A Four-Star Vienna Hotel, Formerly A Hellish Orphanage

Shock is spreading across Austria where allegations are emerging of systemic violence, sexual abuse and child prostitution dating from the 1970s in Schloss Wilhelminenberg, a Vienna foster home. Some Austrian leaders want to change the statute of limitati

Schloss Wilhelminenberg (Wikipedia)
Schloss Wilhelminenberg (Wikipedia)
Michael Frank

VIENNA - Today, the former Schloss Wilhelminenberg foster home is a four-star hotel. From the terrace, there is a panoramic view of the Vienna woodlands and the city center. But in the 1970s it was a home for so-called "social orphans," children whose families were unwilling or unable to take care of them. If the accounts of a growing number of them are to be believed, it was the orphanage from hell.

So far, accounts by two women, both in their late forties, have been made public. They paint a picture of sexual abuse and daily torture with a racist component – one of the staffers in the home, the women said, used to tell the children that "as Gypsies, you don't have the right to live."

The Austrian daily Kurier reported that children were shown movies and photographs of Nazi concentration camps and told that "dark" people were killed there. "They would then ask us if we understood that we belonged there too because we didn't have a right to live."

Descriptions of beatings, sleep deprivation, and psycho-terror contribute to the suspicion that behind the mass rapes perpetrated by both male staffers and other men at the home lay an organized child prostitution ring. Very young girls were particularly targeted – female staffers used to dress them up in garter belts, and they were forbidden to cut their hair.

An Austrian group called the Weißer Ring that helps victims of violence and sexual abuse, as well as the state prosecutor's office, say that the claims of the alleged victims are credible.

The women said that men from outside the home, as well as staffers who worked in the boys' section, would be let loose in a room of up to 20 girls. "Nobody escaped sexual abuse," according to the women. The suspicion that money changed hands for these sessions seems to match descriptions of the men's sadism. Four men are being investigated, and complaints have also been filed against an unknown number of others.

Four of the five parties in the Austria parliament (only the People's Party opposes it) support either extending statutes of limitations that apply in such cases -- or doing away with such statutes altogether, as it often takes the traumatized victims of such abuse decades before they have the strength to come forward.

Read the original article in German

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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