Goli otok (pronounced [ɡôliː ǒtok]; literal translation: barren island, Italian: Isola Calva) is an island off the northern Adriatic coast, located between Rab‘s northeastern shore and the mainland, in what is today Croatia‘s Primorje-Gorski Kotar County. The island is barren and uninhabited. Its northern shore is almost completely bare, while the southern one has small amounts of vegetation as well as a number of coves.
Despite having long been an occasional grazing ground for local shepherds’ flocks, the barren island was apparently never permanently settled other than during the 20th century. Throughout World War I, Austria-Hungary sent Russian prisoners of war from Eastern Front to Goli otok.In 1949, the entire island was officially made into a high-security, top secret prison and labor camp run by the authorities of FPR Yugoslavia, together with the nearby Sveti Grgur island, which held a similar camp for female prisoners. Until 1956, throughout the Informbiro period, it was used to incarcerate political prisoners. These included known and alleged Stalinists, but also other Communist Party members or even nonparty citizens accused of exhibiting sympathy or leanings towards the Soviet Union. Many anticommunist (Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Albanian and other nationalists etc.) were also incarcerated on Goli Otok. Non-political prisoners were also sent to the island to serve out simple criminal sentences and some of them were sentenced to death. Numbers of total prisoners and massacred victims are unknown but Vladimir Dedijer estimates 32,000 male prisoners in Goli otok only; other historians estimates 4,000 killed.The prison inmates were forced to labor (in a stone quarry, pottery and joinery), without regard to the weather conditions: in the summer the temperature would rise as high as 35 to 40 °C, while in the winter they were subjected to the chilling bora wind and freezing temperatures. Inmates were also regularly beaten and humiliated either by guards or, predominantly, by other inmates. Guards did not kill any inmate but they did not prevent inmates from killing each other either.After Yugoslavia normalized its relations with the Soviet Union, Goli Otok prison passed to the provincial jurisdiction of the Socialist Republic of Croatia (as opposed to the Yugoslav federal authorities). Regardless, the prison remained a taboo topic in Yugoslavia. Antonije Isaković wrote the novel Tren (Moment) about the prison in 1979, waiting until after Josip Broz’s death in 1980 to release it. The book became an instant bestseller.The prison was shut down in 1988 and completely abandoned in 1989. Since then it has been left to ruin. Today it is frequented by the occasional tourist on a boat trip and populated by shepherds from Rab. Former Croatian prisoners are organized into the Association of Former Political Prisoners of Goli Otok. In Serbia, they are organized into the Society of Goli Otok.