Monday, 5 May 2008

Josef Fritzl - An Austrian Model?

Insane acts but not an insane man

After I read an article by Peter Millar in the Daily Mail, I found many answers to the questions I raised about Austrian in my earlier blog about Josef Fritzl – This is really a rehash of that same article interspersed with my views.

The case of Josef Fritzl and his incestuous relationship with his daughter for at least 31 years and the consequent imprisonment of his daughter for 24 years read like unprecedented insanity that is almost unthinkable.

Any lawyer for Josef Fritzl would confidently argue that his client should be committed to a psychiatric ward rather than to prison for what is general terms are heinous crimes.

It would be extremely convenient for the people in charge of the image that Austria projects to the world to legally acquiesce to that thinking and pigeonhole the matter to the case of a deranged and unstable mentally ill man then move on swiftly.

Fritzl a keyhole into Austria

Unfortunately, I am not one of those who would buy that cop-out that easily, I think Mr. Fritzl offers an opportunity for Austria to review their history and address some serious issues about their nation, their identity and possible misrepresentations of who they really are.

To allow Mr. Fritzl to get away with pleading insanity rather than taking complete responsibility for his carefully detailed meticulous and Machiavellian scheming that has sorrowfully damaged many lives would be outrageous to say the least.

For every detail we have learnt of Mr. Fritzl, he appears to have been of seriously sound mind and very aware of what he required for his pleasure and did what it took to achieve those ends – he cannot have been mentally ill by any stretch of the imagination.

Joining their German folk

Though Austria has a history dating back to the 9th Century, the present Austria came about at the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, the people of that country comprised most of the German-speaking parts of that empire that the French refused to allow to merge with German in the fear that a Greater Germany might lead to another great war.

One badly kept secret is the fact that Adolf Hitler was born in Austria but beyond that, one of Hitler’s goals was to bring together all the German speaking people into one greater Germany it lead to the annexation of Austria and the forceful acquisition of Sudetenland in the old Czechoslovakia.

The government of Austria somehow realised the annexation would be inevitable and planned a plebiscite to determine if the people would want to retain independence or be subsumed into the greater Germany dream.

Before the people were presented with that choice the Austrian National Socialist Party had routed the government and presented an opportunity for Hilter to take over Austria – the Anschluss – without as much as shooting a gun.

No von Trapp resistance

The Nazis then presented the people with the plebiscite and it was favourably passed with 99.73% accepting Nazi rulership.

There was no resistance in Austria like the kind we know of in France; in fact the story of the von Trapp family as popularised in the Sound Of Music was a radical exception rather than the rule.

An unfortunate accident of history lead to the allied powers considering Austria a victim of Hitler’s actions rather than a willing acquiescent people, this designation was supposed to help a simply non-existent resistance but it played well into the post-war exculpation of Austrians from involvement in the Nazi machinery.

A false history

Austria finally became independent in 1955 and have kept their victim status since – the election of Kurt Waldheim as President in the 1980s after finding out that he had omitted parts of his Nazi career past and we all bought his story especially after he had been the Secretary General of the United Nations for two terms.

Austrian cosiness with a Nazi past that is deeper than presented and accepted is legendary unlike the Germans who have had a complete catharsis; they have been respectably Catholic with very conservative values that keeps the woman in the kitchen, in the church and caring for the children like the beautiful Nazi wives of old.

My experience of this was quite notable in that on a trip round Europe in 1999, I visited Vienna in June and to discover the city I tried to hire a bicycle. The man refused to give me a bicycle for the simple reason that he thought I might end up in the wrong part of town.

Presumably, there was a part of Vienna that would have put me in real danger for my welfare, safety and life – much as other residents of Vienna denied there could ever be the possibility of coming across such a mishap – the evil was either lurking as racism from the bicycle hire shop or a more sinister right-wing element ready to pounce in some Vienna back street.

Suppressed Women of Austria

Natascha Kampusch touched a raw nerve when she suggested that what happened to her and Elizabeth Fritzl were a result of authoritarian education and the suppression of womenfolk in the name of strict Christian family values and more importantly the Austrian Nazi past.

It makes one wonder if there are not many more abuses in Austria but not to the extremes that we have learnt of those two ladies.

When I go back to answer the questions I asked about Austrian soul-searching, questions I had no idea of being able to answer when I first wrote them, I find that I can without much persuasion answer Yes to all of them.

Would the Austrians be able to face up to their past and make all the amends necessary to bring their society round to both the truth and civility expected of countries that too conveniently cavorted with Nazism?

We would have to wait and see if they would seize that opportunity.

Reference

Peter Millar – In the shadow of the Swastika

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