A comprehensive understanding of conflicts between large (i.e., ethnic) groups must always include a psychological dimension. This paper explores concepts of individual and large-group identity, their inherent connection and, in particular, focuses on chosen trauma. Chosen trauma refers to the shared mental representation of a past historical event during which a large group suffered losses and humiliation at the hands of an enemy group. Because of the enormity of the trauma, group members are left with psychological wounds and humiliation that they pass down from one generation to the next. Subsequent generations are given tasks such as mourning losses and reversing humiliation. Since these tasks are shared by most members of the group, the mental representation of the original trauma becomes a marker of the groups identity. During times of radical change in a large-groups history, and amid the large-group regression that characterizes such periods, political leaders tend to reactivate chosen traumas. This reactivation, in turn, may become fuel to ignite further the existing large-group conflicts.
There are several reasons that it is incumbent upon us as psychoanalysts to study the workings of large-group (i.e., ethnic) identity and the role of mental representations of historical events in shaping this identity. First, every persons core individual identity is inextricably intertwined with his or her large-group identity. To understand and so to be therapeutically useful to any individual, we as psychoanalysts must understand the ways in which large-group identity inflects intrapsychic conflicts, symptoms, and character traits. Second, the study of mental representations of historical events is a key link between individual and large-group psychology. Without this crucial element, we can never expect to grasp fully the workings of large-group psychology. Third, and finally, when an individuals symptomatic expressions are inflected by large-group historical experience, the psychopathology itself connects the individual to his or her large group with a profound sense of belonging which, in turn, creates a resistance to relinquishing the psychopathology. To these individuals, giving up the large-group relationship, object-relations conflicts, symptoms, and/or character traits is a threat to the comforting identification that has closely bound them to the large group. If we do not understand this sense of threat, we will fail to appreciate the strength and depth of our patients resistance.
This paper focuses on the pre-oedipal links between individual and large-group psychologies and refers to the mental representation of shared historical events as markers of large-group identity. It describes concepts such as suitable reservoirs, chosen glories, chosen traumas, transgenerational transmissions, and time collapse.
The tent analogy and new theories on large-group psychology
Freud's 1921 model of mass psychology derived primarily from ideas posited in his speculative Totem and Taboo (1913). Central to Freuds conception of the origins and nature of social life was an oedipal theme: the members of a group sublimate their aggression against the leader in a manner similar to that of a son whose aggressive drive derivatives against the oedipal father are transformed into loyalty. As in the oedipal scenario, the members of the large group idealize the leader, identify with each other, and rally around the leader.
This phenomenon can still be observed in large groups under conditions of high anxiety resulting in the large-group equivalent of individual regression (Waelder, 1971; Loewenberg, 1995). For example, when, in November 1997, Iraq temporarily expelled United States inspectors assigned to the United Nations team dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Iraqis by the hundreds, including women and children, rushed to create a "human shield" around Saddam Husseins palaces and other strategically significant sites, as they had done during the 1991 Gulf War. Their aim, of course, was to deter airstrikes against Iraqi assets; they knew that any civilian casualties, particularly women and children, would make it politically difficult for the United States and its allies to pursue the objective to which they were militarily committed. Although coercion and propaganda surely played a role in precipitating Iraqis behavior, most policy analysts believe that a majority of the human shields volunteered themselves as sacrifices on behalf of and for the protection of their leader. Saddam Husseins efforts to promote large-group cohesion had been successful; under the tensions of a renewed threat of warfare, which we as psychoanalysts understand as stress-induced regressive conditions, his followers were quite literally enacting the ritual of rallying around a leader.
Such a phenomenon can be envisaged as thousands, even millions, of individuals coming together in a kind of May Day dance. I elaborate on this analogy by imagining a canvas stretched protectively over the people, supported by a huge pole in the center representing the leader: while the pole stands for the leader, the canvas of the tent represents large-group identity (Volkan, 1997, 1999a, 1999b).
The thousands or millions of people under the tent can be said to wear clothing that fits them snugly: the core individual identities evolved during their developmental years and crystallized during the adolescent passage and are to some extent modified throughout ones lifetime. Salman Akhtar and Steven Samuel (1996) give a comprehensive summary of how individual core identity emerges. They state that it
originates in the earliest interplay of the infants temperament with the mothers attitude, gains structure from primitive introjections, refines itself through later selective identifications, acquires filiation and generational continuity in passage through the oedipal complex, and arrives at its more or less final shape through synthesis of contradictory identifications and greater individuation during adolescence. It remains subject to further refinements during young adulthood, midlife, and even old age... A cohesive identity comprises a realistic body image, subjective self-sameness, consistent attitudes, temporality, gender, authenticity, and ethnicity (p. 254).
(For details on core identity crystallization during adolescence passage, see Volkan, 1988, 1999a).
While I agree that the foundation of the core identity originates in the infants earliest interaction with his or her mother or her substitute, a genuine subjective sense of inner sameness occurs later. Revising Erik Erikson (1956)s claim that identity formation begins where the usefulness of identification ends (p. 113), I argue that it is more accurate to say that formation of identity begins when the integration of early identifications is solidified (Volkan, 1997, p. 88). Just as an individuals core identity is a subjective experience that starts, as Erikson suggested, with the development of a persistent sense of sameness within [himself or her]self (p. 57) despite sharing certain characteristics with other people, I define large-group identity whether religious, national, or ethnic as the subjective experience of thousands or millions of people linked by a persistent sense of sameness at the same time that they share many characteristics in common with others in foreign groups.
Though my focus in this paper is on typical large-group identity in which an individual perceives himself or herself as belonging to a single, specific large group, a person born into a family in which parents come from different large groups, or a person who voluntarily emigrates or is forcibly relocated to a country or region dominated by a different large group may have a confused or complicated sense of large-group identity. For example, the collapse of the Ceauescu regime in Romania led to the rise of ethnic tensions between Romanians and Hungarians living in Transylvania. This complicated relationships in mixed marriages and affected children of these couples with a sense of dichotomy between their Romanian and Hungarian identities.
Although people generally feel that they are all extensions of each other as members of their religious, national, or ethnic identity-group regardless of gender, socioeconomic class, education-level, and other divisions, the people under the canvas of a large-group identity do distinguish themselves within the large group by family, clan, social status, profession, and so on. What differentiates an individuals core identity which includes his or her large-group identity from such subidentities is the degree of anxiety that the individual experiences when he or she perceives danger to his or her psychic existence. Dissolution of ones core identity creates an overwhelming psychic shock and terror, as Ping-Nie Pao (1979) and I (Volkan 1995) have observed in other contexts. When an individual decompensates into schizophrenia, for example, developing a delusional identity immediately following the shock phase represents the developmentally primitive attempt to escape the terror of losing his or her core identity. Threats to one's subidentities, on the other hand, do not produce anxiety of this magnitude. For example, a person who has a subidentity as a photographer can change his or her profession and become a carpenter without experiencing terror. If a photographer changing professions experiences anxiety over and above that warranted by the realistic factors that might cause this response (such as loss of income), the loss of his or her subidentity has become symbolic of one or another of the childhood calamities described by Freud (1926) as potential internal danger signals: the loss of the mother; the loss of the mother's love; the loss of a body part, or castration; and the loss of self-esteem, or failure to live up the expectations of one's ego-ideal and superego demands.
Robert Emde's (1991) research on the evolution of infant minds suggests the presence of an innate psychobiological potential for "we-ness" and group-related behavior. But because the environment of an infant and young child is restricted to parents, siblings, relatives and family friends, the extent of "we-ness" does not include a distinct dimension of large-group identity, even when the family is mixed. Large-group identity is woven into the core of the individual through the child's growing contact with the external world and, in essence, exists through and depends upon external things before it is clearly felt as an internal feature of the individual.
It has been observed, if somewhat arbitrarily, that a child's core identity begins to form in earnest at around 36 months of age, by which time he or she has accomplished the task of integrating his or her self-representation (Mahler, 1968). While this is admittedly an important developmental milestone, integration at this point must be understood as a relative term; the process is by no means complete. Some images of the self and of internalized objects, both "good" (libidinally-determined) and "bad" (aggressively-determined), remain unintegrated at this early age. Because the presence of these unintegrated images, with their associated affect derivatives (love and hate), threaten to destabilize the established core identity, they must be disposed of through psychological mechanisms; failing to do so produces object-relations conflicts as well as disturbances within the self-representation, maladaptive character traits and/or symptoms with which one may experience a lifelong struggle. In childhood, individuals try many different ways, i.e., attempts at repression, of handling unintegrated self- and object-images, the affect derivatives attached to them, and the object-relations conflicts that can result from unintegrated fragments of self- and object-images (van der Waals, 1952; Kernberg, 1975); this is of course a vast topic. Since this paper examines how core individual identities are connected to large-group identities at the pre-oedipal level, I will restrict my focus here to childrens use of externalization to cope with unintegrated fragments of self and internalized object images and their affect derivatives.
Traditionally, psychoanalysts have paid a great deal of attention to internalization processes i.e., identifications in the evolution of a child's core identity and self-representation and in the development of his or her related ego functions. For example, Akhtar and Samuels (1996) comprehensive summary quoted earlier only refers to internalization processes, but not to externalization processes. It is just as important however, to recall that children also commonly use externalization processes to help them integrate their internal worlds, developing the foundations of core identity. Like Jack and Kelly Novick (1970), I use the term externalization in this paper to signify the outward location of self- and object-images and their associated affects, which later become condensed with more sophisticated projections of ideas, affects, and perceptions.
In order to maintain a cohesive and balanced self-representation, a child must externalize both unintegrated "bad" and unintegrated "good" self- and object-images and their associated affects. For example, a small child might fall and say, "I did not fall down, it was my doll." By externalizing onto the doll his "fallen" self and the associated sense of humiliation which cannot yet be assimilated to his integrated self-representation at this age, the child protects both the cohesiveness of his self-representation and his inner sense of identity. An uncle or aunt may then become a reservoir to receive this same childs unintegrated "good" images and affects, and the child will therefore idealize his relative, rather than himself. Later in life, the child may re-internalize and integrate some of what was externalized onto the uncle or aunt and thereby develop a more realistic view of himself; some childhood externalizations are temporary, whereas others may persist for years.
The special significance a child places on a person or thing by externalizing unintegrated "good" parts of the self (as well as unintegrated, internalized "good" object- images) and associated affects does not necessarily create a bond with the child's large group or establish an aspect of large-group identity. It is, rather, simply a part of the personal developmental experience, formally mutable and changing frequently. A special doll or cherished relative may, for example, be replaced by something or someone else, even though the child may keep the original thing as a memento for many years, or develop a lifelong friendship with a person from his or her childhood. There are conditions, however, under which externalization of "good" unintegrated self- and object-images initiate, without the childs conscious awareness, a crucial pre-oedipal investment in one's own large group.
Core personal and large-group identity become intertwined when the reservoirs that receive the children's unintegrated "good" self- and object-images and associated affects have two characteristics: 1) they are shared by all children in the large group; and 2) they are constant. I call such culturally significant image-containers suitable reservoirs of externalized images and associated affects; they include items such as kilts and bagpipes for Scottish children, the sauna for a Finnish child, and a dreidel and matzo ball soup for a Jewish boy or girl. There are countless other examples I could use; every ethnic, religious, national, or other large group shares a set of recognizable suitable reservoirs. A child uses many things when externalizing both animate and inanimate objects are innocently used to promote and protect individual core identity. While for some of these suitable reservoirs the connection with historical events is not available, many are intertwined with special historical significance to the child's large group; while a child cannot be forced to use certain things as suitable reservoirs, he or she often receives conscious and unconscious guidance from parents and others in choosing things that hold such commonly-held historical significance for members of the large group.
This transgenerational guidance is one of the reasons that suitable reservoirs are differentiable from another type of "magical" thing used by the child at an earlier age: the transitional object (Winnicott, 1953). The transitional objects chosen by a child do not link him or her to a large group; their main functions are to provide a link between mother-me and not-me (Greenacre, 1970) and to help the child expand his or her knowledge of the external world (Volkan, 1976). Whereas the transitional object is the idiosyncratic creation of the child himself or herself, the selection of suitable reservoirs for unintegrated self- and object-images is an experience conditioned by the childs elders such that most, if not all, children of the same generation share the same suitable reservoirs.
As the child intrapsychically separates and individuates (Mahler, 1968), his or her culture makes available common repositories to absorb the unintegrated "good" self- and object-images of all and to initiate the children subtly into the ethnic, national, and/or religious identity of the large group. These common reservoirs unconsciously help individual children to become allied to other children in a large group. While this process is often simply characterized as "acculturation," specific unconscious but shared psychological processes are involved that I can delineate and describe.
To borrow Erikson's (1966) term, a child is at first a "generalist" in his or her large-group identity. Whereas Eriksons emphasis was on the adolescent passage in the large-group identity formation, my research returns the question of large-group identity formation to the third year of life. In my view, as unintegrated, libidinally-saturated self- and object-images are linked with similar images belonging to other children in the large group, the large-group component of the individual childs identity grows more specific. While I agree that oedipal period and especially adolescent passage solidifies the large-group identity, I believe that it is initiated in a much earlier time.
Each child's internal world is, then, tied quite early to the external world through specific material things, and since such culturally significant things are stable and constant, they are permanent containers of externalized unintegrated "good" images of all the children in one large group. The child is not fully aware of his or her membership in a large group; most of the mechanisms involved in the creation of "we-ness," as far as large-group identity is concerned, are unconscious. As the child's mental capacities enlarge, however, interaction with adults in his or her environment who are of the same large group and various levels of identification with these adults images help the child to form more sophisticated ideas about large-group membership. The child slowly becomes conscious of more abstract concepts of Scottishness, Finnishness, Jewishness, or Germanness associated with the suitable reservoirs which are, indeed, at the foundation of large-groups' identity: A Scottish child becomes aware that a kilt or bagpipe represents and is associated with many issues: manhood, clan and national history, specific heroes, battles for independence won and lost, songs and poems, language and dialect, and other specific facets of the large group. Projections of "good" thoughts and perceptions and feelings, more sophisticated than mere externalizations of "good" self-images and/or internalized "good" object-images and their associated affects, increasingly accompany externalizations into suitable reservoirs.
Concurrently, the child internalizes specific aspects of Scottishness; they are now felt or sensed, both consciously and unconsciously, as part of the individual's core identity, and a persistent sense of "we-ness" becomes more clearly established as something inside the person. Nevertheless, suitable reservoirs remain as significant external links to the individual's internal sense of sameness, though at times they also revert to a kind of ordinariness, ceasing to be the primary basis of large-group identity, the "glue" that binds individuals into a "we." Thus, a Scotsman away from home may listen to a recording of bagpipe music when he is homesick or when he otherwise feels that his core identity needs "patching up," but he does not necessarily need or want to listen to bagpipe music every day.
Interestingly, it has been observed that under stressful conditions, the members of a group may return to using objects in a developmentally regressive (externalized) way, or may establish new suitable reservoirs in order to refortify group bonds. For example, during Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip, many Palestinians carried small stones, painted with Palestinian colors, in their pockets where they could not be seen by Israeli soldiers (Volkan, 1988). These stones were the adult version of shared reservoirs that kept parts of Palestinians' large-group identity safe and created an invisible network of Palestinian-ness. Under normal circumstances, large-group identity is abstracted and internalized by the individuals that comprise the large group, but in this case, the threat the large group collectively perceived caused them to reactivate the need to use shared reservoirs of externalized images.
A child's investment in his or her large group depends on what factors the adults in the large group collectively perceive as most important: ethnicity (I am an Arab), religion (I am a Catholic), nationality (I am a German), or a combination of these. A child born in Hyderabad, India, for example, would focus on religious/cultural issues as he develops a large-group identity since adults there define their dominant large-group identities according to religious affiliation-being a Muslim or Hindu (Kakar, 1996). A child born in Cyprus would absorb a dominant large-group identity defined by ethnic/national sentiments, because what is currently crucial in this part of the world is whether one is Greek or Turkish, not on whether one is Greek Orthodox Christian or Sunni Muslim (Volkan, 1979). Though they may become important later in life, questions of investment in ethnicity versus religion, or nationality versus race, are not as essential to understanding large-group identity as are the psychodynamic processes of linking individual's core identity to the large-group identity that is historically primary at the time of the childs development.
This summary of how core individual identity is connected with large-group identity at the pre-oedipal level explains why perceived serious threats to a large-group identity induce a shared psychic terror. I do not expect to see a large group's shared psychic terror to be as observable as someone going into an acute schizophrenic episode in a clinical setting. I know of large-group terror indirectly through the large group's attempts to deal with it, such as through the appearance of irrational decision-making by its leaders (Volkan, et. al., 1998), urgent and often sadistic or even masochistic political processes that are perceived as protecting large-group identity, increased reliance on pre-existing large-group rituals (Volkan, 1999a, 1999c), and generalized confusion. Under shared stress, the protection, maintenance, and repair of the large-group identity becomes its members' primary concern. The main goal shared by a political leader and his or her followers in such circumstances is to help the tent canvas to remain erect and stable.
To consider the tent's canvas simply a shared protective umbrella or as Didier Anzieu (1971,1984) and Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel (1984) termed a "breast-mother" or "primitive maternal ego-ideal" is only useful for understanding an individual's perception of and relationship with the large group to which he or she belongs. But such a restricted consideration will not allow us to explain fully conflicts and rituals between large groups, usually neighbors. It is especially inadequate in explaining why large groups are different from one another or the impact of the fact that large groups are "born" in different ways and have different histories. To compare a large-group identity to a shared idealized mother (or parent) image is one thing; to study the specific areas within the large-group identity that differentiate it from others' large-group identities is altogether different.
To be able to investigate the latter, I have identified seven threads that, when woven together, create the tent's canvas (Volkan, 1997, 1999a, 1999b). The first two have already been mentioned: the suitable reservoirs of "good" self- and object images with their associated affects, and children's shared identifications with those who are carriers of the large group's cultural traditions. The third thread is the absorption by one large group of another group's externalized unintegrated "bad" self- and object-images and projections of unwanted elements. The fourth is the externalization of aspects transforming leaders' (Burns, 1978) internal worlds and projection of their ideologies onto the tents canvas. And, the fifth is the formation of large-group symbols such as the swastika that achieve secondary autonomy that is, symbols which themselves become objects of affect rather than signifiers for objects of affect. The sixth and seventh threads, which I term chosen glories and chosen traumas, and upon which this paper focuses in detail, necessitate the collaboration of psychoanalysts and historians. Chosen glories and chosen traumas are mental representations of past shared historical events and of the heroes and villains involved in these events, representations introduced into the developing child's self-representation and his or her inner sense of sameness by significant individuals of previous generations with whom he or she interacts.
Many nations celebrate their independence day, and all large groups have ritualistic recollections of events and heroes whose mental representations include a shared feeling of success and triumph among large group members. Such events and persons appearing in them are heavily mythologized over time, and these mental representations become large-group markers called chosen glories. Chosen glories are passed on to succeeding generations through transgenerational transmissions made in parent/teacher-child interactions and through participation in ritualistic ceremonies recalling past successful events. Chosen glories link children of a large group with each other and with their large group, and the children experience increased self-esteem by being associated with such glories. It is not difficult to understand why parents and other important adults pass the mental representation of chosen glories to their children; the mental representations of chosen glories are saturated with derivatives of the libidinal drive; it is pleasurable to share them with succeeding generations.
For example, each November, Americans ritualistically celebrate Thanksgiving, a national holiday that commemorates a feast held by the European immigrants (Pilgrims) of the Plymouth settlement in Massachusetts after their first successful harvest in 1621. Today, Thanksgiving is a celebration in which special foods, such as turkey and pumpkin pie, are eaten and expressions of gratitude are given for a wide range of things that Americans have to be thankful for. Some families invest the holiday with Christian religious significance, while others do not; some use the occasion to do charitable work while others primarily watch football on television. But regardless of how the holiday is celebrated on an individual level, it is an effective ceremony marking American togetherness and large-group identity, and recalls the heroic achievements of American ancestors.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that many of the notions that Americans believe to be historical facts about the first years of Pilgrim life in North America have been significantly altered or replaced by myths over the centuries (Furman, 1998). Thanksgiving thus represents a type of chosen glory that idealizes the "birth" of the American nation. The Pilgrims may very well have been brave settlers of the New World, but some of their exploits have been exaggerated in popular history and culture so as to highlight and reaffirm the continuity of and commitment to certain core ideals and principles of American group identity.
Past victories in battle and great accomplishments of a technical or artistic nature frequently appear as chosen glories; virtually every large group has tales of grandeur associated with its creation. The shared importance of such events, whether recent or ancient, real or mythologized, helps to bind the individuals in a large group together.
In stressful situations or times of war, leaders reactivate the mental representation of chosen glories and heroes associated with them to bolster their large-group identity. During the Gulf War, for example, Saddam Hussein depended heavily on chosen glories, and even associated himself with Sultan Saladin, who had defeated the Christian crusaders in the 12th century. Through the reactivation of the mental representations of a past event and a past hero, Saddam Hussein aimed to create the illusion that a similar triumphal destiny was awaiting his people and that, like Saladin, he was a hero. In his attempt to consolidate a large-group identity to mount against the Western allies, it did not matter to Saddam Hussein that Saladin was not an Arab, but a Kurd, and ruled Egypt rather than Iraq; the crucial element was Saladins anti-Western victory.
A leader's reference to chosen glories excites his followers simply by stimulating an already existing shared large-group marker. While no complicated psychological processes are involved when chosen glories increase collective self-esteem, the role of a related concept, chosen traumas, in supporting large-group identity and its cohesiveness is more complex. It is for this reason that a chosen trauma is a much stronger large-group marker than a chosen glory.
Understanding chosen trauma the mental representation of an event that has caused a large group to face drastic losses, feel helpless and victimized by another group, and share a humiliating injury is key to discerning the process of transgenerational transmission of past historical events (Volkan, 1999a; Volkan and Itzkowitz, 1994). Although some have taken exception to the term "chosen" trauma since a group does not consciously choose to be victimized or suffer humiliation, I believe that, like an individual, a large group can be said to make unconscious choices. Thus the term chosen trauma accurately reflects a large group's unconscious choice to add a past generation's mental representation of a shared event to its own identity. While large groups may have experienced any number of traumas in their history, only certain ones remain alive over many years indeed, often over a period of centuries. The chosen trauma makes thousands and millions of people designated "chosen" to be linked together through their shared mental representation of that trauma. A chosen trauma reflects the traumatized past generation's incapacity for or difficulty with mourning losses connected to the shared traumatic event as well as its failure to reverse the injury to the groups self-esteem (narcissistic injury) and humiliation inflicted by another large group, usually a geographical neighbor.
Although transgenerational transmission of large-group chosen trauma could plausibly be explained as a variation of such well-known psychological mechanisms as externalizations, displacements, and identifications, I believe it is sufficiently distinct from these mechanisms to be anatomized in its own right. When a mental representation of a massive collective trauma becomes an ethnic or national marker one of the threads in the canvas of the large-group identity tent it must become intertwined with the core identity of every individual member of the large group. Think of Kosovar Albanians who were forced to leave their homes by the Serbian forces, who survived while others died, whose faces appeared on millions of television screens during the summer of 1999. Their forced exile, later return to their destroyed homes, and continuing anxiety will most likely evolve into a large-group chosen trauma.
While each individual in an acutely traumatized large group has his or her own unique core identity, subidentities, and personal reactions to trauma, all members share mental representations of the tragedies that have befallen the group. These individuals' injured self- and internalized object-images connected to the mental representations of the shared massive traumatic event will be "deposited" into the developing self-representations of their children as if these children will be able to mourn the loss or reverse the humiliation and repair the injured images. If these children cannot confront and work through what has been deposited in them, they, as adults, will in turn pass the mental representations of the event to still another generation.
There is far more to transgenerational transmission of chosen trauma than children mimicking the behavior of parents or hearing the stories of the event told to them by the older generation, nor is it merely a matter of transgenerational sympathy, powerful as that emotion may be. Rather, it is the end result of mostly unconscious psychological processes by which children's core identities are flooded with and therefore influenced by the injured self- and internalized object-images and associated affects that rightfully belong to the original victims, caregivers or parents. Representation of the drastic event is an integral part of all such deposited images, "piggybacking," so to speak, on the traumatized self- and object-images of the first-generation victim. No transmission of the event's representation can take place unless it is associated with deposited self- and object-images, because these are the only elements by which representations can be passed from a person of one generation to a person of another by assigning duties specific tasks of reparation, reversal of helplessness, etc. to the next generation, mostly unconsciously. Thus people do not transmit to their progeny their "memories" of historical experience, for memory can belong only to the survivor of trauma and cannot be transmitted; survivors can only transmit aspects of themselves that contain a representation of history. It is for this reason that the effects of chosen trauma are so profound; the representation of history in the chosen trauma is intimately bound up with the very foundations of each group member's identity as an individual human being.
As injured self- and internalized object-images pass from generation to generation, the chosen trauma they carry assumes new functions, new tasks. The historical truth about the event is no longer of psychological moment for the large group; what is important is the sense of being linked together by the shared chosen trauma, which usually becomes highly mythologized. In other words, the chosen trauma is woven into the fabric of the canvas of the large-group tent, and becomes an integral part of the large-group identity.
It is important to recognize, though, that chosen traumas are much stronger ethnic or large-group markers than chosen glories the mental representations of past shared successful events that lift up the large group's self-esteem because the psychological processes they initiate are much more profound. Whereas chosen glories merely raise the self-esteem of group members, transgenerational transmission of chosen traumas provoke complicated tasks of mourning and/or reversing humiliation; since all are carriers of the unconscious psychological processes of past generations, chosen traumas bind group members together more powerfully. Chosen traumas, like chosen glories, are often ritualistically recalled at the anniversary of the original event, when the members of the large group share a strong sense of group cohesion and belongingness. Czechs, for example, commemorate the battle of Bila Hora in 1620, which led to their subjugation under the Hapsburg Empire for nearly 300 years; Scots keep alive the story of the battle of Culloden in 1746, the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie to restore a Stuart to the British throne; the Dakota Indians of the United States recall the anniversary of their decimation at Wounded Knee in 1890; and Crimean Tatars define themselves by the collective suffering of their deportation from Crimea in 1944. And, of course, Israelis and Jews around the globe, including those not personally affected by the Holocaust, all to some degree define their large-group identity by direct or indirect reference to the Holocaust. The shared mental representation of the Holocaust has evolved as an ethnic marker, a major thread in the canvas of the Jewish ethnic tent, even though Orthodox Jews still refer to the 586 B.C.E. destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia as the chosen trauma of the Jews, and despite the fact that Israelis of African origin sometimes report that they are less affected by the Holocaust than are other Jews.
Some chosen traumas are difficult to detect because they are not simply connected to one well-recognized past historical event. For instance, after Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, there appeared a generalized anxiety that Estonians as an ethnic group would disappear. This anxiety, it turned out, was connected with a reactivation of Estonians' chosen trauma, which was not related to one specific event but to the fact that they had lived under the dominance of other groups Swedes, Germans, Russians for a millennium, outside of a short period between 1918 and 1940. Because of their history of submission, Estonians developed a shared unconscious fantasy that they would once more be swallowed up by another group which united them during at least the first three or four years after re-independence (Apprey, 1996; Volkan, 1997; Neu and Volkan, 1999). Since their identity as an occupied and oppressed group was no longer reflected in the nation's political reality, Estonians now had to reconsider a new group identity.
The chosen trauma may or may not be readily evident at all times; it may lie dormant for a long period of time, like unconscious conflicts in an individual which are effectively repressed; yet, like such individual conflicts, the chosen trauma can be reactivated to exert a powerful psychological force in the lives of the group members. Indeed, political leaders seem intuitively to know how to reactivate a chosen trauma, especially when their large group is in conflict or has gone through a radical change and needs to reconfirm or enhance its identity. Chosen trauma acts like a fuel to maintain large-group conflicts, even if the conflicts have their origins in economic, legal, political, or military controversy.
Time collapse is the term I use to denote the conscious and unconscious connections between past trauma and contemporary threat that typically emerge when a chosen trauma is drastically reactivated (Volkan, 1997, 1999a, 1999b). The reactivation of shared anxieties, expectations, fantasies, and defenses associated with the chosen trauma naturally magnifies the image of the current enemies and current conflicts. If the large group is now in a powerful position, the sense of revenge may become exaggerated, even ennobled. If the large group is in a powerless position, a current event may reanimate a shared sense of victimization. Time collapse may lead to irrational and sadistic or masochistic decision-making by the leadership of a large group; in turn, members of the large group may become psychologically prepared for sadistic or masochistic acts, and, in the worst case scenario, perpetrate otherwise monstrous cruelty against others. The conscious and unconscious aim of such decisions and acts is to protect the group's shared identity (Volkan, et al., 1998). The history of ethnic Serbs in the late 1980s and early 1990s provides a prime example of such time-collapsed chosen trauma reactivation.
After becoming independent from Byzantium in the 12th century, the Kingdom of Serbia thrived for almost 200 years under the leadership of the Nemanjić dynasty reaching its zenith under the beloved Emperor Stefan Duan. After Duan died in 1355, the Nemanjić dynasty soon came to an end. In 1371, Serb feudal lords elected Lazar Hrebeljanović as leader of Serbia, although he assumed the title of prince rather than tzar. The decline of Serbia that followed his ascension to power is primarily attributed to the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Serb territory, culminating in the Battle of Kosovo on June 28, 1389, at the Kosovo Polje (Field of the Black Birds) in Kosovo.
There are various versions of the "historical truth" of the Battle of Kosovo (Emmert, 1990). We know that the leaders of both warring groups were killed and that Lazar's body was canonized and mummified. Later, the mummified remains of Lazar were moved from a monastery near the battleground to a safer location north of Belgrade as the Ottomans consolidated their control over Serb territory. During this same period, the Battle of Kosovo, which had begun earlier to evolve into a chosen trauma for the Serb people, truly crystallized into a most important ethnic marker. Mythologized tales of the battle and Prince Lazar were passed from generation to generation through the strong Serbian oral and religious tradition, perpetuating and reinforcing Serbs' traumatized self-images (Emmert, 1990; Lazarovich-Hrebelianovich and Calhoun, 1910; Marković, 1983; Volkan, 1997, 1999a).
As the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo was approaching in April of 1987, Slobadan Miloević, president of present-day Yugoslavia (the Serb-Montenegro federation) and then a Communist bureaucrat, was attending a meeting of 300 party delegates in Kosovo. At the time, only 10 percent of the population in Kosovo were Serbian; the majority were Albanian Muslims. During the meeting, a crowd of Serbs and Montenegrins tried to force their way into the meeting hall to voice grievances about the hardships they were experiencing in Kosovo. The local police blocked and prohibited their entrance. At that moment, Miloević stepped forward and exclaimed: Nobody, either now or in the future, has the right to beat you. Enraptured by the drama of the moment, the crowd became frenzied and spontaneously began to sing Hej Sloveni, the national anthem, and shouted, We want freedom We will not give up Kosovo This response in turn excited Miloević; he remained in the building until dawn a 13-hour period to listen to tales of Serb victimization at the hands of Kosovo Muslims. Miloević emerged from this experience a transformed leader, clad in the armor of Serb nationalism. He would later declare in a speech that Serbs in Kosovo are not a minority since Kosovo is Serbia and will always be Serbia.
One story in particular illustrates how Miloević, with the help of some academics and the Serbian Church, reactivated the Serbian chosen trauma, empowering Serb nationalism. In 1889, the 500th anniversary of Kosovo, plans for moving Prince Lazar's mummified body back to the Kosovo region were discussed, but never came to fruition. As the 600th anniversary approached, Miloević, together with others in his political circle, and with the blessing of the Serbian Orthodox Church, were determined to bring Lazar's body out of exile. Soon thereafter, the mummified remains of the legendary leader of the Serbs were placed in a coffin and taken on tour to every Serb village and town, where it was met by throngs of mourners dressed in black along with church leaders dressed in their religious garb. Serbs began to feel the effects of the collapse of 600 years into the present. As they greeted Lazar's body, they cried and wailed and solemnly vowed in speeches never to allow such a defeat to occur again. The tour of Lazars body functioned, in essence, as a daily reincarnation and reburial of the medieval prince.
In reactivating Serbs mental image of Lazar, Miloević apparently made space for the group to grieve his (and its) defeat at the Battle of Kosovo at last, enabling the reversal of helplessness, humiliation, and shame. Mourners appeared to feel afresh affects appropriate to traumatized self-images, bonding the modern-day Serbs more closely together; individual Serbs self-images became suffused with a new sense of common entitlement for revenge. It is uncertain whether Miloević intended to generate this response; whether intentional or not, however, the reactivation of the Serbs' chosen trauma clearly played a significant role in creating the atmosphere in which atrocities against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), and later against Kosovar Albanians (also Muslims), could take place, since Serbs have historically perceived both Bosniaks and Albanians as extensions of the Ottomans (for a more detailed account of the Serbs' chosen trauma and its reactivation see Volkan, 1997,1999a).