Collective psychotrauma is an event in collective life of a nation when all people experience common grief. Examples are wars, genocides, natural disasters etc.
From psychological point of view collective psychotrauma works in the same way as individual psychotrauma does; painful experience creates a closed zone in the subconscious psyche which manages to form feelings and thoughts but resists until the individual becomes aware of it. The process is well known in psychoanalytic psychodynamics.
Psychotrauma manifests itself in transferring responsibility on to others, rejecting our own responsibility, blaming those who were responsible – in the opinion of the victims of trauma – in feeling of fear, anxiety, anger, offence etc.
The consciousness, in regard to traumatic events becomes narrow. A person may see the event only in one, their own, perspective and is unable to disengage from the traumatic situation.
As result the person is able either to expose his or her own attitudes to traumatic situations and what they consider as its cause, or to avoid this topic completely, at least in the parts, which expose their own responsibility.
The core of treatment of psychotrauma is the expanding ability of a patient to become aware of what happens. What was their own role in the event, in such a way to transfer the unconscious complexities into consciousness. This is common in both individual and collective psychotrauma.
The events of 1974 give us a classic example of collective psychotrauma. It was awful time for all Cypriots. And even today, 44 years later there are very few able to speak about this more or less objectively, who can see the roles and responsibility of all parties involved, including themselves. Usually we can observe all classic symptoms: rejection, blaming “them”, defending “us” etc.
It is not easy to find a Greek Cypriot who empathises with Turkish Cypriots and vice versa. It is even more difficult to find somebody who realises that Cyprus Hellenism and Enosis are extremely dangerous things in eyes of Turkish Cypriots.
Conversely, the years under Ottoman rule and later under British rule formed a strong wish among Greek Cypriots to be with an independent Greece. Generations lived with this dream. So today, it is very easy to explain why Greeks Cypriots cannot see the situation through the eyes of Turkish Cypriots, or with eyes of mainland Turkey, which always considers Cyprus as a part of itself and in any case as a zone of responsibility for the destiny of Turkish Cypriots.
Correspondingly, the sides not only see each other and Cyprus as a whole differently, they see the future differently. Greek Cypriots see the island as their own where they are ready tolerate and coexist with other communities if they accept Greek rule. Turkish Cypriots see themselves as equal partners in all common matters of a federation and also see Turkey as their defender. Turkey itself sees Cyprus, or at least northern Cyprus as a kind of protectorate. All these differences might not be crucial in only in one instance: that of Turkey’s accession to the EU. But this is not the case now, and the contradiction in views cannot be resolved unless the views themselves change. Crans-Montana simply demonstrated this impossibility.
This will last until the collective psychotraumas are healed. And there is only one way to heal them – to speak, and speak and speak again about the history of traumatic events.
But who on either side wants such painful talks? Almost nobody does. Even professional psychologists who seemingly understand the nature of the problem rejected our proposal together with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation, to organise a bi-communal conference on collective psychotrauma. It was met with an icy silence on both sides.
The situation with natural gas may catalyse the process of healing as it becomes more and more obvious that it will be impossible to take the gas in the way we want to.
As soon as we, together with the rest of the world, are agreed that the gas is a common asset, we have to invent bi-communal ways to manage this asset. Otherwise we need to recognise the existence of two states, delimit boundaries and so on. It’s a song we do not want to sing. What is alternative? It is very clear – to forgot about the gas. This is where our choice is.
Dr. Alexander Zelitchenko, via email