Austria fears for its image in incest case fall out
With the gruesome case of Josef Fritzl and the 24 year imprisonment and sexual abuse of his daughter coming to light, all eyes are on Austria. There are now fears that such negative publicity could frighten tourists from visiting the country.
Vienna -- As the incest scandal draws the international media spotlight on Austria, fears are growing about how the bad publicity will impact on its vital tourism industry.
Several hundred journalists from all over the world are camped out in Amstetten, the town in eastern Austria where 73-year-old Josef Fritzl imprisoned his own daughter for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.
In numerous commentaries the Alpine republic has come out badly. Those who work in its tourism industry are worried about how the country's image is being damaged.
The nightmare scenario is that the country of mountains and lakes, of Mozart, Haydn and the Habsburg monarchy, will now be seen as "the land of dungeons" as one foreign newspaper has dubbed it.
According to commentators in some foreign newspapers, Austria, like Belgium after its paedophile scandals of a few years ago, may come to be regarded as a land of child abusers and criminals.
The problem for Austria is that the Amstetten case is not an isolated event. In 2006, Natascha Kampusch, 20, escaped her kidnapper after eight years in captivity in a basement dungeon.
And there were others; a mother who locked her daughters in the house for years, and, in the 1990s, the case of Maria, a girl who was kept in a wooden box by her parents.
The world has watched with amazement, and more and more people are beginning to ask whether such behaviour is "typically Austrian."
Commentators have criticised the sloppiness of the authorities and the seeming indifference of neighbours to what was going on in the Fritzl household. They have also been asking whether Austrian society is a breeding ground for such terrible crimes.
The press received by Austria has been unremittingly harsh. Italy's La Stampa said that perversion and serial killers are "naturally not exclusively Austrian but there they are tied up with waltzes, yodellers and cuckoo clocks." The paper wondered whether Fritzl's crimes were "uniquely Austrian."
Poland's Dziennik newspaper asked "why are such beasts born in Austria?" while the Swiss Tagesanzeiger looked for causes in the conservative, agricultural and "arch-Catholic" society of lower Austria where "words such as civil society and self-responsibility are still alien."
Official Austria has been so shaken by these sorts of comments that President Heinz Fischer came out to speak on the Amstetten case himself last week.
Fischer said in an interview that "there is nothing subtly Austrian about this case. The monstrousness that man is capable of can be revealed anywhere." This can be proven, he said, by looking at the "worldwide horror headlines of recent years."
And Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said in Vienna last week that citizens should not allow "the whole of Austria to be taken hostage by a single criminal, cruel perpetrator ... we have the reputation of our country to defend."
Some analysts believe the damage to Austria's image will not be permanent. Market researcher Wolfgang Bachmayer says the qualities normally associated with Austria, tradition and cosiness, will eventually be restored in the public mind, while another market researcher, Karin Cwritila, said the Alpine country will win back its classic image as an "island of the blessed."
However, the conservative Austrian paper Die Presse warned on Wednesday that "it can only be a question of time" before Austria's role in the Nazi era is raised again.
Austrian writer Josef Haslinger concludes that his country has a "fatal tradition" of "brushing things under the carpet." He told German radio that Austrians should not act as if the Amstetten incest case "has nothing to do with Austria, as if it could happen anywhere."