Many camp survivors find the reparation amount of compensation an insult, and the effort to identify prisoners inadequate.
By Lily Lynch for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 03/07/12
One of the early buildings in the Goli Otok prison camp. [Miroslav Manic]
The Serbian government announced it will pay reparations to 15 survivors of the communist-era Goli Otok prison camp -- but many are not satisfied with the sum or the process to identify prisoners for compensation, and have threatened to sue the government at the European Court for Human Rights.
The government said every rehabilitated prisoner will receive the equivalent of 7 euros for each day they spent in the camp, and payments are expected to begin in three months.
"Such compensation is insulting, but since the state is paying from the budget, the justice ministry said this is all they could afford," Miroslav Manic, representative of the Goli Otok Association of Serbia, told SETimes.
Manic said the descendants of the elderly survivors will also be compensated, but only after the survivors receive reparations first.
Goli Otok -- or barren island -- lays off the Croatian coast. It became a notorious prison camp in 1949 following Yugoslavia's split with the Soviet Union. It initially housed pro-Soviet sympathisers from throughout Yugoslavia who stood against Josip Broz Tito's regime, and then other political-ideological opponents as well as criminals.
The camp was abandoned in 1989.
According to Manic, nearly 17,000 people were imprisoned on Goli Otok, while Vladimir Dedijer, Tito's official biographer, claimed that 32,000 prisoners passed through it.
Association members estimate 500 former Goli Otok prisoners still live in Serbia today.
They have threatened to sue the Serbian government at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for its "shameful and insulting" handling of the former prisoners' case.
They also said the Serbian government should have published a comprehensive list of rehabilitated survivors for compensation.
"There are many former political prisoners in the diaspora, and many people who should have been rehabilitated that have not been. There should be blanket rehabilitation," Desko Nikitovic, Serbia's consul general in Chicago, told SETimes.
Croatia and Slovenia finished the rehabilitation process shortly after gaining independence.
Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Macedonia and Montenegro are yet to rehabilitate or pay reparations to citizens imprisoned at Goli Otok.
There are compelling reasons it has taken Serbia so long to address the issue, according to Vjeran Pavlakovic, a Croatian professor who has been working with NGOs to build an official monument to the prison camp.
"Goli Otok remains somewhat problematic in the public memory, because on one hand it symbolises communist repression, but on the other, the vast majority of prisoners were communists. Serbia under Milosevic also perpetuated the symbols of socialism for almost a decade after other ex-Yugoslav republics discarded them, especially during the wars in the 1990s," Pavlakovic told SETimes.
Many in Serbia, however, agree that the former political prisoners should be provided a greater sum of money.
"It currently costs the Serbian state 10 euros per day to imprison a criminal -- without [them doing] hard labour. It is only fair the former Goli Otok inmates ... should receive more than that," Nikola Petrovic, a student at the Faculty of Economics, told SETimes.
Michael Seraphinoff, a historian of Macedonian origin who translated a significant volume of text written by Goli Otok survivors, said the bottom line is the Yugoslav state violated the fundamental rights of those imprisoned there.
"The successor states have a certain obligation to recognise this injustice and do what they can to help the victims and see crimes of the past are not repeated," Seraphinoff told SETimes.