The Argentine love affair with Freud
By Maryam Schumacher Nov 4, 2010, 4:06 GMT
Buenos Aires - Sigmund Freud has risen to the status of a pop icon in Argentina, a country that still dreams of its illustrious past while simultaneously processing the trauma inflicted during its dictatorship.
Buenos Aires has more psychologists per capita than any other city in the world - 795 for every 100,000 people. That compares with 100 for every 100,000 in New York and 25 per 100,000 in Berlin.
The founder of psychoanalysis is omnipresent in the Argentine capital. Freud appears in all forms of media - television, radio, books and in periodicals available at city kiosks.
Behind the popularity of psychology lies deep-seated insecurity over personal identity, the trauma of the 1976-83 military dictatorship and the economic crisis.
The massive increase in the prevalence of psychoanalysis among the Argentine middle class and its acceptance in the popular culture of Argentina goes hand in hand with an uncertainty over nationality and identity, US sociologist Jeffrey Bass has written. An example of this is revealed in the pride many people feel over their Italian surnames, which indicate their European roots.
Argentine society is greatly swayed by trauma and dreams and the country's own rise and fall.
At the outset of the 20th century Argentina went through a golden age. The national economy boomed, reaching the rank of seventh-largest in the world. Literature, theatre and melancholy tango music flourished and urban architecture copied European belle epoque style. It was also a period when many immigrants arrived from Europe for political and economic reasons.
It was all wiped away by tyranny when the military seized power in a coup in 1976. The years that followed were the most brutal in the history of Latin America. During the military dictatorship that lasted until 1983 about 30,000 people disappeared without a trace. The record now shows that they were tracked, forcefully taken, tortured and murdered.
The debate over this dark chapter in the history of the country is still not over. Scholars who have studied Argentina agree that these events traumatized an entire society. Furthermore, the trauma is being carried over from one generation to the next. In psychology this is called trans-generational trauma.
How does a country deal with this historical burden? The repeal of an amnesty law for those responsible for the military junta opened a new chapter in the process of coming to terms with the past.
'With more than 200 trials under way, Argentina is going through a unique examination of its dictatorial past,' said Argentine essayist Beatriz Sarlo. The historical meaning of the court cases is in some ways comparable to the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders following World War Two.
Argentina experienced a further low during the economic crisis of 1998-2002 when the country's economy crashed. The deep recession and the collapse of the finance system left Argentina broke. Gross domestic product sank so low that a large part of the Argentine middle class were threatened with unemployment and poverty. Today slums sprawl on the edges of Buenos Aires and in rural provinces children are undernourished.
In the melancholy country people have little hope for a better future. According to surveys of Latinos conducted in recent years, only 13 per cent of the Argentines believe the country will continue to develop. In contrast in neighbouring Brazil, 66 per cent of the population believe in the further development of their country.
One belief that has not been lost in Argentina is faith in psychoanalysts. Two years ago practitioners of psychoanalysis were invited to a congress in Buenos Aires to deal with a question that actually would have been more appropriate for political analysts. The question was how the balance of power in the home of the presidential couple, Cristina and Nestor Kirchner - who died on October 27 - would be interpreted after she succeeded her husband in office.
Read more about Lifestyle