Leading article: Heinous crimes and national image

Share
Related Topics

The truly appalling tale of Josef Fritzl, his daughter Elisabeth and the seven children she bore him has been held up – and not just by the British scandal sheets – as illustrative of another, much darker side of Austria. It is as though the world has suddenly remembered that, alongside Viennese balls, Strauss waltzes and the Alpine paradise of The Sound Of Music, Austria was also the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, a country where many hailed the Anschluss with enthusiasm, and the first member of the European Union to admit a far-right party to government.

To conclude from this, however, that Austria and Josef Fritzl were somehow uniquely made for each other takes an exercise in national stereotyping too far. Of course, if you consider the shocking case two years ago of Natascha Kampusch – a young girl kidnapped on her way to school and kept in a nearby basement for eight years – then Austria might seem to have more than its fair share of cruel and devious men with a penchant for a particular type of crime. And it might then be tempting to see the long-term imprisonment and sexual abuse of young women in concealed basements as somehow occupying an obscure recess of the national psyche.

We should know better. Regrettably, deep cellars and concealed rooms that are eventually forced to give up their repellent secrets are not unheard of in the dark world of torture and sexual deviance. We do not have to look beyond our shores to recall Fred West and the torture chamber he and his wife kept in their terraced house in Gloucester. It was coincidence, but a telling one, that the Fritzl case burst into the news as a 68-year-old man was arrested in connection with the discovery of concealed chambers and human remains at a former orphanage in Jersey. No nation has a monopoly on cruelty. Josef Fritzl's crime, with its sequence of premeditated capture, incest and so many resulting children, prompts more profound rumination than other crimes just because it is so rare. It is natural to want to try to interpret and explain. How could a man live this double life for so long? Was it really possible that his wife knew nothing of his illicit, subterranean family? And how much of a life will the daughter and her children have now?

Speculation has its place. It is, though, the more prosaic questions – about official record-keeping, administrative procedures and the understanding of good neighbourliness – that should be addressed before Austria descends in destructive introspection. It should not be possible for children to appear and disappear so easily as was possible in the town of Amstetten – and this is a lesson that not only Austria has to learn.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission, Benefits, OTE £100k: SThree: ...

Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

£32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

£27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you a recent graduate loo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Irish referendum was the first on the issue of same-sex marriage anywhere in the world  

Don't be blinded by the Yes vote: Ireland is still oppressing its LGBT population

Siobhan Fenton
 

Daily catch-up: union bosses mobilise to try to prevent a Labour government

John Rentoul
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine