Daksa, Dubrovnik’s Island of Ghosts

Lauren Simmonds

When it comes to the words ”Croatian islands” its likely that your brain will present you with an idyllic image, but appearances can be deceptive.

Dubrovnik is without a doubt Croatia’s most well known destination, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a bastion of culture, history and art. Indeed, the city prides itself on what has come to be its own personal trademark, ”Libertas” (Freedom), with everything from public transport to elaborate theatrical performances embellished with the word. If you were to arrive in Dubrovnik today as a person entirely detached from its complicated past, you’d more than likely have a very difficult time believing anything terrible could occur in such a peaceful, safe and aesthetically pleasing location.

Neighboured by several islands and islets, it’s relatively easy to escape the hustle and bustle that arrives with the very dawn of each summer season, but not all of them are so easily accessible, and not all of them have particularly pleasant stories to tell. Meet Daksa:

Small, unassuming and entirely unhabited, Daksa is a mere stones throw from the mainland (from Valamar Dubrovnik President, to be more precise) its closest neighbours being the island of Kolocep (Kalamota) and the picturesque, lighthouse adorned Grebeni. As the crow flies, it lies almost directly across from the mouth of Rijeka Dubrovacka and has an area of 0.07km. Typical of almost all islands in Croatia, Daksa is not remotely unusual in its physical appearance, rocky and covered with evergreen vegetation and sturdy, old pine trees. A Franciscan monastery which was constructed at some point during the year 1281 is one of Daksa’s only signs of life of any kind. 

This tiny little island was the site of a brutal massacre carried out at the hands of the Yugoslav partisans upon their arrival in Dubrovnik at the end of October 1944, as the second world war still raged on. Although the then Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska) had not yet collapsed, cracks had appeared in its facade and things were going downhill quickly as Germany steadily began to lose its grip over the Axis powers and those affiliated with them. Upon the entrance of the partisans, 300 citizens of Dubrovnik were arrested, many of them were prominent public figures and included Niko Koprivica, the then Mayor of the city. The exact number is disputed among varying sources of information, but as we understand it, only 48 to 53 of those arrested were aprehended under the accusation of being Nazi sympathisers and collaborators – they were summarily executed on Daksa without trial of any kind. Following the disturbing massacre, macarbe leaflets containing the names of some 35 individuals who were murdered were published and distributed throughout Dubrovnik, bearing the imposing words ”In the name of the peoples of Yugoslavia”.

In the September of 2009, authorities came upon the bodies of six victims of the Daksa massacre, a statement by the Daksa 1944/45 Association (Udruga Daksa) announcing that a mass grave of 48 bodies had been discovered on the island followed shortly after. Extensive exhumation carried out in the years following the massacre has revealed the identities of eighteen victims, one prominent figure alongside Niko Koprivica turned out to be Petar Perica, known locally as ”padre Perica”, a Catholic priest who was the author of the famous song ”Djevo Kraljice Hrvata”. Calls for a proper investigation came about quickly, and in October 2009, just one month after the initial discovery of the bodies, members of the Croatian Bishops Conference paid a visit to Daksa.

Only as recently as June 2010 were the remains of the Daksa massacre victims re-interred and finally given a decent, respectful burial. Nobody has ever been tried or punished for the massacre.





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