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

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'