Croatia: Ex-political prisoners hit out over low compensation
It RISES up from the pristine waters off Croatia’s coast, a forbidding mound of rock known as the “Adriatic Alcatraz”, where Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito sent those who expressed support for Stalin after Tito took the country out of Soviet control.
Now, an offer of compensation by the Serbian government to those political prisoners who survived the hell of Goli Otok – €7 (about £5.50) for every day they spent there – has angered many of them.
“It’s miserable,” said Bozdar Vulovic, 85, one of the few living survivors of the Goli Otok – “Barren Island” – camp.
Nearly 600 prisoners from the former Yugoslav nations – Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovakia, Macedonia and Montenegro – are estimated to have died on the island from torture and disease; thousands more suffered psychological damage in a prison system that pitted the inmates against each other in a battle for survival.
Goli Otok, created in 1948, housed up to 16,000 political prisoners, both male and female, over an eight-year period. They ended up there after being accused by Tito’s regime of expressing sympathy toward Josef Stalin and his hardline Soviet dictatorship. Tito, who espoused a more liberal brand of communism, broke with Moscow in 1948, earning him support from the West.
Some of the former Serb inmates of the camp are threatening to take the government to an international human rights court for what they say is meagre compensation for the horrors they went through.
Others say they will reluctantly accept the offer because they have no time to waste on lengthy legal procedures.
“If you were my age, and if you were in bad health, what would you do?” asked 91-year-old Smilja Filipcev, who spent more than three years at Goli Otok.
Authorities said they arrived at the €7 a day figure because Croatia had offered a similar sum – but that was ten years ago. Croatia also gave its nationals “privileged” pension status that resulted in a higher total package than the Serb one.
In 2003, Slovenia offered its ex-prisoners €6,300 for each year spent on the island. The other nations have not yet offered compensation.
“The fear that we went through is something that should be compensated,” said Mr Vulovic, who spent nearly three years in the island jail.
The controversy in Serbia has revived painful memories of the island camp kept secret for decades. Its existence was largely ignored in the West because inmates were thought to be hardline pro-Soviet communists, not dissidents like the ones in the ex-Soviet gulags in Siberia.
Mr Vulovic said the inmates on Goli Otok had arranged a “welcoming event” for him and the other newcomers.
“They screamed at us yelling, ‘Down with the scum’ and beat us with their hands,” he said.
“At Goli Otok, we had to spy on each other, and we had to beat other inmates up if they ordered us to do so.
“We were beaten all the time, while working, going to breakfast or to lunch,” he said, adding that the International Red Cross nor any other international humanitarian organisation visited the island while he was there.
In 1956, the island became a normal high-security jail. It was finally shut down in 1988.
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