Remetter sounds almost prosaic when he talks about his tourism project. He says: "People pay to have fun." And now there is a piece of land that promises to deliver fun -- in the middle of the delta, where pelicans congregate and the water is home to catfish up to two meters long. Unfortunately in the overfished Danube, the giant catfish will be off-limits for Remetter's guests, who will have to make do with farmed carp and pike.
The first tourist arrived in October -- to the sight of the ruins of prison buildings in waist-high grass, surrounded by white poplars, rowan trees and the constant call of cuckoos cutting through the stillness in a place that once saw terrible suffering. He slept in the building that housed officers of the secret police, and he drove around in an electric car, past abandoned guardhouses and the outside walls of the casino, where folk singers once performed for the camp guards.
The ruins of the gulag, as they stand today, are an open-air museum of the Romanian communists' mass murder of their own people. Remetter, who has spoken with the camp's last commandant, is familiar with the history, and as soon as his request for European Union subsidies is approved, he plans to build a small museum at the site. He says: "The Romanians cannot forget what happened here."
But the idea that little here will change, at least for the time being, and that Remetter does not intend to build "an Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe" on the grounds, is only partially the result of any reverence he might feel for the site. The Frenchman has reached the end of his savings, and his business partners are growing impatient, anxious to see the "Last Border" Hotel finally become a haven for tourists.
Ion Tiriac, a former tennis player and Davis Cup contender in the 1970s, and now a business tycoon in the new Romania, has already been to Periprava twice on fishing trips with Remetter. Tiriac's crony Robert Raduta, notoriously known as the "Shark of the Delta," acquired a large share of the fishing rights in the region during the administration of former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Remetter, who worked for the "Shark" in the past, was given a tiny piece of the monopoly that the post-communist glitterati grabbed for themselves.
But now the political heirs of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu are no longer in power in the capital. Licenses have been cancelled, and even the generally passive Romanian people are becoming increasingly resistant to the business schemes of Bucharest's fat cats. Some have sharply criticized the sell off of the Danube delta, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spokesmen of the Association of Political Prisoners, on the other hand, were "beside themselves" when the post-communist mayor of the Black Sea port city of Constanta decided to pay a visit to the resort among the ruins of the Periprava gulag.
To this day, nothing but a white cross, with no inscription, commemorates the dead from the Danube marshes. The elderly women who tend the graves in the village cemetery say that the cross was erected on precisely the spot where the bodies of the prisoners were buried.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan