Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Mon January 18 2016

Montenegro Criticized For Turning Concentration Camp Into Resort

Hotel & Resort | Rich Thomaselli | January 18, 2016

Montenegro Criticized For Turning Concentration Camp Into Resort

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The eastern European nation of Montenegro is under fire for cutting a deal with a company that will turn a former island fort and World War II concentration camp into a luxury resort.

Mamula Island in the picturesque Bay of Kotor off the coast of Montenegro is just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, which occupied the island during WWII while the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini ruled the country. The island’s fort, built in the mid-1800s, became a labor camp ruled by the Italians during the early part of the war.

Critics of the plan say it demeans the memory of more than 2,000 people who were imprisoned in the fort during the war, and the more than 100 who died there. The developers, the Swiss-Egyptian company Orascom, negotiated the deal to turn the island into a tourist destination with a hotel-resort, marina, spa, beach club, restaurants, and a nightclub, according to Balkan Insights.

“The Orascom project would ruin every memory of Mamula and what it really was,” Jovanka Uljarevic, grand-daughter of one of the prisoners of the camp, told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN. “If the baby cried, soldiers would come in and beat everyone up until there was silence. It was cold, they were starved and the overall conditions were very bad.”

Admittedly, Mamula has been largely unknown when compared to such places of horror as Auschwitz or Treblinka, but it nonetheless has deep meaning in the Balkans for families of the victims.

This video of the fortress was produced two years ago and includes the chilling soundtrack music from the horror film “Halloween.”

“Places of former suffering like Mamula should be part of the educational system and of the special offer of educational tourism,” Olivera Doklestic whose father, grandfather and uncle survived detention at Mamula, told Balkan Insider.

According to reports, Montenegro has given a 49-year lease to Orascom to invest 15 million euros ($16.3 million) to build the resort.

“We were facing two options: to leave the site to fall into ruin or find investors who would be willing to restore it and make it accessible to visitors,” Olivera Brajovic, head of Montenegro’s national directorate for tourism development, told Agency France Presse.

The government defended its move saying plans for the resort would also include a memorial room to former inmates. But many relatives say that’s not enough.

“To build a luxury hotel dedicated to entertainment at this place where so many people perished and suffered is a blatant example of lack of seriousness towards history,” Doklestic told AFP.

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