Protesters with blood-smeared dolls mingled with hundreds of journalists as the sleepy town of Sankt Poelten became the stage for the latest scene in Austria\’s disturbing incest tragedy.
Crowds were already on site in the early hours as foreign camera crews roamed about and reporters interviewed each other ahead of Joseph Fritzl\’s arrival at the court to enter his plea to charges including rape and murder.
And as the clock ticked towards the start of the trial, so came the protesters and entertainers.
A man in a lab coat adorned with a dozen baby dolls and fake blood dripping from his mouth made a show of leading a young woman in a party dress silently through the crowd as music by Wagner blared in the background. “This whole thing is a Hollywood production.
The media has to ensure ratings and victims bring ratings,” said theatre director Hubsi Kramar, who recently made headlines with a new provocative play “Pension Fritzl”.
The trail of blood-smeared dolls left by the actors on the asphalt was duly captured by photographers and cameramen, desperate for images to complement the day\’s story as the trial was to be conducted mostly behind closed doors.
Herbert Szlezak, holding up a wooden cross with more dolls hanging from it, told anyone who would listen: “These are the babies who aren\’t protected by society.”
Fritzl pleaded guilty to raping his daughter over a 24-year period in a cellar, fathering seven children with her, although he denied charges of murder and enslavement at the opening of a trial which should last for one week.
“Austria is a country of paedophiles,” added Szlezak. He was later led away roughly by police officers after attempting to approach the court building, prompting cries from fellow protesters. In a corner, a small group from the far-right National People\’s Party carried a banner urging
“Protect our Children,” while another cluster called Resistance for Peace laid out signs that read “Shame on Austria.”
Among the journalists, who had begun to queue for entrance into the courtroom over an hour and a half before the start of the trial, the main topic of conversation was whether mobile phones and laptops would be allowed inside.
“It\’s an important case because it\’s so shocking. We\’re worried it could also happen in Poland,” said Renata Kiyowska, correspondent for Polish television TVN.
Reporters and photographers from across Europe and beyond later crowded into a press tent specially set up in an adjacent parking lot, jostling for space on the few available benches and crying out over transmission problems.