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A. M. P.
SEMINARI 2000 - 2001
Klain, E., Gregurek, R., Bolan_a, M.

Group process of reconciliation between groups in conflict


Article primarily discusses the obstacles standing in the way of reconciliation, which are numerous. The ones mentioned are considered to be the most important ones: chosen trauma in former Yugoslavia, narcissism of minor differences, prejudices and generalization of hatred. The problem of asking for forgiveness from the victims is also being mentioned.
Article brings experiences of conductors (V. Volkan and E. Klain) and some of the participants (R. Gregurek and M. Bolanca) based on several reconciliation groups conducted by mental health officers. The most important issues that emerged during group work are: national identity, competition regarding the problem of who suffered more, symbols and language. Big controversies arose regarding the question of apologies for the crimes committed by ones one national group. Correlation with group conductors is also being mentioned.

Key words: reconciliation, group analysis, conflict between nations


Who does actually want to see conflicted people come together and reconcile? In my opinion it is only mental health professionals that are aware of the dreadful consequence ethnical conflicts can have on whole generations, now and in the future. Victims, their family members, especially relatives of those disappeared and abducted by force, also authorities who use ethnical conflicts for their own profits, torturers and their superiors do not want to see it happen.
Who needs reconciliation? All victims and their families, as well as the larger community. Indeed it is most necessary for all the conflicted nations.
What is the purpose of reconciliation? Alleviation of suffering, hate, anger, need for revenge and fear of it. The most important possible use of reconciliation is of course healthier life of the generations to come. There was a case of a little Croatian girl from Vukovar. She was the only pupil in Croatian class in Vukovar primary school and was not allowed to go to Serbian class. The situation of course caused her a lot of grief and she used to cry from day to day.
The obstacles to reconciliation are numerous. To implement the process of reconciliation successfully one has to be aware of the obstacles, count with them and try to overcome them.

Chosen traumas in former Yugoslavia

We will describe what we believe to be a chosen trauma for Serbian people in the area of former Yugoslavia. This helps a lot in understanding the origins of the war that recently broke out in the region. It is known that Turks defeated Serbs in 1389 in the Battle of Kosovo. The sayings goes (not a historical fact) that the Turks, after their victory over Serbs, killed all male children and raped all young Serbian women so that they would give birth to Turks. In the Eastern religion, the father determines the child's religious identity. He is the seed, while the mother represents only the earth into which the seed is planted. This myth about Turkish behavior after the battle of Kosovo has remained vivid in the Serbian people up to the present day, and in this war, it has been the generator of revenge against the Muslims, because of the events that happened 600 years ago. During the last 10 years, Serbs have been celebrating the Battle of Kosovo as if it was their victory, not a defeat (1-4). At one of our reconciliation groups, Bosnian members presented their own chosen traumas. One of them said it was the last meeting of the Yugoslav Communist Party Central Committee in 1989. He remembered how first Slovenian and than Croatian representatives left the meeting. This had hurt him very much. He knew that Yugoslavia would fall apart and that Chetniks will attack and slaughter all over again, just like in the World War II. He was unable to sleep for nights. Another member thought that in her case Tito's death, the breakdown of the former Yugoslavia and Yugoslav Peoples' Army attack against Bosnia presented a chosen trauma. The other one said that for him and his nation in general, chosen trauma occurred when Bosnian Muslim royalty stood up against Turkish government in the year 830. In the first battle they defeated the Turks, but then Turkish Sultan marched a many-fold stronger army against the rebels and all the gentry was killed. It is interesting that the event took place on Kosovo.

Narcissism of minor differences

The phenomenon of the narcissism of minor differences and the related prejudices are an important factor for expressing destructive behavior that leads to psychotrauma (2, 5, 6). One could find many examples of narcissism of minor differences among South Slavic nations, i.e. among the nations in former Yugoslavia. The most numerous and the most important ones are those related to the question of language. As we know, the language is one of the most important factors of national identity and when the national tent starts trembling it is the language that is being attacked first. Croatian and Serbian are not so much different, but within the current confusion the differences are being stressed and augmented. A humorous example was a recent situation with a Serbian movie that was played in the movie-theaters in Croatia. It was subtitled in Croatian, so the very same words appeared printed in the subtitles and could be heard pronounced by the actors. In our parts, however, the narcissism of minor differences is not only limited to the relations among the nations of former Yugoslavia. In Croatia for example there is an animosity between continental part and the coastal region, between people from Zagorje (the northwestern part of the continental region) and the Dalmatians, between eastern and western part of the continental area etc. After the war a great animosity developed towards Croats from Herzegovina who fled abundantly to Croatia. In the perspective of some native Croats they have occupied all the most important positions in the society and now govern the country.


Feelings of malignant prejudice accompany malignant rituals in the relationships of emotionally bonded large groups (1, 7-9). There were numerous prejudices in former Yugoslavia, which could be understood in regard with a substantial mixture of nations, religions and perspectives. Yugoslavia was, as it is known, a multi-national, multi-confessional structure with people of very different levels of culture and civilization. When the collapse of Yugoslavia started, national tents started to tremble and prejudices that were suppressed more into pre-consciousness than into unconsciousness emerged volcano-like to the surface.
The prejudices are a bit more gently manifested in jokes. We will give an example. During a certain reconciliation workshop we organized, one of the Croat ladies there presented the following joke: "Before the war Fata used to walk behind Mujo (both very common Bosnian-Muslim names). Nowadays she goes first. Why? She is cleansing the mine-fields". When the joke was told Bosnians smirked very bitterly. Following that, on the last day of our work together, Narcisa described just how hurt she was with one lecture that said that Muslim women kept secret from their conservative husbands the fact that they had been raped. She added that all women would keep this a secret.

Generalization of Hatred

In interethnic conflicts, like in other conflicts in large groups, the basic problem is the generalization of the hatred. It is always the other group that is guilty, i.e. they are all guilty. The worst thing that the perpetrators and especially tortures in camps do to the surviving ones of their victims, is the injection of permanent hatred, not only towards the torturers themselves but also his entire nation.

Difficulties in Apology and Asking for Forgiveness

History teaches us just how hard and difficult it is to plead forgiveness from the victim, either for oneself or for one's nation. It seems to be a narcissistic injury that people take very hard. In the recent war in the area of former Yugoslavia it was well documented that neither the Serbian people nor the Serbian Orthodox church asked forgiveness for the atrocities they committed against Croat and Bosnian people. On the other side the Catholic Church in Croatia pleaded forgiveness from everybody that Croats have done wrong to on a number of occasions. A true and genuine plea for forgiveness requires great inner strength, which people so seldom have! (9)
After a peaceful re-integration of Eastern Slavonia and the liberation of Vukovar, Croats were commemorating the day of the fall of Vukovar with placing wreaths on the tombs and with general mourning. In the previous years Serbs had celebrated that day as the day of victory in Vukovar. Since the liberation of Vukovar Serbs did not react at all to that day. In 2001 a delegation of Serbs placed a wreath at the cross that is a symbol of torture of Croats in Vukovar for the first time. It is a very good sign and we hope that events will continue to evolve in that direction.


When in conflict the ethnical group develops a large group cohesion and matrix fulfilled with fear, distrust, hate and lust for revenge. Mass media and leaders, who profit from national homogenization on the basis of paranoid projections against other nations, support growth of such matrix.
Changes in this matrix are hard to bring about in small and median groups. When the foundation matrix is that unfavorable all one can do is try to bear some influence onto the dynamic matrix, as long as it is possible.
During the last three years we did try to start on a reconciliation process between Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian (Muslim) and Slovenian mental health professionals. We were considerably helped and guided by Prof. V. Volkan, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from USA, the greatest world's expert in the field.
One could wonder here why it was always mental health professionals that we elected for our reconciliation groups. The reason was that they were usually quite influential people in their communities, who could have passed their ideas and experience in the median, reconciliation groups onto their large groups. Optimistically one could expect them to influence the decision-makers in their communities to support the idea of reconciliation groups, and even participate themselves.
We have been encouraged by the experience from Israel concerning the collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians in a Public Health project. (10).
"Health professionals have a unique role in building trust between foes and creating atmosphere that facilitates expansion of collaborative projects into other areas, involving broader segments of both communities.
About 2/3 of the Palestinian and 1/3 of the Israeli participants declared that their attitude and belief in coexistence was positively changed as a result of their experience in cooperative work. Moreover, working together was evaluated by many as a unique experience in learning about each other and replacing mistrust and stereotyping of the other side.
Palestinian participants, in particular emphasized the need to maintain parity and symmetry while conducting collaborative projects to secure their long-term success. Equal division of work and responsibility between the partners was seen as an essential prerequisite. Over 50% of the Palestinian participants claimed that they would not have collaborated if parity and symmetry had not been preserved. Promoting cooperation between institutions, rather than individuals, and using existing services/agencies, rather than developing new ones, were shown to be a priori conditions for sustainability.
Health projects, in particular, can serve as a bridge to promote peace - an essential prerequisite for health".

National Identity

"My father is Serbian, my mother is Croat. I'm nothing," said a five-year old boy crying.
The group interactions that follow now are typical for the first day of workshop.
In the start everybody was silent until Janko came forward with his story of his trip to Sarajevo on 1996. It was organized for him to go there with a group of French people, but everybody tried to talk him out of it, for it was still far from safe to visit Sarajevo. He was not afraid. When he finally arrived there he found out that he had left his passport behind. He gave this lapse some thought. In one hand he was very glad to see Croatia free of communism and independent from Yugoslavia, but on the other he unconsciously felt he did not need passport to visit a Yugoslav town.
Vamik explained that it was maybe his fear that caused him to forget the passport. Eduard made a joke saying that Janko could not decide between Croatian and French identity, as in some other similar situation Mila, whose complete story follows, could not decide among English, German and Croatian identity.
Eduard went on telling how in former Yugoslavia in demographic follow-ups he used to declare himself as a nationally undecided, for Jewish nation was not allowed. The faces of colleagues from Bosnia glittered. Lana said that she herself was born in Bosnia, but she felt Croat. After having lost Bosnia she gained Croatia and she felt happy for that. Milena gave a picture of multi-national Vojvodina, and went on to describe internationalism in her own family, although she was Serbian. Everybody showed considerable empathy for her, but primarily because of ongoing NATO bombardment and less for her inter-nationalism.
Jasmina said that she was Bosnian woman, neither Bosniak nor Muslim. She loved living in Yugoslavia and she was very disheartened with everything that happened. Now, Jadranka started on about her ambiguous national identity. Her grandparents were of several different nations, and when the war started in Bosnia her Croat relatives were warned to run away because they were to be killed. The warning came too late, they were executed. Sena said that she was a Muslim herself, not so firm one as those from Iraq or Iran. Senad also talked of his background, about his family and how when living in Sand_ak (part of Serbia predominantly populated by Muslims) he was a Bosniak, while now in Bosnia he was a Bosnian. His wife Senada also talked about her Bosniak background, pointing out that nobody paid any attention to that mater before the war. Stefan than said that all of his family was Slovenian and that he was Slovenian as well, but this was never a major issue for them not before not now, when they are mostly turned towards Europe. Brane talked about his mixed background, his father Dalmatian and mother Bosnian. Nevertheless, most of his life he lived in Vojvodina, part of Serbia, and in greatest part he felt Serbian. Stanka now talked about her Croatian identity, her father from Ba_ka Voda and mother from Zagreb, but there was never any special concern paid to that in her family. Svetlana said that her family was Serbian, but they always lived in Vojvodina together with many different nationalities and people, so their nationality never came out in any special way. Hinko said that he was born in Sarajevo by pure chance. He always felt Croatian although having lived in a number of places, and never made any issue out of that. Mirela said how she was brought up as a Croat much more by her grandmother than her mother, but this never came out before the war, when the feelings started to grow. Making a resume Eduard said how, actually, he perceived two groups here, one with no significantly worked out national identity and the other having some, but seeing no particular problem or issue there. Also, it seemed to him, that everyone was distancing themselves from their national identity, as if that was of no importance and as if nothing has happened. All this making him feel as if we were not substantially traumatized in these past wars of ours, being now so kind and polite to each other. Perhaps, the war left its mark after all? Senada said that she felt excited now remembering how her children were endangered during the war and how she would never forget that.
When empathic communication starts - the opposing groups begin to become close. This closeness, however, is followed by a sudden withdrawal from one another and then again by closeness. The pattern repeats numerous times. "I liken this to the playing of an accordion: squeezing together and then pulling apart" (11).
On the first day of the workshop everyone was very polite. We understood each other, tolerate different ideas, actually we were like brothers.

Who suffered more?

But the day two came. Senad started, saying that he has thought a lot about the group yesterday and felt at unease with the colleagues from Serbia. He knew, he said, they were good and nice people, but his feelings came all over him, nevertheless. Now he remembered how hard it was in the war, with shelling and everything. He used to talk about the war on the local radio and in the newspapers at the time. He tried not to generalize, not to talk against Serbs but Chetniks, even at that time. He even quoted on Prof. Mati_ from Belgrade, trying not to make generalizations and to stay rational. But, with all his effort, there were two things that fell really hard on him. At one occasion he was watching Serbian TV broadcasting an open-air concert. Everybody had good time there, children playing around, while the songs went on about Bosnian president Alija who should be killed and about Muslims who should be murdered, their corpses floating in the river Sava. He felt very bad then, indeed. The other thing was parliament election victory of Milosevic and _eselj in Serbia, meaning the people were actually on their side. Now, Svetlana said that she felt very badly after the group yesterday, feeling that everyone there were against them for being Serbs. She was afraid coming to Dubrovnik, not knowing what might happen. She was scared somebody might attack her verbally or even physically. A taxi driver at Dubrovnik airport, who assured her nothing alike would happen, calmed her down. But, earlier this day, just before the group she heard some people at the beach talking how Serbs coming back to Croatia were not welcome and how who-knows-what might happen to them. This made her scared all over again. Drago than said: "I can't take this any more. We have talked about this yesterday. I fought against Serbs and they were my enemies too. I cannot exclude anybody. I might have had some friends in Serbia, but in the war they also did shoot at me, and they were my enemies. Today they are my enemies no longer, but I like the things to be said as they are". Svetlana answered that she always thought that Yugoslav army protected the innocent people in Croatia. This reminded Brane of how he watched Croatian liberation of the city of Knin, and seeing all these numerous refugees flying away, expelled, he felt really bad. Dinko, now, opened on Blaiburg and other atrocities done in The World War Two. Then Brane and Svetlana started on what Ustashas did in The World War Two. This lead to a discussion on who were worse, Ustashas or Chetniks. Mila remarked that it was not easy for her when in the former Yugoslavia she was not allowed to celebrate Christmas.
Following this a discussion opened between Bosniaks and Mila, who was a Croat. Bosniaks stated that someone should pay for Sarajevo, Mostar and Srebrenica, when Mila asked who was going to pay for Vukovar, Dubrovnik, _ibenik, Zadar, Osijek, Vinkovci and other Croatian cities demolished in the war. When it was discussed if Croats should pay for the Old Mostar Bridge, which they destroyed, Mila said that she would pay for Vukovar not for Mostar. Vamik made a resume to the discussion saying that we should all pay for all the destroyed cities, not everyone for his own.
Very important issue for the groups like this is that of who suffered more and who was the biggest victim. Because of that I would like to give few more examples.
Senad, very excited, talks about Serbian hatred towards Muslims. Their hatred goes back for centuries, he mentions Kosovo. "This was the worst", he says. "For this reason it was much easier in the war between Croats and Muslims. With Serbs it was the worst. I can remember how Brane yesterday talked about people turning into dirt not being human any more. I feel that Serbs don't think of Muslims as if human, but as if dirt". He gets aroused more and more saying that there were bombs falling on Sarajevo for three and half years. They were destroying people trying to erase them and that was the sole problem for Serbs. He is extremely excited and says that nothing can be done here because Serbs don't perceive Muslims as human. Now Svetlana speaks out saying that she feels very bad being in the group, feeling that they were attacked here and that nobody perceived them as human but only as Serbs.

Symbols and language

"First national purification is that of language"

Someone in the group mentioned a swine. Vamik accepted the discussion immediately and said that it was a very important symbol, which Muslims could use to project onto others, while the others could not project it back onto them, as they have no contact or communication with it. Following that Janko described how in Sarajevo it was impossible to buy pork legally, it was only possible to get some in the black market. Further he described how in Bosnia swine was not even included in the school textbooks as a domestic animal, with the other domestic animals.
In yet another group Eduard discussed on the mater of language in following way: It was described here how the waiter acted very suspicious towards somebody who used Serbian word for bread, yet it came out that the person was from Imotski in Croatia. Mila gave her example when she visited Vukovar with a German delegation. They set in a restaurant and when she wanted to make an order in English the waiter would not understood. Mila got angry and asked for the food in a strong Zagreb dialect. In this way she wanted to show where she was from and which nationality she was of. Mila had marked earlier just how dangerous it was to be a Croat in Vukovar at that time. Following this Mari_ka described just how alert she was and not well accepted when speaking Croatian all because in school she had learned Serbian and was probably perceived as one. For this reason she switched to Slovenian and felt much safer. Then Mirela proclaimed this was all not important for she did not understand something somebody told her in the supermarket here, but everything turned out fine. To conclude it is our opinion that the language is in a way an attribute of one's nationality, also of regional background because some people of same nationality but in different regions can hardly understand each other.

Apology for atrocities done by one's national group

When the national tensions in the group reached their peak Jasmina said: "It would be the best for everybody if we could look for the perpetrators each in one's own nation and apologize for the atrocities done by one's nation. " Dinko said he agreed with this, and that Croats should apologize for Jasenovac, but who would apologize for Bleiburg and other atrocities done by Chetniks. Dinko started saying that he would like to explain to everyone how he understood that Croatian soldiers have also performed some atrocities, but directly afterwards he turned to discuss general politics. Jasmina said how she used to trust in Bosnian army, when mobilized, but the trust was gone when she heard about the things they have done, from a wounded soldier that she looked after. Drago said that he took part to the "Storm" offensive; but that he heard of no atrocities done by Croatian soldiers and that he knows that they did no such thing. He did condemn individual atrocities done by our soldiers, but there were many more done by the other side, which started the war in the first place what should also be said. He continued saying that it should be said who did what for the sake of justice, truth and future co-existence. Brane now talked about Arkan's paramilitary forces, he didn't see them but was told about. They used to invade Croatian villages, rob the houses and kill even the little babies in their cradles, because village people used to hide their gold there. He brought up his old topics about motivation to go to the war. Some were there to mug, some for vengeance; he gave an example of a man he knew. The man came back from war, having killed many Croats, but suffers from no Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, as fare as he could conclude. Now, Senad, Jasmina and Dinko gave examples when soldiers murdered people of their own nation. Eduard said, at this point, that we have finally came to talk about atrocities done by members of one's nation, but some still kept reserved here.

Attitude towards group conductors

I can compare here the group attitude towards Vamik and Eduard. Vamik was a guest from a fare away country, he conducted the group in a didactical manner, and the language was English. The resistances were, rare but existed. On the third day of our work together Jasmina came forward with a confession that she was the Bosnian woman who left the workshop in Zagreb last year. At the beginning of that workshop Vamik asked everyone to declare their nationality, were they were Serbs, Croat or Muslim. As she felt Bosnian, but not Muslim she left offended. After a short pause everyone started speaking Croatian or Bosnian. Eduard conferred to Vamik that this was the way for the group to punish him for what has happened a year ago. He accepted the comment. They used to be much more direct towards Eduard. At few occasions Dinko said how he did not agree with his interpretations. That he was equaling the responsibility of Serbs and Croats in the war and it seemed to him as if Eduard was working for USA or some other world power, although he would not like to sound paranoid. Then Brane asked how much guilt he should admit for group to be satisfied. Following this Eduard asked them if they would be satisfied if he was to knee down and beg. As a result, Eduard was attacked by Croats and Muslims in the group. Now Svetlana said she felt manipulated, because while coming here she did not know she would to be involved in a reconciliation group. She came here to learn something about psychotraumatology, as she works with it, and to communicate with colleagues, but here she feels under attack and as if nobody perceived her as a human being but only as a Serb. Telling this she was crying. Then Mirela said she did not want to be in this group either, and how she didn't need any of this at all. Now Eduard said that the most important issue here was that they were all actually manipulated by him, they were his victims. Senad confirmed on that and Dinko also agreed. He said it was his belief Eduard was supporting the idea of new Yugoslavia and that he did all this by purpose. He knew he was to attend the reconciliation group and he agreed with the idea, but nevertheless Eduard managed to manipulate everything. He had to say this although the others might think he was paranoid. Now, Eduard said that nevertheless all his manipulation he was still very concerned with two people in the group, namely Svetlana and Dinko. They were the ones to react emotionally, far more then the others did, but nobody paid any attention to them. Stefan said here that he felt nothing against Svetlana and Brane and could normally speak with them. Now, Milena came out saying how she felt responsible for Svetlana and Brane, having brought them here were they were constantly under attack, while nobody attacked her. At this point Svetlana expressed her gratitude to Stefan for his support. When Eduard asked her if it was necessary for someone to take her side here, she answered: "Not really. You are right".
Following termination of four-day workshop, we got together on a tiny balcony of Eduard's hotel room eating cake and excellent limoncello especially prepared for us by our Italian friends.


Seven years after the war there are still some big problems, making reconciliation hard.
1. Expelled and refugees are still returning home very slowly. In their houses, there are other expelled and refugees. There are cases of murders of some of the returnees. Serbian returnees to Croatia have more problems finding job than Croats. In an economically undeveloped town of Knin, international organizations privilege Serbs who come back, in relation with Croats of the same status.
2. International commissioner in Bosnia and Herzegovina wanted to build by force the mosque in Banja Luka, the capital of Serbian Republic. This resulted in bloodshed.
It appears as the international community uses the former Yugoslavia territory for social experiments. New conflicts of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, and Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia that destabilize the region are linked with activities of international organizations and western European countries.
On this Dajani and Carel (10) think as follows:
"The process of reconciliation is a long and difficult one requiring continuous efforts with only small steps at a time. To support such effort, a central (international) "clearing house" is advocated, which will coordinate and monitor the various activities".
Great world experience and some of our own, shows that hard, long-lasting and often unsuccessful work was that of reconciliation. Something, indeed, we psychotherapists are used to.
It is our belief that democratization of state-systems and authorities presents a crucial element in the process of reconciliation. It is extremely hard to work on reconciliation while the leaders in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia maintain their positions employing the ethnical hatred.

1. Klain, E., Pavi_, L. (2002). Psychotrauma and reconciliation, Croatian Medical Journal, 43, 126-137. (Volkan, V. 1997. 2001.), (Gampel, Y. 1996.).
2. Volkan, V. (1997). Bloodlines-from ethnic pride to ethnic terrorism. New York: Strans and Giroux.
3. Gampel, Y. (1996). The interminable uncanniness. In Moses-Hruskovski R., Rangell L. (Ed.), Psychoanalysis at the political border. Essays in honor of Rafael Moses. Madison: International Universities Press Inc.
4. Volkan, V. (2001). Transgenerational transmission of trauma and chosen traumas: An aspect of large-group identity. Group Analysis, 34, 79-97.
5. Freud, S. (1930). The narcissism of minor differences-Civilization and its discontents. (SE XXI). London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psychoanalysis.
6. Diatkine G. (1993.) La cravate croate. Narcissisme des petites differences et processus de civilization. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 4,1058-71.
7. Petschauer, P., Isaenko, A. (2001.). Finding the middle ground: The practical and theoretical center between ethnic ideal and extreme behaviors. Mind and Human Interactions, 12, 52-67.
8. Klain, E., Pavi_, L. (2002). Intergenerational transmission of prejudices, guilt and shame-promoting ethnic strife. Psihoterapija. In press 2002.
9. Klain, E. (1998). Intergenerational aspects of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In Yael Danieli (Ed.) International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma. New York: Plenum Press.
10. Dajani, K., Carel, R. (2002). Neighbors and enemies: Lessons to be learned from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict regarding cooperation in public health. Croatian Medical Journal, 43, 138-140.
11. Volkan, V. (1998). The tree model: Psychopolitical dialogues and the promotion of coexistence. The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence. New York: Continuum Publishing Co.

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