European Cultural Komplexes – Kopenhagen 2013

European Cultural Komplexes – Kopenhagen 2013


Nazi Germany during the war: A man was reading a book in the train titled „Mary Stuart“. A Nazi in uniform watched him and asked with a sharp voice: What are you reading, it looks English!

The man answers: This book is from Friedrich Schiller, one of our greatest poets.

But why “Mary Stuart”? asks the Nazi.

The man answers: Schiller wrote books for all European nations. For the British he wrote “Mary Stuart”, for the Swiss “Wilhelm Tell”, for the French “Jeanne d? Arc” and for the Italians “The Fiesco di Genoa. For the Spanish he wrote “Don Carlos”.

And what did he write for the Germans? asks the Nazi.

The man answers: The Robbers.

This kind of jokes, told secretly during the dictatorship, may show something about what a Cultural Complex is: You may laugh at it, even if you don?t understand the meaning the joke had or has for (in this case) a German. Schiller in those years 1933 to 1945 was a secret hero and code for those Germans who could not accept Hitler and his criminals to be representatives of German culture. Schiller had been a revolutionary, a liberal thinker and poet, much more than his elder friend Goethe. “The Robbers” (1781) is a theater piece about a group of freedom fighters, living in the forest not unlike Robin Hood. Karl Moor, the leader of the robbers is a man who was betrayed and cheated out of his heritage and the love of his father by his bad brother. Karl Moor represents the good, he finally can even rescue his old father (who was imprisoned by his bad brother) and was in fact a symbol for resistance. Sophie Scholl and the “White Rose” used to quote Schiller on their leaflets; they were sentenced to death in 1943. Schiller was a true European and admired the French Revolution 1789 against the Tyranny – this is another level in the joke. Nevertheless in 1934 (his 175th anniversary) Schiller was officially praised by Goebbels a true “German genius”, but in 1941 his “Wilhelm Tell” was forbidden by Hitler.

The Cultural Complex is something you can?t understand looking at it from outside – without being emotionally touched. The emotional impact is essential as in every other complex. On the other side a kind of analytic or scientific approach is necessary if one touches a Cultural Complex, for example in a therapy with a patient from another culture, to avoid prejudices and stereotypes as much as possible. I personally came to the issue during my work in developing Groups in Eastern Europe. I had to realize that people with another cultural background do experience some realities differently. This was the case with Polish colleagues, Latvian, Ukrainian, Russian, but also with English or French. It is not just about facts in history but about deep convictions, tastes, fears – in one word: complexes which seem to be autonomous to a certain point. Asking myself what I was looking for in these countries I realized that I was looking for my lost European family. The door opened when the wall came down in 1989.

It is dangerous matter. I want to clarify in the beginning that my speech will not be “politically correct”. It can?t be so because political correctness is different from country to country. What feels absolutely clear for a Ukrainian may be absolute wrong for a Russian, and vice versa. Or what feels familiar for a Catalan is not necessary what somebody from Castilia likes. Another remark: I am not talking about guilt (…) but about guilt complexes. I am not diminishing the German responsibility for the holocaust. I am interested in what the guilt makes with us, with me (born 1950) and with the others. We can find guilt complexes in most countries, mostly hidden in a collective shadow and amnesia. And if we want to learn from history we should look at our collective complexes. I am still in the beginning of these studies. My paper is not perfect and shall give a first orientation.

My paper has 6 parts:

  • 1. What is Europe?
  • 2. Founding myths of European nations – for example Denmark
  • 3. Steps to define the Cultural Complex — Switzerland
  • 4. What is a Nation?
  • 5. Other members of the family – Italy, Austria, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden
  • 6. Outlook


  1. What is“ Europe“- Europa?
  • Europe – „the girl with good and bright shining eyes“was a beautiful Asian (Phoenician) princess, kidnapped by Zeus in the shape of a white bull and brought to the island of Crete. Conflicts, arguments, influences and mutual projections between Asia and Europe became essential for the European identity.
  • Europe’s Self definition goes via difference and diversity – to the outside and inside. There are many countries and cultures, languages and dialects, traditions, kitchen styles, political memories, cultural and national identities like a patchwork, but also a European entity with characteristic general attributes. Europe today is a process, in a globalized world, to create and to discover Europe’s own soul within the many faces. The political and financial European Union is just one aspect, focussing on a shared European identity but also reactivating differences and different cultural complexes of its members. Great Britain and Switzerland don?t have the Euro, Poland and others are still in a waiting position. Hungary today plays the part of a neo-nationalistic outsider. Russia, also partly a European country, is on the way back to autocracy.
  • Europe is a matter of heart for many whose ideas go beyond narrow national boarders. But less more than twenty years after the collapse of the eastern bloc system, during the current crisis of the economical system we see the rebirth of some older patterns of sometimes dangerous nationalistic thinking. The issue of triggered and activated cultural complexes is again of urgent interest. Seen from a Jungian perspective the longing for a greater framework or homeland is a function of the anima. But the many souls of European cultures and nations also have their own emotional centre and anima. This makes our feeling and identity as members of our own people.
  1. Foundation Myths of European Nations:
  • In this paper I will focus on National Complexes. Nation and Cultural Complex is not the same. But at least in the last two hundreds of years often culture and nation were seen as overlapping. The national complex is a striking example for a cultural complex. In many countries, nevertheless, there were and still are movements for autonomy which, from the nation’s perspective, are perceived as threatening symptoms of a possible disintegration.
  • Myths are a gateway to collective complexes. The elaborated founding myths of modern nations are not just projections or prejudices but documents about the collective narratives in the 18th and 19th century. European Nations as understood by history and cultural sciences like historiography, ethnology and sociology are comparatively young. The oldest regarding themselves a modern „Nation“were France and Spain, the youngest are Belgium and Greece.
  • Most of the European nations were created/invented in the late 18th and 19th century. A national mythology was to assist the „birth of nations“in that period.
  • A first example: Denmark
  • Often the Danish Anima is referred to the mythological queen Thyra, the mother of King Harold around 1000 a. D. — Harold became the king on England, too. Modern “Nations” did not exist in the medieval times. The foundation myths of the modern nation nevertheless referred to mythological ancestors.
  • A famous myth is how the Danish flag „Danebrog“ fell from heaven in a critical moment of a Danish crucade (!) in Estonia in 1219. The flag with the cross was an emblem for Christian states since the Roman emperor Constantine in the 3rd century (In hoc signo vinces). The Danebrog legend dates from 16th century and was activated about 1830 for patriotic purposes. The painting is from 1809.
  • Another collective memory is the agrarian reform and the liberation of the peasants by the Danish king in 1788. It became important for the development of a peaceful agreement between the monarchy and the free peasants and contributed to a stable inner constitution. The king became the good archetypal father. In nearly all North European states still today we find Monarchies which are essential for the nation’s identity.
  • In 1846 a war between little Denmark and strong Prussia took place. The suffering of the heroic soldiers became another connecting memory in the Danish Cultural Complex: to be small, but heroic. Maybe this threatening existential experience was influencing the writings of Kierkegaard („Either – Or“in 1843, “The Illness to Death” in 1849). The little mermaid in Copenhagen (following a fairy tale by Andersen) can be interpreted as an expression of collective melancholy.
  • In the Danish national myth so we find ingredients of many other national complexes: A mythological hero or heroine, a crusade (mostly against Islamic invaders), a magical event and battles against the neighbors.

3. Steps to define the Cultural Complex

  • Complexes are the organs or working tools of the psyche. Psyche and complexes is the same (Jung). They represent the mental or „inner“aspect of reality. A Complex as well as an organ of the body has a double goal: to work at its place for the sake of a greater system from which it is a part, and to reproduce itself. It is a dual relationship.
  • There is a Cultural Unconscious (Henderson). It is a collective phenomenon; the individual psyche is an embedded part of it. The individual psyche is emerging out of the collective stratum which differentiates to a functional matrix (Neumann, Fordham, Bateson, and Varela). But the original stratum, the collective unconscious, is still around us and in us.
  • Cultural Complexes, like all other complexes, tend to reproduce themselves. If they don?t they dry out – „Use it or lose it“. They emerge in the niche between the ego complex and the surrounding structures. They create and provide an indispensable milieu and ecotopic for the growing of family?s and individual psychic structures. They shape boundaries / membranes, and create inner qualities for containing and keeping the mind together. In times of a collective crisis or ongoing psychic trauma they work as defensive structures against the danger of dissociation. Sometimes they create a false Self, protecting the true Self of the individual. In the period of the creation of nations in the 18th and 19th century and in the conflicts between the national states often age old Cultural Complexes were activated. Archetypal Images and narratives came alive and were used for political reasons.
  • Cultural Complexes develop reflecting outer conditions: geological, historical, agricultural etc. An isolated culture will find other repetitive pattern (“RIGs”) than a culture which over centuries was again and again involved in troubles with its neighbors. There are also traumatized cultures who suffer from strong and inhospitable climate conditions, like the medieval nomadic cultures from the Asian steppes who often invaded the happier western countries.

A meaningful Illusion:

  • Psychic life is a reality but also, as I would say, is an illusion which makes sense. Psyche enables us to react to sensations and disturbances regarding our equilibrium in an energetically adequate manner. Therefore Psyche emerged or was created. Its complexes provide tools and patterns for selecting information, for differentiating them and for a timely and energetically adequate reaction. This is basically, too, the origin of Cultural Complexes. Nevertheless sometimes Cultural Complexes behave like autonomous complexes, may be reactivated and become dangerous like, as Jung said (Wotan 1936), a rushing stream of water after rainfall, in an old and forgotten dry riverbed.

Many Aspects and Qualities

  • Talking about Cultural Complexes is talking about identity – about very personal and intimate matter. It is about who you are and what you are, about normality and otherness, of necessary and not necessary boundaries. If a comment on your own culture or nation provokes immediate emotional reactions then it is certainly about a Cultural Complex. The core of the complex is emotion, rounded and triggered by words, associations, images, memories of all kinds, tastes, and prejudices a. s. o.
  • Talking about your identity is like trying to see yourself and your emotional reactions from outside. Often the reactions are so strong that we must suppose that it is not only about the shadow but about the Self. In the Self the innermost and precious elements of our psychic life are contained and tend to be protected. Then it is about absolute convictions, about taste and basic elements of our culture. Some would even die for these convictions.
  • The language, ways of cooking, the fine nuances of expressing relationships, drinking rituals, family traditions, family narratives, family taboos, ways to bring up children, birthday rites, funeral rites, religious convictions which are inherited from generations, projections on clan enemies, national identity, things to be proud on or to neglect, to forget, clothing styles, ways to work, to structure the day (siesta?) and the week (Shabbat or Sunday)– all these kinds of carriers of personal identity can be counted among elements of Cultural Complexes. If one neglects them something feels deeply wrong.
  • To give you harmless examples: In Italy it is absolutely incorrect to put cheese on fish. In Munich if you want to order Weisswurst after 11 a.m. you will be regarded a fool or a Prussian. In interactions and relationships Cultural Complexes play a predominant role: The rites around love, mating and sexuality are very sensitive and the young people have to learn their cultural language.
  • Cultural Complexes as means of identity are a bit like traps. We step in them and can?t escape. They behave like autonomous complexes as discovered by Jung. They are loaded with meaning stronger than our Ego complex. This is the case, for example, in religious convictions. Often it is impossible to discuss them, and the people don?t know what is going on with them.
  • One example is the famous “German Angst”: Something terrible may happen (as it was true sometimes in German history…). Today there is also an “American Angst” after 9/11, and behind this a big shadow and unconscious guilt complex. The German Angst nowadays often appears in the form of collective panic attacks, mostly regarding epidemic diseases, viruses or polluted foodstuffs. Germans are very sensitive against biogenetics – may be this complex can be a useful working tool to handle the ecological problems produced by profit oriented international companies.
  • A way to approach Cultural Complexes is the circumambulation: to study similar pattern, to amplify, to create a protected space for its communication and exploration. The academic cultural scientific approaches in most cases miss the emotional impact – the energetic centre of the Complex.
  • Humor – the ability to make jokes on your own culture is a sign of a balanced psyche. Some contain a deep knowing about one’s own Cultural Complex:
  • A French joke: Charles de Gaulle once said: How to govern a people which have at least 160 different kinds of cheese?
  • A Swiss joke:

A new teacher gives her first lecture in the school. Today, she says, we will talk about a very interesting issue: Where do the little children come from? One child answers: They are brought by the stork. Another child says: The little children are born in the hospital. A third child says: The little children are born if father and mother love each other. Then a fourth child stands up and says: I think, this is different from Kanton to Kanton – es ist unterschiedlich von Kanton zu Kanton.

  • Another Example: Switzerland
  • The integrative foundation myth around Wilhelm Tell is well known. He became a symbol for a liberation fight until Schiller and for the resistance during the Nazi time in Germany. Another Swiss hero, rediscovered in the 19th century, was Winkelried, a farmer who sacrificed himself for the sake of his homeland. The famous Ruetli-Schwur became a symbol of the cooperation of the Kantons and of the emerging Swiss nation – a nation with three main languages. What seemed to unite the Swiss people were the rejection of autocracy and the idea of a basic democracy which is a central Swiss value still today. Switzerland developed a civil self image: with legends like the “Kappeler Milchsuppe” 1529 (two hostile Kantons suspended their battle for a common lunch of a soup of bread and milk) or the national hero Heinrich Pestalozzi. Switzerland often felt threatened by its bigger neighbors. It will be interesting to examine the traces of Swiss cultural complexes in the work of C. G. Jung.
  1. What is a Nation?
  • Nations were born in the 18th and 19th century when the religious orientation had lost much of its power. The Enlightenment had brought the idea of individual freedom, modern science and democracy. Historians often call the „Birth of Nations“ a reaction to the French Revolution in 1789 and the Napoleonic occupation of the entire European continent. During the liberation wars nationalistic movements emerged in many countries. Economical interests of the emerging industrial national market came together with the new democratic ideas, combining the new enlightened ideas of freedom with the longing for a new spiritual orientation – a new screen for the projection of the Self, or a new collective container for this longing. The former projection of the Self to God and religion then was replaced by the projection onto one’s own nation.
  • „L?oubli et je dirai m?me l?erreur historique, sont un facteur essentiel de la formation d?une nation et c?est ainsi que la progr?s des ?tudes historiques est souvent pour la nationalit? un danger“. (Ernest Renan, „Qu`est-ce qu`un nation? “, 1882)
  • Nation is not race, nor a special language, nor a special religion nor a special region or country. Ernest Renan said in a famos Definition:
  • „A nation is a soul, a mental principle. Two things, which are in fact one, form this principle. One of them belongs to the past, the other to the present time. The one is a common rich heritage of memories, the other is the shared wish to live together (…) A nation therefore is a huge solidarity community, carried on by the feeling for the sacrifices which were brought, and what you are willing to offer in the future.“ Essential is the wish to stay and to live together. Later on Renan adds: „The essence of a nation is that all individuals have a lot in common, and that they all have forgotten a lot. “
  • In the time of fighting against Napoleon the emerging nations began to understand themselves a European family. In the differentiating European family many wars happened between the family members. In the more or less friendly and peaceful relationship to the neighbor the national complex often worked like a collective persona. Of course the collective shadow had to be hidden.
  • In addition to E. Renan I would say: The cultural complex has two sides: one of them structuring the collective psyche of a culture/ a nation insides, and a another to the outside, to the neighbors. It doesn?t exist without the corresponding complex of the other. The interrelatedness of cultural complexes means that if a cultural or national complex has to be transformed this will be possible only in cooperation and transformation of the neighbor?s complex. When after WW II France (de Gaulle) and Germany (Adenauer) began their work on reconciliation they were aware of this mutual interconnectedness. A similar project is the mutual understanding of Germany and Poland, and that of Poland and Russia today. There is no baby without its mother, there is no persona without the other, and there is no nation without its neighbor.
  • On the inner side: You can deeply and thoroughly understand only your own culture. You may reflect your face in the face of the other (E. Levinas) or in the mask the other wears, but to realize your own face you have to experience it from your inner side.

5. Other members of the Family:

  • Italy
  • Interestingly the antique Roman history was not the reference mythology during the time of Italian?s unification and nation building. “Fare gli italiani” was in fact and mentally linked with figures like Garibaldi, Vittorio Emanuele and Giuseppe Verdi. But there were also mythological pattern involved with the medieval poet Dante (the founder of modern Italian language and “Patron of the Risorgimento”) or the child Balilla who in 1842 gave the impulse for the uprising against the Austrians in Genoa. The first little car Fiat 5oo “cinquecento“ was named “Balilla” after this hero child. Ernst Bernhard wrote in 1961 an interesting paper about the possibility of Jungian analysis in the Country of the Great Mother. This was the first paper about a cultural complex. Remarkably is that in the Italian neo-mythology a melancholic poet and a boy played the important roles – not a male or female hero!
  • Austria
  • Italy, country of the great mother, freed itself from the “matriarchal” Austrian Reich. Foundation myths of Austria are linked with the Habsburg dynasty and the former “Holy Roman Empire of German Nation”. The narratives in the 18th and 19th century emphasized the integrative culture of the “Reich” which was a “home for many nations”. One aspect often mentioned was the policy of arranged marriages – the first that of Emperor Maximilian with Maria from Burgund. “Bella gerant alii – tu felix Austria nube”. The empire was often shown in its civil aspect. The Empress Maria Theresa had 16 children. When she became Austrian queen in the age of 24 she had to convince the Hungarian nobles to accept her and the Habsburg government. It was said that she got their support by showing herself a helpless poor princess begging for assistance and finally she was crowned the Hungarian queen, too. Two generations later Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) became another heroine. She suffered from the burden of the huge and age old empire, became anorectic and an identification figure for many girls and woman today who are suffering from gender roles. The Austrian complex of grandiosity today is linked with the feelings of loss of international importance and the shadow of the Nazi time. Positive national heroes are Mozart (in his time there was no Austrian nation!) and Sigmund Freud.
  • France
  • In contrast to Italy the French national complex shows important mythologized woman. France was often depicted female itself (“Marianne”), and Jeanne d?Arc became a virgin Anima of France. France in the European family is regarded as presenting an erotic womanhood, whereas Italy is seen the domain of the mother.
  • We find also an antique mythological hero: Vercingetorix who fought against the Roman invaders in the same time as the „German“ Arminius (Herman der Cherusker) did. He didn?t win the battle around Alesia (mentioned by Caesar), but he was regarded to have opened Gallia for the Roman culture. He became a symbolic figure for the integration of Celtic and Latin culture. This makes a great difference compared with the German Complex, the fear of alienation. The popular Asterix comics show how lively the complex is still today.
  • Jeanne d?Arc (1429 in Orl?ans) who was reconstructed a symbol mainly for the royalist party in the 19th century. A famous painting from 1887 avoids some critical aspects: Jeanne was sentenced later by the church, and here she is portrayed mainly as a patriot, not a religious visionary. She is like the young Anima of France.
  • Napoelon who inherited (distroyed, abused, transformed) the results of the Great Revolution is a problematic figure. But his myth combines revolutionary / republican perspectives with the attitude of an Emperor, by this bringing together two opposites in the French complex.
  • The French Revolution 1789 changed Europe?s inner map totally. When with the King Luis 16th the archetypal father was brought to the guillotine together with the ancien regime also the psychological order of ages ended. It began a fundamental crisis which finally let to the emergence of many new cultural complexes. Still today the revolution (July 14th) is a date for joy and for melancholy in France. One may also reflect if the killing of the father had an impact of French male gender attitudes.
  • The image / phantasy of Napoleon in the battle at the pyramids in Egypt (1798, painted 1799) may express grandiosity and the longing for a hero you can trust in. It also shows consciousness about the historic situation – „four millions years are looking upon you“ he said to his soldiers before the battle. The battle was the first victory of young Napoleon over the British, and it happend a long time before he made himself an emperor (betraying the legacy of the republican revolution) and years before he became the curse of millions of people. So the shadow side of Napoleon was excluded in this famous painting. The pyramids in the background were seen as a symbol for the empire he and France were going to build in those years.
  • Great Britain
  • Two European countries seem to play the role of family members with own interests: Great Britain and Switzerland. In German newspapers GB today is often regarded as deliberately associated with the USA, whereas Switzerland carries the projection of a somehow autistic wealthy folk living behind the seven mountains. Both nations share a history of defense from continental interests and the tendency to close up from the internal quarrels on the European mainland. On the other side GB welcomed many Jewish refugees during WW II and was a reliable resort for European democratic traditions.
  • England and France do have a shared history of mutual conflicts, invasion, a hundred years of war, in which Jeanne d?Arc played her role, and rivalry about their position in the former colonial system. Following the literature milestones in the creation of British Culture were the Magna Charta 1215, the foundation of modern civil rights, the Virgin Queen (compare her with Maria Theresa from Austria with her 16 children!) and her bloody fight with Mary Stuart, the victory over the Spanish Armada 1588 (Britannia Rules the Waves). Another magical and mythologized event was when in 1688 the Dutch Prince William III. From Oranie was called to be the king of England and to end the reign of Jacob. The Bill of Rights gave GB a constitution. The arrival of the new era was shown by Turner in the 19th century like a miracle: The redeemer arrives in a small boat in stormy weather. The phantasy had nothing to do with the historial reality. Another famous myth is that around Lord Nelson. His death at Trafalgar (1805) became a national icon. Queen Victoria, a great mother figure, represented the idea of an empire, similar to Maria Theresa and the Habsburg Reich. The empire had its shadow side. But Ghandi was lucky to have got such a civilized enemy.
  • „Britishness“ is a very strong cultural complex I fear to touch. When the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recently decided not to prolong the contract with Sir Simon Rattle as their Conductor, the British Prime Minister said: It should not be a problem, if the next will be British again.
  • Belgium
  • Belgium is one of the youngest European nations; state and nation were created quasi artificially in 1830/31. Today the national unity is in question again – Belgium has no government today! In 19th century mainly 3 narratives were used for the psychological constitution of Belgium: Godfroid from Bouillon, Comte Egmont and the Belgish revolution 1831 / 32.
  • Godfroid from Buillon, a crusader who conquered Jerusalem in 1055 and founded the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem. The Nationalists in the 19th century had to declare that Godfroid did not participate in the cruelties the crusaders committed. It didn?t matter that in medieval times Belgium did not exist neither as a nation nor as a state. But he was regarded the most important national Hero.
  • It is remarkable that in many European national myths we find a military encounter with the Islamic world. The crusades are a highly controversial issue today – this is a proof that we deal here with a cultural complex! The “Holy war“ of today’s Islamists is sometimes understood as equivalent or complementary to the crusaders behave in the 12th century. Europe the Christian „Princess from Asia“had a lot of trouble with her Asian relatives. Seen from the perspective of cultural identity Europe seems to have got shape in contrast and difference to its Islamic enemy or counterpart. In fact without the Christian Reconquista in Spain until 1492 (the defeat of Granada) and without Prince Eugen and the Polish king Jan Sobjeski who released Vienna from the Turkish siege in 1683 Europe would not exist today. The defense against Islamic-Tartar invasion is also part of the national myths of Poland and Russia. Hungary is still today suffering from the 150 years of Turkish occupation after the battle of Mohacs in 1526. A similar trauma is still alive in Greece – and kept alive by the “recent” Turkish occupation of Asia Minor after WW I and of Cyprus. It seems, too, that the militant European Christianity for some centuries was shaped in the controversies with the Islamic world.
  • In the medieval poem „Perceval“ by Wolfram from Eschenbach the Christian hero Perceval has a half-brother, the Islamic Feirefitz — their father had been on a crusade and fell in love there with an Islamic queen. The two brothers meet each other and become friends. When Perceval releases the wounded Kind of the Grail during the ceremony Feirefitz falls in love with a Christian princess!
  • Germany
  • German Cultural Complexes – or The German Cultural Complex – today has to do with guilt, for a long time with inferiority and superiority feelings, the fear from foreign infiltration (the other) and with split.
  • An early German „nation“was formed in the period of the „Holy Roman Empire of German Nation“which lasted until 1816. This empire had been the strongest political entity in Europe since Roman times, and its restoration became a goal for the centuries after it fell apart in the time of religious wars.
  • A modern German „nation“then was rebuilt not before the liberation war against Napoleon. In this period of reorientation some age old myths were reanimated: That of medieval emperor Barbarossa who died in 1190, since that time waiting for his resurrection in Mount Kyffh?user; the figure of Martin Luther fighting against the Roman catholic church, and as the oldest myth: the victory of a Germanic tribe leader named Herman der Cherusker / Arminius against the Roman General Varo in the mythic year 9 a.D.
  • All these German heroes have in common that they fought against the „other“ to protect Germany from foreign control: be this the high developed Roman culture, the right of the pope to decide politics of the medieval empire (Barbarossa), or the power of Roman catholic church (Luther). It is remarkable that the German Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa has an Italian name – it shows how close the cultures were.
  • The German Empire (the „second“) was constructed by the Prussian chancellor Bismarck in 1871 after the victory over France. Then legendary Arminius, Barbarossa, Luther and Bismarck were placed side a side in the German inner pantheon.
  • A painting (1832) of Emperor Barbarossa, who fell into a river and died on a crusade shows a religious arrangement like with the body of Christ. The mythos about the old emperor who would come back to rescue the German empire in the time of its deepest crisis was actively reanimated when the new empire of 1871 was established. Hitler who?s „Third Reich“lasted only for 12 years (1933 to 1945) called his war against the Sowjet Union after the mythic man: „Unternehmen Barbarossa“ – Barbarossa enterprise.
  • Emperor William I. was in 1871 praised as „Barbabianca — White beard“to make the circle round.
  • With the reformation and the consecutive religious wars (mainly the 30 years war 1618-1648) the split in German Culture became obvious – that between Catholics and Protestants, between north and south, which was reenacted somehow by the German split after 1945 and with the Berlin Wall. Winnicott called the Berlin Wall in 1968 a „chance for cooling down and achieving the depressive position“after the hot manic period of WW II.
  • Split and Anti-Semitism
  • The pattern of split has already been an element of German culture in the middle ages when Jews and Christians for centuries lived in parallel societies and neighborhoods near each other. Whereas in other European countries Jews were strictly not allowed to settle and to live in (Spain, France, England) most European Jews lived in German territory. The coming up of a Christian bourgeoisie in the medieval cities and later on of a „nation“ went together with pogroms against the Jewish competitors on the markets, and there was a continuous Jewish migration toward east (Poland, Bohemia, Galicia) where the people made use of the Jewish skills. Christian anti-Semitism was stimulated and politically used in periods of nation building in all countries where Jews lived (Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, even in the Netherlands). On the other side after Napoleon and the liberation wars there was a strong trend to Assimilation of Jews in the German states (Bavarian and Prussian constitution). The Jewish population became an integrated part of the modern “German nation” – be it as christened (assimilated) like the Mendelssohn family or in emancipate Jewish communities. This symbiosis (Martin Buber) lasted until 1933.
  • Religious convictions belong to the strongest cultural complexes. They seem to provide a system for an integration of many layers of experience, emotions of all kinds, fears, fantasies, hopes, social pattern and so on. Following C. G. Jung central religious entities like images of God can?t be differentiated from images of the Self. An important dynamic in all European religions is about inclusion and exclusion.
  • „Nation“means (following E. Renan): With whom do I want to live together and share history and future? When the National socialists began with the Holocaust they also destroyed what had been grown as a German Nation, as Martin Buber said in 1937. This was also the point made by Hannah Arendt.
  • From Versailles 1871 to Versailles 1918:
  • The war against France and the proclamation of the (second) German Reich 1871 in Versailles was aimed to bridge the split in the German countries, kingdoms, religions (catholic, protestant, Jewish) – now all of them had to fight together against the national enemy and finally had won the war. The hostility between Prussia-Germany and France was mentally connected with the age old phantasm of Arminius and the fight against the externalized „other“. The complex was used and stabilized (for a while) via the projection of the inner split onto the French neighbor. After the defeat 1871 France had to pay a lot of reparation to the new German Reich. Within 1871 a period of an amazing industrial, scientific, cultural development in Germany began (but unfortunately not of sufficient democratic attitudes). It was as if the trauma of the Thirty-Years-War, of the collapse of the medieval first Reich and of the Napoleonic invasion was overcome. When in 1914 – 1918 the attempted repetition of 1871 failed with the Treaty of Versailles Germany fell back again into the old complex of inferiority and paranoid split. Democracy finally had no chance against the activated complexes which were abused by Hitler and his group.
  • The German unification after the collapse of the eastern bloc changed again the balance of power in Europe a lot. When Angela Merkel today in other European countries is shown with a Hitler-beard a bundle of complexes and fears of our European neighbors are projected on her. The Cultural Complexes are very lively!
  • Greece
  • The tragedy of Messolunghi in 1826 became a shock for the European countries and the republican freedom fighters like Lord Byron. When the city of Missolunghi could not reject the Turkish siege any more the hungry people tried an heroic exodus in which all of them were killed. Many artists made the defeat public all over Europe. It became a light fire for the liberation of Greece from Islamic occupation. The myth is still alive, and when during the economical crisis in the last years the claims of the European bank were regarded a humiliation the myth was reanimated.
  • Founding myths of Greece often relate to the antique times and its splendor. The heritage is double sided: The poor balkanian country had, after 600 centuries of Turkish occupation, nearly nothing to do with what western European writers, poets and artist projected on it in the 18th and 19th century. When the Greece were looking for a king to represent their new state they chose the Bavarian prince Otto, a son of Bavarian Ludwig I. So the Bavarian flag (white-blue) came to Greece. But the illusion could not stay long, and Otto had to return to Munich in depression.
  • But there is a shared cultural complex between Greece, Italian and French people. When during the German occupation in WW II the persecution of Jews began many Mediterranean people said “Una faccia, una razza” (One face, one race) and refused to collaborate with the Nazis in the persecution of Jews. This shared identity is still alive.


  • Netherlands
  • In the years of the foundation of a Dutch nation a mythological hero Civilis from Batavia was rediscovered a national hero: he fought against the Romans. Of course the liberation fight against the Spanish Catholic Kingdom with the hero Willem from Oranje became a national icon. There was also a hero who committed suicide to kill some Belgians in 1831. J. C. J. van Speyk admired, so was his legend, the famous Dutch Admiral de Ruyter who had won some sea battles against Great Britain. When Belgian soldiers entered the ship van Speyk ignited a barrel full of gunpowder with his cigar. His patriotic act was honored with the building of a lighthouse.
  • Poland
  • Other nations emphasized their offspring from rural cultures. In Poland the mythical wheelwright Piast was elected the first Polish king around 860 AD. The battle of Grunwald/Tannenberg 1410 and the rescue of Vienna by the Polish king Jan Sobieski, who delivered the Christian world from Islam in 1683 were icons for the Polish Self also in the times when Poland as a state did not exist. An important cultural complex of Polish people still today is that of messianism: “…the nation shall arise again and free all the peoples of Europe from slavery” (Mickiewicz 1830). Poland suffered a lot again in WW II, and in the current resurrection many complexes are triggered again. The role of the Polish Pope Jan Pawel for the disentanglement of the Eastern Bloc is like a fulfillment of an old prophecy. Whereas most Polish heroes were not successful at the end or had to live in exile the Pope succeeded. But events like the air crash around Katyn some years ago triggered the other side of the complex: the suffering nation. Nevertheless in the last years there is also a growing ability to look at traumas like the Warsaw uprising 1944.
  • Russia
  • There is an old mythology about 3 brothers: Lech, Czech and Rus. This narrative was activated in the panslawic movement in the 19th century. Lech (Leszek) became the founder of Poland, Czech the founder of Czechia (Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia; the modern Czech Republic), and Rus the ancestor of Russia (and Belarus and Ukraine). Some narratives are also about the invasion of the Islamic Tartars in medieval times and an agreement of Tsar Alexander Newski with them. The agreement then was ended by Tsar Iwan III in 1480. So the complex of being encircled by enemies and that of independence was rooted in pre-national history. Today the main cultural complex is, as far as I see, about the loss of an empire, the loss of the world of the homo sowjeticus, about guilt and mourning. A Russian colleague named the central Russian complex that of inferiority and grandiosity – this is very similar to the German complex!
  • Sweden
  • The national narratives are around fights with the hostile brother nations Denmark, Norway and England. King Gustav Wasa became a hero for the modern nation because in 1521 he could mobilize peasants against the Danish occupation. His grandson Gustav Adolf became a leading figure and a myth for the protestant party in the 30-years war on German territory. He fell in a battle in L?tzen in 1632, regarded as the protector of religious freedom. The modern nation emerged when the dream of a Swedish empire ended.
  1. Outlook

There are many other cultural and even national complexes alive in Europe: to mention just the Baltic nations Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, then Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia, and the “minor” regional complexes like Catalonia, Bask, Scotland or Ireland. Like in a family there are common pattern (some of them astonishingly similar) and differences – each member with his or her own individuality. In times of globalization and migration on a large scale such cultural identities become jeopardized and in the same time especially precious and necessary for the individual psyche. Diversity of cultures seems to be as important as the right to define what is yours.

National complexes in Germany today are not in the focus of interest as it was only a few decades ago. After WW II nationalism was out – for good reasons, guilt and shame. French or English people feel much freer with the subject. In the old-new countries of the former eastern bloc the question of national identities seems to be again of urgent interest. This goes together with restructuring of national idioms, narratives, looking at repressed history, mourning and recovering from unspoken trauma which oppressed people for generations. In some countries there are (again) antidemocratic neo-nationalistic movements. The collapse of the eastern bloc, nevertheless, also in the west had a melting effect. The German superiority complex was reanimated during the financial crisis when populist politicians in interviews used to dupe the Greece people. It seems to be important to promote awareness about the hidden power of the cultural complex, which can be positive and negative, to support consciousness about the cultural needs and shadow sides of the psyche, and to support democratic antibodies.

As C. G. Jung said the only hope for the future lies in the individual – and this individual has needs and must feel rooted in his culture.

Besides all, I find it very interesting to study the culture I am living in with instruments of Analytical psychology. I am glad to talk with members of my regained European family. In the series about “Cultural Complexes“ a European volume will be published next year, edited by Tom Singer and myself. There many contributors of different European countries will reflect their own cultural identity. I want to thank all of them.



  • Some of my material about the “birth of nations” in the 18th and 19th century is taken from: Monika Flacke (ed.): Mythen der Nationen. Ein Europ?isches Panorama, Berlin 1998. Historians there are writing about their own nation’s mythology. This allows some surprising insights, with a reduced danger of prejudices from outside. Thanks, too, to Prof. Etienne Francois for discussions about the issue.