The demands of Ukrainian colleagues that international projects and programs involving collaboration with Russian-based associations and societies be frozen evoked irritation, hurt, bafflement, surprise, and a feeling of indignation among some/many of my Russian colleagues.
The latter’s views can be summed up roughly as: “of course, one can sympathize with our Ukrainian colleagues—bombs are flying over them, naturally they’re angry, and that has caused them to dispense with the psychoanalytical attitude of neutrality/objectivity, and lapse into hatred—what else could we expect? One can try to understand and forgive them; but what does all this have to do with our professional activities, which exist outside the political realm? And, more to the point, why are European organizations and institutions allowing themselves be led by this so as to support the interruption of professional collaborations? Why would they treat us this way?”
Notable, this is not the attitude of ardent and open supporters of the actions of the ruling regime (of whom there are quite a few), which would be awful enough, but understandable—from a clinical point of view. Rather, the above objections are being expressed by those who profess to hold European values (I actually find it hard to understand how any other values might be compatible with psychoanalysis, but that’s another matter altogether).
What does this dissatisfaction on the part of Russian psychoanalytical professionals represent, if not an escape from reality into the “psychic retreat” of narrow professional identity, a ready adaptability to a facile negation of civic duty, hiding behind façade of dedication to patients? Unfortunately, it is not possible to attribute such Russian colleagues’ attitudes to safety concerns, because–if that were they case, they would express an entirely different range of emotions, including pain, despair, a sense of powerlessness, as well as moral responsibility for what is happening (even within the confines of the current “special-operation” laws that prohibit open expression of support or solidarity with Ukraine).
These are my feelings, and I am fortunate to have such colleagues who can support one another in these awful and frightening times that have released such darkness on our country. I’m not one to idealize Ukrainian colleagues for being “under bombs,” but I do know one thing for certain – grief evokes deep authenticity and honesty in a person. Those experiencing grief may not always be objective, and at times they may be rigid and categorical in their thinking, perhaps too demanding and intolerant of views that differ from their own; but at the same time, acute grief can amplify one’s ability to sense artifice, and inspire disgust in the face of all disingenuineness. Social conformism decreases under such circumstances. Someone who has encountered death first-hand recognizes truth of such intensity that by comparison, the slightest hint of falsity sets off alarms within. This is the same alarm that goes off in the presence of condescension, indifference, betrayal, egocentrism, moral deafness, and others’ desire to distance themselves attitudes beneath a false claim of the pseudo-neutrality of one’s professional role, and pro forma show of sympathy for those so misfortunate as to be in a place where people are being killed.
There is a certain moral tone-deafness, and reluctance to deal with reality, in some Russian colleagues’ reaction to the decision of European psychoanalytical organizations to suspend collaboration in a range of teaching programs. After all, it’s eminently clear that when a Russian public interest organization is unable to openly voice support for European values in relation to Ukraine—without being shut down instantaneously—that organization must choose: to continue functioning, demonstrating loyalty and obedience to the demands of the authorities not to call things by their name (something that sounds oxymoronic in the context of psychoanalysis); or to freeze one’s organization’s activity until better times. If an organization takes the former route, namely, it is prepared to function within the constraints imposed by government—which are incompatible with the essence of psychoanalysis—then its founding principles become so obfuscated that it is impossible to discern whether it actually supports its ruling authorities’ actions in Ukraine de jure (and inevitably, at least in part, de facto). In this case, such an organization cannot act as a fully-realized, collective entity able to enter into relationships grounded in shared embodiment of European values. Accordingly, the organization cannot sit at the same table with Ukrainian colleagues so horrifically affected by the actions of its ruling authorities, until such time as this situation ends definitively.
A feeling of moral responsibility for what is happening ought to have enabled us to accept, and even to welcome, a decision to suspend collaborative undertakings. Rather, we have seen a lack of civic duty and moral responsibility, a dearth of genuine empathy,and instead, an orientation on our own needs andinterests, allowing us to regard such the suspension of collaborative projects as an unfair and insulting punishment, as though (forgive me for interposing this interpretation) being torn from a mother’s breast for no reason. It is sad to see such a reaction in colleagues with years of personal analysis under their belts.
God willing, this unimaginable (other word) nightmarewill end, and peaceful life will return for Ukrainian psychoanalysts, who have lost their loved ones, their practices, offices, their homes and home towns, and in time, they will be able to grieve, gradually heal, and be reborn to fulfilling, rewarding lives, and work environments for genuine, unconstrained psychoanalysis, in which respect of one’s own and others’ boundaries is the norm.
The prospects for psychoanalysis in Russia look to be quite grim in the short-term—true Russian psychoanalysis will go underground or emigrate, leaving the superficial accoutrements (if that much is even allowed) an official, seemingly respectable psychoanalysis, preserved as it were, in mimicking the outward appearance of the field’s methods, concepts, and tenets, but cut off from the beating heart of core of true psychoanalysis.
For, genuine psychoanalysis makes us alive and genuine, while empty, narcissistic forms deaden us, without bombs to explain the loss. But in the long-term, I still hope that however dark the night is, we know the sun is still there ready to rise.
Clinical psychologist, Psychoanalytical therapist, M.A. Institute for (2014-2019), Associate member, EFPP (SPP), April 2, 2022
PS This is my personal viewpoint, which, as I am informed, many of my esteemed colleagues from Russia share. I would like it to be heard in international psychoanalytical circles.