Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism / Edition 1

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In the wake of recent conflicts in Russia and the former Yugoslavia, ethnic terrorism and ethnic cleansing have become household words. Yet we are at a loss to find solutions to such struggles. In Bloodlines, Vamik Volkan, a world-renowned psychiatrist specializing in international relations, explores ethnic violence by examining history and diplomacy through a psycho-analytic lens.Dr. Volkan leads the reader on investigative tours of battlegrounds in the Middle East, Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, the Baltics, and the Balkans. In Serbia, he discovers that the Battle of Kosovo, fought in 1389, is the rallying cry for modern nationalists, who view the past as prophecy. In Turkey, PKK terrorist leader Apo reveals that he still considers himself an unloved child and orders his army of Kurdish women to remain virgins because of his own disgust with “unclean” adult behavior. In Latvia, after the dissolution of the USSR, Dr. Volkan learns that ethnic Latvians plan to disinter corpses and segregate cemeteries in an attempt to establish a national identity separate from that of Russia. Drawing on a variety of disciplines, Dr. Volkan analyzes these issues of identity formation, perceived versus real threats, the persistence of past traumas, and the desire for revenge.The result is a work that lays the foundation for understanding the differences between ethnic groups as well as the common ground they share. Timely, brilliant, and gripping, Bloodlines gives fascinating insights into how personal identity intertwines with nationality, and why hatred of others becomes a part of our sense of self.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813390383
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,009,825
  • Lexile: 1380L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Born to a Turkish family on Cyprus, Vamik Volkan is a professor of psychiatry and is the founder of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction at the University of Virginia. He is the author of many books, including Life After Loss and The Immortal Ataturk. He lives in McLean, Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt


We have traditionally wished to believe that what separates mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom is our rationality, our ability to reason and evaluate based on conscious consideration of alternatives. We like to think that we usually operate on a rational level: only a small minority of us, such as those we believe to have psychological disorders, are considered irrational or unreasonable.

This stress on individual rationality is then extended, sometimes to an exaggerated level, to our leaders, our institutions and organizations, and our governments. While we recognize that the individual is prone to irrational acts, to having his or her reason clouded by emotion, we tend to believe that larger social and political units are far more immune to this natural human tendency. Yet when we consider the interaction of people organized into collective entities, both recently and throughout history, the idea that these bodies are less susceptible to the same psychological frailties of the individuals they comprise comes into question. In the violent and brutal devastation of the former Yugoslavia, the vicious intertribal warfare in Rwanda, and countless other acts carried out between nations or ethnic groups. the lines between the rational and irrational, the behaviour of the individual and of the group, seem to overlap.

Paradoxically, at the root of many group conflicts are bloodlines that establish a kind of border in times of crisis that cannot be crossed. Two groups who have been neighbors for generations may suddenly be transformed into merciless enemies, and the unthinkable may become a gruesome reality.Individual values can give way to a collective will and the monstrous vision of a charismatic leader. It is difficult for us to assimilate the horror of such acts or understand the wounds suffered by both victims and survivors. Sometimes, we can only ask. "How could this happen?"

There are various means by which we attempt to limit, deter, and restrain conflicts both within nations or ethnic groups and between them. Entities such as the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and countless other supranational, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations attempt to mange or contain hostilities through negotiations, sanctions, and other forms of influence. Yet the primary focus of these institutions does not address the question "How can this happen?" or why bloody wars between neighbors no only persist, but proliferate.

There is a long tradition of attempting to understand the complex relationship of the individual and his or her tribal, ethnic, religious, and national group. From the earliest poets and prophets, through philosophers, anthropologists, and political theorists, to pioneers in psychology such as Sigmund Freud, many have sought to understand both the conscious and unconscious motivations of human beings and their behavior in social units. Modern statesmen have also noted the role that psychological processes play in internal and international relationships.

While there are many dissimilarities between the workings of the individual and the group mind, the tools of psychology, and especially of psychoanalysis, can shed light on group identity and behaviour, not because they concern our unconscious drives or paths of psychosexual development, but because of the tacit assumption that each individual or group has complex and idiosyncratic ways of dealing with the demands of the inner and outer worlds.

What then are these bloodlines of ethnicity that so strongly link together the members of a group?

The world ethnic comes form the Greek word ethnos, meaning company, people, or tribe. Anthropologist George De Vos describes an ethnic group as those "who hold in common a set of traditions not shared by the others with whom they are in contact." De Vos's list of traditions includes folk religious beliefs and practices, language, a sense of historical continuity, a common ancestry, place of origin, and shared history. According to him, there is a mythological beginning for the group "which includes some concept of an unbroken biological-genetic generational continuity, sometimes regarded as giving special characteristics to the group." For De Vos, being unique and special is accompanied by a sense of being distinct form others. One group maintains its ethnic self-esteem, vanity, and superiority in comparison with another ethnic group, usually a neighbor.

Anthropologist Howard Stein focuses on subjective criteria in defining ethnicity as a marker of personal and social identity; ethnicity is a mode of thought, not a category in nature. But there are those who are more concerned with objective criteria--physical characteristics, cultural and social community. The categorization of physical features, however, does not conform to the popular usage of the term ethnicity. The conflict among Orthodox Serbs. Catholic Croats, and Muslim Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia is refereed to as an ethnic conflict, yet individuals from al three groups share the same blood (gene pools)--all are southern Slavs. Their separate histories, cultures, and religions give them their different ethnic identities. So it would be inaccurate to call the problem in the former Yugoslavia an "ethnic" conflict based on the precepts of those anthropologists who consider ethnicity a function of physical characteristics.

Given the range of its usage, the concept of ethnicity should be flexible, for the bloodlines that separate large groups go beyond a simple consideration of gene pools. It seems that without considering subjective criteria it would be impossible to understand why a large group of people feels unique. Some scholars have wanted to take objective criteria still further and even attempted to categorized ethnic groups by cranial dimensions, nasal profiles, and the like. But this confuses race with ethnicity.

Despite their frequent overlap in common parlance, race and ethnicity are not synonymous. Racial distinctions are based on the assumption that human beings can be divided into different subspecies according to their respective biological characteristics. Variations in physique, skin color, hair texture, or facial features, for example, are thought to be manifestations of distinct human races. such distinctions take on the character of racism when they are assumed to reflect different stages of human development and are used to support granting or withholding rights and privileges.

Traditional racism, of course, has not altogether disappeared, but what has largely taken its place is a neo-racism grounded not in biology but in anthropology and an ideological to the virtues of difference. In Western Europe, for example, guest workers and new immigrants from the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa are targets of this phenomenon. A 1992 United Nations report observed:

Now, at the end of the twentieth century ... racist ideology emphasizes the unique nature of the language, religions, mental and social structures, and value systems of immigrants of African, Arab, or Asian origin, for instance, in order to justify the need to keep human communities separate. It even goes so far as to contend that preserving their identity is in the interest of the communities concerned. By asserting a radical cultural pluralism, the new racism based on cultural differences tries, paradoxically, to look like genuine anti-racism and to show respect for all group identities.

Large-group identities are the end result of a historical continuity, geographical reality, a myth of a common beginning, and others shared events: they evolve naturally. They are neither bad nor good, but a normal phenomenon. When ethnic groups define and differentiate themselves, they almost invariably develop some prejudices for their own group and against the others' groups. As members of the Committee of International Relations of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry concluded. "Ethnicity has no existence apart from interethnic relations." there is, therefore, a degree of ethnocentrism that appears to be universal, and either end of the spectrum is undesirable. At one end is non-differentiation between ethnic groups, a form of identity confusion (or merging) that would disturb the members' sense of belonging and run counter to mankind's natural need to find similar others. At the other extreme is ethnocentrism, which evolves into malignant proportions until it cannot be distinguished from neo-racism. Ethnic differentiation and ethnocentrism should not be condemned entirely; they are healthy or acceptable within certain limits.

In some cases, there is a distinct link between ethnic groups and nations. The difference between a nation and an ethnic group is that a nation implies political autonomy and established borders, or at least organizations that create roles, positions, and status. Most nations contain more than one ethnic group, so some scholars refer to ethnic groups as "sub-nations." Other scholars use the term ethnonationalism to cover a people's attachment to both concepts simultaneously.

Nationalism, after the birth of the French and American Republics in the eighteenth century, became a dominant political movement in the nineteenth century when the emergence of unified nations-states rearranged the map of western and central Europe. Since then, nationalism's "ability to inspire dedicated action in history has been equaled in earlier times only by religion." Yet the politico-legal definition of the term nation remains problematic, and since nations were "born" differently, the degree of inclusion and exclusion, of entitlement and grievance, differs from one nation to the next.

In France, nationalism emerged when people banded together to defend the French Revolution from external threats. The age-old role of religion to provide a sense of togetherness was absorbed in the newer concept of nationhood. The French would continue to share religious beliefs with others outside of their nations-state, but the nation now provided a border, a new frame of reference, for their religious togetherness. French nationalism, furthermore, was based on pre-existing bureaucratic structures co-opted in part from the monarchy of Louis XVI and from the church. It took a shared struggle, a very bloody one, to construct the sense of French nationhood. "While the idea of nationalism may be linked to liberty and universalistic ideals," the French psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel notes, "it also sometimes led to particularism, racism, totalitarianism, and destruction. Indeed, in its National Socialist version, nationalism waged war on the liberal and democratic ideals that developed in the wake of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution."

While the French Revolution descended into a Reign of Terror, other nation-states were formed without bloodshed. Kuwait, for example, was founded in 1759 by the Al-Sabah and two other Arab families who immigrated there from other parts of the Arabian Peninsula in search of a better life. Over the centuries, they were joined by other families, of both Arab and Persian origin, from surrounding areas. Slowly an amalgamation took place, and although there were outside threats that called for unity, Kuwaitis faced few crises that brought the past or future of their nation into question.

Still other nations, asserts Peter Loewenberg, a historian and psychoanalyst, evolved from a synthesis of disparate influences. The United States, Brazil, Indonesia, and Israel are all "invented nations," he says, "each with an assertive, self-worshipping, and aggrandizing nationalism." To mold them out of the rich multiplicity of historical, ethnic, and religious roots, Loewenberg explains, required "acts of mental invention of a mythic common past, usually glorious but sometimes persecuting, and suppression of the `sub-nations.' units smaller than a nation."

Human beings have always lived in emotionally bonded large groups, such as tribes and clans. Psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson coined the term pseudospeciation to refer to the tendency to portray one's own tribe or ethnic group as human while describing other groups as subhuman. Erikson speculated that primitive humans, as a measure of protection against their unbearable nakedness, adopted the armor of the lower animals by wearing animal skins, feathers, or claws. On the basis of these outer garments, each tribe, clan, or group developed a sense of identity, as well as conviction that it alone harbored human identity in contrast to its neighbors.

Initially, neighboring tribes were concerned primarily with basic survival, the competition for food and goods. As humankind evolved, in addition to the necessities of nutrition, warmth, and weapons, other meanings were attached to the physical items for which neighboring tribes competed. Some of these items, such as feathers and claws, became symbolic, valued not only for their physical benefits, but also for the psychological benefits they provided, such as enhancing self-esteem. These symbols reflected the group's conscious and unconscious needs and wishes and slowly evolved into the colors, flags, songs, dress modes, and other cultural indicators that keep shared identities alive and reflect the group's realistic and mythical history. Shared language, a sense of attachment to the land where ancestors were buried, and shared religion further shaped the identity of the group and differentiated it from the other, the potential enemy.

Humankind's preoccupation with the other appears in ancient documents and in languages where the concept is elaborated with accrued connotations. The ancient Chinese, for instance, regarded themselves as people and saw other races as kuei, or hunting spirits. In the United States, the Apache Indians called themselves indeh, the people, and all others indah, the enemy. The Mundurucu of the Brazilian rain forest divide their world, with few exceptions, into Mundurucu, who are people, and non-Mundurucu, who are pariwat, or enemies. In English, the term barbarian refers to foreigners; in other words, those who are uncivilized and ruthless and whose values differ from one's own. Although anthropologists continue to debate the universality of the "we are human and they are less than human" view, clearly it is very common. As W. H. Auden wrote in "The Sea and the Mirror," if we did not have a hated "them" to turn against, there would not be a loving "us" to turn to."

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Table of Contents

Preface: Deadly Distinctions: The Rise of Ethnic Violence 3
1 Ethnic Tents: Descriptions of Large-Group Identities 19
2 Anwar el-Sadat Goes to Jerusalem: The Psychology of International Conflicts Observed at Close Range 30
3 Chosen Trauma: Unresolved Mourning 36
4 Ancient Fuel for a Modern Inferno: Time Collapse in Bosnia-Herzegovina 50
5 We-ness: Identifications and Shared Reservoirs 81
6 Enemy Images: Minor Differences and Dehumanization 101
7 Two Rocks in the Aegean Sea: Turks and Greeks in Conflict 116
8 Unwanted Corpses in Latvia: An Attempt at Purification 137
9 A Palestinian Orphanage: Rallying Around a Leader 146
10 Ethnic Terrorism and Terrorists: Belonging by Violence 156
11 From Victim to Victimizer: The Leader of the PKK (Kurdish Workers' Party) 168
12 Totem and Taboo in Romania: The Internalization of a "Dead" Leader and Restabilization of an Ethnic Tent 181
13 Experiment in Estonia: "Unofficial Diplomacy" at Work 202
Afterword: Psychoanalysis and Diplomacy 225
Acknowledgments 229
Endnotes 231
Bibliography 261
Index 271
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