Goli otok

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The abandoned prison on Goli otok

Goli otok (pronounced [ɡôliː ǒtok]; meaning "barren island"; Italian: Isola Calva) is a barren, uninhabited island that was the site of a political prison in use when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia. The prison was in operation between 1949 and 1989. The island is located in the northern Adriatic Sea just off the coast of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, Croatia with an area of approximately 4 square kilometers (1.54 square miles).

Goli otok prison[edit]

Goli otok labor camp and prison
labor camp
Goli otok is located in Croatia
Goli otok
Location of Goli otok labor camp and prison within Croatia
Location Goli otok, Croatia
Operated by Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
First built 1945
Operational 1949 – 1956 for political prisoners and until 1988 as normal prison
Inmates stalinists, anti-titoist dissidents and anti-communists
Killed Almost 4,000
Notable inmates See List of notable prisoners section

Despite having long been an occasional grazing ground for local shepherds' flocks, the barren island was apparently never permanently settled other than during the 20th century. Throughout World War I, Austria-Hungary sent Russian prisoners of war from the Eastern Front to Goli otok.

In 1949, the entire island was officially made into a high-security, top secret prison and labor camp run by the authorities of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, together with the nearby Sveti Grgur island, which held a similar camp for female prisoners. Until 1956, throughout the Informbiro period, it was used to incarcerate political prisoners. These included known and alleged Stalinists, but also other Communist Party of Yugoslavia members or even non-party citizens accused of exhibiting sympathy or leanings towards the Soviet Union. Many anticommunist (Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Albanian and other nationalists etc.) were also incarcerated on Goli otok. Non-political prisoners were also sent to the island to serve out simple criminal sentences[1][2] and some of them were sentenced to death.[3] A total of approximately 16,000[4][5] political prisoners served there, of which between 400[4] and 600[6] died on the island. Other sources claim almost 4,000 prisoners were killed.[7][8]

The prison inmates were forced to labor (in a stone quarry, pottery and joinery), without regard to the weather conditions: in the summer the temperature would rise as high as 35 to 40 °C (95 to 104 °F), while in the winter they were subjected to the chilling bura wind and freezing temperatures. Inmates were also regularly beaten and humiliated either by guards or, predominantly, by other inmates.[9] Guards did not kill inmates themselves, but did not intervene when inmates killed each other.[3]

After Yugoslavia normalized relations with the Soviet Union, Goli otok prison passed to the provincial jurisdiction of the Socialist Republic of Croatia (as opposed to the Yugoslav federal authorities). Regardless, the prison remained a taboo topic in Yugoslavia. Antonije Isaković wrote the novel Tren (Moment) about the prison in 1979, waiting until after Josip Broz's death in 1980 to release it. The book became an instant bestseller.[10]

The prison was shut down on 30 December 1988[11] and completely abandoned in 1989. Since then it has been left to ruin.[12] Today it is frequented by the occasional tourist on a boat trip and populated by shepherds from Rab. Former Croatian prisoners are organized into the Association of Former Political Prisoners of Goli otok.[13] In Serbia, they are organized into the Society of Goli otok.[14]

Notable prisoners[edit]

Map of Goli otok

Goli otok in literature[edit]

Goli otok seen from the mainland
Goli otok and its neighboring islands
  • 1981: Noč do jutra ‒ fictional novel by Slovenian author, Branko Hofman
  • 1981: Herezia e Dervish Mallutes - allegorical novel by Kosovar author, Teki Dervishi
  • 1984: Umiranje na obroke ‒ autobiographical book by Slovenian author, Igor Torkar, about Goli otok prison conditions
  • 1984: Goli Otok: The Island of Death ‒ non-fiction book by Bulgarian/Macedonian author, Venko Markovski, detailing a history of Goli otok prison
  • 1996: Goli Otok: stratište duha ‒ non-fiction book by Croatian author, Mihovil Horvat, containing the events of his arrest and imprisonment during Informbiro period
  • 1997: Goli Otok: Italiani nel Gulag di Tito ‒ historical report by Italian-Croatian author, Giacomo Scotti[8]
  • 1997: Tito's Hawaii ‒ fictional novel by Yugoslavian-born author, Rade Panic[18]
  • 2005: Razglednica s ljetovanja ‒ autobiographical short novel by the Croatian author Dubravka Ugrešić; published in the Belgrade literary review REČ časopis za književnost i kulturu, i društvena pitanja, br. 74/20, 2006, and in the book Nikog nema doma, ed. devedeset stupnjeva, Zagreb 2005. Italian translation Cartolina Estiva by Luka Zanoni Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, 2008[19]
  • 2010: Island of the World - fictional novel by Canadian author, Michael D. O'Brien.

Goli otok in film/television[edit]

  • 2007: Goli Otok ‒ documentary film directed by Darko Bavoljak[20]
  • 2009: Die Geschichte der Gefängnisinsel Goli otokGerman-language documentary film with 8 former prisoners; produced/directed by Reinhard Grabher[21]
  • 2013: Lost SurvivorsTravel Channel reality TV survival series episode entitled "Prison Island"[22]


  1. ^ "Donja Klada » Goli otok". Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  2. ^ "Višestruki ubojica s Golog otoka opet ubio". Jutarnji list. 31 May 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Karlovački tjednik https://web.archive.org/web/20110721101436/http://www.karlovacki-tjednik.hr/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=946&theme=Printer. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ a b "Popis UDBA-e: Više od 16 tisuća zatočenih na Golom otoku, 413 mrtvih". ipress.hr (in Croatian). 8 January 2014. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Central Intelligence Agency (20 November 1970). "Yugoslavia: The Outworn Structure" (PDF). p. 13. 
  6. ^ "Srbija nudi odštetu zatvorenicima na Golom otoku - devet dolara po danu". Slobodna Dalmacija (in Croatian). 25 July 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Goli Otok, AestOvest, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso 2008
  8. ^ a b "scotti". www.comune.bologna.it. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  9. ^ (www.dw.com), Deutsche Welle. "Goli otok - zloglasna Titova kaznionica - Priča dana - DW - 13.07.2009". DW.COM. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  10. ^ Daniel J. Goulding, Liberated cinema: the Yugoslav experience, 1945-2001, Indiana University Press, 2002. (p. 159)
  11. ^ a b "Na Golom otoku žalio sam što nisam kriminalac". Večernji list (in Croatian). 1 January 2005. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  12. ^ Goli otok website Quote: "This picture of a room for musicians was taken in 1990, in other words directly after Golis relinquishment."
  13. ^ "Slobodna Dalmacija". arhiv.slobodnadalmacija.hr. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  14. ^ "Spomen žrtvama Golog otoka na Adi - Glas javnosti". www.glas-javnosti.rs. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  15. ^ "Никола Кљусев". Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  16. ^ Čadež, Tomislav. "Alfred Pal: Preživio holokaust, dvaput bio na Golom otoku, a onda radio najljepše hrvatske knjige" (in Croatian). Jutarnji list. Retrieved 2012-07-03. 
  17. ^ Stipančević, Mario (April 2004). "Razgovor s dr. Savom Zlatićem" [Interview with Savo Zlatić, M.D.] (PDF). Arhivski vjesnik (in Croatian). Zagreb: Croatian State Archives (47): 119–132. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "Tito's Hawaii, a novel about Goli Otok". www.oocities.org. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  19. ^ Ugrešić, Dubravka (2008). "Cartolina estiva" (PDF). AestOvest. Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso. 
  20. ^ "Darko Bavoljak". Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  21. ^ "Curkovic.ca". www.curkovic.ca. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  22. ^ "Travel Channel's Lost Survivors episode, "Prison Island" partly filmed on Croati's Goli otok island". travelchannel.com. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°50′20″N 14°49′7″E / 44.83889°N 14.81861°E / 44.83889; 14.81861