A sense of self-perceived collective victimhood emerges as a major theme in the ethos of conflict of societies involved in intractable conflict and is a fundamental part of the collective memory of the conflict. This sense is defined as a mindset shared by group members that results from a perceived intentional harm with severe consequences, inflicted on the collective by another group. This harm is viewed as undeserved, unjust and immoral, and one that the group could not prevent. The article analyses the nature of the self-perceived collective sense of victimhood in the conflict, its antecedents, the functions that it fulfils for the society and the consequences that result from this view.
The authors would like to thank Johanna Vollhardt, Sabina Čehajić-Clancy, Dinka Corkalo Biruski, Yechiel Klar and Dario Spini for their helpful comments on the earlier draft of the present paper.
1 Intractable conflicts, in which the parties involved invest substantial material and non-material resources and which last at least 25 years, are characterized as being total, protracted, violent, central, and perceived as being unsolvable and of zero-sum nature. See Bar-Tal, D., ‘Sociopsychological foundations of intractable conflicts’, American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 50, 2007, pp. 1430–1453-a.
2 We recognize that in almost every intergroup conflict at least one side experiences a sense of collective victimhood and that in many of them both sides have this sense. The present paper focuses on intractable conflicts, in which both sides always experience a sense of collective victimhood.
3 A. Karmen, Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology (2nd edn), Wadsworth: Belmont, CA, 1990; N. Ronel, K. Jaishankar and M. Bensimon, M. (eds), 2009, Trends and Issues in Victimology. Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; O. Zur, ‘The psychology of victimhood’, in R.H. Wright and N.A. Cummings (eds), Destructive Trends in Mental Health, Routledge: New York, 2005, pp. 45–64.
4 D. Corkalo Biruski and S. Penic (in preparation), ‘Facing trauma, facing the enemy: War trauma, group identity, collective guilt and outgroup attitudes’, in D. Spini, D. Corkalo Biruski, G. Elcheroth and M. Vasovic (eds), Facing Massive Violence and Social Change: Collective Experiences in the Former Yugoslavia; J.D. Frank, Sanity and Survival: Psychological Aspects of War and Peace, Vintage: New York, 1967; H.C. Kelman, ‘Social-psychological dimensions of international conflict’, in I.W. Zartman (ed), Peacemaking in International Conflict: Methods and Techniques (revised edition), United States Institute of Peace Press: Washington, DC, 2007, pp. 61–107; J. Mack, ‘The Enemy System’, 1990, in V. Volkan, J. Demtrios and J. Montville (eds), The Psychodynamics of International Relationships, Vol. I: Concepts and Theories, pp. 83–95, Lexington, MA; V. Volkan, Blood Lines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism. Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado, 1997.
5 J. Herman, Trauma and Recovery, Basic Books: New York, 1992.
6 Aquino, K. and Byron, K., ‘Dominating interpersonal behavior and perceived victimization in groups: Evidence for a curvilinear relationship’, Journal of Management, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2002, p. 71.
7 M. Bard and D. Sangrey, The Crime Victims' Book (2nd edn). Brunner/Mazel Publishers: New York, 1986; see also O. Zur, above note 3.
8 In addition, it was found that personal victimization manifests itself in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), symptoms of depression or substance abuse (Resick, P.A., ‘The psychological impact of rape’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 8, 1993, pp. 223–255; J. Wolfe and R. Kimerling, Gender issues in the assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder, in J.P. Wilson and T.M. Keane (eds), Assessing psychological trauma and PTSD, Guilford: New York, 1997, pp. 192–238), of fear and anxiety (S.E. Taylor, J.V. Wood and R.R. Lichtman, ‘It could be worse: Selective evaluation as a response to victimization’, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 39, 1983, pp. 19–40) and of physical health problems (Golding, J.M., ‘Sexual assault history and physical health in randomly selected Los Angeles women’, Health Psychology, 13, 1994, pp. 130–138; Resnick, H.S., Acierno, R.E. and Kilpatrick, D., ‘Health impact of interpersonal violence 1: Prevalence rates, case identification, and risk factors for sexual assault, physical assault, and domestic violence in men and women’. Behavioral Medicine, Vol. 23, 1997, pp. 65–78).
9 R.J. Bies, T.M. Tripp and R.M. Kramer, ‘At the breaking point: Cognitive and social dynamics of revenge in organizations’, in R. Giacalone and J. Greenberg (eds), Antisocial Behavior in Organizations, Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA, 1997, pp. 18–36; Skarlicki, D.P. and Folger, R., ‘Retaliation in the workplace: The roles of distributive, procedural, and interactional justice’, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 82, 1997, pp. 434–443.
10 C.J. Sykes, A nation of victims: The decay of the American character, St. Martin's Press: New York, 1992.
11 Confino, A., ‘Remembering the Second World War, 1945–1965: Narratives of victimhood and genocide’. Cultural Analysis, Vol. 4, 2005, pp. 46–75.
12 Garkawe, S., ‘Revisiting the scope of victimology – How broad a discipline should it be?’ International Review of Victimology, 11, 2004, pp. 275–294.
13 D. Bloomfield, T. Barnes and L. Huyse (eds), Reconciliation after violent conflict: A handbook, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm, 2003; Strobl, R., ‘Constructing the victim: Theoretical reflections and empirical examples’, International Review of Victimology, Vol. 11, 2004, pp. 295–311.
14 See K. Aquino and K. Byron, above note 6.
15 J.E. Bayley, The concept of victimhood, in D. Sank and D.I. Caplan (eds), To be a victim: Encounters with crime and justice, Insight Books: New York, 1991, pp. 53–67.
16 See C.J. Sykes, above note 10.
17 Holstein, J.A. and Miller, G., Rethinking victimization: An interactional approach to victimology, Symbolic Interaction, 13, 1990, pp. 103–122.
19 See O. Zur, above note 3.
21 M.M. Lanier and S. Henry, Essential Criminology, Westview Press: Boulder, CO, 1998.
22 E.C. Viano, ‘Victimology today: Major issues in research and public policy’, in E.C. Viano (ed), Crime and its victims: International research and public policy issues, Hemisphere: New York, 1989, pp. 3–14.
23 See Strobl, above note 13.
24 In this conception we focus only on a sense of self-perceived collective victimhood that results from behaviour of another group or groups.
25 Wohl, M.J.A. and Branscombe, N., ‘Collective guilt for current ingroup transgressions’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 94, No. 6, 2008, pp. 988–1006.
26 O. David and D. Bar-Tal, Collective identity and nations: A Socio-psychological conception, 2008, manuscript submitted.
27 J.C. Turner, ‘Some current issues in research on social identity and self-categorization theories’, in N. Ellemers, R. Spears and B. Dosje (eds), Social Identity: Context, Commitment, Content. Blackwell: Oxford, 1999, pp. 6–34; J.C. Turner, M.A. Hogg, P.J. Oakes, S.D. Reicher and M. Wetherell, Rediscovering the Social Group: A Self-Categorizing Theory. Blackwell: Oxford, 1987.
28 D. Bar-Tal, Shared Beliefs in a Society: Social Psychological Analysis, Sage: Thousands Oaks, CA, 2000; D.M. Mackie, T. Devos and E.R. Smith, From Prejudice to Intergroup Emotions: Differentiated Reactions to Social Groups, Psychology Press: New York, 2002.
29 M.H. Davis, Empathy: A social psychological approach, Hawthorne: New York, 1994.
30 E. Cairns, J. Mallet, C. Lewis and R. Wilson, Who are the victims? Self-assessed victimhood and the Northern Irish conflict, NIO Research and Statistical Series, Report No. 7, Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, Belfast, 2003.
31 Societal beliefs are defined as shared cognitions by the society members that address themes and issues with which the society members are particularly preoccupied, and which contribute to their sense of uniqueness, see D. Bar-Tal, above note 28.
32 J.W.D. Dougherty (ed), Directions in Cognitive Anthropology, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985; K. Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, Harcourt, Brace and Company: NY, 1952; R.K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, Free Press: NY, 1957; T. Parsons, The Social System, Glencoe, IL, The Free Press, 1951; R.A. Shweder and R.A. LeVine (eds), Culture Theory, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1984.
33 A. Robben and M. Suarez-Orozco, Cultures under siege: Collective violence and trauma, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2000, p. 23.
34 E. Staub and D. Bar-Tal, ‘Genocide, mass killing, and intractable conflict: Roots, evolution, prevention, and reconciliation’, in D.O. Sears, L. Huddy and R. Jervis (eds), Handbook of Political Psychology, 2003, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 722.
35 J.H. Liu and S.H. Liu, ‘The role of the social psychologist in the benevolent authority and plurality of powers systems of historical affordance for authority’, in K.S. Yang, K.K. Hwang, P.B. Pedersen and I. Daibo (eds), Progress in Asian social psychology: Conceptual and empirical contributions, Praeger: Westport, CT, 2003, pp. 43–46.
36 Collective memory is defined as representations of the past which are remembered by society members as the history of the group (see Kansteiner, W., ‘Finding meaning in memory: A methodological critique of collective memory studies’, History and Theory, Vol. 41, 2002, pp. 179–197). Collective memory contains the narratives, the symbols, the models, the myths, and the events that mould the culture of the group. It does not intend to provide an objective history of the past, but tells about the past that is functional and relevant to the society's present existence and future aspirations. Thus it creates a socially constructed narrative that has some basis in actual events, but is biased, selective and distorted in ways that meet societal present needs (see E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1983; Liu, J.H. and Hilton, D.J., ‘How the past weighs on the present: Social representations of history and their role in identity politics’, British Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2005, pp. 537–556; B. Southgate, What is History For? New York, Rutledge, 2005). Moreover, Corkalo et al talk about the ‘ethnization of memory’, where ‘memory itself and interpretation of the past become ethnically exclusive, creating subjective, psychological realities and different symbolic meanings of common events in people who belong to different ethnic groups’. D. Corkalo, D. Ajdukovic, H. Weinstein, E. Stover, D. Djipa and M. Biro, ‘Neighbors again? Inter-Community relations after ethnic violence’, in E. Stover and H. Weinstein (eds), My neighbor, my enemy: Justice and community in the aftermath of mass atrocity, 2004, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 143–161.
37 P. Connerton, How Societies Remember, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1989, p. 2.
38 Kanan, M., ‘On victim and victimhood: The Iraqi case’, Current History, Vol. 98, 1999, pp. 96–106.
39 Anzulovic, Heavenly Serbia: From myth to genocide, Hurst: London, 1999, p. 124.
40 Jasińska-Kania, A., ‘Bloody revenge in “God's Playground”: Poles' collective memory of relations with Germans, Russians, and Jews’, International Journal of Sociology, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2007, p. 33.
41 See V. Volkan, above note 4, p. 47.
42 See V. Volkan, above note 4; H. Krystal, Massive Psychic Trauma, International Universities Press: New York, 1968.
43 See B. Anzulovic, above note 39.
44 J. Leatherman, W. DeMars, P.D. Gaffney and R. Vayrynen, Breaking cycles of violence: Conflict prevention in intrastate cries, Kumarian Press: West Hartford, CT, 1999; G. Ross, The trauma vortex in action again in the Middle East, 2001, available at http://www.traumainstitute.org/articles.php (last viewed on 24 April 2009).
45 Staub, E., ‘Reconciliation after genocide, mass killing and intractable conflict: Understanding the roots of violence, psychological recovery, and steps toward a general theory’, Political Psychology, Vol. 27, No. 6, 2006, pp. 867–894.
46 We do not claim that this mindset has to be shared by all the group members. We assume that at the height of an intractable conflict it is shared by the great majority of group members, but over time, when the peace process begins and continues, the sharing may be significantly diminished.
47 Sewell Chan, ‘Iranian Leader, Calling Introductory Remarks Insulting, Addresses Columbia’, New York Times, 25 September 2007.
48 Ethos of conflict, defined as the configuration of central societal beliefs that provide a particular dominant orientation to a society experiencing prolonged intractable conflict (see D. Bar-Tal, above note 28). It has been proposed that in the context of intractable conflict, such an ethos evolves with eight themes (see D. Bar-Tal, Societal beliefs in times of intractable conflict: The Israeli case, International Journal of Conflict Management, 9, 1998, pp. 22–50; and D. Bar-Tal, above note 1), as follows: societal beliefs about the justness of one's own goals first of all outline the goals in conflict, indicate their crucial importance and provide explanations and rationales for them. Societal beliefs about security stress the importance of personal safety and national survival, and outline the conditions for their achievement. Societal beliefs of a positive collective self-image concern the ethnocentric tendency to attribute positive traits, values and behaviour to one's own society. Societal beliefs about one's own victimization concern self-presentation as a victim, especially in the context of the intractable conflict. Societal beliefs about the delegitimization of the opponent are beliefs that deny the adversary's humanity. Societal beliefs about patriotism generate attachment to the country and society by propagating loyalty, love, care and sacrifice. Societal beliefs about unity refer to the importance of ignoring internal conflicts and disagreements during intractable conflict in order to join forces in the face of the external threat. Finally, societal beliefs about peace refer to peace as the ultimate desire of the society.
49 See D. Bar-Tal, above note 1.
50 D. Bar-Tal, Collective memory of physical violence: Its contribution to the culture of violence, in E. Cairns and M. D. Roe (eds), The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict, Palgrave Macmillan: Houndmills, UK, 2003, pp. 77–93; see also H.C. Kelman, above note 4; J. Mack, above note 4; J.V. Montville, Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies, New York: Lexington Books, 1991; see also V. Volkan, above note 4.
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65 See A. Antonovsky, above note 62; R.S. Lazarus and S. Folkman, Stress, Appraisal and Coping, Springer Publishing Company: New York, 1984.
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67 See V. Volkan, above note 4.
68 See J.H. Liu and D.J. Hilton, above note 36, p. 546.
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70 See R. Ramanathapillai, above note 59.
71 Ibid, p. 1.
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76 See D. Bar-Tal, above note 56.
77 See M. Noor, R.J. Brown and G. Prentice, above note 73.
78 See D. Bar-Tal, above note 1.
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82 See J. Herman, above note 5; J. Mack, above note 4; E. Staub and D. Bar-Tal, above note 34; Zur, O., ‘Rethinking “Don‘t blame the victim”: The psychology of victimhood’, Journal of Couples Therapy, Vol. 4, 1994, pp. 15–36.
83 See J.V. Montville, above note 50.
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85 Elcheroth, G., ‘Individual-level and community-level effects of war trauma on social representations related to humanitarian law’, European Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 36, 2006, pp. 907–930.
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88 See D. Corkalo Biruski and S. Penic (in preparation), above note 4.
89 See E. Halperin and D. Bar-Tal (in preparation) Collective beliefs about victimhood in the Israeli Jewish society and their effects on the view of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
91 See V. Volkan, above note 4.
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93 See A. Jasińska-Kania, above note 40.
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95 See D. Bar-Tal, above note 56.
96 See J. Mack, above note 4.
97 Čehajić, S. and Brown, R., ‘Not in my name: A social psychological study of antecedents and consequences of acknowledgment of ingroup atrocities’, Genocide Studies and Prevention, Vol. 3, 2008, pp. 195–211; J. Chaitin and S. Steinberg, above note 84; E. Staub, above note 45.
98 Schalow, P.G., ‘Japan's war responsibility and the Pan-Asian movement for redress and compensation: An overview’, East Asia, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2000, p. 11.
99 R.F. Baumeister and S. Hastings, ‘Distortions of collective memory: How groups flatter and deceive themselves’, in J.W. Pennebaker, D. Paez and B. Rimé (eds), Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives, Lawrence Erlbaum: Mahwah, NJ, 1997, pp. 277–293.
100 See G. Ross, above note 44.
101 D.E. Broadbent, ‘Decision and Stress’, Academic Press: London, 1971; R.R. Mackie, Vigilance: Theory, Operational Performance and Physiological Correlates, Plenum: NY, 1977.
102 See H.C. Kelman, above note 4.
103 See M.J.A. Wohl and N. Branscombe, above note 25.
104 N.R. Branscombe, ‘A social psychological process perspective on collective guilt’, in N.R. Branscombe and B. Doosje (eds), Collective Guilt: International Perspectives, Cambridge University Press: New York, 2004, pp. 320–334; N.R. Branscombe, N. Ellemers, R. Spears and B. Doosje, ‘The context and content of social identity threat’, in N. Ellemers, R. Spears and B. Doosje (eds), Social Identity: Context, Commitment, Content, Blackwell Publishers: Oxford, England, 1999, pp. 35–58; Branscombe, N.R., Schmitt, M.T. and Schiffhauer, K., ‘Racial attitudes in response to thoughts of White privilege’, European Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 37, 2007, pp. 203–215.
105 See M. Wohl and N. Branscombe, above note 25.
106 Y. Klar, N. Schori and S. Roccas, The shadow of the past: perpetual victimhood in intergroup conflicts, unpublished data, Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University, 2009.
107 S. Čehajić and R. Brown (in preparation), Victimhood and acknowledgment of ingroup atrocities, unpublished manuscript.
108 See N. Schori, Y. Klar and S. Roccas, When past is present: reminders of historical victimhood and their effect on intergroup conflicts, unpublished data, Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University, 2009.
109 Ha'aretz, 29 April 1973.
110 See D. Bar-Tal, above note 1.
111 See S. Čehajić and R. Brown, above note 97.
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114 D. Enns, Identity and Victimhood, Berghof Occasional Paper No. 28, Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management: Berlin, 2007; E. Staub and D. Bar-Tal, above note 34.
115 Lickel, B., Miller, N., Stenstrom, D.M., Denson, T. and Schmader, T., ‘Vicarious retribution: The role of collective blame in intergroup aggression’, Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 10, 2006, pp. 372–390.
116 O. Botcharova, ‘Implementation of track two diplomacy: Developing a model for forgiveness’, in G. Raymond, S.J. Helmick and R.L. Peterson (ed), Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation, Temple Foundation Press: Philadelphia, 2001, pp. 279–304.
117 See E. Staub, above note 45.
118 Bandura, A., ‘Moral disengagement in the perpetration of inhumanity’, Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1999, pp. 193–209.
119 See R. Ramanathapillai, above note 59.
120 M. Mamdani, When victims become killers: Colonialism, nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2001, p. 34.
122 See V. Vollhardt, above note 56.
* The authors would like to thank Johanna Vollhardt, Sabina Čehajić-Clancy, Dinka Corkalo Biruski, Yechiel Klar and Dario Spini for their helpful comments on the earlier draft of the present paper.
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