The savage, idyllic Naked Island

And so to Goli Otok, the Naked Island. It’s a one day trip for tourists, there and back. In the old days, it was a one-way ticket for several years of penal labour and brainwashing.

Communists tormented Communists on this island. After he led the Yugoslav Partisans to victory in World War II, Tito was determined to remain independent of the Soviet Union. In every other country of Eastern Europe, Stalin exerted absolute power.

Tito knew there was only one language Stalin would understand. He had been brought up in Moscow in the 1930s when Stalin was purging the Soviet Communist Party of potential rivals. When the break came in 1948 therefore, Tito locked up all the pro-Moscow Yugoslav Communists and sent them to a cruel regime on this island in the Adriatic.

It worked. Stalin recognised a ruthless fellow-dictator. His Soviet successors came cap in hand in 1955 to make up with the Yugoslav. The Americans applauded an enemy of the Soviets, and obligingly bought the furniture made by the inmates of the penal colony.

Today one steps off the boat on to a dismally dilapidated site of watch towers, machine gun nests and ruined and pillaged workshops.

Some call it the “Croatian Alcatraz.” Yet it lacks the fearful sense of wickedness of the Alcatraz site off San Francisco. The prisoners planted a few patches of greenery. As one walks away from the man-made settlements, crickets buzz and the early summer sun shines brightly over the white rock. The blue sea around glistens.

Goli Otok symbolises the old Yugoslavia. Oppressive and cruel at times, yet ravishing to the senses. The boat’s siren sounds. My “term” is up after a couple of hours. By nightfall, Goli Otok will be deserted again.

See these pictures taken by a former inmate.

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