ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2008 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 54, No 4 - Winter 2008
Editor of this issue: M. G. Salvėnas

Book Review

"Not all wounds are healed by time"

Danutė Gailienė, Editor. The Psychology of Extreme Traumatization: The Aftermath of Political Repression. Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania. Akreta, Vilnius, 2005. Soft-cover, 330 pages.

Reviewd by Romualdas Kriaučiūnas

This book was first published in Lithuanian as Sunkių traumų psichologija: politinių represijų padariniai in 2004 and was reviewed in Draugas, 02.12.2005. While the English version appears to have the same content, format, and type size, it is forty pages shorter than the Lithuanian version. What can the linguists make out of that? 

In the “Foreword” Danutė Gailienė, the editor, notes that the history of Europe in the twentieth century, with its two totalitarian regimes, is teeming with instances of repression, persecution and suffering. After the end of World War Two, serious research began in the West on the long-term psychological effects of Nazi repression. However, the scholars who did the research had to overcome the prevalent thinking in psychoanalysis that traumatic experiences did not have a decisive influence on the mental health of the victims. “The predominant belief was that the consequences of such trauma on normal people cannot be long-lasting, because time heals, and these individuals should recover their mental equilibrium fairly quickly” (p. 7). 

However, decades of research show that the traumas of wars and political repression do have long-term somatic and psychological effects. People who were healthy suffered numerous dysfunctions in their mental health as a result of their experiences, including fear, nervousness, depression, nightmares, increased irritability and aggression, and a reduced capacity to work. This book presents studies of the effects of political repression in a number of countries and cultures. Among the objects of research are the effects of Nazi and Communist repression in Europe, as well as the long-term effects of colonial genocide in the Arctic and Australia. Researchers from Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and Lithuania examined the various traumas. 

Professor Lars Weisaeth of Oslo University presents a critical review on theoretical and methodological problems in contemporary psychotraumatology. Another of his studies reveals how many years of academic study, combined with successful collaboration between scholars, the Norwegian Association of Victims, and politicians led to a greater justice in compensating the damage incurred by the victims. The editor further notes that the effects of the communist regime could only be investigated after its collapse. She indicates that the studies are not exhaustive, since communism, unlike Nazism, has not been tried for crimes against humanity and this is why the attitude towards communism is still ambiguous in former communist countries as well as throughout the world. The first research into the effects of communist repression started in former Soviet satellite states. One such study was carried out by Andreas Maercker in the former East Germany, and the results are presented, together with Matthias Schutzwohl. 

In 2000, an extensive study was started in Lithuania. Dalia Kuodytė in her paper describes the extent of the historical trauma in Lithuania. The traces of these experiences may still be found in personal and collective memories. “Two totalitarian regimes, Soviet and Nazi, inscribed what are perhaps the darkest pages in the history of humanity. It is hardly appropriate to discuss here which of the two was worse and which was gentler. One thing is clear, however: whereas the Nazi policies received international judgment and were condemned, thus becoming a symbol of evil, Soviet policies still await such an assessment” (p. 16). Danutė Gailienė and Evaldas Kazlauskas detail a study where some 1,500 former political prisoners, deportees, and other victims of repression were interviewed. They found that these people, despite living under communism, had much more severe traumatic experiences than those who had not suffered repression. The long-term effects of trauma still persist, and most of the victims have somatic, psychological and social problems of varying intensities. Gražina Gudaitė analyzed two cases of long-term psychotherapy, based on the analytical psychology of Carl Jung. She concluded that these cases have shown that the history of the family and the country is a component of unconscious complexes and plays a significant role in the individual’s life. 

Besides individuals who are officially considered victims of political repression, Lithuania has several other groups of people who were damaged by the communist regime, e.g., the veterans of the Afghanistan War (1979-1989). A study by Vėjūnė Domanskaitė-Gota, Danutė Gailienė and Jūratė Girdziušaitė shows that even now their psychosocial condition is much worse than the conditions of men who underwent compulsory military service in the Soviet army, but did not participate in the war. 

“One of the most famous researchers into suicidal behavior in the world, Antoon A. Leenaars analyses the tragic consequences of the more than a century-long colonial genocide carried out in the Arctic and Australia” (p. 11). The consequences have persisted up to now. His study shows how long lasting the effects of unrecognized trauma can be and may involve pain, disorientation and an increased suicide rate, lasting from generation to generation. “’Long times’, as indigenous people would say, are needed for healing. Perhaps it describes the resilience of the people of the Arctic and Australia, as in Lithuania, who by right should have all fallen by the wayside. The long-lasting effects of the political oppression should have terminated the people, and this is surely true in Lithuania… (but) the people will survive” (p. 191). 

Yes, the people will survive, but not without personal and national scars. The book clearly punches a hole in an old saying – That which does not kill you will make you stronger. The studies presented in this book show that in order to overcome trauma both public recognition of the trauma and human interventions are needed. In the words of the book’s editor, “Not all wounds are healed by time.” 

Romualdas Kriaučiūnas