Posts Tagged ‘Croatia’

The savage, idyllic Naked Island

July 1, 2009

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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Trawling for lunch

June 28, 2009

We’ll catch your lunch, say the crew as we board a fishing boast for a day’s cruise among the Adriatic island off Croatia. Sounds anodyne, but it’s not. Out go nets for over a kilometre behind us. Some parts make the net drag along the bottom. Others hold the mouth 50 metres apart. A forward section stirs up the sandy sea bottom so that fish swim up and into the mouth of the following net. Filters select what we really want to catch. It’s a huge harvesting operation, developed and refined over the ages.

The engine throbs and billows diesel fumes as the boat wallows slowly forward against the heavy drag of the nets. After two hours the crew pull it all up again, and in a wriggling pouch at the end is our lunch.
Food is preceded by a little thrill of danger: a few of the fish have highly poisonous spines. Touch one and you lose a whole hand if your boat does not have iodine and boiling water as an antidote. They are weeded out by a handsome young fisherman, who speaks perfect English and is otherwise a computer student at Rijeka university.

The bigger fish have distended bellies and one has a bit of gut bulging out. The difference in pressure from 70 metres down on the floor of the sea makes most die within about 20 minutes of being brought to the surface. The handsome fisherman shovels the smaller ones back into the sea, and begins chopping off the heads of the live survivors. No stunning as that takes extra time and is hardly any more comfortable for the fish. The gullets bulge from their mouths as the knife cuts through.

Lunch is excellent. The fish taste really fresh, nicely fried and battered and served with chilled Croatian white wine.

Sounds brutal? Indeed yes, but do you imagine ANY fish you eat meets a nicer end?


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