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

Vamık D. Volkan
This paper studies some aspects of large-group psychology in its own right. In the psychoanalytic literature the term “large group” often refers to 30 to 150 members who meet in order to deal with a given issue. In this chapter my focus is on ethnic, national, religious or ideological large groups. I use the term large group only to refer to tens, hundreds of thousands, or millions of individuals, most of whom will never meet during their lifetimes. Paraphrasing Erik Erikson’s (1950) statement about personal identity, I use the term large-group identity to refer to a large group that shares a permanent sense of sameness while also sharing certain similar characteristics with other large groups, especially with those who are neighbors.
Ethnic, national, religious or ideological large groups’ psychodynamics are different from the psychodynamics of “small groups,” “large groups” (composed of 30 or 150 individuals), or “crowds.” For example, a “crowd” in a football stadium becomes a group and remains so just before, during, and perhaps soon after the sports event. On the other hand, let us consider an ethnic large group, like the Serbian or Mauri large group. The membership in such a large group begins in childhood. Elsewhere I illustrated (Volkan 1988, 1997, 2004a.) how each member’s core personal identity is intertwined with their large-group identity.
Resistance to study psychology of large groups and international relations:
In 1932, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Sigmund Freud asking if the new science of psychoanalysis could offer insights that might deliver mankind from the menace of war. In his response to Einstein, Freud expressed little hope for an end to war and violence or the role of psychoanalysis in changing human behavior beyond the individual level (Freud, 1932). Much later, Jacob Arlow (1973), found some cautious optimism in some of Freud’s writings in taming massive violence in international relations. But, in general, Freud’s pessimism was mirrored by many of his followers and was one factor in limiting the contributions psychoanalysis has made to aggressive interactions between large groups, such as national, ethnic and religious groups. There was a second factor that has played a role in limiting such contributions. Psychoanalysts followed the tradition that originated with Freud’s giving up the idea of the sexual seduction of children coming from the external world in favor of the stimuli coming from the child’s own wishes and fantasies for the formation psychopathology. This tradition was generalized to include de-emphasis on external historical events.
A third factor is the analysts’ own resistance in the examination of a dangerous external world. Melanie Klein provided an example of ignoring influences of a war while treating one of her patients. In 1961, she reported the analysis of a ten-year-old boy named Richard, which had taken place in England during World War II. It appears that throughout Richard’s analysis, the terror of the war was not examined. Was Melanie Klein’s ignoring of the dangerous external circumstances simply due to her theoretical stance? Was she denying her own fear of the external danger? We will, of course, never know for sure why she did not explore the intertwining of an external war with Richard’s internal wars.
In the United States, Harold Blum’s (1985) description of a Jewish patient who came to him for re-analysis illustrates the extent to which mutual resistances may prevail when both analyst and the analysand belong to the same large group which was massively traumatized by an external historical event. Blum’s patient’s first analyst, who was also Jewish, failed to “hear” their large group’s shared trauma at the hands of the Nazis in his analysand’s material; as a consequence, mutually sanctioned silence and denial pervaded the entire analytic experience, leaving unanalyzed residues of the Holocaust in the analysand’s symptoms.
Blum writes that although the patient and his last analyst were both born in Europe and were both Jewish, “neither one discussed the experience of debasing bigotry, the war, emigration, being a refugee, social-cultural upheaval, separation from family and friends, and cultural shock. For years, they spoke to each other without mention of each other’s accent or why they were meeting in an American rather than a European office" (p.898). According to Blum there was a “conspiracy of silence.” He adds, “Freedom of thought and expression were compromised by tacit cues that some areas were off limits and should remain shrouded in silence” (p.899).
In post-World War II Germany, there has been both German and German-Jewish analyst-supported resistance to exploring the intertwining of the internal and external wars and the influence of the Nazi era traumas on analysands’ psyches. In the early 1960s, while treating an ethnic German analysand and a Jewish analysand, German Jewish analyst Anna Maria Jokl left for Israel without completing the two patients’ analytic work, and it was not until the mid-1990s that she was able to piece together and report the complex influences of their large-group identities on the scene of analysis (Jokl, 1997.)
German speaking psychoanalysts, such as Ilse Grubrich-Simitis (1979), Anita Eckstaedt (1989), and Annette Streeck-Fischer (1999) have explored the difficulties of “hearing” Nazi-related influences in their German and Jewish patients. Eckstaedt, indeed, has brought attention to the trauma that ethnic Germans themselves experienced during the Third Reich and to the influence of that trauma on the self-conception of contemporary Germans. In 1997 and 1998 I was asked to work with a small group of ethnic German and Jewish-German analysts and therapists when they formed an organization to end “the silence” about the Holocaust-related issues that come up during clinical practice. I realized that such a “silence” was real and that it was difficult to deal with. (For details see: Volkan, Ast and Greer, 2002, Chapter 9).
Conclude that I many analysts in the USA, Germany and elsewhere after World War II were like Blum’s patient’s former analyst and how many of them, without being aware of it, influenced the application of psychoanalytic treatment in the USA and elsewhere in a way that tended to ignore Holocaust-related external reality. I suggested that some of them who were influential in our field exaggerated their bias toward a theoretical position that focused only on the analysand’s internal wishes and fantasies during the analytic treatment and left out the influence of external wars and other large-group conflicts.
Meanwhile, many authors who were interested in human affairs who were not themselves practicing psychoanalysts have referred to psychoanalysis in their attempt to understand world affairs and large-group psychology in general. They often referred to Freud’s writings such as Totem and Taboo (1913), Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and its Discontents (1930), and Freud’s correspondence with Einstein mentioned above. As Hendrick (1958) noticed long ago, in general these argued the validity of psychoanalysis “as if it were a philosophy, an ethical system, a set of theories; such discussion… seems alien and unproductive to the analyst himself, whose primary convictions originate in what his patients have told him” (p.4). 
Meanwhile, practicing psychoanalysts, with a few exceptions, have basically tended to treat patients, without much interest in or attention to international relations and large-group psychology. Psychoanalytic theories concerning large groups mainly focused on individuals’ perceptions of what their large groups psychologically mean to them. When the practicing analysts wrote about such issues, they usually applied theories of individual psychology to large-group processes without taking into consideration that once they start, the large-group processes take on their own specific directions and appear as new political, social or ideological movements (Volkan, 2005).
Because of their clinical interests, psychoanalysts have focused more on small groups and the psychodynamics involved when seven to fifteen individuals gather for a series of meetings. Wilfred Bion’s (1961) work is among the best known of such studies. A “small group” with a definite leader, a structured task, and an awareness of time evolves as a “work group” and performs its task with an adaptation to reality. When such a group’s security is threatened or when it is not given a realistic and structured task, Bion describes how it begins to function according to certain “basic assumptions”, which are very familiar to psychoanalysts.
In the psychoanalytic literature the term “large group” often refers to 30 to 150 members who meet in order to deal with a given issue. When the task given to such a “large group” is unstructured and vague by design, the “large group” regresses. At this time, observers notice increased anxiety, chaos, and panic among its members (Rice, 1965; Turquet, 1975; Kernberg, 2003a., 2003b.) In order to escape its panicky atmosphere, regressed “large groups” exhibit narcissistic or paranoid characteristics and reorganize themselves by sharing and utilizing primitive mental mechanisms.
Otto Kernberg also uses the term “large group” when he refers to groups composed of 30 to 150 individuals. He uses the term “crowds” when he refers to spectators at a big sports event or large theatrical performance. He also mentions disorganization in crowds after natural disasters and then speaks of “mass movements” and “societal and cultural processes.” He primarily illustrates the emergence of aggression in “small groups,”crowds” and “societies” when regression and disorganization sets in.
Ethnic, national, religious or ideological large groups’ psychodynamics are different from the psychodynamics of “small groups,”“large groups” (composed of 30 or 150 individuals), or “crowds.” For example, a “crowd” in a football stadium becomes a group and remains so just before, during, and perhaps soon after the sports event. On the other hand, let us consider an ethnic large group, like the Serbian or Mauri large group. The membership in such a large group begins in childhood.
Elsewhere I illustrated (Volkan 1988, 1997, 2004a.) how each member’s core personal identity is intertwined with their large-group identity.
My findings on large-group psychology come from actual fieldwork in some troubled spots of the world. In 1977, then Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat stunned the political world by visiting Israel. When he addressed the Israeli Knesset he spoke about a psychological wall between Arabs and Israelis and stated that psychological barriers constitute 70 percent of the entire problem that existed between the Arabs and the Israelis. With the blessings of the Egyptian, Israeli and American governments, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA’s) Committee on Psychiatry and Foreign Affairs followed up on Sadat’s statements by bringing together influential Israelis, Egyptians and later Palestinians for a series of unofficial negotiations that took place between 1979 and 1986. I was a member of this Committee.       
The six-year study of the Arab-Israeli conflict through a psychological lens provided an opportunity for me to begin to examine the psychology of large groups and societies in its own right. Later I observed other “enemy” representatives—such as Russians and Estonians, Georgians and South Ossetians, Serbs and Croats or Turks and Greeks—in years-long unofficial negotiation series. I also interviewed traumatized people in some refugee camps where “we-ness” becomes palpable. Furthermore, I spent time with political leaders such as the former US President Jimmy Carter, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the late Yasser Arafat, the present Estonian President Arnold Ruutel, and Northern Cyprus President Rauf Denktaş and observed aspects of leader-followers psychology in these leaders’ verbalized thought processes and actions. Then I was able to define the concept of “large-group identity,” a sense of sameness shared by thousands or millions of people, which explains  what they mean when they say, “We are Finnish,” “We are Arabs,” “We are Jews,” or “We are communists.”
Large-group identity:
In this chapter my focus is on ethnic, national, religious or ideological large groups. I use the term large group only to refer to tens, hundreds of thousands, or millions of individuals, most of whom will never meet during their lifetimes. Paraphrasing Erik Erikson’s (1950) statement about personal identity, I use the term large-group identity to refer to a large group that shares a permanent sense of sameness while also sharing certain similar characteristics with other large groups, especially with those who are neighbours.
When I think of the classical Freudian theory of large groups, I visualize people arranged around a gigantic maypole, which represents the group leader. Individuals in the large group dance around the pole/leader, identifying with each other and idealizing the leader. I have expanded this metaphor by imagining a canvas extending from the pole out over the people, forming a huge tent. This canvas represents the large-group identity. I have come to the conclusion that essential large-group activities center around maintaining the integrity of the large-group identity, and leader-follower interactions are just one element of this effort.
Imagine thousands or millions of persons living under a huge tent. They may get together in subgroups. They may belong to certain clans or professional organizations and they may be poor or rich or women or men. But all of them are under one huge tent. The pole of the tent is the political leadership. From an individual psychology point of view, the pole may represent an oedipal father; from a large-group psychology point of view, the pole’s task is to keep the tent’s canvas erect (to maintain and protect the large-group identity). Everyone under the tent’s canvas wears his or her individual garment (personal identity), but everyone under the tent also shares the tent canvas as a second garment. Elsewhere I identified seven threats that, when they are woven together, produce the cloth—the canvas of the large-group tent—ranging from shared identifications to “chosen traumas” (Volkan, 1997, 2004a.) Later in this chapter I will explain what I mean by a “chosen trauma.”
In our routine lives we are not keenly aware of our shared second garment, just as we are not usually aware of our constant breathing. If we develop pneumonia or if we are in a burning building, we quickly notice each breath we take. Likewise, if our huge tent’s canvas shakes or parts of it are torn apart, we become obsessed with our second garment. Our individual identity becomes secondary. We become preoccupied with the large-group identity and will do anything to stabilize it, repair it, maintain it and protect it. During these efforts we begin to tolerate extreme sadism or masochism if we think that what we are doing will help to maintain and protect our large-group identity. (Before going any further I must remind you that here I am speaking of general large-group processes and leaving out certain people such as dissenters.) Interestingly, the more our second garment is in danger of being damaged, the more we try to cling to it. We see this phenomenon very clearly while visiting refugee camps or other societies where large-group identity is threatened.
During recent years, especially after September 11, 2001, many scholars tried to understand the psychology of suicide bombers. They wondered if such individuals possess a typical type of personality organization or suffer from a typical type of psychopathology. As far as I am concerned, the best way to understand the Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombers of today is to examine them from a large-group psychology point of view since their actions reflect their becoming “spokespersons” for their large-group identity. In other words, they carry out their deadly acts while they are pulling down their religious/ideological tent’s canvas and wearing it as their primary garments (Volkan, 2004a.)
In 1987, after the Arab-Israeli dialogue series came to an end, I opened The Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) under the umbrella of the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine and directed it until 2002. This Center was the first of its kind in any medical school. Its faculty consisted of psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, and psychologists, but also former diplomats, political scientists, historians and scholars from other disciplines. CSMHI was lucky enough to sign a contract with the Soviet Duma. This gave us an opportunity to study the US–USSR interactions from a psychopolitical point of view until the collapse of the Soviet Empire. This study and our following practices in the field—such as bringing together Russians and Estonians for a series of meetings between 1994 to 2000 in order to help Estonia achieve a peaceful “divorce” from the Soviet Union (now Russian Federation)—allowed us to come up with further theories concerning large-group psychology in its own right and to examine the meaning of some large-group processes.
Large-group processes:
Large groups are made of individuals; therefore large-group processes reflect individual psychology. But a large group is not a living organism that has one brain, so once a large-group process starts, it establishes a life of its own within the society. The following is one example:
Psychoanalysts, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals know a great deal about the individualized process of mourning. Mourning is an obligatory human psychobiological response to a meaningful loss. When a loved one dies, the mourner has to go through predictable and definable phases until his or her mourning process comes to a practical end (Volkan, 1981, Pollock, 1989). Finnish psychoanalyst Veikko Tähkä (1984), along with others going all the way back to Sigmund Freud himself (1917) contributed greatly to our understanding of the individual mourning process during which the mourner internally reviews his or her experiences with the lost person and lets this person be psychologically“buried” slowly. If everything goes in a routine fashion, the mourner also identifies with aspects and functions the dead person possessed when still living, and keeps the dead person “alive” within his or her psyche. This process takes a few years. The individual mourning processes can be “infected” due to various reasons, and we can predict what may happen after such “infections” (Volkan, 1981).
Large groups also mourn. Since a large group is not one living organism, its mourning over the loss of loved ones, lands, and prestige after a war or war-like situation will appear in large-group processes on a societal level. For example, after a major shared trauma and loss at the hand of enemies, a political ideology of irredentism—a shared sense of entitlement to recover what had been lost—may emerge that reflects a complication in large-group mourning and an attempt both to deny losses and to recover them. What Greeks call the “Megali Idea” ("Great Idea") is such a political ideology. Such political ideologies may last for centuries and may disappear and reappear when historical circumstances change (Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1994).
The last time we witnessed the reappearance of a political ideology of entitlement was after the collapse of Yugoslavia. When the huge Yugoslav tent was gone the Serbs, the Croats, the Bosniaks and others became preoccupied with establishing themselves under their specific smaller tents. When a large group asks, “Who are we now?” they become preoccupied with repairing, protecting and maintaining the canvas of their tent. In order to hold on to their large-group identity, they try to illuminate specific symbols woven into the fabric of their tent’s canvas. When ethnic, nationalistic, religious or ideological identity markers are illuminated, doing so reassures the society that their large-group identity still exists. I named one of these significant markers a "chosen trauma."
A chosen trauma is the shared mental representation of an event in a large group’s history in which the group suffered a catastrophic loss, humiliation, and helplessness at the hands of enemies. When members of a victim group are unable to mourn such losses and reverse their humiliation and helplessness, they pass on to their offspring the images of their injured selves and the psychological tasks that need to be completed. This process is known as the “transgenerational transmission of trauma” (For a review and an examination of this concept see: Volkan, Ast and Greer, 2002). All such images and tasks contain references to the same historical event. As decades pass, the mental representation of such an event links all the individuals in the large group. Thus such a mental representation of a historical event emerges as a significant large-group identity marker. A chosen trauma reflects the “infection” of a large-group’s mourning process. A reactivation of a chosen trauma serves to link the members of a large group. Such reactivation can be used by the political leadership to promote new massive societal movements, some of them deadly and malignant.
Political leaders may initiate the reactivation of chosen traumas in order to fuel entitlement ideologies. The story of Slobodan Milošević allowing and supporting the re-appearance of the Serbian chosen trauma—the mental representation of the June 28, 1389 Battle of Kosovo—is well documented (Volkan, 1997). According to the myth that developed among the Serbs some 70 years after the Battle of Kosovo, the event and the Serbian characters of this battle, especially the Serbian leader Prince Lazar who was killed during the battle, mingled with elements and characters of Christianity. As decades passed, Prince Lazar became associated with Jesus Christ. For example, icons showing Lazar’s representation decorated many Serbian churches throughout the six centuries following the battle. Even during the communist period when the government discouraged hero worship, each day the Serbs were able to drink (introject) a bottle of red wine called “Prince Lazar.”
As the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo approached in 1989, with the permission and encouragement of Milošević, Lazar’s 600-year-old remains, which had been kept north of Belgrade, were placed in a coffin and taken over the course of the year to almost every Serb village and town, where they were received by huge crowds of mourners dressed in black. Again and again during this long journey, Lazar’s remains were symbolically buried and reincarnated, until they were buried for good at the original battleground in Kosovo on June 28, 1989. On this day, the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, a helicopter brought  Milošević  to the burial ground where earlier a huge monument made of red stone symbolizing blood had been built. In the mythology, Prince Lazar had chosen the Kingdom of Heaven over the Kingdom of earth. By design, Milošević, descended from a helicopter, representing Prince Lazar coming to earth to find a new Kingdom, a Greater Serbia.
Thus Milošević and his associates, by activating the mental representations of Lazar and the Battle of Kosovo, along with the peak emotions they generated, were able to create a year-long “time collapse” (Volkan, 2004a.) The perceptions, feelings, and expectations concerning a past hero and event were collapsed into the perceptions, feelings, and expectations about at a current “enemy,” magnifying its threat. Milosevic and his associates first encouraged a shared sense of victimization followed by a shared sense of entitlement for revenge. This led to genocidal acts in Europe at the end of the 20th century. In early June 2005, new tapes showing violent murders in the name of large-group identity shook the Serbian citizens—as well as rest of us.
Imagine that a serial killer such as Ted Bundy is murdering his victims by strangling them with a red scarf. Also imagine that this serial killer is caught, tried and put away. What happens to his murder weapon, the red scarf? It stays in a dusty box in the basement of a court or police building as evidence used during the trial. In short, in the future no one else will use this scarf as a "tool" for murdering people.
Let us go back to Milošević. At the present time he is being tried because the United Nations considers him responsible for mass murder, among other things. What was Milošević's "red scarf" and what will happen to it? As I described above, one of Milošević 's  prominent "tools" for inciting extreme violence was his reactivation (with the help of some Serbian academicians and people from the Serbian Church) of shared symbols of the Serbian large-group identity: mental representations of the Battle of Kosovo and the Serbian leader Prince Lazar who was killed during this battle.
Now let us imagine that Milošević is found guilty and is put away, but his "red scarf" is not put away in a basement. Since this “red scarf” belongs to the large group and not to a lone individual, it is possible to use it again in the future. We know this because Milošević is not the first person to inflame the mental representations of the Battle of Kosovo and Prince Lazar. On June 28, 1914, during an anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, a Serb named Gavrilo Prencip assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his pregnant wife in Sarajevo, thereby beginning World War I.
The political and legal systems have no effective methods to deal with a "tool" that can be used for massive destruction when it belongs to a large group rather than just the man or woman who makes use of it. It can be better understood by the application of psychological insights that illuminate large-group processes in their own right than by logical realpolitik conceptualizations. Who is going to examine "red scarves" that are the property of large groups? I hold that psychoanalysts are best equipped to do so if they are willing to venture beyond their couches, conduct field work, and collaborate with scholars and practitioners from other disciplines in an effort to understand collective human issues such as politics, diplomacy, wars, and terrorism.
Psychoanalysts have theorized about the aggressive drive as being the root cause of war; the state, the nation, and its leaders as mental representations of a mother, father, or ideal self; the identification of large-group members with one another; and so on. Many of these considerations, although they may be theoretically valid as far as individual psychology is considered and meaningful for psychoanalysts, have had a very limited impact on political theory, and diplomats have found them inapplicable to their practical analysis of international events and relationships. The primary reason for this is that most psychoanalytic theories of large-groups focus on an individual's perception and experiences of his or her own large group and its leader, and do not deal in depth with specific issues in international affairs such as the reactivation of a specific chosen trauma.
Large-group regression:
When a large-group identity is threatened by various things, such as the group’s enemies, the ethnic, national, religious or ideological large group regresses. I found 20 signs and symptoms of this kind of regression (Volkan, 2004a.). I borrow the term “regression” from individual psychology because I do not have a word that stands only for large-group regression. When a large group regresses it becomes involved in certain processes that serve to maintain, protect and repair the large-group identity. Since large groups as I described them here have their own specific characteristics that are built upon a centuries-old continuum and shared mental representation of history and myth, the examination of signs and symptoms of their regression should also include psychological processes that are specific to such large groups. In order to communicate with diplomats and others who must deal with international conflicts, we need to go beyond a general description of the emergence of aggression in large groups, when they regress, and their shared paranoid or narcissistic sentiments, and refer to actual manifestations of regression within each specific large group.
Some major signs of large-group regression, such as rallying around the leader—as occurred in the USA immediately following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—have been known since Freud. When Freud (1921) wrote about this phenomenon he did not say that he was referring to regressed groups. Robert Waelder (1930) brought to our attention the fact that Freud was describing regressed groups. Sometimes the members of a large group continue to rally around a leader for decades and remain “regressed” in order to modify the existing characteristics of their large-group identity. In this situation what we observe is similar to an individual’s “regressing in the service of progression and creativity.” After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish people (in general) continued to rally around Kemal Atatürk, the leader of modern Turkey which was established in 1923, until his death in 1938 (Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1984). This was the main factor that supported modern Turkey’s cultural revolution and the modification of characteristics of the Turks’ large-group identity. On the other hand, in certain totalitarian regimes, people rally around the leader in order to feel personal security rather than to be punished. Without being aware of it, they internalize what Michael Śebek (1996) called “totalitarian objects,” and blindly follow their leader by giving up many aspects of their individuality.
When a large group is in a regressed state, the personality and the internal world of the political leader assumes great importance concerning the manipulation (the “good” or the “bad”) of what already exists within the large-group psychology. Therefore, the personality organization of Milošević (which I described elsewhere {Volkan, 1997}) was a crucial factor in what happened in the former Yugoslavia. Sometimes political leaders, such as Milošević, will bring the “red scarves” that belong to the large group out in the open and use them as tools of mass aggression.
Two types of splitting are also signs of large-group regression. First, a splitting between “us” and “them” (the enemy outside the regressed large group) becomes very strong and the “other” becomes a target for dehumanization. Second, in regressed large groups, following the initial rallying around the leader, a severe split occurs within the society itself, especially when the leader cannot maintain hope and cannot tame shared aggression. Just a few years after September 11, 2001, we notice such a split in the USA. There are various reasons for this, but I believe that this also reflects the regressed state of America after the massive tragedy and after the American leadership’s failure to separate “realistic” dangers from “fantasized” dangers and its inability to help tame the shared anxiety of the population.
A regression within the large group stimulates the population’s sharing of primitive mental mechanisms in dealing with the external world. I am referring to massive introjections (for example, the population’s “eating up” political propaganda without making much of an effort to analyze whether what is coming into their inner world is poisonous or not) and projections, such as happened under the totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha, when Albanians built 7,500 bunkers throughout Albania in anticipation of an enemy attack that never occurred. Building these bunkers which would not stand against modern weapons was also a reflection of magical thinking. Within regressed societies we see various types of magical thinking. I believe that in the USA, the expansion of religious fundamentalist thinking and the increased belief in millennialism reflects this phenomenon which, at the present time, is strongly influencing the political/societal movements in this country.
In a regressed society political, legal or traditional borders begin to symbolize the canvas of the large group tent. In other words, borders become highly psychologized and people, leaders, and official organizations become preoccupied with their protection. Since there is a realistic danger “out there,”obviously borders need to be protected and because of this, it is difficult to study the psychological aspects of this preoccupation. When I was an inaugural Rabin Fellow at the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israeli Studies in Tel Aviv during the spring of 2000, I had a chance to study the border psychology in Israel at a close range and to describe it (Volkan, 2004a.). Now, in the USA we are subjected to the influence of a border psychology almost daily, but because of the real (and fantasized) danger in the political propaganda, we may not be aware of this influence. At airports, for example, we deny the assault on our individual autonomy at the security check points because of the possibility of real danger, and subject ourselves to large-group psychology, and our individual psychology that propels us to rebel against the intrusion from outside is put in the background. When a large group’s tent’s canvas is attacked and torn apart, “minor differences” between the enemy groups become very major issues since minor differences are experienced as unchangeable “borders” separating one large group’s identity from their enemy’s identity.
When a large group regresses, societal processes that will remind everyone of the continuing existence of the canvas begin to appear. Cultural customs, for example, are like designs on the canvas illustrating the specificity of that particular large-group identity. The group wants to “repaint” such designs on the canvas to show that the large-group identity still survives and to ease shared anxiety. But the group is helpless, angry, humiliated and is suffering from complicated mourning. Thus, when such designs are “repainted,” they do not exactly look like the original designs; they are now sloppy and some aspects of them are exaggerated. In South Ossetia there was a playful cultural norm of kidnapping of brides. A girl would be symbolically kidnapped and married. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Republic of Georgia, bloody fights took place between ethnic Georgians and ethnic South Ossetians living within the same legal/political boundary of the Republic of Georgia. In fact, South Ossetians declared their own “independent state.” Today aspects of large-group regression linger in South Ossetia as well as in Georgia. The cultural kidnapping customs in South Ossetia have turned into horrible societal problems in the form of actual kidnappings and rapes of young women. I have already described the “repainting” of chosen traumas. Also past glories (“chosen glories”) can be reactivated with good or malignant consequences.
From what I said about the signs of large-group regression, so far it is clear that we need to study the situation of each large group from many angles in order to find specific elements in large-group processes, to understand their underlying meanings and then begin to plan psychoanalytically informed political strategies for inducing progression within the large group or two or more groups in conflict. The next section gives a summary of a method concerning such strategies and their application.  For more detailed information (see: Volkan, 1999).
The Tree Model and Large-group progression:
My colleagues from the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) and I evolved a process to deal with the unfolding of large-group regression and conflicts between large groups.
Nicknamed the “tree model” to reflect the slow growth and branching of a tree, this methodology has three basic components or phases:
1- Psychopolitical diagnosis of the situation, 
2- psychopolitical dialogues between members of opposing groups, and
3- collaborative actions and institutions that grow out of the dialogue process.
The first phase includes in-depth psychoanalytically informed interviews with a wide range of members of the groups involved and an understanding begins to emerge concerning the main aspects that surround the situation that needs to be addressed. During the psychopolitical dialogues between influential representatives of opposing large groups that takes place in a series of multi-day meetings over several years, resistances against changing large group’s “pathological” ways of protecting large-group identity are brought to the surface, articulated, and fantasized threats to large-group identity are interpreted so that realistic communication can take place. In order for the newly gained insights to have an impact on social and political policy, as well as on the populace at large, the final phase requires the collaborative development of concrete actions, programs, and institutions.
Our methodology allows several disciplines, including psychoanalysis, history and diplomacy, to work together to articulate and work through underlying psychological and historical aspects of the tensions. Then what is learned is operationalized so that more peaceful coexistence between large groups can be achieved and threats (especially the fantasized ones) to large-group identity coming from the “other” can be tamed. This leads to a progression within the large group.
The signs of a large-group progression include forming stable family, clan and professional subgroups, preserving individuality and having a society where individuals and professional organizations establish a capacity for compromise without damaging integrity (Rangell, 1980) and an ability to question what is “moral.” When a large group is not regressed, there is an increased emphasis on freedom of speech, having just and functioning civil institutions, especially a fair legal system and mental hospitals with human care (Stern, 2001), and halting devaluation of women and children. When a large group is not in a regressed state, its members (in general) can wonder about the enemy’s “psychic reality.” To understand why the “other” behaved in malignant ways does not mean to forgive and forget what has happened. It means performing the difficult task of “humanizing” even the most destructive perpetrators. Horrible massive acts are not performed by “devils,” but by humans under specific influence of large-group psychology. I hope it is clear that here I am not focusing on individuals who, due to their own individual psychological reasons, create chaos and tragedy such as the one that occurred when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April, 1995. I am instead focusing on large-group psychology and hurting and killing people in the name of large-group identity. By studying the ”psychic reality” of the enemy as a large group, new ways of dealing with the enemy and its threat may emerge instead of the attacked group’s responding to the enemy and the threat through developing signs of its own regression.
Al-Qaeda divided the world into two categories. After September 11, America (again I am not speaking of individuals here, but referring to a general large-group process) did the same and ideas such as the “clash of civilizations or religions” directly or indirectly was supported within the society. A division of the world into a clear cut “us” and “them” is a sign of large-group regression.  Responding to an enemy in a non-regressed fashion, psychologically speaking, is a very difficult task. Realistic and logical actions easily are contaminated with emotions supporting the wish to do to the enemy what it did to us. (See the example in the next section of this chapter.) I do not think that humans (as large groups) have ever developed the idea or ability to refrain from being like their enemies once they feel threatened or hurt.
I need to be careful not to be misunderstood here. I am not referring, for example, to what Nazis did and what the Allies did during World War II and I am not saying that the Allies were like the Nazis. Many factors such as historical circumstances, reactivation of past victimizations, the leader’s personality organization, existing military power and, most importantly, the degree of large-group regression can make a large-group dehumanize the “other” and be terribly cruel. In dealing with such an extremely regressed large group, the opposing group need not be identically as regressed as the perpetrating group. When I speak of a similarity between enemies I am referring to certain large-group processes without considering the degree of their outcome. First, I am simply saying that when a large group’s identity is threatened, the threatened large group automatically begins to hurt the aggressors’ large-group identity, thus the attacked group begins to take on similarities to the perpetrator. Second, both groups utilize shared mental mechanisms such as introjection, projection, denial, dissociation, isolation, rationalization and intellectualization in their consciously or unconsciously motivated political propaganda. This comes from their leadership and/or is wished for and supported by the society. Third, humiliating, hurting and killing people in the name of large-group identity become acceptable by both sides.
If the leadership does not provide a kind of reality testing that includes an understanding of the enemy’s (as large group) “psychic reality” and shows some attempts to respond to it in humane ways, dangers become magnified and regression sets in or is maintained. Therefore, the idea of a large group becoming like its enemy is an area that needs to be studied openly again and again until new possibilities for different responses (above and beyond the necessity to use the military) can be conceptualized. In fact new strategies in international relations without succumbing into large-group regression can be considered, and the so-called “diplomatic channels” need not be closed until a psychopolitical evaluation of the situation is completed.
A story from Klooga:
This chapter does not list many of my other concepts that are related to large-group psychology itself. My aim here, with references to only a few large group psychology concepts, is to illustrate how large-group psychology in its own right needs to be studied by psychoanalysts. I would like to finish this chapter by telling a story from Klooga, Estonia that, at a microscopic level, illustrates how emotions and perceptions interfere with political/military/legal issues, how we become similar to the enemy and how we need to pay attention to psychological problems in order to find solutions.
As I stated above, we carried out a program in Estonia after this country gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. There were major problems facing the newly independent Estonia, one of them being the fact that one third of Estonian’s one-and-a half million population is not ethnic Estonian, but Russian (or Russian speakers) and the other being its emotionally-laden border disputes. In other words, when Estonia became independent every third person was perceived as the “other,” the “enemy.” When Estonia was separated from the Soviet Union its people asked themselves, “Who are we now and what is our large-group identity now?” This concern with large-group identity necessarily brought about a societal regression that was exaggerated by the existence of huge numbers of  “enemy” persons in Estonia who would, it was perceived, contaminate its large-group identity. In fact, during our diagnostic efforts we found out that, at that time in their history, Estonians in general had a shared unconscious belief that they might disappear as an ethnic group (Volkan, 1997).
We went to Estonia in 1994, carried out a diagnostic process and then we brought high-level Estonians (such as parliamentarians, including the present-day president of Estonia, Arnold Rüütel), high-level representatives from Moscow (such as members of the Russian Duma) and leaders of the Russians (or Russian speakers) living in Estonia together for psychopolitical dialogues over a period of several years. After this we began to apply what we learned from these dialogue series to the population at large (for details see: Volkan, 1997, 1999). One place where we wanted to show that coexistence between ethnic Estonians and Russians living in Estonia was possible was Klooga.
When I first time went to Klooga in early 1996, it was like a three-mile long and one-mile wide garbage dump, virtually in ruins. Klooga is only seven miles from Paldiski. During the Soviet times the Soviet nuclear navy was in Paldiski, and Klooga housed a Soviet military installation. Like Paldiski, most of Klooga had been off-limits to Estonians during the Soviet times, but after the withdrawal of the Soviet military some Estonians relocated in Klooga. At this time Klooga’s population was about 2000 people, half Estonians and half Russians (including a few Russian-speakers such as Armenians).
CSMHI’s aim in Klooga was to develop some level of community cohesion without inter-ethnic conflict. With the help of our psychopolitical work, within three years, the Klooga residents developed a community center which became a place where everyone could come for learning (i.e., classes in computers, English, and Estonian) and for play. Children had a safe place to go after school. Teenagers gathered there too, and the center housed holiday celebrations for the whole community. Before this work was completed it faced several obstacles. The following was one of them. I believe that it illustrates at a microscopic level how shared emotions and perceptions within a group may create unrealistic actions, and that members of the group may become “blind,” unable to see the consequences of such actions.
The newly established, fledgling Estonian military, with its few colonels in charge, was using a field adjacent to Klooga for live target practice, a situation which greatly concerned Klooga’s inhabitants, both Estonian and Russian, because it posed a real danger to them and to their children. A hidden script went something like this: “We Estonians can now identify with our aggressors. Intellectually, we know that today Klooga is home to Estonian citizens and Estonian children too, but in our minds we continue to see this place as a Soviet military base. Thus, we bomb it, repeatedly.”   
There were no facilities—houses, clubs—in the field adjacent to Klooga where the military would gather with their equipment and “bomb.” Therefore, they could have chosen any other place in Estonia for their target practice. But they insisted on “bombing” Klooga, the “Russian village,” even though it was no longer Russian in reality. The almost daily heavy artillery fire on the field neighboring Klooga was truly dangerous.
The field where live ammunition fell was separated from the village by a 15- to 20-foot wide dirt road. We were afraid that children playing nearby could be injured or killed. There was one incident when an Estonian villager tried to take a shortcut and went through the field with his old tractor and it was hit by artillery. Incredibly, the man survived. Initially the colonels would inform the village people when the “bombs” were to be dropped, but eventually they began to carry out their target practices without giving notice. This made the situation worse.
So we had to devise a plan to directly illustrate to Estonian authorities the danger that existed. On July 4, 1997, my Center threw a big community-wide party in Klooga. We made no fuss about America and its independence, but everyone was told what the Fourth of July was all about. We also invited several of the Estonian- and Russian-speaking participants from the original psychopolitical dialogue series, including some parliamentarians, to come with their families. Most of them lived in Tallinn, the capital city, and we were aware that they had never been to Klooga before. The Russian Embassy sent their second-ranking diplomat. The stage was set. After the party, I invited our guests on a walk around the village, directing them to take the dirt road that separated the village from the field where the live artillery fell. I “prayed” that the “bombing” practice would resume so that our guests could experience what it was like to live in Klooga. Sure enough, the deafening explosions, “boom, boom,” began. The target practice was impossible to ignore and provided unmistakable proof as to what Klooga’s inhabitants lived with every day. However, in spite of seeing the dangers of this practice for themselves, our guests from the Parliament still could not bring themselves to do anything about it even though they actually witnessed some Estonian kids playing there.
The next year I made more direct efforts and, with one of my Estonian partners, visited officials in Keila County where Klooga is located, as well as some high-level influential persons in Tallinn. We found that great resistance to stopping the “bombing” of Klooga continued. As one parliamentarian put it, “This place now belongs to us. We can do whatever we want there. The Estonian Army is our pride and joy.” I was struck by how perceptive and thoughtful Estonians still had the image of Klooga as a Russian place. This phenomenon shows the power of the unconscious in societal, political and military affairs.
Slowly we found ways to “educate” Klooga residents about the psychology of humiliation, the wish to reverse it, and the sometimes strange and dangerous efforts people employ to do so. We also discussed the concept of identification with the aggressor. Without our telling them to do so, Klooga residents (100 of them) wrote a letter to then-Estonian President Lennart Meri and asked that the shooting stop. Living in the United States we may think that this was a natural, in fact, easy thing to do. Living under communism and assimilating the rules and regulations of that political system, however, made this effort by the villagers a drastic one. Klooga began to receive national attention. A television station sent its reporters and cameras to the village and there was a big fuss about the “bombing” of Klooga. Our little community, we noticed, had learned how to be assertive and use political and media pressure. The villagers succeeded in stopping the “bombing,” but this process took three years.
Last comments:
There is a beauty in human diversity, and most people can enjoy human diversity when they are not preoccupied with the pressures and anxieties associated with the repair and maintenance of their large-group tent’s canvas (large-group identity). Recognizing the beauty of diversity, however, often requires a great deal of work. I believe that psychoanalysts, when they are willing to take part in interdisciplinary efforts, have much to offer those who wish to encourage diversity while resolving conflict. They also will benefit a great deal from studying large-group psychology in its own right if they are involved in such efforts.
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