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



June 10, 2004, Germany. 




Vamık D. Volkan 

This paper investigates the psychological links between massive large-group trauma and the development of political ideology of exaggerated entitlement such as irredentism. I use the term "large group" to indicate thousands or millions of individuals sharing certain sentiments associated with certain shared emotions. An ethnic group therefore is a large group. Shared societal traumas occur for various reasons, such as earthquakes, for example. By "massive large-group trauma"  I refer to the injury deliberately inflicted upon a large group by an enemy group. The victimized group suffers extreme losses, shame, and humiliation, as well as helplessness and an inability to assert itself. Members of a massively traumatized group cannot successfully go through a mourning process over their losses or reverse their shame, humiliation and helplessness. They cannot assert themselves in socially or politically adaptive ways and may end up internalizing a sense of helpless rage, idealizing masochism, or becoming prone to maladaptive sadistic outbursts—manifestations that are all shared by their community at large. In short, members of a massively traumatized group cannot successfully complete certain psychological tasks and they, then, transmit such tasks to the children of the next generation(s) along with the conscious and unconscious shared wish that the next generation(s) will resolve them.
As such intergenerational transmissions take place, the shared mental representation of the historical traumatic event may evolve  into what I call a "chosen trauma" (1997, 2004). The chosen trauma becomes a significant marker for the large-group identity. Furthermore, it may create a foundation for the society’s development of an exaggerated entitlement ideology that, under new historical situations such as a threat to group's identity, can be manipulated by political leaders to develop new political programs and /or take new actions supported by this ideology. Exaggerated "entitlement" provides a belief system that asserts that the group has a right to own what they wish to have. For example, "irredentism" is a political entitlement ideology. It became a political term after an Italian nationalist movement sought annexation of lands referred to as "Italia irredenta (unredeemed Italy)," areas inhabited by an Italian majority that remained under Austrian jurisdiction after 1866.

There has been no detailed and systematic psychoanalytic investigation of how political ideologies, in general, evolve. This paper attempts to study only a limited aspect of such group processes by restricting itself to addressing the role of massive large-group trauma and its psychological consequences for subsequent generations. Obviously political ideologies are formulated and presented by individuals or a group of individuals. But they require a receptive large group to accept and nurture them. I propose that the reactivation of a chosen trauma prepares a society to welcome an excessive entitlement ideology. Levin (1970) describes three kinds of entitlement attitudes in a clinical setting. They are:
a- attitudes of normal entitlement,
b-  attitudes of restricted entitlement and,
c- attitudes of exaggerated entitlement.
Kriegman (1988), referring to exaggerated entitlement, writes that: 
                                      “An individual may feel entitled to special privileges because of his having been an innocent victim of suffering in childhood” (p.7).
Similarly, in this paper, I refer to exaggerated entitlement of large groups because their members feel that their ancestors were victimized and humiliated by “others.”
Political ideologies: 
It is believed that the term "ideology" (science of ideas) was coined by a French nobleman Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, Comte de Tracy (or briefly Destutt de Tracy) (1754-1836) in his Dissertation sur quelques questions d'ideology (1799), and a series of works entitled Elements d'ideologie (from 1801 through 1815), and related papers. This term by Destutt de Tracy was given currency by the rhetoricians (les ideologues) of the French Revolution and was read and studied by political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson (Chinard, 1979; Scruton, 1982; Klein, 1985), subsequently influencing political, economic, societal and psychological thinking.


Later the term ideology, as it referred to politics, developed in many different directions. Sometimes it appeared as systematic and all-embracing political doctrine that justified intrusion into societal and personal lives in global ways. At other times it appeared regionally to make an impact on large-group processes and, of course, on the lives of individual members of such groups in only limited geographical areas. For example, Marxism presumed to be a universally applicable theory while Kemalism and Gaullism referred to ideologies in Turkey and France respectively.

As the above examples indicate, political ideologies are  sometimes named after persons with whom they are associated. Sometimes those interested in political science have hearkened back to historical figures in order to explain certain ideologies practiced in the past or even in the present. For example, Calvinism as a political ideology was based on J. Calvin's (1509-1564), theological system. Indeed many political ideologies have direct or indirect origins that emerged from religious beliefs and religious understanding of human morality and rights of people as they relate to divine power (See for example, Thompson, 1980 and Vasquez, 1986). But this is not always the case. Marxism, for example, is not a religiously contaminated ideology. In fact Marxism gave the term "ideology" a negative connotation since it perceived itself as reflecting human nature. Thus, to the supporters of Marxism, "ideology" is necessary only under certain social conditions (especially those of feudalism and capitalism) and that, with the coming of communism, the veil of ideology will be torn aside: society and human nature will at last be perceived as they really are (Scrutton, 1982, p.213). Nevertheless, for the rest of the world, for the "non-believers" in communism, Marxism remains as a political ideology. Obviously there are many "isms" in political science that do not carry an individual's name, but describe instead universal or regional ideological movements that become the driving force for certain political programs and actions. Besides feudalism, capitalism and communism mentioned above, there are other examples: royalism, centrism, universalism, isolationism, Hellenism, Zionism, Pan-Islamism, Pan-Turanism (Turan means the land of Turks), Nazism and, of course, the most common conservatism and Liberalism.

Psychoanalysts have written psychobiographies of certain political and societal leaders, such as Adolf Hitler, who evolved their own political ideologies or practiced politics under the influence of certain ideologies. These psychoanalytic writers' primary emphasis is on understanding leaders' internal motivations for evolving and /or practicing specific ideologies. For example, in Princeton University historian Norman Itzkowitz' and my (Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1984) detailed psychobiographical study of the life of Kemal Atatürk (1800-1938), the founder of modern Turkey, our primary focus was on the leader's internal world. We described how the Turkish leader displaced his early image of his grieving mother (she had lost four children and a husband) onto his grieving country (after the losses from the Balkan Wars and the First World War) in an effort to repair the nation. "Kemalism" as a regional political ideology was one major aspect of Atatürk’s attempt to repair his mother/nation. While we referred to Turks' shared massive trauma during the wars and their loosing their empire and feeling helpless and humiliated, we did not examine in detail large-group processes themselves as they created an atmosphere that led the majority to accept Kemalism and for modern Turkey’s drastic political/cultural revolution. Our focus on large-group processes as they followed a shared massive trauma took place in its own right later when we examined the millennium-long Turkish-Greek relationship (Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1994). In this later study we began to observe more clearly how a group's ancestor-shared trauma at the hands of others (enemies) might become the central factor in the development of political ideologies that support sadistic and /or masochistic political programs or actions in the name of exaggerated shared entitlement. We joined historian/psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg (1991, 1995), in studying this phenomenon.

Loewenberg addressed the crucial bridge between massive shared trauma and historical process dominated by collective sadistic activities when he wrote about the Protestant Reformation. He states that, “(It) was a trauma of major proportions... whose effect took centuries to work out to a new and secure equilibrium. One response of European religion, culture, and politics to these traumata was a new piety, flagellation, widespread practice of torture, and epidemics of demonic possession, which seized groups in the late fifteenth century for the first time” (p.515). Loewenberg describes the development of a large group process and, in a sense a large group ideology, that allowed the Bishop of Wurzburg to kill nine hundred and the Bishop of Bamberg over six hundred. Meanwhile in Savoy eight hundred were burned during a festival. He also reminds us that in this atmosphere, in 1514, three hundred were executed in the small Diocese of Como.

Massive killings obviously have occurred throughout history. In this paper my interest is on those tragedies that, like some that occurred in the former Yugoslavia not long ago, have a direct link to the shared mental representation of ancestors' trauma. Loewenberg does not directly examine the link between a trauma of major proportions and tragic events that take place some centuries later.  The concept of chosen trauma  (Volkan, 1997; Volkan, 2004; Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1994) illuminates this link.

Chosen trauma:
As I briefly described in my introduction, this concept refers to the shared mental representation of a large group’s massive trauma experienced by its ancestors at the hands of an enemy group, and the images of heroes, victims, or both connected with it. Of course, large groups do not intend to be victimized, but they "choose" to mythologize and psychologize the mental representation of the event. When this occurs the reality of the event no longer matters to societal movements. For example, the 1389 Battle of Kosovo between the Ottoman Turks and the Serbian people was related through 25 different "true" accounts (Emmert, 1990). But  the "reality" of what happened during this battle did not matter to the next generations of Serbian people. What mattered for the next generation of Serbs was the evolution of the mental representation of this battle as a chosen trauma. When an event turns into a chosen trauma, what becomes important is the fact that the group carries the mental representation of the traumatic event—along with associated shared feelings of hurt and shame, as well as mental defenses against perceived shared conflicts that these feelings initiate—from generation to generation.  During this transgenerational transmission, the mental representation of the event emerges as a significant large-group marker; the group draws the shared mythologized mental representation of the traumatic event into its very identity. The chosen trauma functions primarily to link the members of the large group together as if it were an invisible spider’s web.

The Serbian chosen trauma, the Battle of Kosovo, provides an excellent example of a chosen trauma. The Serb leader during this battle was Prince Lazar and his persona held a crucial place in this chosen trauma. Sells (2002) refers to an ideology connected with the Battle of Kosovo and Prince Lazar, which he names "Christoslavism." According to Sells, during the nineteenth century the portrayal of Prince Lazar as a Christ-figure by the Serbian large group was made more explicit. Sells writes:

                  "Lazar was portrayed at a "Last Supper" [during the evening preceding the battle] surrounded by twelve knight-disciples, one of whom was a traitor who gave the battle plans to the Turks. His death was entitled the Serbian Golgotha, and his crucifixion was the crucifixion of the Serbian nation. The Lazar story was tied to a revolutionary mixture of romantic nationalism and anti-Islamic polemic. The combination resulted in the ideology I have named Christoslavism" (p.63).
A chosen trauma may be dormant for decades in the social consciousness and its influence, according to new external factors, may change function. For example, the group may change from accepting an ideology of glorified victimhood to following an ideology of an entitlement for revenge.
Certainly the influence of Serbian chosen trauma on the Serbian people has metamorphosed throughout the centuries from idealizing victimhood to a fervent nationalism (Volkan, 1997; Shatzmiller, 2002).

When a large group's existence—psychologically speaking, when it's identity's existence—is threatened and when its members wonder "who are we now?" they turn to various methods (Volkan, 2004), to strengthen their belief in the survival of their group and its identity. They are now ready to reactivate their chosen trauma, a trauma whose main function is to link the members of the group and give them a sense of security in order to secure the survival of their shared identity. There is a kind of paradox here: A chosen trauma refers to a traumatic event in the past when ancestors were humiliated and rendered helpless, but now it is called forth to enhance their descendants' large-group identity.

The current group's hold on the mental representations of old traumas which turned into chosen traumas is far stronger than is their reactivation of memories concerning old ancestral glories.  I have explained the reason for this earlier (Volkan, 1997, 2004). Briefly, old glories (I call them chosen glories) do not initiate unfinished psychological tasks that are passed to future generations in order to be completed in the future. When a large group is massively traumatized, the members deposit (Volkan, Ast and Greer, 2003) their injured selves and internalized object images into the developing self representations of their offspring and direct their offspring consciously—but more importantly unconsciously—as to how they should deal with such images. The tasks given to the next generation(s) are strengthened by the next generation(s)' identification with adults in the previous generation. In the evolution of a chosen trauma there are psychological tasks to be performed, such as completing previous generation(s)' mourning processes and reversing shame and helplessness associated with the deposited images. Inclusion of such psychological tasks in chosen traumas makes them crucial large-group markers and strong "motors" for societal and political movements.


Since 1980, my colleagues from the University of Virginia's Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) and I have been involved in bringing together influential representatives of "enemy" groups (for example, Israelis and Arabs, Russians and Estonians, Turks and Greeks, Croats and Serbs, Georgians and South Ossetians) for years-long unofficial diplomatic negotiations., The participants from opposing groups became "spokespersons" for their large-group sentiments and identities (Volkan, 1987, 1997; Volkan and Harris, 1992; Neu and Volkan, 1999). During such gatherings, especially when participants perceived an attack on their large-group identity, the facilitating team often witnessed "enemy" participants' preoccupation with their respective chosen traumas. We also witnessed what I call a time collapse, a phenomenon that occurs when ideas, perceptions, feelings, as well as defenses connected with a chosen trauma collapse into ideas, perceptions, feeling and defenses connected with a current political or military conflict. One of the major tasks of the facilitating team was to create a time expansion— the separation of reactivated chosen traumas and their influence from discussions of current problems in order to help the "enemy" participants negotiate more realistically, without fantasies induced by chosen traumas.


An illustration of this scenario occurred during the dialogue series that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Participants included influential ethnic Estonians (such as parliamentarians, including the present President of Estonia, Arnold Rüütel,) leaders of Russian speakers in Estonia (one third of Estonian population are Russian speakers who were perceived as former "enemy" Soviets by ethnic Estonians) and influential Russians from Moscow, and the interdisciplinary facilitating team from CSMHI and the Carter Center in Atlanta. Our aim was to help Estonia "separate" from Russia in a peaceful and adaptive way. During these dialogue series, when the Russians felt directly or indirectly assaulted by Estonians, who were former citizens of the Soviet Empire, they reactivated the mental representation of the Tatar invasion of Russia centuries earlier. The Russian preoccupation with their chosen trauma created a resistance to negotiating current problems in Russian-Estonian relations until the facilitating team "interpreted" the meaning of the reactivation of the Russian chosen trauma and helped to induce a "time expansion." The resistance is due to the fact that the reactivation of a chosen trauma is in the service of patching up the perceived wounds of the large-group identity. This becomes the major preoccupation of those who reactivate their chosen trauma. In turn, they move away from dealing with the current problems.


When a chosen trauma is reactivated within the society itself and the associated exaggerated entitlement ideology is inflamed by the leadership and political propaganda, it may initiate massive violent acts, including genocidal ones, directed toward a current "enemy" group. Such violent acts and accompanying terror leads of course to a massive trauma for the victimized group and the development of what Julius (1991) calls a "cycle of violence." In the next section, before returning to massive violence and terror associated with a chosen trauma, I will closely examine the birth of a particular entitlement ideology, what the Greeks call "Megali Idea," ("Great Idea") that is associated with a massive trauma, the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.
Crusades, the fall of Constantinople, and the "Megali Idea"
Norman Itzkowitz and I have studied extensively how some Christian large groups have reacted throughout the centuries to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, and how the mental representation of this event eventually culminated in the development of a specific political ideology called "the Megali Idea" (Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1993, 1994). This section is primarily based on our joint study.

In 1071 A.D., the Turkish Seljuk leader Sultan Alparslan defeated the Byzantine forces under Emperor Romanus IV. Diogenes near Manzigert in Eastern Anatolia. During the centuries following the Battle of Manzigert, Asia Minor, heartland of today's Turkey, gradually became Turkified. Soon after this battle, a group of Seljuk Turks captured Jerusalem, leading to the Crusades. By the time Crusaders entered Jerusalem, the city was no longer under Turkish occupation, but their perception of the Turks as the occupiers of Christian holy land and as the enemy of Christians prevailed. It was, however, the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, which came three hundred years after the Battle of Manzigert that became a more obvious "chosen trauma" for the Christian world. Constantinople was conquered by the successors to Seljuk Turks, the Ottomans, on May 29, 1453. Historically, this marked the end of one era and the beginning of another as the Christian Byzantine Empire was replaced by the Moslem-dominated Ottoman Empire. Since Constantinople was taken on a Tuesday, Christians regarded every Tuesday thereafter as an unpropitious day. The seizure of Constantinople by the Turks was seen to reflect God's judgment upon "the sins of Christians everywhere" (Schwoebel, 1967, p.14). In Europe, during medieval and early modern times, those recording historical events tended to disregard  "real" causes and attribute the unfolding of human history to the hand of God. Such sentiments also appear to some extent even now. For example, Christian fundamentalist groups in the US. read the tragedy of September 11 as divine punishment for the sinful acts of their country’s homosexuals, feminists and civil libertarians (Volkan, 2004.)


In spite of the fact that Rome had refused to provide support for Constantinople against the Turks, Rome received word of Byzantium's fall with shock and disbelief. Turkish victory was seen as a knife plunged into the heart of Christianity. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, a future Pope, wrote to Pope Nicholas V. on July 12, 1453, that the Turks had killed Homer and Plato for the second time (Schwoebel, 1967).

The loss of Constantinople was a massive trauma that reopened wounds caused by the fall of Jerusalem, and mourning for this loss could not take place to the point of resolution or be set aside. Jerusalem had been regained and lost again, but Constantinople’ s fall only elicited feelings of helplessness, shame and humiliation. The desire to undo this trauma expressed itself in rumblings about organizing another Crusade. Nothing came of such talk, but the idea persisted. Together, Christians in the Ottoman territories sang the refrain, "Again, with years, with time, again they will be ours," in an attempt to deny the changes that had come and undo the losses they engendered. This would be the seed of an excessive entitlement ideology which would be formulated later (Young, 1969). Denial manifested in other ways as well. If a continuous link between the Turks and the Byzantines could be found, there would be less need for Byzantines and other Christians to feel pain. Many Westerners became preoccupied, sometimes in mystical ways, with the ancient origins of the Turks. For example, Giovanni Maria Filelfo, a humanist, declared that the young Turkish Sultan Mehmet II, who had seized Constantinople, was a Trojan. Felix Fabri, a German, studied the idea that Turks descended from Teucher, son of the Greek friend of Hercules, Telemon and the Trojan princess Hesione. Fabri did not claim that Teucer fathered the Turks, but he held that they descended from Turcus, a son of Troyas (References to Giovanni Maria Filelfo can be found in Monumenta Hungariae, XXIII, part 1, no.9, pp.308, 309, 405 and 453 and to Felix Fabri in Evagatorium III, pp.236-239. See: Schwoebel, 1967).

While these pseudo-historical efforts to find continuity between the two sides continued as a way to make loss and humiliation tolerable, a counter-attempt tried to un-link them so Byzantines could maintain their large-group identity. In Europe this led to stereotyping the Turks. According to Berkes (1964), the Fates played a trick on the Turks because of their seizure of Constantinople, a notion that was condensed with a mental representation of their conquest of Jerusalem (like Seljuk Turks, Ottoman Turks also conquered Jerusalem.) The Turks became the unconsciously chosen target of stubborn, systematic, and negative stereotyping by the Europeans and historians throughout the West. Berkes claims that these historians never stereotyped other "strangers" such as Chinese, Arabs, and Japanese in such a way. Of course after September 1, 2001 Arabs have become the main target of stereotyping in the US. Indeed, after this tragedy President George W. Bush referred to the mental representation of the Crusades, echoing a "time collapse" of a Moslem-Christian clash of the past into a Moslem-Christian clash of the present.

Preoccupation with the Turks as conquerors of Jerusalem and Constantinople became globalized as Europeans began discovering new regions of the world and aggressively colonizing them. In 1539, for example, Mexican Indians took part in a dramatic pageant representing the liberation of Jerusalem from the Turks by the armies of the Catholic world joined by those from the New World (Motolinia, 1951). Even now, a variation of this pageant is still performed in Mexico, halfway around the world from Turkey (Harris, 1992.) This globalized stereotyping was even incorporated into old editions of Webster's Dictionary under the definition of "Turk" which read, "one exhibiting any quality attributed to Turks, such as sensuality and brutality". The reference to brutality is easy to understand since battles, such the one that took place when the Turks seized Constantinople are brutal. Itzkowitz and I (Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1994), also tried to understand the reference to sensuality. We concluded that it had a great deal to do with the youthful and virile image of Mehmet II, whose conquest was perceived as a "rape." Constantinople, which was later named Istanbul, is still experienced by today’s poets as a symbol of a fallen and /or grieving woman (Halman, 1992).
To some degree the Greeks, heirs to Byzantium, remained "perennial mourners" unable to resolve the loss of Constantinople. As generations passed, the fall of Constantinople evolved as their major chosen trauma and this influenced the evolution of the Megali Idea, which crystallized in the nineteenth century. Some four decades  after the Greek War of Independence (1821-1833), the new Greek identity became a composite of Hellenic (ancient pre-Christian Greek) and Byzantine (Christian Greek) elements (Herzfeld, 1986.) The urge to retain the cultural/religious elements of Byzantium was articulated through the words of such influential individuals such as Spyridon Zamblios (1856, 1859) and Nikoloas G. Politis (1876,1882). Meanwhile as Kitromilides (1990) clearly describes, the nation building process for the new Greek state gradually took on two dimensions, the first being internal—the gradual development of a nation within the independent kingdom of Greece. The other one was external and involved the influence of the Megali Idea as a point of reference for the new Greek state involving Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire in places "considered as integral parts of the historical patrimony of Hellenism" (Kitromilides, 1990, p.35). Their Megali Idea is, "a dream shared by Greeks that someday the Byzantine Empire would be restored and all the Greek lands would once again be united into a Greater Greece" (Markides, 1977, p.10). In order to create the Megali Idea and make it one of the emotionally charged societal motivations for Greek foreign policy, modern Greeks revived the fall of Constantinople.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore fully how the Megali Idea impacted the immediate expansion of the new Greek state and the wars that took place for this purpose. Most recently the Megali Idea was a factor in the political, terrorist and military developments. Obviously, during these wars and related conflicts thousands of people were killed, injured and societies experienced terror, helplessness and incredible grief. Also obviously, I do not reduce the causes of these wars only to the influence of the Megali Idea.
I simply want to illustrate here how a political ideology of excessive entitlement becomes fuel for various infernos. One of the most recent Greek-Turkish conflicts which was fueled by the influence of the Megali Idea in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, this time on the island of  Cyprus, is one with which I am most familiar. Cypriot Greek Markides (1977) wrote:


                                            "One could argue that the "Great Idea" had an internal logic, pressing for realization in every part of the Greek world, which continued to be under foreign rule. Because the Greeks of Cyprus have considered themselves historically and culturally to be Greeks, the "Great Idea" has had an intense appeal.  Thus, when the church fathers called on the Cypriots  [Cypriot Greeks] to fight for union with Greece, it did not require much effort to heat up emotions... Enosis [Uniting Cyprus with Greece] did not originate in the church but in the minds of intellectuals in their attempt to revive Greek-Byzantine civilization. However, being the most central and powerful of institutions, the church contributed immensely to its development. The church embraced the movement and for all practical purposes became its guiding nucleus" (pp.10-11).

It appears, however, that since Greece became a member of the European Union the impact of the Megali Idea on Greek foreign policy has lost its strong appeal. But it appears to me that it is very difficult for a large group to “forget” a shared political ideology that is connected with a chosen trauma. This is because of the conscious and unconscious shared tasks, mentioned earlier, that chosen traumas incorporate. In April 2004, two referenda took place in Cyprus. Both Greek and Turkish sides voted to accept or reject a kind of “reunification.” (Since 1974, the island was divided into  Northern Turkish and Southern Greek sectors.) We now know that the Greek side overwhelmingly voted against such a “reunification.” Under a  UN plan before Cyprus (now only the Greek side) would become a member of EU on May 1, 2004. There are many “real politik” causes for Cypriot Greeks’ voting “No.” But their decision was also influenced by the Megali Idea. Before the referendum the Greek Orthodox Church on the island preached that any Cypriot Greek voting “yes” would go to Hell. The Cypriot Greeks “illusion” to posses the whole island (Megali Idea) prevailed over the idea of a kind of “togetherness” with the Cypriot Turks.

My aim in this section was to illustrate, basically from a historical point of view, the relations between a large group's ancestor's massive traumas and how they create an atmosphere for the development of an exaggerated entitlement ideology. I should repeat: I would by no means want to reduce Greek-Turkish relations to the impact of the Megali Idea alone. I do not wish to give the impression that in international relations only one side’s issues cause trouble and violence. Usually reasons for the violence come from both sides. But, for the purpose of this paper I focused only on my theme—the concept of trauma and its relationship to an ideology.

The most drastic example of terrorism that is related to a chosen trauma and an excessive entitlement ideology however, comes from events in the former Yugoslavia after the collapse of communism, when the Serbian leadership  deliberately reactivated what Sells called “Christoslavism,” which is similar to the Megali idea in its irredentist aims.


Serbian propaganda and violence:

A simple definition of political propaganda, in its widest sense, would encompass any communication and manipulation from a source of political authority that is directed to its followers and its opposition at home and/or abroad, as well as those who might be described as "neutrals."  Its aim is to further the propagandist's wishes and ideas and under some circumstances, a certain political ideology. In the modern world political propaganda exists in all politically organized open or closed societies, especially during periods of national and international tension, war, and war-like conditions such as terrorism. At the present time many large groups around the globe are bombarded with political propaganda daily.

After Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Serbia the Serbian propaganda machine’s primary aim was to reactivate the Serbian chosen trauma and create a time collapse. According to the legend, on the eve of the Battle of Kosovo, Saint Ilya, in the shape of a gray falcon, appeared before Prince Lazar and delivered a message to him from the Virgin Mary. Lazar had two choices: he could win the battle and find a kingdom on earth, or could lose the battle and find a kingdom in heaven. Prince Lazar chose to go to heaven and was associated with the crucified Jesus (Markovic, 1983). After the Battle of Kosovo, the new Turkish sultan married one of Lazar's daughters, Olivera, and Lazar's son Stefan Lazarevic joined the new sultan in fighting against Tamerlane. Serbia enjoyed economic and cultural prosperity until 1459, when the Ottomans brought about Serbia’s downfall. It was when the Ottomans came back to conquer Serbia that Lazar's remains were sent into "exile" north of Belgrade. The most dramatic Serbian propaganda was planned when the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo was approaching. Milosovic, with the help of Serbian church authorities and some academicians, made plans to bring Lazar's body out of exile.

To return Lazar's body to the region where he was killed 600 years before would reactivate the Serbian chosen trauma and help to solidify a "new" Serbian identity after the demise of Yugoslavia. Lazar's remains were placed in a coffin and taken on a year-long tour to every Serbian village and town where huge crowds of mourners dressed in black received them.  Religious ceremonies were conducted, and some politicians gave direct or indirect hate speeches. The people began feeling, without being intellectually aware of it, that the "defeat" at the Battle of Kosovo had occurred only recently, a development made possible by the fact that the chosen trauma had been kept effectively alive—even though sometimes dormant—for centuries.

On June 28, 1989, the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, a helicopter brought Milosevic to the ceremonial grounds, a hill overlooking the Kosovo battlefield. Earlier, a huge monument made of red stone symbolizing blood had been erected on the site. Now, arriving in this place by helicopter, Milosevic was like the reincarnated Lazar returning to earth from heaven, now entitled to build his "kingdom" on earth. In a photograph of this rally one can see imprinted on the T-shirts of many present Lazar's 600 -year old message telling Serbs to come to the battlefield to fight against the Turks. This help to create an atmosphere for future massive violence against Moslem Bosniaks and later against Albanians in the former Yugoslavia whom the Serbs perceived as extensions of the Turks. Indeed, Bosniaks and Albanians played a significant role in Ottoman history and until now the Serbs, under stressful situations, called them “Turks.”

The Serbian reactivation of their chosen trauma also, I believe, is closely connected with the systematic raping of the Bosniak women. Rapes occur during wars mostly because the warring parties are regressed. When regression takes place the libido and aggression become fused in many individuals and in societies in general. The digital pictures of what the US. soldiers did in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad are a graphic illustration of the fusion of aggression with sexuality.  As I write this, various investigations concerning the Abu Ghraib incidents are taking place. These events, as they are most likely supported by an atmosphere of societal regression—in the US. after September 11 (Volkan 2004) as well as by those who were in charge of these soldiers in Iraq—reflect certain individuals' regression and their mixing sex and aggression through the humiliation and dehumanization of the "other." In Serbia however, the rapes were systematic and they were directly connected with a reactivated chosen trauma. 

To understand the nature of rapes that took place in the former Yugoslavia let us first look at an example of late 1980 and early 1990 Serbian propaganda:

By order of the Islamic fundamentalists from Sarajevo, healthy women from 17 to 40 years of age are being separated out and subjected to special treatment. According to their sick plans going back many years these women have to be impregnated by orthodox Islamic seeds in order to raise a generation of Janissaries on the territories they surely consider theirs, the Islamic republic. In other words, a fourfold crime is to be committed against Serbian woman: to remove her from her family, to impregnate her by undesirable seeds, to make her bear a stranger and then to take even him away from her (Gutman, 1993, p.x.).


In my mind, this missive aimed to portray the drastic consequences resulting from the Ottoman Turks' conquering of Constantinople and expanding the Ottoman Empire, creating fear among Serbs that Bosniak Moslems (associated with the Ottomans or Turks) intended to resurrect the devsirme and start a new Janissary army. Briefly, devsirme involved conscripting state servants from the Ottoman Empire's Christian orthodox population. It started with the reign of Murat I who was also killed during the Battle of Kosovo, in 1359, and continued for the next four centuries. Christian orthodox youth, such as Serbian youngsters, were collected as an extraordinary tax levied by the Sultan, taken from their families, converted to Islam, and educated to serve the Sultan. One of the greatest grand viziers of the Ottoman Empire, Sokollu (Sokolovich) Mehmet Pasha, for example, was originally a Serb who had risen within the devsirme system.  Most Serbian (and other former Christian) youngsters, however, would be enrolled in the ranks of the military as members of the empire's feared Janissary force.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, Serbian propaganda aimed to create fear among Serbian mothers’ that they would lose their sons, who would return as Janissaries to subjugate or kill their own people. There was a kernel of truth in this idea, since one piece of writing by the then Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic had intimated the possibility of an Islamic enterprise in Bosnia. For all practical purposes, however, the possibility of resurrecting the Janissary was pure Serbian fantasy utilized as propaganda. 

Major Milovan Milutinovic was one key figure in running the Serbian propaganda machine under the Milosevic regime. In 1991, he was interviewed by American journalist Roy Gutman who was so shocked by references to Janissaries, that he asked Milutinovic, " Which century are you talking about?" (Gutman,1993, p.x.). Milutinovic responded that it was a recent phenomenon, adding, "They are trying to do what they did centuries ago." (Gutman,1993, p.x.).

In Milutinovic's statement we hear references to the consequences of the reactivation of the Serbian chosen trauma, a time collapse, and an example of equating the past enemy with the current one. I have no way of knowing if Milutinovic really believed what he was saying.  The important issue is that his remarks were an aspect of a large-group phenomenon that was dominated by the psychology of time collapse in a regressed society. 

Just before and during the systematic raping of Bosniak women, new Serbian propaganda replaced the old campaign that warned that Serbian women would be raped by Bosniak Muslim men  (as an extension of the Ottomans.) This new propaganda was intimately connected with an additional idea that if a Serbian man raped a Muslim Bosniak woman, a child born as a result of this rape would not carry any vestige of the mother's (non-Serbian) large-group identity. American sociologist Beverly Allen, who studied this idea in the new Serbian propaganda, was bewildered. In her book, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzogivina and Croatia (Allen, 1996), she wonders if the Serbs had ever studied the science of genetics. Of course the idea that infused the Serbian propaganda had nothing to do with the logical evaluation of the science of genetics. Underneath the Serbian propaganda that a raped Muslim woman would deliver a full-blooded Serbian child was a wish to reverse the victimization of their ancestors through identification with their ancestors' enemies.

When Serb boys were conscripted under the Ottoman devsirme system and transformed into Muslim Ottomans, the biological genes from their parents were rendered irrelevant. Now Serbs were trying to disregard the genes of non-Serbian women, by using them as vessels to produce more Serbs to fight against Muslims (and Croats.) Meanwhile, they were killing existing Muslim sons of Bosniak women; their new sons  (through  raping  Muslim women) would be a hundred percent "Serb," and the number of Serbian men would increase.

The role of leaders in regressed societies:

As the former Yugoslavian example illustrates, when a large group is regressed and people wonder, "who are we now?” the personality of the political leader becomes an important factor in the scenario, one that has considerable influence on societal and political processes. He or she may inflame or tame ethnic or other large-group sentiments; he or she may lead the group toward peaceful coexistence with "others," or fuel a war-like atmosphere, even playing an actual role in starting a war. In my book, Blind Trust: Large Groups and Their Leaders in Times of Crisis and Terror, (Volkan, 2004) I have written about  "reparative" and "destructive" leaders of regressed large groups. The former helps to solidify the threatened or changed group identity without devaluing and ruining another group. 
The latter aims to enhance and/or modify the group's new identity by destroying, one way or another, an opposing group. In a five step process, destructive leaders and their propaganda machines:


1- Enhance a shared sense of victimization within the large group following an attack by an enemy group or another disaster, such an economic one, or even in situations without any visible recent victimization. 
2-  Reactivate a chosen trauma.
3-  Increase a sense of "we-ness."
4-  Devalue the enemy to a degree that dehumanizes it.
5-  Create an excessive  attitude of entitlement for revenge or reactivate a dormant entitlement ideology.
Through these five steps, an atmosphere is created in which group members feel entitled to destroy the current enemy and even become involved in cultural and ethnic cleansing, thereby purifying themselves of any contamination by unwanted and devalued "others." Under certain circumstances the large group, without realistic means to be "sadistic" toward the current enemy, may idealize their own victimization and become "masochistic." Reactivated chosen traumas and accompanying exaggerated entitlement ideology have profound effects on large groups and  "other" groups they consider to be their enemies, playing a significant role in the evolution of terror and terrorism.


Last words:

In this paper I focused on the role of chosen traumas and the consequences of reactivating them through political propaganda, including through religious institutions. I did not explore the influence of “acute” or "hot" massive trauma at the hands of others.

By acute trauma I am referring to a continuing state of confusion, unbearable grief, chaos, and increased criminality, as well as the traumatized group's search for a leader(s) to act as a repairer or savior, and their effort to reestablish a new sense of large-group identity. This itself may lead to violent acts, terror and terrorism directed toward others, even toward members of the traumatized group. The people in Iraq, without an effective leader of their own who would tame emotions, are now going through an acute trauma. Many events in the US. after September 11, 2001, also reflect the influence of an acute trauma. Unlike the situation in Iraq however, the US. has a defined political leader and institutions and there is no chaos. An acute trauma also usually unifies the members of a society, but soon other signs and symptoms of a regressed large group appear (Volkan, 2004), including societal splits. The acute trauma in the US led to a political ideology known as the “Bush Doctrine.” But a political ideology that accompanies an acute societal trauma may not become a large-group identity marker and its lasting effects are questionable. On the other hand a chosen trauma is a crucial large-group identity sign and a political ideology associated with it lasts for decades and, as described above, even for centuries.

By hot trauma I am referring to an event that still emotionally preoccupies those who were traumatized in the past and the few generations who followed them. In other words, I speak of the trauma as a"hot" trauma to describe  traumatized individuals and their offspring who are still acutely involved in attempting to make sense of what had happened, mourning their losses, and memorializing the tragedy. For example, I consider the Holocaust still to be a hot trauma on its way toward becoming a chosen trauma.

When a chosen trauma establishes itself after many decades or centuries following the ancestors' perceived victimization, it becomes a permanent identity marker for the large group. It can then be manipulated by political/religious leaders and, associated as it is with an entitlement ideology, may itself become a source for further human tragedy.


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