Clinically Depressed Nations and the Misuse of Memory
In June 1997 at a women's conference in Moscow, a Christian psychologist argued that the widespread abuse of Russian women by alcoholic husbands amounts to an ongoing national disaster. She went on to say that, in fact, all women--and men--in the former Soviet Union show signs of abuse. In sweeping fashion she maintained that everyone was psychologically traumatized by Communism. In addition, increasingly, a significant portion of the population emerging from the yoke of Communism is becoming economically marginalized. No wonder there are signs that whole nations might be rightly diagnosed as being clinically depressed.
Today, post-Communist peoples typically evidence a sense of powerlessness; economic, political, and marital insecurity; a loss of identity; and scapegoating on a massive scale (the other is always at fault, not me). Communism certainly accentuated this penchant for placing blame elsewhere, but it did not invent it. The theme of victimization in East European and Russian history has been a prominent motif for centuries. Look at the cultivation of historical memory. Russians speak of the trauma of invasions by Mongols, Poles, Swedes, and Germans. Poles fixate on the three 18th century partitions and the 20th century Nazi-Soviet Pact; for Hungary, it is the devastating post-World War I Treaty of Trianon which is equated with dismemberment. Czechs dwell on the symmetry of their twentieth century disasters: 1938 (Munich), 1948 (the Communist coup), and 1968 (the Brezhnev invasion). For the Baltic states the culprit has been occupation by tsarist and Soviet Russia. Serbs memorialize and even cherish the memory of their defeat to the Turks at Kosova (1389). Indeed, for all the Balkan states there have been three sources of national woe, besides 20th century Communism: the Ottoman Turks, the Ottoman Turks, and the Ottoman Turks.
Historical interpretation is shaped in good measure by the selection of facts. And as a rule, nations remember and even cultivate the memory of their mistreatment at the hands of others, but not their mistreatment of others. The peoples of East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union have suffered extraordinary reverses in history. I truly believe this is the case. It was one of the first powerful realizations I had as a graduate student studying in detail the seemingly unending litany of national disasters. But for mental health and national and spiritual recovery, dwelling on reverses will not help. What is needed, it seems to me, rather than further cultivation of victimization, is forgiveness. The theme of pokayanie (repentance) was one of the centerpieces of glasnost. And we need this in the church, East and West, if we are ever to be winsome witnesses to nonbelievers. Can we expect the lost to come to faith unless, as the Bible says, they will know us by our love, rather than by our hate?
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© 1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies