political context

In the 1948 the ruling Communist Party of Yugoslavia, headed by Josip Broz Tito, split from Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to pursue an independent tendency such as openness towards the West. This break-off is known as the Informbiro period and lasted from 1948 to 1955. The name Informbiro comes from the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers' Parties - commonly known as Cominform − which was an organisation initiated by Stalin. During the Informbiro period those who refused to change their ideological beliefs overnight or showed any allegiance towards The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or towards Stalin were named informbiroovci (Cominform sympathisers) and as such they were characterised as internal enemies and traitors. They were persecuted and sent for “re−education” to political prison camps.

The biggest and most well known was on the island Goli Otok. Yugoslavian party and state leadership spread fear from the Soviet invasion − a threat that may have been unfounded but nonetheless seemed psychologically real* − and sent thousands of real and might−be supporters of USSR to the disciplinary and penal work. The social environment was all together extremely distrustful and panic−stricken. National frequencies relentlessly repeated: Once closest comrades might now be enemies.

Many people were imprisoned as a result of personal vendetta or by mistake; their guilt was never proven and they spent years imprisoned without knowing what their transgression was. Under pressure and extortion, physical and psychological torture they were forced to “convince their crimes” and made false confessions which led to further ungrounded arrests. Because of the process of “re−education”, destalinisation, public degradation, breaking the spirit and individuality, many women and men stayed lifelong physically and psychologically disabled. Although the death penalty wasn’t an official punishment in the camps, some prisoners nevertheless died as a consequence of harsh work and treatment, suicides, starvation, diphtheria, diseases that were not treated or − after their release − as a result of these.

* Representations of Trauma in Narratives of Goli Otok, Gorup Radmila​



 

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position of the camps on Goli Otok / graphic borrowed from the text Broj kažnjenika na Golom otoku i drugim logorima za ibeovce u vrijeme sukoba sa SSSR-om (1948. – 1956.)  – Number of convicts on Goli Otok and in other internment camps during the Informbiro  period (1948. – 1956.) by Martin Previšić

 

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Numbers


For my research I advised different sources I came across and decided that all of them should find their place in my archive. I am not a historian nor an analyst but an artist and passionate researcher. Of−course some papers are more thorough and academic, but I believe that personal experience of the prisoners mirror their perception and hence represent their personal reality.

According to some writings (I. Banac, M. B. Stojanović) around 16.000 party members had been
arrested, the number of the prisoners varies up to 32.000
              
Serbian writer Dragoslav Mihailović notes from his viewpoint as a political prisoner on Goli Otok that 40.000 to 60.000 prisoners were only on Goli Otok and that 15.000 people died − including those who succumbed to the consequences of torture after being let out from the camp. Further on he estimates that thousands of people were killed.
Nevertheless I didn’t find proofs that support his extrem statements.

Povijest Saveza komunista Jugoslavije − History of the Union of Communists of Yugoslavia (1985.) reports that in the prison camps Goli otok and Sveti Grgur 16.312 people had been interned. The Croatian State Archives holds the names of 16.101 people: 44% Serbs, 21,5% Montenegrins, 16%Croat, 6% Macedonians and the rest from Slovenia and Albania.

By this inventory 413 lost their lives there. Some other sources speculate much higher numbers: 3.000-15.000 people. Croatian historian Martin Previšić writes in his text The Number of Convicts on Goli Otok and other Internment Camps during the Informbiro period (1948 – 1956) that on Goli Otok − that contained four camps: “Stara Žica”, “Žica”, “Petrova rupa" i “Radilište V” for women − some 13.000 people − out of 15.737 prosecuted altogether − were interned on Goli Otok and Sveti Grgur and some 399 of them died on them in the period 1948 – 1956.

 

remains of the female internment camps on Sveti Grgur ©Simon Bučan