Goli Otok Collection
The collection of books on Goli Otok is kept in the library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) and is the most significant collection dedicated to this topic. The collection was created through the activities of the Yugoslav and Serbian writer and dissident, Dragoslav Mihailović, who himself served a sentence of fifteen months on the Goli Otok (1951–52). The collection is held in the SANU library as a separate resource and is accessible to researchers.
Provenance and cultural activities
Goli Otok is an island in the Adriatic Sea (previously belonging to the former Yugoslavia, today to Croatia), on which a prison camp for political prisoners was run from 1949 to 1956. This period is the most notorious in the island’s history, though Goli Otok continued to operate as a penal and correctional facility in which ordinary criminals served their sentences until 1989. The prison camp was opened after the ideological split between Tito and Stalin in 1948, when relations between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union deteriorated dramatically and a wave of persecution was launched against people believed to have remained loyal to the USSR. Its advantageous geographical location, the marine barrier that impeded escape, as well as its distance from the eastern border in the case of a potential attack by the USSR all played a decisive role in the choice of this place for a prison camp. (The island was named ‘Goli otok’ or ‘Barren Island’ because of its scant natural vegetation, literally ‘bare island’). For a full seven years, Goli Otok served as an internment camp for political opponents until relations between Yugoslavia and the USSR finally improved after the Belgrade Declaration and the main wave of persecution of ‘Cominformists’ and ‘Stalinists’ ceased.
Diverse groups were interned on the 'barren island': intellectuals, workers, party members and all believed to support the Cominform resolution with which, at its session in Bucharest in 1948, it condemned the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. Alongside the political prisoners, who made up the vast majority, other prisoners were sent to Goli Otok and interned in the camp in order to serve 'regular' sentences. These prisoners were mainly convicted of more serious crimes; some were sentenced to death. The exact number of prison camp inmates has never been precisely confirmed. 'The Croatian State Archive holds a list of prisoners compiled by the federal UDBA and on which there are the names of 16,101 [male and female] internees of which most were Serbs (44%), Montenegrins (21.5%) and Croats (16%). According to this list, in all camps for ‘Cominformists’ a total 413 people lost their lives in different ways (murder, suicide, death from natural causes).’ Most deaths were the result of exhaustion and the poor living conditions. These political convicts were not sentenced to death. The crime of which they were convicted was 'hostile activity in line with the Informbiro [Cominform]'. In the succinct words of the director of Goli Otok, Ante Raštegorac, in a letter to V. Dedijer 'If there had been no Goli Otok, the whole country would have been Goli Otok'. They testify to the severity with which the threat of anti-system and pro-Soviet elements was treated by Yugoslavia's political leadership.
On Goli Otok, an elaborate system of punishment was in place. Among the most well known were: '“the hot rabbit” – with his eyes bound, the newly arrived convict would pass a line of camp inmates who would wildly beat him into a stupor so as to save themselves; the “frying pan” – tied to a chair, the convict sat in the burning sun for days without water; the “swan” – two beams of twelve metres joined with think planks were loaded with hewn stone, which the prisoners had to carry for several kilometres' (S. Cvetković, ‘Between the Hammer and the Sickle’, p. 380).
During their stay in the camp, the prisoners developed a special language among themselves with which they classified types of prisoners. S. Cvetković wrote: ‘To be “tailed” meant that you had not yet revised [your stance] and did not want to reveal the names of free Cominformists; “double-motor” was the nickname for someone who had returned to the camp, was usually punished with the most severe penalties and exposed to general scorn and torture’ (S. Cvetković, ‘Between the Hammer and the Sickle’, p. 381).
In later years, writing and speaking in public about experiences on Goli Otok entailed certain repercussions. 'On being released from hard labour, the terms “Goli Otok” and “Goli Otok inmate” were most strictly forbidden under the threat of being sent back to prison, so that former camp inmates thought up the euphemisms “Hawaii” and “Hawaiian”' (S. Cvetković, ‘Between the Hammer and the Sickle’, p. 381). Nevertheless, the official and systematic persecution of 'Cominformists' stopped with the disappearance of the threat by the USSR, several years after the death of Stalin.
The most well-known prisoners on Goli Otok were writer Dragoslav Mihailović, revolutionary and dissident Vlado Dapčević, writer Aleksandar Popović, writer Borislav Mihajlović Mihiz, politician Dragoljub Mićunović and musician Šaban Bajramović.
Description of content
The Goli Otok collection is a separate library resource within the library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) and is the most significant collection dedicated to this topic. The collection was created through the activities of the Yugoslav and Serbian writer and dissident, Dragoslav Mihailović, who himself was interned on Goli Otok island. The collection is kept in the SANU library as a separate entity (or PB 39) and is accessible to researchers. It comprises around 200 books and is constantly being expanded with new books purchased by academician Mihailović. The collection includes monographs, memoirs, diaries and other literary contributions on this topic.
Marina Ninić of the Bibliographical Section at the SANU Library told COURAGE: ‘Most of the books contain inscriptions by the authors dedicated to Dragoslav Mihailović. Except for those books with inscriptions dedicated to him from the author, Dragoslav Mihailović either signed his name in the books or more often wrote an inscription, mainly of the type: To the “Goli Otok” library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts [beneath that a signature, place and date]. Mihailović also added short notes to some of the books, mainly on scraps of paper, more rarely on the book itself [written in pencil]. These are mostly explanations as to why the book was added [to the collection] or comments on important pages in the book. At the beginning, we fixed “pockets” to the inner side of the cover and tucked the attached notes into them so that they would not be lost when used. Attached to one book is a cover letter from the author to D. Mihailović. There are very rare marginal notes by academician Mihailović, but he often underlined sections that he considered interesting.’
In an interview with COURAGE, Mihailović said that he was pleased that his collection would be useful to researchers, though there were still few of them. As far as he knew, COURAGE was the first to show interest in this material. ‘My aim was that interested scientists would be able to come to one place to find the bulk of relevant stuff. That a young scientist preparing a doctoral thesis on Goli Otok would find the majority of relevant books in one place.’ Mihailović said that he would continue to add to the collection as long as he was alive, but that it was open to additions and donations by other people which would further complete it and enhance its significance.
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Beograd, Belgrade, Serbia
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Radović, Sanja
Srđan Cvetković, Između srpa i čekića : represija u Srbiji : 1944-1953, Beograd 2006.
Dragoslav Mihailović, Goli otok I-V, Beograd (1990-2012).
, interview by Radović, Sanja , September 19, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Mihailović, Dragoslav, interview by Radović, Sanja , September 20, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection