Protests as torture prison becomes a five-star hotel
HERITAGE campaigners in Montenegro have accused developers of wrecking a historic island fortress, where prisoners were once starved and tortured, by turning it into a five-star "haven for the rich".
The island of Lastavica, on which the 19th-century Mamula fortress stands, is in an idyllic position off the coast of the tiny Balkan country, which is experiencing a tourism boom as investors move in on its beaches and bays.
But the island has a dark past: during WWII it was used by the occupying Italians as a jail for around 2,000 political prisoners. Many were tortured and an estimated 130 were killed or starved to death.
In 2016, decades after it was abandoned, the Montenegrin government agreed to grant a 49-year lease on the island to a development company which has begun turning the fortress into a luxury resort, complete with a water sports club, restaurants and bars and three swimming pools.
The government says that without the €13m investment by OHM Mamula Montenegro, a Swiss company, the fortress would fall further into ruin.
But the relatives of prisoners who were held on the island by Mussolini's fascist forces vociferously oppose the project, saying it is not in keeping with the site's grim history.
Campaigners say the developers are "devastating" the fortress - a charge the company strongly denies.
Its interior is being excavated to a depth of nine metres to make way for swimming pools, and sections of stone wall have been demolished, according to the Bokobran Initiative, a heritage group.
It has sent a letter of protest to the Montenegrin government as well as the country's Unesco committee. "We are witnessing the transformation of a former concentration camp into a boutique hotel," the group said.
It called for an investigation into the politicians who granted the company the lease over the fortress, which was completed in 1853 by an Austro-Hungarian admiral named Lazar Mamula.