As I was preparing my concluding reflections, I felt overwhelmed-swept away by these terrible threats from the Russian government to resort to nuclear weapons. I was frozen, unable to think, powerless, helpless, and above all I felt exposed to a devastating fury. I asked myself what use was there in planning or dreaming for the future in the face of such destruction? The whole planet would be wiped out along with humanity, the very project of life would be erased. Indeed, the use of these weapons requires men who are increasingly robotic, obedient, and devoid of feelings of guilt or shame (S. Amati wrote about this over 40 years ago). Why then write about it, I asked myself. Why hold a conference? What is the point?
I thought about giving up, I wanted simply to run away. Then I was fortunate to speak with a colleague and I recovered my ability to think, I regained that “modest omnipotence” that S. Amati considers when referring to an essential therapeutic aspect concerning the attitude of the analyst. This omnipotence is fragile, vulnerable; to become activated it needs to draw strength from support, which can also be a sense of belonging to a group. In short, therapists recognize that they can help as best they can, so in my case I said to myself, “I will conclude as best as I can.”
I will begin with the question that some of those present may have asked themselves, namely, what is the relationship between the Libero and Zora Polojaz Foundation and psychoanalysis? I should briefly introduce the Foundation’s activities, a nonprofit institution (in Italy it is part of the Third Sector). Among the many goals the institution promotes is coexistence among the different ethnic groups in Northeastern Italy and partly in the Balkan Peninsula. Through research projects, it evaluates the state of psychological well-being or malaise of members of individual groups and seeks to foster good relations between the Balkan and Italian areas.
As we know, psychoanalysis is a premier tool for studying and helping humankind: it alleviates mental distress and stimulates an awareness of what is taking place in the social fabric. A society that is aware can become the guarantor of the measures needed to address the problem and promote a fruitful coexistence.
Three psychoanalysts serve on the Foundation’s Scientific Committee: Andrea Braun, Paolo Fonda and myself. Andrea and I are also constituent members.
From the early days of its inception, the foundation, in concert with Croatian colleagues, promoted a series of seminars held for years in Zagreb by psychoanalysts of the Italian Society. These theoretical-clinical meetings, also attended by psychotherapists with a psychoanalytic orientation, have fostered further interest in psychoanalysis in the Croatian cultural and scientific fabric, which was already open to the experience of group psychoanalysis.
A couple of years later, following the same model but more limited in time, similar workshops were started in Ukraine. Of this experience Aira Laine, PIEE’s training director wrote to the Foundation in 2008: “on behalf of the PIEE Board and Staff I express gratitude and great appreciation for the support that your Foundation is giving to the teaching program in psychoanalysis, which is going on in Kyiv. In our mind, it is of basic importance to create an environment that is informed and sensitive to the psychoanalytic therapeutic approach, on which appropriate motivations for psychoanalytic training may grow. We warmly hope that your support may still continue, allowing the accomplishment of the plans that our local colleagues are trying to realize.”
I must emphasize the generous contribution of Italian psychoanalysts, who conducted the seminars and clinical groups at no cost in both Croatia and Ukraine (the Foundation covered their travel and living expenses). Memory is essential for a nation to reconstruct the history of “its own” psychoanalysis. This would be all the more desirable in Ukraine, where oblivion has completely erased the contribution made by Italian psychoanalysts: their presence, although temporary, has disappeared, covered by blackness.
Today’s conference was the fourth that the Foundation has held, always in concert with other institutions, especially the Croatian Psychoanalytic Society, and always under the patronage of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society. This time we had the pleasure and honor of organizing it with the Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi and at the venue we three psychoanalysts call home.
I would like to briefly present the three previous conferences, which were attended by colleagues from eleven European countries, especially from the Balkans, in addition to Italian psychoanalysts and psychotherapists.
The first conference was held at Revoltella Civic Museum in Trieste on the occasion of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Indeed, the war was devastating in Trieste, the Balkans and beyond, bringing about the fall of several empires and the birth of new nations. The title of the conference, Integration and Splitting, served as a cue to reflect on integrative and disintegrative urges, on fragmentations and splits caused by external events that manifest themselves in the lives of peoples and nations. Moreover, it was precisely the destructiveness of war that stimulated the emergence of some highly relevant Freudian concepts, such as life and death drives and group studies.
During the meeting we dwelt mainly on how these two psychic processes manifest in life, beyond the events of war. Indeed, in 2014 the war felt distant from our daily lives, although faintly present through traumatic elements in a part of the Bosnian population. But these critical points of great fragility with their presence in those Balkan lands still ensured that “normalcy” continued elsewhere.
Paolo Fonda then outlined an intriguing psychoanalytic reading of the pathological changes grafted by war onto the human psyche, an aspect he has further developed today. He also recalled Freud’s initial enthusiasm for the declaration of war, underscored by his two sons’ decision to enlist.
As we know, Freud recovered his critical thinking just a few months later. In his letter of October 22, 1914 to Jones he wrote: Do not forget now that the lies are many! referring to the propaganda that all sides were using.
In 2016 we organized the conference on Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Sarajevo. It was attended by candidates and analysts from Slovenia, Croatia, some other countries and many Bosnian psychotherapists. The latter brought many clinical contributions highlighting the almost impossible task of dealing with highly traumatized patients. From this “almost impossible task” arose the project of implementing in Sarajevo what had been done in Zagreb. So we organized theoretical-clinical seminars, taught by Croatian colleagues. Indeed, the Croatians could use with the young Bosnian therapists what they had experienced and learned in their experience gained professionally and/or personally in the war in Croatia and in the working through during the years that followed. It involved a complex methodology, but this is not the context to go into such detail.
We had the opportunity today to enjoy valuable clinical contributions for which we can be very grateful to our speakers.
In the conference held in Trieste in 2018 for the centenary of the end of the Great War we had proposed as a theme two cardinal psychoanalytic aspects, Encounter and Listening. These are also two moments that characterize human life, emphasizing the acceptance of the self and the other, each in their own otherness, difference and identity. This involves recognizing the uniqueness of each individual and each group to which the individual belongs, and overcoming the rigidity of boundaries and barriers that naturally exist but do not ultimately imprison. In proposing these themes, we were thus within the normality of everyday life, which also implies the eventual presence of pathology.
What I wish to say is that the possibility of the outbreak of a European war was not considered, at least not by myself. This is a recent, very painful discovery that is still accompanied by disbelief. If anything, people in Trieste were looking fearfully toward Bosnia-Herzegovina, which, you know, is a powder keg. Little news came from Ukraine, but by then we had become accustomed to the fact that Crimea had returned to its old masters, so it seemed there might be-as with earthquakes- certain aftershocks. I was therefore astonished and bewildered when I found myself during the summer of 2018 in Kyev in front of the monument-memorial with the endless list of Ukrainian casualties in the war against Russia. It was, however, a war that seemed very localized. At the time, I mentioned it to a Ukrainian colleague: probably both of us were proceeding with great caution, careful to “let sleeping dogs lie”, so I could continue with my own half-asleep indifference, which as danger increased became more and more entrenched, until the rude awakening: the invasion of one nation by another which is aggressively attempting to destroy everything and everyone.
But I have a dream, yes, I have one, too. I wish to share it with before I conclude. It is a wish, perhaps a fantasy that might one day materialize into a project.
I imagine that one or two clinical-theoretical groups will be formed by colleagues residing in Italy mainly in the Northeast, Slovenia, Croatia and BiH. These groups would meet periodically via zoom, but also in person (and here perhaps the Foundation could make a concrete organizational contribution), and these occasions would facilitate the participation of other colleagues from different countries, who would function as “the third”, which is always necessary and useful. These meetings would help foster greater mutual understanding, which is always important. They would also allow for a different kind of investment in work, which would become more varied and multifaceted as it would be composed of different professional and life experiences, and these experiences would be discovered and unfold over time.
Amati Sas S. (1985). Megamorti, unità di misura o metafora? (Perché accettiamo l’inaccettabile). In Amati Sas S. Ambiguità, conformismo e adattamento alla violenza sociale. Milano, FrancoAngeli, 2020.
Amati Sas S. (1996). La modesta onnipotenza. In Amati Sas S. Ambiguità, conformismo e adattamento alla violenza sociale. Milano, FrancoAngeli, 2020.
Jones E. (1953). Vita e opere di Freud. 2. volume. Gli anni della maturità (1901-1919). Milano, Garzanti, 1977.
Vlasta Polojaz, Trieste
Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi
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