Vjekoslav Zugaj

Stara Gradiška prison existed from 1799 when French military pri;oners of war were interned in the fortress. When the Croatian military border lands were abolished, Stara Gradiška remained a prison, at that time as part of the legal system of the Austro-Hungarian empire. After 1918, the first political prisoners were imprisoned in the newly established Kinadom of Yugoslavia. The number of political prisoners increased greatly when the "State Protection Act" was issued. This act provided legal cover to the Serbian regime to suppress their political adversaries and most of all the sympathisers and leaders of the Croatian Peasants' Party and other opposition parties. In the persecution that followed, members of the Communist Party were sentenced to long terms in prison. In contrast with the followers of Radić, they had an irreconcilable political spirit, but they had one thing in common - they were mostly Croats.

Known as the "Assembly - work camp No. 5" - Stara Gradiška represented a place of suffering for the opponents of the newly founded Independent State of Croatia from 1941 to the beginning of 1945. An undefined but considerable number of people met their deaths there - Jews, Serbs and Gypsies as well as Croats.(55)

Immediately after the war, Stara Gradiška was taken over and controlled by Partisan units that had been reinforced by quite a number of Chetniks from Bosnia by the end of war. Stara Gradiška then became one of the stations on the Way of the Cross where revenae was taken on the imprisoned soldiers as well as on large numbers of civilians of Croatian nationality. An undetermined number of people were transported to the Bosnian side by boats, brought to Serbian villages below Kozara and handed over to the civilians. Although, at present, we have no evidence at our disposal of what happened there, it is not hard to imagine and reconstruct the circumstances in which these prisoners died.

There are no exact statistical data related to the number of political prisoners in Stara Gradiška, but the photographs we have at our disposal show that after 1920 new facilities were built for the needs of the prison - the prison infirmary for sick prisoners. It should be noted that the prison regime for political prisoners was more rigorous than for other convicts, because they were not alIowed to take leave or enjoy any of the benefits laid down by the Law on Sentence Serving and Freedom.(56)

The political and legal authorities of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia used the restrictive clauses of the Act on State Protection and political trials to ensure security for the ruling regime.

The trial of the famous barrister and editor of the opposition magazine "Graničar" (The Borderer) from Nova Gradiška retlects most clearly the political background of political trials of that time. The barrister, Dr. Milovan Žanić, was sentenced to a six-month term in prison due to his appeal outlined at the meeting of the Law Society in Zagreb. After the meeting he suggested that a telegram, sent to Aleksandar Karadjordević with greetings from Croatian barristers, should also contain a supplement appealing for the "restoration of civil rights''. This initiative by the barrister Žanić was, however, used by the legal system of that time as a basis for the imprisonment of the author of the appeal thus making him unable to carry out his professional and political activities. It was emphasised in the explanation of the verdict that the system was not to be changed in any way, not even by peaceful appeals. Such trials made the political life of the opposition in Croatia impossible. These political trials reinforced, however, the tendencies of more radical parties and granted them legitimacy in their struggle for the armed liberation of Croatia from the Greater Serbian monarchist Yugoslavia.


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