Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DLFAPA, FACPsa.


Map of the Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna.
"Individual make groups composed of hundreds of thousands or millions of persons; therefore, in the large-group psychology we see reflections of individual psychology. But a large group does not have one brain, or two eyes. Once a large-group process starts, it establishes a life of its own within the large group. When a psychological reaction is shared by thousands or millions, what is observed is a societal or political proces. Large-group psychology in its own right refers to finding conscious, but more importantly unconscious, shared meaning of such socetial and political processes."
Vamık D. VOLKAN.


Vamık D. VOLKAN founded the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) at the University of Virginia and directed it until 2002.
The Center's faculty included psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, former diplomats, political scientists and historians. The Center had projects in locations such as the Soviet Union,  Baltic Republics, Kuwait, Albania, Croatia, Republic of Georgia, South Ossetia, Greece, Turkey and facilitated unofficial diplomatic negotiations between "enemy"  groups.
2th Annual Sigmund Freud Lecture
Vienna, 1999. 

Vamık D. Volkan



Starting with Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysts have ventured beyond the couch and have applied their knowledge of human behavior to large groups. For most of this century, however, the pervasive influence of Realpolitik thinking (von Rochau, 1853) in international relations dovetailed with general skepticism that psychoanalysis could offer anything to peace processes (Freud, 1932). Consequently, diplomacy and psychoanalysis seldom met. Though Annual Sigmund Freud lectures have been given for the past 29 years, I note that my speech is the second one on the relationship between psychoanalysis and international affairs. My good friend Rafael Moses, delivered the other Freud lecture on this theme in 1983.
Six years prior to Moses’ speech, in 1977, a significant historical event played a role in pushing psychoanalysis and diplomacy together. This event gave Moses and me an opportunity, as psychoanalysts, to observe at close range what happens when representatives of enemy groups meet to talk, and how a diplomatic process takes place. In turn, we were given a chance to apply our clinical knowledge to the practice of diplomacy. 
The significant event to which I refer was Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel. In a speech before the Knesset, Sadat stated that 70 percent of the problems between Arabs and Israelis were psychological. This statement, backed by Sadat’s international reputation and popularity in the United States, prompted a committee of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to sponsor a project that brought together influential Egyptians, Israelis, and Palestinians for a series of unofficial dialogues between 1979 and 1986 (Volkan, 1987, 1988). The American team, serving as neutral facilitators, consisted of psychoanalysts (including myself), psychiatrists, one psychologist, and two diplomats. The Israeli and Arab groups also included psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, including Rafael Moses, but was mostly composed of influential citizens—ambassadors, a former high-level military officer, the Mayor of Bethlehem, journalists, and others—attending the meetings in an unofficial capacity.
Soon after this project came to an end, I founded the Center for the Study of  Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) at the University of Virginia. The Center’s faculty include psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, former diplomats and historians. For ten years, we have conducted research and projects in locations such as the Baltic Republics, Georgia, Kuwait, Albania, Turkey, and Croatia, and have facilitated series of talks between representatives of enemy groups.
It is the six-year process with the Arabs and Israelis that gave me the first insights about the rituals that occur between representatives of enemy groups when they meet and the hidden meanings that lie behind such rituals. While my observations come from “unofficial” diplomatic gatherings, I have learned that similar rituals also occur during official negotiations, sometimes in the open and sometimes in the shadows. Furthermore, I have come to understand that the rituals I observed during these meetings provide clues as to how ethnic, national and large groups, like those in Northern Ireland who use religion to identify their large-group investments, relate to one another in times of stability or crisis.
When the representatives of opposing large groups, such as Egyptians and Israelis, come together, the participants' individual identities become more closely intertwined with their shared large-group identities. The concept of identity is a relatively new topic in the psychoanalytic literature.  Erikson (1956) referred to it as a sense of  “persistent sameness within oneself" (p.57.)  An individual shares with other people some essential characteristics, but his or her own wishes, memories, thoughts and appearance make him unique.  Large-group identity refers to when thousands or millions of people share a persistent sameness about their togetherness while, at the same time, having certain elements in common with foreign large groups. 
Freud made one of his few references to the concept of identity in a speech he delivered to B'nai B’rith (Freud, 1926). In the course of his talk, Freud wondered why he was bound and attracted to Jewry because, as a non-believer, he had never been instilled with Judaic ethnonational pride or religious faith. Nevertheless, he noted a “safe privacy of a common mental construction,” and “a clear consciousness of inner identity” as a Jew (p.273). It is interesting that Freud's remarks linked his individual identity with his large-group identity. It is precisely this link that becomes strengthened and solidified when enemies meet to talk.
At such times, the rituals between the representatives of opposing groups mainly center around attempts at repairing, protecting, and maintaining their large-group identities. We see such attempts clearly during unofficial diplomatic meetings. For example, a ritual that I named the “accordion phenomenon” frequently occurs. After some airing of each group’s past glories and listing of historical grievances – which themselves are carried out ritualistically – the opposing representatives become "friendly." This closeness, however, is followed by a sudden withdrawal from one another and then again by closeness. The pattern repeats numerous times. I liken this to the playing of an accordion – squeezing together and then pulling apart. 
During the Arab-Israeli unofficial dialogue series, there would be sudden unity among the opposing participants during which the antagonists would enthusiastically note their mutual similarities. Statements such as “we are all brothers and sisters, descendents of a common grandfather, Abraham!" would be heard during these periods of unity. But before long, participants from opposing groups would reassert their difference and distance from one another, and the cycle of contradictory attitudes would continue.
Derivatives of the aggressive drive largely account for the accordion phenomenon; each party brings to such meetings its historical injuries and conflicts, and experiences both conscious and unconscious feelings of aggression toward the “enemy.” Initial distancing is thus a defensive maneuver to keep aggressive attitudes and feelings in check since a meeting between opponents carries the potential for fantasized, symbolic, or real violence and corresponding retaliation. However, when opposing teams are confined in one room, sharing intense conscious efforts for peace, they must deny their aggressive feelings, being pressed together in a kind of temporary and inhibited union. This becomes oppressive when the closeness is perceived as a threat to each group’s identity. Blurring of one's own group identity is consciously and unconsciously perceived as dangerous and distancing occurs again. 
At an official diplomatic negotiating table, such psychopolitical preoccupations are hidden behind high-level, calculated arguments, bargainings, and strategies (secondary-process activities.)
When threats to large-group identity are perceived, however, the psychological need to protect the large-group identity through rituals is exaggerated. This, in turn, may intrude into “rational” thinking and results in distortion or resistance to change and peace.
There are two principles that govern the rituals or interactions that occur when enemies talk (Volkan, 1992, 1997, 1999):
1- The Maintenance of Non-Sameness: 
A large group draws a sharp distinction between itself and its neighbor, who it perceives to be a dangerous enemy. Major differences in religion, language and historical or mythological backgrounds are usually common in antagonist groups; however, “minor differences” (Freud, 1917, 1921) between antagonists can become major problems that may lead to deadly consequences. When large groups regress (Loewenberg, 1995), any signal of similarity is perceived, often unconsciously, as unacceptable; minor differences therefore become elevated to great importance so that non-sameness can be protected.
Diplomats, especially those who are members of a neutral team that is facilitating negotiations between enemy large groups, attempt to learn as much as possible about the players, politics and policies of the conflicting parties. However, these diplomats tend to think chiefly of observable (major) differences; many minor differences may escape their attention, or will be disregarded as not being “real world” issues.  But these minor differences may become the locus of the most stubborn and unalterable investment by disputing nations or large groups. Certain emotional attitudes attached to ostensibly trivial issues and circumstances can become “real world” problems, and discordant large groups then ritualistically become preoccupied with them. Diplomats, or other makers of foreign policy, would do well to keep in mind that, although individual and large-group responses to these “minor” differences may not seem “realistic” at the time, and may seem to reflect a ridiculous preoccupation, such responses are deeply connected with core self-esteem and identity issues and, therefore, must be seriously considered.
2- The Maintenance of a Psychological Border: 
The second principle, which is closely associated with the first, reflects the need to maintain a psychological border or space between large groups in conflict. Inevitably, physical borders also become psychological borders. Defining and maintaining physical borders has always been vital to international and large-group relationships, but closer examination reveals that an effective psychological border is far more essential than simply a physical one. In fact it may be said that a physical border succeeds only when it signifies a sufficient psychological one. This principle is observable when looking closely at exaggerated physical borders between enemies, such as the Green Line in Cyprus, the former Berlin Wall, or the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea. Along such borders, elaborate rituals are common, including ceremonious changing of guards, constant monitoring and maintenance, and complex protocols and practices.
Anxiety develops when a clear physical demarcation is perceived by bordering large groups as being ambiguous or indistinct. For example, Transylvania is home to people of both Hungarian and Romanian ethnic origin (as well as others.) Today the region lies within the political border of Romania, but at various times in the past it was part of Hungary. Geographically, the high and vast Carpathian mountains physically separate Transylvania from the rest of the Romanian state, while Transylvania shares much of the Great Hungarian Plain with Hungary. Because of ambiguous physical, historical and political factors, both Romanians and Hungarians have an intense emotional investment in this region, which is still home to about two million Hungarians. This indistinctness remains the source of recurring tension. Such a boundary therefore does not contribute to an effective psychological border. Likewise, other ambiguous and highly psychologized borders, like those that separate Arabs and Israelis, Cypriot Turks and Cypriot Greeks, and Armenians and Azerbaijanis, play a crucial role in prolonging conflict.  
Like the barrier that minor differences facilitate, physical borders between opposing groups can be transformed into psychological ones. In 1986, when tensions between Israelis and Jordanians were running hot, I visited the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River that separates the two countries. Commercial trucks that went over the bridge looked as though the factory had forgotten to finish them: doors and hoods were missing—even the upholstery had been removed so that contraband could be detected more easily. Although the same trucks crossed the border each day, Israeli customs officers would spend hours taking them apart and putting them back together to assure that nothing was smuggled in from Jordan. The Israelis also would routinely sweep a dirt road that ran parallel to the border in order to detect the footprints of people attempting to cross it, even though the border was already protected by sophisticated electronic surveillance devices, mine fields, dozens of sentries, hundreds of soldiers, not to mention the natural barrier of the Jordan River. Even if the extra precaution were justified, most likely the notion of a psychological border had intertwined itself with the physical border at this location. Such ritualistic activities, above and beyond being militarily realistic, were also employed to create a psychological separation between the two countries.
This example usefully illustrates the extreme efforts that are often taken to create a psychological border and its accompanying rituals. All people have probably experienced some aspect of the psychological importance of borders, whether through customs and immigration controls, geographic borders such as mountains and rivers that separate nations or other territories, or the fences and walls that separate neighboring individuals. Winnicott, however, provided some valuable insights into the psychoanalytic understanding of borders. In using a circle to represent a person he wrote, “Inside the circle is collected all the interplay of forces and objects that constitute the inner reality of the individual at this moment of time” (Winnicott, 1963, p.75). Winnicott (1969) then refined this schema of a circle by putting a line down its center; an individual who is mature enough to be represented as a circle is capable of containing conflicts that arise from within and without, but “there must always be war or potential war along the line in the center, on either side of the line there become organized groupings of benign and persecutory elements” (pp.222-223).
He continued, “Idealists often speak as if there were such a thing as an individual with no line down the middle in the diagram of the person, where there is nothing but benign forces for use for good purposes” (p.223). If we could find a person who appears to be free of “bad” forces and objects, this simply would mean that this individual “is getting relief from a real or an imagined or a provoked or a delusional persecution” (pp.223-224).
According to Winnicott, “the individual” is a relatively modern concept. Until a few hundred years ago, outside of a few exceptional “total individuals” (Winnicott, 1969, p.222), everyone was unintegrated. Even at the present time, Winnicott believed that the world is mainly composed of individuals who cannot achieve integration and become a total unit. He similarly conceptualized the sociological world as being made up of millions of people superimposed upon each other in an unintegrated fashion. He further suggested that much of what we call civilization may be impossible at places where two unintegrated parts meet. He compared Berlin, divided at the time by the Berlin Wall, to an unintegrated individual, since both parts were analogous to those in his divided-circle diagram.
Winnicott noted that some political divisions, like the border between England and Wales, were based on mountains or other geographical features. But unlike such borders, which Winnicott believed to have a natural and meaningful beauty, he saw the man-made Berlin Wall as being ugly; an unnatural barrier born of international conflict. Nevertheless, Winnicott acknowledged a positive aspect of the Berlin Wall, suggesting that a dividing line between opposing forces, “at its worst postpones conflict and at its best holds opposing forces away from each other for long periods of time so that people may play and pursue the arts of peace” (Winnicott, 1969, p.224). Such arts, he said, “belong to the temporary success of a dividing line between opposing forces; the lull between times when the wall has ceased to segregate good and bad” (Winnicott, 1969, p.224)  
Winnicott's references to unintegrated individuals and social and political divisions reflect knowledge gained through examination of the internal worlds of patients with borderline personality organization—those with a split between libidinally invested self and object representations and aggressively invested self and object representations. A closer look at how one's self and object representations evolve and become integrated and cohesive (Jacobson, 1964; Mahler, 1968; Kernberg, 1975, 1976; Volkan, 1976), however, suggests a need to modify Winnicott's diagram of the unintegrated individual. It would be less confusing if a mature individual who has achieved tolerance for ambivalence were represented by the circle with a line through its center. Since opposite halves of the circle touch each other, metapsychologically speaking, such an individual has moved from a borderline personality organization to a higher level (neurotic) personality organization, and now experiences ambivalence about objects instead of splitting their representations. A diagram representing a truly unintegrated person would have, not a line, but a definable gap between the two halves of the circle so that there is no real ambivalence, only all “good” or all “bad” unintegrated parts (Volkan, 1981.)
A diagram showing two halves of a circle side by side but not touching each other would also represent large groups, usually neighbors, in conflict. It would also stand for invisible divisions between enemy groups. The former Berlin Wall, the green line in Cyprus, the no-man's land between North and South Korea and the Allenby Bridge prior to a rapprochement between Israel and Jordan are such gaps.
When anxiety and regression takes place within large groups in conflict, a simple line between them is not enough to protect the antagonists' identities. Any possibility of interpenetration has to be defended against, and under stressful and regressed conditions, physical borders assume high psychological significance. The border, perceived as a gap, clearly separates the two groups, a division that allows them to feel uncontaminated. This gap also stabilizes each large group's mutual projections and externalizations. Further, ritualization is used to define and strengthen the separation of large-group identities.
Reliance on the maintenance of non-sameness and of a psychological border becomes more pronounced when stress and anxiety increase. At such times, an assortment of rituals for maintaining the two principles gain in prominence: exaggerating major differences, elevating minor differences to significant proportions, utilizing shared symbols to patch up large-group identities, reactivating historical grievances and experiencing borders as psychological skins.
My experience with the Arab-Israeli dialogues has caused a shift in my theoretical considerations concerning the psychology of large groups and has created an attitudinal change regarding the application of psychoanalytic insights to international relationships. For about seven decades, psychoanalytic theories on large groups, in general, have referred to individuals’ intrapsychic experience of large groups and their political leaders as representing images of father, mother or idealized self. This way of theorizing, while valid, led to certain “generic” understandings of about how individuals relate to their own group. On a practical level, it did not offer much to political scientists or diplomats who deal with specific ethnic, national or religious groups and their particular issues and problems. The work with the Arab-Israeli meetings allowed me to focus on large-group identities in their own right and not only as individuals’ internal perceptions of them.
Let us assume that an Israeli experiences his large group as a nurturing mother, and an Egyptian does the same in relating to his large group. This way of looking at large groups will not tell us about elements in their large-group identity that belong only to a given group and that make that particular group identity-specific. I began to study large-group identity in its own right and included concepts of chosen trauma and chosen glory to make a large-group identity “specific.” These terms refer to the shared mental representations of past historical events that are passed down from one generation to the next and become specific markers of large-group identity.
Many nations celebrate their independence day, and all large groups have ritualistic recollections of events and heroes whose mental representations include a shared feeling of success and triumph among group members. Such events and persons appearing in these recollections are heavily mythologized over time, and the mental representations become large-group markers that I call “chosen glories.” Chosen glories are passed on to succeeding generations through transgenerational transmissions made in parent/teacher-child interactions and through participation in ceremonies recalling past successful events. Chosen glories link children of a large group with each other and with their group, and the children experience increased self-esteem by being associated with such glories. It is not difficult to understand why parents and other important adults pass on the mental representation of chosen glories to their children, considering that these representations are saturated with the derivatives of the libidinal drive; it is pleasurable to share them with succeeding generations.
In times of stress or warlike situations, leaders reactivate the mental representation of chosen glories to bolster their group's identity. During the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein depended heavily on chosen glories and even associated himself with Sultan Saladin, who had defeated the Christian crusaders in the 12th century. Through the reactivation of a past event and a past hero, Saddam aimed to create the illusion that a similar triumphal destiny was awaiting his people and that, like Saladin, he was a hero. It did not matter to Saddam that Saladin was not an Arab, but a Kurd, and ruled from Egypt rather than Iraq.
A leader's reference to chosen glories excites his followers simply by stimulating an already-existing, shared large-group marker. Although no complicated psychological processes are involved when chosen glories increase collective self-esteem, the role of a related concept, chosen traumas, in supporting large-group identity and its cohesiveness is more complex.
“Chosen trauma” refers to the mental representation of an event that has caused a large group to face drastic losses, feel helpless and victimized by another group, and share a humiliating injury. Because a large group does not choose to be victimized or suffer humiliation, some take exception to the term “chosen” trauma. I believe that it reflects a group's unconscious “choice” to add a past generation's mental representation of a traumatic event to its own identity. A chosen trauma is linked to the past generation's inability to mourn losses after experiencing a shared traumatic event, and indicates the group's failure to reverse narcissistic injury, helplessness and humiliation (Volkan, 1991, 1997, 1999; Volkan and Itzkowitz 1993, 1994.)
Although each individual in a traumatized large group has his or her own unique identity and personal reaction to collective trauma, all members share the mental representations of the tragedies that have befallen the group. Their injured self images associated with the mental representation of the shared traumatic event are “deposited” into the developing self-representation of children in the next.

During the six-year Arab-Israeli dialogue series, I had my first glimpse of the power of a phenomenon that I would later name “chosen trauma.” The shadow of the Holocaust would fall on the  participants on different occasions. At such times, the Israelis would act extremely cautiously about the opposition’s views and motivations. While the Israelis could provide realistic considerations for their rigidified positions, on occasion I could note how their emotions and perceptions of a past tragedy had influenced their current attitudes. During these years, in general, any reference to the Holocaust was taboo! When, on a few occasions, the Arabs would refer to the Holocaust, their tendency was to imply that the Israelis had identified with the aggressor (A. Freud, 1936), the Nazis. In this way, these Arabs showed their hostility toward the Israelis.  Indeed, such references would infuriate the Israelis. This was one of the reasons for keeping an absolute silence about the Holocaust. Looking back, I can see that if we knew more about the concept of chosen trauma and the need to protect one’s large group identity, the participants might have had a different and emphatic way to approach past Jewish sufferings and their shadows on the negotiating table.
After I learned about the concept of chosen trauma from the Arab-Israeli dialogues, I provided (Volkan, 1992, 1999; Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1993, 1994) extensive details on the mental representations of two historical events that continue to influence the respective large groups many centuries later: the Serbs’ chosen trauma concerning the Battle of Kosovo in 1329, and the Greek's chosen trauma of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
During the Battle of Kosovo, the leaders of both sides—the Ottoman Sultan Murat I and the Serbian Prince Lazar—were killed, and many other casualties were suffered in both the Ottoman and Serbian armies. Lazar 's body was embalmed and he was canonized, and as years and then centuries passed, the Battle of Kosovo evolved as the Serb's major chosen trauma that marked the end of a glorious period of Serbian power and the beginning of their subjugation under the Ottomans. Prince Lazar's image was utilized to link the Serbs' shared sense of victimhood under Ottoman domination, and later as a symbol of their desire to reverse this humiliation and reconquer Kosovo.
Although the province of Kosovo was taken back from the Ottoman Turks in the late nineteenth century, the “ghost” of Lazar was not yet laid to rest. He and the Battle of Kosovo were again resurrected after the collapse of communism, when Slobodan Milosević and Radovan Karadzić used a broad range of both base and intellectualized propaganda to reactivate the 600-year-old memory. The time collapse they facilitated emotionally prepared the Serbs for the atrocities they would commit against Bosnian Muslims, who were perceived as an extension of the Ottoman Turks. The large-group identity of the Serbs was reinforced and reinvigorated through the lasting emotional power of this ancient event—at the cost of the non-Serbs. 

With new tools for understanding and assessing particular countries, ethnic groups and situations, and especially describing elements specific to large-group identities and the rituals to protect them, the door was opened for a dialogue between psychoanalysts and specialists in international relations.
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