Journal of Cold War Studies 6.2 (2004) 109-111
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Jacob D. Lindy and Robert J. Lifton, eds. Beyond Invisible Walls: The Psychological Legacy of Soviet Trauma, East European Therapists and Their Patients. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2001. xvii 1 251 pp. $34.95.
This volume is a collection of reports from therapists working in six post-Communist countries: Hungary, the former German Democratic Republic, Romania, Russia, Croatia, and Armenia. It explores the effects of political violence and other forms of repression on survivors and their families. The editors are two prominent American scholars, Jacob D. Lindy, who is well known for his previous work on post-traumatic stress disorder, and Robert J. Lifton, one of the world's foremost experts on political trauma, perhaps best known for his seminal work on the medical profession in NaziGermany. Beyond Invisible Walls apparently is the first book-length psychologicalanalysis of the aftermath of political terror and repression in the former Soviet bloc.
The volume deals with what the Germans have called Vergangenheitsbewältigung—coming to terms with the past. This process is well under way in some countries but has moved quite slowly (or not at all) in others. It has been delayed in certain cases because reopening the wounds of the past is seen as too difficult or because key political actors have a stake in not reconsidering the past too carefully. Coming to terms with recent history is especially onerous when there is so much for the inhabi- tants of the region to face up to, including at least four major episodes of collective violence. The first episode is that of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War. This was followed by mass repression in the Soviet Union under [End Page 109] Josif Stalin, including forced collectivization, widespread famine, the Great Terror, and the deportations of nationalities. The third episode is that of World War II, which includes not only the war itself but also the German and Soviet occupations of 1939-1941 and the Holocaust. (The book does not cover the further trauma inflicted on the East European countries when the Soviet troops that "liberated" them from German occupation proved exceptionally brutal in their own right, particularly with regard to women.) The fourth episode is the imposition of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe from 1947 to 1953 and the continued repression in the Soviet Union under Josif Stalin, including anti-Semitic purges and persecution. Other nationally specific tragedies, such as the Armenian genocide, the devastating earthquake in Armenia in 1988, and the breakup of Yugoslavia also receive attention.
The story is told through two different narratives. The first concerns the treatment of patients. The second explores how the therapists themselves reacted to the treatment. To this end, all six therapists shaped their accounts according to a specific format. Each essay contains sections on 1) ... the professional life of the author; 2)the clinical setting ... in which he or she worked; 3) the treatment process; 4) the therapist's experience of the treatment ... ; and 5) ... the personal journey of the therapist during the years of change (p.9).
The metaphor of the wall that first appears in the title recurs throughout the book. In treating their patients, the therapists confronted walls of two types. The first type prevented the patients (and other people) from adapting to the freer environment in which they found themselves. They would maintain the outmoded behaviors they had developed during the Communist era (paranoia, dependence, sacrifice, etc.). The second wall is the one between the generations. Specifically, parents kept the truth about the past, notably what happened to the family and its members, from their children in order to protect them. As such, the book presents a rich account of the "legacies of Communism" at the level of the individual.
The other important aspect of the book is the story of the therapists. Most of them began their careers as idealistic true believers. However, the demands of their professional calling and...