains on the boat and that’s how they met.

So at the time that I’m talking to Alfred Pal for the film, he’s actually one of the first people who did openly start talking about Naked Island, even during Yugoslavia through his art. So he started making haunting, really impressive pictures. At the age of, he told me at the age of 40, and he was well into his 80s when I was talking to him. So he is definitely a man who has gone through so much that Naked Island is unfortunately a part of it. And he told me– I’ve learned so much from these people. He told me, “When I came to naked Island, I wasn’t afraid, because the only thing they could have done to me was kill me.” He had nothing else to lose at that moment. He had no family, he’s lost everyone in his life. And he was already a part of the fascist imprisonments and now he was being captured by the anti-fascists. So it was just theater of [the] absurd for him. So he was much braver. He spoke through his art, and I think he’s processed it and thought about it on many levels in [the] years prior to me talking to him. He just shared his story on a more intimate level with me as a granddaughter of a friend, as a person who babysitted my mom.

PETER KORCHNAK: You may recall that Alfred Pal had starred in Darko Bavoljak’s 2012 documentary Goli Otok.

TIHA GUDAC: And Teta Vera, Auntie Vera, she was among the first people who wrote about it. In 1989, she wrote an article and sent it to a Serbian newspaper, which at that time literally they [had] published the first article about Naked Island and then she wrote a response. So she already started processing it.

Auntie Vera she told me, I will talk to you once, only once, and I can’t repeat it. I mean, you have to take into account that these people are, I mean, unfortunately both of them passed away. Andrej Pal never even saw the film, he passed away well, while I was making the film, so there’s a different kind of life experience talking to them. And also, they’re the survivors. I am only guessing if I was able to talk to my grandparents openly that they would not have been the ones falling apart in front of the camera. Just talking about my grandparents, and certain issues that that I have witnessed them going through while they were still here, I think they’ve built up a lot of strength to deal with certain issues in order to survive.

While as for us, we’ve inherited things that perhaps we have not found the tools to deal with and have not found the right way to survive them yet. And I think the reason, the need for for the film for me on an intimate level, I think, comes from that place, from a place where I need to find my tools to deal with this and to survive and build a better life literally for myself, because it was so obvious that there’s trauma even in, transgenerational trauma, even three generations on.

Maybe it sounds a little narcissistic, if I see the film was a tool and blah, blah, blah, for us to build something but in fact, the film was a conversation. I’m super grateful to my family, that they were so open, that they said, “You can film this.” And they said, “We will not talk to each other while you’re you’re working on this.” So it was literally the first time that they opened up. It was the first time that I talked to my sister about certain issues, and my mother and my father. And it’s just, we needed the conversation. And it’s just, let’s say, coincidence that it was recorded.

PETER KORCHNAK: Given that it’s been, what, six years now that the movie’s been out, what has stayed with you through these years? What have you learned, what’s sticking with you?

TIHA GUDAC: Well, the first thing is that I really want to take a step back from this personal moment and say that, at the end of the day, it’s I mean, it’s a film, of course, My first stand in life is emotions, about everything. I’m deeply emotional. And I had to take a step back while making a film, because being just emotional and deeply this and that can be very irresponsible towards the audience. So it had to be a film which had a universal value in Yugoslavia and on a wider scale. It had to be a film about family silence, about family issues in general, it had to be a good film. That’s what I tried. Not saying, necessarily, that’s what it is. But that’s what I strived to do. And I took a lot of mentoring and a lot of taking a step back from the material and the editing. And that’s why it took me six years to make it in order to cool down and watch it as a film. So that was a big learning experience for me as a filmmaker. It changed my life path, because since then I’ve continued directing documentaries. It helped me find my talents, identify my talents.

On a personal level for the people in the film, I think it really did help us find peace with the subject. Some family relationships did change on a completely intimate level, but to see the survivors of Naked Island– Auntie Vera did live until the premiere of the film and she was able to see the days of different press that came out connected to the film and it was just such a rewarding experience. It’s like I could see a circle of life with all the terrors of Naked Island. And when she held the newspapers in her sick bed and she couldn’t believe that the papers were saying they were victims and that this is something that shouldn’t have happened on the level of the society. She was literally repeating it, “They’re saying we were victims and that this shouldn’t have happened.” And this is something that these people never, they never thought they will see the day when someone says this. Because these people were outside of the system.

Naked Island, as a phenomenon, was generally looked at as communists fighting communists. And then when Yugoslavia fell apart, it fell apart because of individual national interests and individual needs of nations, which were part of Yugoslav Federation for their independence. So the national question is a big question and oppressed question during the decades of Yugoslavia. So these people were not national heroes in any of the countries, they were communists and communism fell down so this was a communist issue which had to— they fell through the crack[s]. They were nobody’s heroes. And nobody dealt with them and nobody apologized.

So somehow when the film came out and all the– a lot of the press was really focused at the human sacrifice and the human level of the tragedy. So that was a very rewarding experience for me to be with them and in and see the day of that happening.

PETER KORCHNAK: Gudac’s Goli did well on the festival circuit. For example, it got the Heart of Sarajevo prize for the Best Documentary at the Sarajevo Film Festival, it was Best Film at the Liburnia Film Festival, and received Best Director, Best Producer, and the Audience Awards at the Belgrade Documentary and Short Film Festival.

TIHA GUDAC: I do think it made quite a big impact on [the] level of social awareness of what Naked Island as a camp was. But unfortunately, I mean, it was completely– there is no Memorial Center there. There is– If you go to big former camps, usually there is a museum or some kind of a learning experience is available there on a formal level. On Naked Island that has not happened to this day. But since the film came out–and I know for a fact that is because of my film–there have been student educational camps on Naked Island every summer, throughout the summer.

And I get a lot of response from people from all over Yugoslavia, basically saying, I now understand my family’s story, I understand my father, grandpa, mother, sister, and so on, or they’re even telling me different things on a very personal level.

PETER KORCHNAK: A lot of people who were are opposed to Yugoslavia, socialist Yugoslavia, use it as an example to highlight the evils of that regime. So what’s your take on that part? And more importantly, since your film is very personal, on a personal level or on a family level, what’s your family’s view of Yugoslavia and of that time period?

TIHA GUDAC: I think the film is in line with that, which is that it’s not a black and white picture. It was both good and bad. But it had a tendency of hiding the bad things with the flashy good things very well. Because we were not behind the Iron Curtain. We were an open communist country. So you could buy Levi’s and listen to Rolling Stones and drink Coca Cola, as opposed to any other communist country in Europe and wider.

But the society permitted or actually the system permitted the shine of Coca Cola’s and Levi’s to hide everything else. But I did show both sides in my film, I thought it would be unfair to just say, you know, just point fingers and paint a picture, which was not complete.

But I think we’re very clear about that there was a very criminal part of it. And on a personal level, I have no, no doubt that Tito was, among other things, a criminal. But somehow, I just can’t be bothered with him or them.

I think that what’s happened in Yugoslavia, and with Naked Island and Tito’s role is just something unfortunately, that repeats itself through history. It’s a rule of humanity. And it’s rule of crisis, of times of crisis, the question of, when the crisis comes, are we here to remember humanity? Do we have the strength to stand up and stand in the name of humanity or do we protect our asses? This is basically a quote from the film where Alfred Pal says, “When the crisis comes, again, there is only one question, what do you protect: your face or your ass?” And this is unfortunately, something that really is repetitive throughout history and throughout nations. That’s the human nature.

So for me, I just felt that I want to give the political context. But politicians are given too much space and normal humans, small people whose lives are influenced or basically controlled by the decisions of politicians are not given enough space. So I said with my film, it’s our time. You are the people in white suits, you are the people in fancy cars, you are the people in parades, I will explain that you existed and to a certain level, because I will never straighten that line, to a certain level, I really don’t care what his name is. A guy in a suit, people with parades in hysteria, shouting for something, which should be shouted against, have been appearing, are appearing, and will continue appearing throughout human existence until there’s enough people who will learn that in those times you have to protect your face and be a human. That was my thesis.

And my family, it’s really not a part of our conversation like Tito, no Tito, communist, no communism. We also have a bit of a sense of humor. So you know, after communism, there was war, and now we have other issues.

PETER KORCHNAK: Like you said, always something.

TIHA GUDAC: Yeah, no bitterness. I mean, I was very clear with myself that I want to end the film by leaving it behind. And that’s why the last shot of the film is going away from the island. And the point is to strip it away, you know, take it all off and no bitterness. I just, I don’t see the value of it. There will be other people dealing with historic facts. I cannot straighten out that history. What I can do is on a personal level, leave it behind.


PETER KORCHNAK: Scholarly, journalistic, and other nonfiction accounts emerged as well. A number of history books included Goli Otok in their accounts of the early socialist Yugoslav period.

In 2003, Goli Otok survivor in Croatia, Ivan Kosić, published Goli otok: najveći Titov konclogor (Goli Otok: Tito’s Biggest Concentration Camp), a historical account interspersed with eyewitness accounts and personal experiences. In 2010, Tamara Nikčević published in Serbia a historical account centered around the testimony of Jovo Kapičić.

The Slovenian historian Božidar Jezernik’s Goli Otok: Titov Gulag came out in 2014 and was translated into multiple languages, though alas not English.

The same year the up and coming historian Martin Previšić published his doctoral thesis at the University of Zagreb. The History of the Goli Otok Cominformist Prison Camp, 1949-1956 was a major source of information for this episode. Previšić later turned his dissertation into a book, published in 2019 at Faktura Zagreb. Previšić was born in 1984.

Also in 2014, a major exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade documented crimes committed by Yugoslav Communists, mostly in Serbia but also at Goli Otok. The person to open the “In the Name of the People” exhibition was none other than Dragoslav Mihailović, he of the lengthy memoir reprinted in this decade.

The exhibition website included a full list of Goli Otok prisoners; you can still view an archived version online.

In 2016, a satirical online petition in Croatia called for re-opening of the prison at Goli Otok to house “people who have robbed the country of its wealth and impoverished the society.” The authors only feared the prison would not be big enough.

The 70th anniversary in 2018 of the Cominform resolution that expelled Yugoslavia from its ranks and the 70th anniversary in 2019 of the opening of Goli Otok was a big year for commemorations.

Radio Television Serbia released as part of its program “Kvadratura Kruga” a 2–part documentary about Goli Otok, featuring a historical narrative, interviews with survivors, period footage…

Croatian memory nonprofits Ante Zemljar and Documenta said the concentration camp site should be turned into an “island of memories, education and educational tourism that is suitable for this place.”

In 2020, Darko Zlojutro’s Goli Otok u Beogradu (Goli Otok in Belgrade) included interviews with survivors, an account of a visit to the island, and original photographs.

Also in 2020, the Zagreb NGO Documenta created a multilingual, interactive online guide to the history of the Goli Otok prison camp. The guide is based on Previšić’s book, offering a short, basic, and digestible introduction to the topic, including maps. You can find it at Goli-Otok.net.

Goli Otok Prison Guide

Along with the virtual guide’s launch Documenta reiterated, in an open letter to the government of Croatia, its long-standing call for the protection of the site and the creation of a memorial center there as one of the most important places of Croatia’s recent history marking the repression by Yugoslavia’s communist regime of thousands of individuals.

And earlier this summer, another book came out documenting the experience of a different group of prisoners at Goli Otok: Kosovo Albanians. Kosovars constituted less than 3 percent of all inmates. Though Goli Otok became a regular prison after 1956, in the late 1970s and particularly in the 1980s when unrest in Kosovo and nationalism in Serbia intensified, a range of Kosovars found themselves there. Speaking for Balkan Insight about the book titled Distorted Shadows, Kushtrim Koliqi, head of the nonprofit that published it, said, “apart from the suffering and disturbing stories of people who experienced Goli Otok, it is also a document of the past. First and foremost, it is a call for public institutions to not let people die without testifying.”

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[SOUNDBITE – “Gone Beyond” by Kevin McLeod]

PETER KORCHNAK: Aside from all that, Goli Otok today is primarily a photogenic tourist attraction.

ANDREA JOVANOVIĆ: I’ve always wanted to go and see it, but more so since I met the man who was ostensibly in charge of it.

PETER KORCHNAK: Andrea Jovanović again.

ANDREA JOVANOVIĆ: We took a boat over, [a] private boat over from Sveti Juraj, which is one of the smaller towns you can get a boat over from. And I was pretty appalled at how tasteless everything is. The way I heard it, two brothers have kind of got a monopoly on everything over there. There’s a restaurant, the name kind of translates into something to do with sort of sizzling, which is not particularly funny, since obviously, the heat and the weather and the lack of shade was a big punishment there. And it is absolutely sweltering. I mean, it must have kind of gone over 40 degrees, but it felt like 50. We were completely burned. There’s a little tractor pulling a little train, which is slightly overpriced, which takes you around the main sort of sites. Graffiti artists have really done their work. But mostly, you know, we just saw a lot of tourists sitting at this restaurant, which was very, very, very crowded. There are only two toilets on the island, you have to pay to use them. And people on the beach having a great time. It was unexpected, I suppose.

PETER KORCHNAK: Nicholas Hermann went to Goli Otok in search of his grandfather’s past. His experience, recounted in an essay in the now defunct Calvert Journal, was similar to Jovanović’s:

“The smoke of grilled ćevapi lingers by the harbour-side restaurant, where day-trippers eat beneath bright parasols emblazoned with brand names: Ožujsko and Karlovačko—popular Croatian lagers. On the other side is a small concrete building, the word “SUVENIRI” (souvenirs) hand painted above its door in wobbly, white letters. A woman in an orange bikini wanders past, on her way down to the rocks for a swim. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.”

Tourist operators brand the island the “Croatian Alcatraz.”

But, as Hermann writes, “once I’m clear of the harbour, the comparison is baffling. This place is worlds away from that other infamous island—a major museum filled with merchandise and audio guides. Apart from a single room displaying the odd artifact and a ten-minute film on loop, Goli Otok is a ruin. Earth and weeds fill the buildings, swallowing tools and machine parts. Paint peels from pockmarked walls. Light punches through collapsed ceilings. Girders, bent and brown, grope in the shadows like vines searching for the sky. And everywhere: rubble, on every rotten floorboard and piled in every corner. (…)

[T]here exists no infrastructure of remembrance, no map to hold my hand. I move from ruin to ruin, forced to fill the cavities with my imagination.”

On Instagram, photos with the hashtag #goliotok are a mix of ruin porn, showing the abandoned premises of the former prison, and vacation photos and selfies of mostly young women posing with the ruins in the background. Many seem to have been taken on organized tours of the island.

In its entry for the island, Fodor’s writes, among other things: “Like Communist history? Consider a day trip to this uninhabited island that was a Yugoslav prison, just off the coast of Rab. (…) The treatment of these prisoners is wholly unknown, as very few prisoners lived to tell of their experiences, but a stone quarry indicates that prisoners were forced to do hard labor quarrying stone. (…) You can make a short trip to this legendary gulag by taxi boat with one of the many charter companies…”

Various private tour companies, on Krk and Rab islands and on the mainland in Jurjevo and Senj advertise excursions to Goli Otok and sell, “souvenirs that trivialize the suffering of the Goli Otok prisoners,” according to Documenta.

Farmers use Goli Otok to graze their sheep on the dry grassland. Party boats sometimes cruise by here as well. And the swimwear company Svimea includes in its line of bikinis named after Croatian islands a set named Goli; it’s impossible to tell but based on the product name one might assume the promo photos of the green polka-dotted bikini set were shot at Goli Otok.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Gone Beyond” by Kevin McLeod]

PETER KORCHNAK: “Today, the camp on Goli Otok exists in collective memory as a place of cruel sadism, hard physical labor, dehumanizing treatment of inmates, and the atmosphere of fear and denunciation,” writes Martin Previšić in his book. “It demonstrates that, in the defense of independence or the fight for it, it is possible to go too far.”

I have not yet been to Goli Otok. I have mixed feelings about it: a perverse curiosity, an intellectual repulsion, and a dose of fear.

The facts are now known about Goli Otok; that chapter of Yugoslavia’s history is closed. What remains to be known is us; what stories remain to be told, or not as the case may be, are about us.

The paradise that as a child I imagined Yugoslavia to be had been built atop the hell of Goli Otok. That too, is part of Yugoslavia’s memory.

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[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]

PETER KORCHNAK: Next on Remembering Yugoslavia:

VJOSA MUSLIU: They were also projecting and performing their adherence to processes related to European integration, but at the same time, to some sort of identification with Europe.

PETER KROCHNAK: Kosovo has been on the receiving end of not one but two supranational entities and ideologies: Yugoslavia and the European Union. On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, performing Yugoslavia and Europe in Kosovo.

Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out.

[OUTRO MUSIC – “Jugoslavijo / Od Vardara pa do Triglava” by Horn Orchestra]

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information, photos, links, music embeds, and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com.

Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić. Tracks by Ratsmagick, Valter i Perspektiva, and Voyvoda used with permission and gratitude–buy their music! Additional music by Kevin McLeod and Petar Alargić licensed under Creative Commons. Special thanks to Faktum Documentary Film Project.

I am Peter Korchňak.


2 thoughts on “Island, Bared: The Goli Otok Prison and Its Memory (Podcast Ep. 59)”

  1. Hmmm…what a legitimately strange post. On one hand, you claim ‘relatively few’ Croats were imprisoned in Goli Otok. Than you name multiple Croatian people and authors who were imprisoned who either wrote or shared their memoirs. In fact, the majority of the memoir writers you listed are Croats, lol. This inconsistency needs to be rectified somehow as it makes it seem you do not know the topic you speak of very well.

    I know of multiple Croats who were imprisoned there, including the Croatian grandfather of a Croatian friend who escaped the island and than escaped abroad, never to return home again. So, more than one prisoner managed to get off the island.

    1. There is no inconsistency. “Relatively few” Croats is indeed relative to both the total and other nationalities, particularly Serbs and Montenegrins. Fifteen percent (or thereabouts) of 13,000 prisoners is still a considerable number. That so many—and by no means majority—memoirs about Goli Otok were authored by Croats has in large part to do with the fact the place is in today’s Croatia and so the country has more historical memory to deal with than other former republics. The two facts aren’t at all causally connected or in any conflict, so there isn’t anything to rectify as the text is accurate. Perhaps listening to, or reading the transcript as the case may be, closely could help avoid making incorrect assertions.

      I’ve only tracked down a single escape from the island. If there were more, I’m happy to be wrong. Please provide a reference.

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