Cultural Trauma: theoretical perspectives, empirical evidence, somatic responses - CuTrau2017
1.1. Cultural Trauma: The moral and the political in constructing radicalism
Cultural trauma lies between meaning and power. As “meaning” it constitutes the internalization of a horrendous collective event that leaves its mark on the psyche of the members of the collectivity shaping their identity, morality, and behavior. As “power,” cultural trauma, potentially, becomes an organizational means to achieve collective and selective goals, to mobilize resources, to delineate organizational boundaries as well as boundaries of social trust. It is an empirical, scientific concept which suggests causal relationships between previously unrelated - “irrational”- events, structures, perceptions, and actions, as they occur in a given cultural framework that facilitates, in various forms and intensity, such relationships. It is a social construction which does not exist independent of interpretation. Instead, it constitutes an intentional construction by various social groups and elites (political and/or ideological) in an effort to accrue collective power against the perpetrator, and/or against competing social groups.
Based upon the above theoretical perspective, the session examines the ambivalence in cultural trauma, examining the way the traumatic experience of the German occupation in Greece in WWII was used by the radical leftist party Syriza in the period 2012-5 to mobilize support against the “Germanophiles-traitors” who signed the “memorandum” agreement with the “troika”, thus bringing unnecessary economic hardship to Greeks. The very trauma-based mobilization was indeed successful and instrumental in delegitimizing the until then hegemonic centrist parties, and bringing Syriza to power. Yet, immediately after Syriza’s electoral victory in January 2015, the campaign for war reparations was deflated and then forgotten. The intensity of the campaign suggests that the traumatic sentiments were real. Yet, the deflation that followed suggests that the trauma itself was not an autonomous source of mobilization; rather, it was a precipitating factor which was nullified as soon as negotiations of Syriza with the German side showed that the latter were not accepting the issue as valid for negotiations.
1.2. Cultural Trauma and Memories of Segregation
This work examines the development of a narrative of cultural trauma in Birmingham, Alabama following the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The focus is on the interplay between elites’ strategies in constructing collective memory and the needs of whites to manage their difficult pasts. I trace efforts of local white elites to shape representation of the Movement in the early Sixties and how these efforts were undermined by the deaths of six children on September 15, 1963. My analysis builds on interviews with twenty whites who attended high school in the midst of Civil Rights activities in Birmingham. These interviews suggest that the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is central to recollections. I show how the deaths of the “four little girls” became a part of collective memory in the US. Using the cultural theory of trauma I explain why these deaths are remembered while the deaths of two black boys killed by whites on the same day are largely forgotten. I examine how the Church bombing slowly developed into a narrative of cultural trauma that provided a path for whites to redeem the self. By placing blame on evil men, whites were able to disregard their own associations with segregation. I trace the development of memorialization in Birmingham and how local blacks and whites have been able to join together in a community of memory by focusing memorialization on the deaths of the four girls while avoiding the context of massive resistance to segregation.
2.1. Commemoration, Amnesia, and Cultural Trauma
Memory has become problematic due to two processes. The first is the shift from narratives of triumph to trauma, as well as growing failures of theodicy. The second is the effect of chronic complexification, which has made commemoration increasingly difficult. In respect of the former, there has been a move from positioning charismatic and sacrificial heroes at the centre of our culture to placing victims at the centre of our culture. Theodicy is central to commemoration, with it arising from the experience of suffering, which demands cultural vocabularies that explain it, provides ontological security, and reintegrates the cosmos as meaningful. However, certain processes are rendering the construction of theodicies as more difficult to achieve.
Chronic complexification, has also made memory problematic in other ways. The invention of a new symbol or term indicates the emergence of a new problem, and this is the case with birth of the term ‘collective memory’ or the field of ‘memory studies’. Maurice Halbwachs, the key figure in the field was the student of Durkheim, who wrote about the social fragmentation and loss of tradition, and fracturing of the links of collective memory that weakened the link between generations, that went alongside modernisation. Modernity was given birth to by an ‘age of revolution’, which has created a distance from the past, which has been variously interpreted as positive or negative, but regardless has created a separation from the tradition. The past has not only become ‘a long time ago’, it is also often ‘far away’ in pluralist societies with migrant flows. Just as modernisation weakens memory because ‘all that is solid melts into air’, ideology creates the difficulty of the proliferation of fake memories. Hence, Theodore Adorno writes how in modernity, memory is either inauthentic, in a false and manufactured tradition, or it is lost. He writes: “That the world is out of joint is shown everywhere in the fact that however a problem [in relation to how to remember] is solved, the solution is false”.
2.2. Τransgenerational aspects of cultural trauma – the Case of the Asia Minor Catastrophe
The presentation will use the findings of the research project, which the lecturer has co-conducted and has also contributed to the book published at its conclusion (Libby Tata-Arcel: With the exile in the soul: the transmission of the trauma of the Asia Minor Catastrophe in three generations, Kedros ed., 2014), in order to examine the mechanisms of the transmission and the transformations of the refugee trauma across generations. The research in concern observes and analyzes the transgenerational aspect of the trauma that the Asia Minor Catastrophe caused at the individual and collective level of the Greek society.
While the first generation’s sense of identity is severely deregulated, the second generation is busy building a new identity and a new life, their empathy towards their parents experience notwithstanding. The trauma survives in the third generation, but becomes more distant and smooth. It strives to learn the lessons of the ancestors experience, while maintaining an interest and –sometimes- a hypersensitivity vis-à-vis the family history. The paper points out the survival and resilience mechanisms employed by the Greek Asia-Minor refugees in order to cope with their trauma. It also presents the means through which the collective trauma of the Catastrophe affects -until today- the collective memory, the identity construction and the life itself, not of the descendants of those refugees alone, but that of the Greek society in its entirety. It further endeavors to respond to crucial questions: is the trauma actually transmitted, be it consciously or unconsciously? ; What is the aim of the so-called heritage travel? What is the impact of the refugee experience on the third generation, in the globalization era? What are the essential coping mechanisms of the first generation? Is the trauma occasionally or systematically exploited by nationalist politicians and/or others? Does the quest for an identity intensify during crises historical periods? Is it necessary for us all, to have “roots”? Does the trauma, as spear of the soul, smoothen with time? These, and other questions allude to conclusions, which are valid for the refugee experience and condition as a whole.
3.1. A look at collective trauma theory through the lens of individual, somatic trauma research, and an application to the case of Srebrenica
This contribution considers how the revolutionary findings of the last decades regarding individual trauma can enlighten our understandings of collective trauma and, most importantly, our responses/healing mechanisms. In the last thirty years, psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and his colleagues pioneered research allowing us to understand what trauma does to the brain, body and self. His most recent book, The Body Keeps the Score (2014), gets to the heart of the matter somatically and especially neurologically, uncovering ways to rewire the damage done by trauma in order to find paths to healing, primarily through bodily sensations. While these discoveries remain underappreciated in individual diagnosis and treatment, research on collective trauma still awaits such a breakthrough. Jeffrey Alexander’s (2012) social theory of cultural trauma seems the most notable move in the direction, but remains limited; Smelser (2004) and Volkan (2001) give additional helpful inputs.
Therefore, and since individual and collective trauma are naturally related, this contribution proposes using van der Kolk's findings (from veterans, abused children, and other patients) to not only enlighten what we know about trauma writ large, at a communal level, but also to propose van der Kolk’s alternative individual somatic treatment methods as inspiration for group recovery. As such, we will compare the characteristics of individual and collective trauma before considering case of Srebrenica, the chosen trauma of the grand narrative of the Bosniak Muslims in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The case study will benefit not only from scholarship (e.g. Duizings 2007; Braun 2014; Moll 2013), but also the author’s own years of empirical research about the commemorative events and rituals surrounding Srebrenica.
3.2. Lives torn apart: Rehabilitating Syrian refugees from their torture. What can be done at the individual and public level
Over the past six years, the world has been witnessing the fastest growing crisis in the history of humanitarian action as Syria descends further into a conflict more complex, intricate, and violent than many could have ever predicted. The strain exceeds Syria alone, as refugees flee to neighbouring countries including Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon; and as we all know it also extends to Europe. However, the Common European Asylum System is still characterised by considerable flaws and inconsistencies. Many of the fleeing Syrians can only make it to Southern European countries, like Greece, where recognition rates are low, and where they face formidable challenges, including lack of access to an effective asylum procedure, blatantly sub-standard reception conditions, excessive use of detention and inconsistent protection and associated rights. European solidarity and burden sharing in the sphere of asylum claims is yet to be achieved, to say the least.
The increasing social tension between displaced peoples and their host citizens is also a major concern. The Syrian refugee influx combined with the financial crisis that many countries in the region are facing, is testing the resilience of those countries’ infrastructure and empathy of their citizens. The IRCT, in coordination with a long list of local, national and international organisations is striving to provide treatment and rehabilitation services to the many, among the millions, who are heavily traumatized and, often, torture survivors. What is needed most, across the board of problems, is greater financial investment which feeds into a coordinated, international effort to help Syrian refugees seek safety amidst a conflict, which is very much in the public consciousness, but the realities of the conflict – particularly torture – are not. Addressing sexual and gender-based violence is also a matter of priority. This is an area to which the IRCT is committing much of its attention at the regional level, in synergy with other relevant entities. Training, education, and an increased number of rehabilitation and mental health services need to be further in place. Advocacy work at a governmental level needs to be carried out to encourage them to recognise the problems being faced by millions of people. And all professionals – from the public in the host countries and abroad, to health workers, mental health professionals, legal professionals, security personnel, religious leaders, and more – need to be trained and educated in identifying torture, and in offering pathways which can be taken by refugees to overcome this nightmare.
The refugee situation in Greece and the role of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
The first part will describe the creation of the UN Refugee Agency in the aftermath of World War II, its evolution over the years, its role, mandate and relevance to the landscape of forced displacement today. We will also explain main concepts in refugee law and discuss the current refugee situation in Greece and in Europe, focusing on the "emergency phase" of the years 2015-16, when Greece saw an unprecedented increase in sea arrivals. Existing challenges and the way forward will also be addressed.
The second part will be an interactive workshop based on the book "Monologues across the Aegean Sea-the journey and dreams of unaccompanied refugee children", published by the Hellenic Theatre/Drama & Education Network and UNHCR in Greece in October 2016. It includes 28 personal stories-testimonies of unaccompanied refugee children, a result of a cycle of workshops that took place in guest homes in Athens and Patra (Greece), from April up until July 2016. The main goal of the workshop is to give participants the opportunity to explore, decode and set issues of human rights through stories-narratives of unaccompanied refugee children included in the book. In that context, the texts of the Monologues as well as extra audiovisual material constitute the starting point for the workshop and act as triggering events for dialogue and the creation of representations by those involved in the process. The techniques of educational drama and the conventions that are proposed and applied during the workshop, constitute both the means for exploring the original material and also the tools for creating new images and actions by the participants. The workshop will be supported by a member of theHellenic Theatre/Drama & Education Network.
Greek attitudes toward refugees and immigrants
Kostas Rontos and Nikos Nagopoulos
The recent migrant flows from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia to Europe have become massive and they concern millions of people, who move from neighbouring countries or, in our case, attempt to relocate and be channeled in Europe through specific gateways in southern- European areas. Among those, there are also the islands of the eastern Aegean Sea which serve as the main gateway for refugees from Syria and other countries and they were faced with the biggest wave of flows, they were forced to cope with difficulties, complex situations and problems both for the survival of the refugees themselves as well as for the everyday life of local communities.
Our presentation, first will present all the major relevand findings of the Greek attitudes toward refugees and migrants in Greece. Second, and more important, it outlines this exact situation regarding everyday life and the general effects of the refugee crisis on the island of Lesbos which hosts the greatest flow of refugees and migrants among the islands of the Eastern Aegean, through the way the residents recognize, comprehend and face the problem. In particular, the aspects which are outlined are the attitudes and behaviors of the inhabitants of the capital of the island, Mytilene, towards incoming populations, the degree of solidarity demonstrated to them, their attitude towards an imminent premise of the refugees’ permanent stay and integration into the island and their perception as the eyewitnesses regarding the effectiveness of the actions taken by various public and private organizations involved in helping incoming refugees and generally, in dealing with the whole issue. The study was based on data collected from a primary statistical survey which was conducted in spring in 2016. The conduct of an empirical research, based on the appropriate theoretical framework, is an essential tool for an objective study of social phenomena and a unique way of investigating the opinions and trends among large and heterogeneous populations. Mytilene is considered to be a city which consists of such populations at least for the standards of Greece. The contribution of an empirical research is crucial in this case because the tension that appeared recently is unprecedented not only on a local and national level but on an international level as well, in a way that the need for information and knowledge is indispensable for investigating and dealing with it.
Visit to refugee camp - meeting/discussion with refugee representatives and volunteers
EU Human Rights Law
The protection of fundamental rights is one of the basic tenets of EU law. For a long time, the European Treaties did not incorporate a written list of these rights, containing only a reference to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Treaties also referred to those fundamental rights which result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States as general principles of Community law. Moreover, through its case law the Court of Justice of the European Union has contributed greatly over time to the development of and respect for fundamental rights.Following the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon in late 2009, the situation has changed significantly, as the EU has a Charter of Fundamental Rights that is now legally binding. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) provides that ‘the Union is based on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities’. The approximation of the national laws applicable in the area of human rights must not result in any lessening of the protection they afford but must, on the contrary, seek to ensure a high level of protection in the EU. Accordingly, the harmonisation of those national laws is not limited to minimal harmonisation but amounts to harmonisation which is generally complete. Context and background of European Union human rights protection law its effective and uniform application in the Member States. The CJEU in Luxembourg has jurisdiction to determine whether a Member State has fulfilled its obligations under the EU secondary law and to give preliminary rulings concerning the validity and interpretation of the directives and regulations. Corresponding to EU primary law in force at the time of the adoption of the secondary law acts, their material scope is not limited to matters of the internal market. Outside its scope of application are, most importantly, matters of police and criminal justice cooperation.
Drama Work: Theatre as a Space of Transformation
Trauma has been part of human experience. It is something that we share, that we have in common, as individuals and as communities. There are different attitudes that we can take towards our troubled past. This workshop will offer a way how to regard past trauma as a source of creativity and an opportunity for recovery in the present. During the workshop we will explore community devising theatre as a tool of trauma transformation.
The workshop will be interactive and practical. First we will tune up together and prepare our bodies and minds for drama work. We will then share stories of past traumatic experiences our communities and families have been through (forced migrations, civil wars, totalitarian regimes, transborder conflicts, etc.), emphasizing personal, biography narratives. We will immerse in a process of building a documentary devising performance - a performance based on horizontal collaborative work of participants and real stories. We will create some theatre scenes, searching for ways how to transform traumatic narratives into performances and bring them on stage. We will close up the workshop reflecting upon the process, analysing examples of good practice and providing theoretical framework.
The aim of the workshop is to offer the participants a chance to experience and explore the potential of collective artistic process for trauma recovery and community restoration and to empower them to use it in their own practice, if interested. Theatre works simultaneously on many levels: personal, community and political. It is low-threshold, accessible to all human beings, and holistic in itself, embracing all arts. Theatre brings various (contradictory) groups or communities in conflict to work together and creates safe space to tell their stories and search for ways how to put them on stage. Theatre values the truthfulness and originality of individual stories, hidden stories and stories that exist in the shadows, being flattened, normalized and universalized. Looking at the memory of dark histories through collaborative drama process opens way to understanding and reconciliation. The understanding comes through experience and emotions (through heart), providing the participants sense of empathy and solidarity. Theatre helps provoke the realization of complexity of human experience. It develops abilities to interpret the past in new ways and thus develop new strategies to comprehend and deal with the present and future.