Ana Antic’s research project aims to interrogate the post-WWII emergence of discourses of internationalist, humanitarian and pacifist social psychiatry, and the way those discourses shaped and were in turn affected by the psychiatric involvement in addressing the enormous mental health consequences of the war in Eastern Europe.

The idea of internationalist psychiatry and its role in educating people for transnational, cosmopolitan citizenship, re-creating peace and preventing conflict underwrote the creation of international psychiatric and mental health institutions. Ana’s research explores why psychiatry was accorded such important political and social tasks, and how its practitioners went about putting such lofty ideals into practice.


Patient case history (Credit: University Psychiatric Hospital Vrapce, Zagreb, Croatia)

Ana looks at the involvement of mental health experts in the project of postwar reconstruction, social re-building and psychological and political healing, and asks how local and international psychiatrists and psychoanalysts developed, discussed and implemented their ideas for turning masses of profoundly psychologically damaged populations into functioning citizens of postwar anti-fascist states. She also examines the psychiatric involvement in political projects of re-educating former low- and middle-ranking collaborators, and their and their families’ gradual integration into postwar societies, asking how the growing science of understanding the ‘fascist mind’ shaped the development of social psychiatry bent on ‘curing’ entire societies rather than individual patients. Finally, Ana’s research contrasts the postwar discourse of psychiatry as a tool for humanitarianism with the transnational psychiatric networks which developed within the socialist block and focused on applying psychiatric and psychoanalytic concepts to projects of forceful political ‘re-education.’

In the aftermath of WWII, psychiatry and mental health sciences indeed held great importance for the proper functioning of European societies, which struggled to re-gain some semblance of normalcy. Ana proposes to view the widespread effects of the extreme psychological trauma in the immediate postwar period as an urgent and very threatening public health crisis. In 1945, Europe faced a daunting task of re-building healthy and anti-fascist societies from deeply traumatized populations, and turning masses of profoundly psychologically damaged people into functioning postwar democratic citizens. In Eastern and Central Europe the scale of human and material destruction and dislocation was even larger, and Ana’s research examines how mental health sciences came to be viewed as an ally in the painful process of rebuilding and recovery, and how the assumption emerged that psychological and psychiatric recovery necessarily preceded political healing. The problem of mental health of different kinds of survivors, most particularly children – victims of WWII, created an opportunity for the new internationalist social psychiatry to be immediately applied, and it also pushed both mental health or relief workers and politicians to develop transnational agendas, projects and exchanges of psychiatric knowledge and practices. With regard to the health of children – considered to be the future of European societies – Ana will look at (sometimes less than harmonious) interactions between local mental health practitioners and representatives of international organizations, and explore how the theme of wartime psychological trauma and recovery of children informed both political and psychiatric conceptualizations of postwar reconstruction.

At the same time, the project of re-building democratic societies after the catastrophe of 1941-1945 had yet another significant issue to take on, and it concerned the perpetrators and collaborationists who could not be tried and whose families also needed to be re-integrated in the new societies. In the background of high-profile war crimes trials and German defendants, East European societies dealt with their own contingent of mid- and low-level collaborators who were never taken to court but still presented a glaring problem for political restructuring. How were psychiatry and psychoanalysis involved in this project of political re-education, and how did the emerging psychiatric understanding of the ‘fascist mind’ affect political practices of democratization and de-Nazification? This research argues that, under the circumstances, a mental health movement emerged that proposed a psychotherapy of sorts for Europe’s postwar societies – what were the characteristics of that psychotherapy, and how was psychiatry to get adapted to treating entire societies and nations rather than only individuals? Moreover, how was the psychiatric community to be involved in resolving the burning problem of postwar criminality: how did the mental health profession relate the rising crime rates of the postwar years to the issue of perpetrators, war crimes, and the general amoralization of European societies during WWII? How were these pervasive problems discussed and resolved across borders as well as within individual societies? Finally, with regard to dealing with both victims and perpetrators in WWII, Ana will explore the extent to which Eastern Europe was included in broader European and global medical-psychiatric networks at the very beginning of the Cold War.

The development of internationalist psychiatry, which proclaimed itself committed to democratization and humanitarian anti-war projects, constitutes one aspect of the story. At the same time, Eastern Europe saw the rise of a string of socialist regimes on its territory, and the Soviet-dominated part of Europe was equally interested in working with psychiatrists to resolve some major issues in the process of postwar reconstruction and socialist re-building. The authorities there were also preoccupied with creating anti-fascist and socialist/communist democratic citizens, but the methodology and final goals were significantly different. Here Ana’s project looks at the development of an alternative transnational psychiatric network, and the emergence of socialist globalization in the sphere of psychiatric and psychoanalytic knowledge/practices. Ana is particularly interested in the participation of psychoanalysts and psychiatrists in socialist ‘re-education’ camps for political prisoners (the most notorious of which were the Pitesti and Aiud prisons in Romania, and Goli Otok in Yugoslavia), and will trace the emergence of regional psychiatric/psychoanalytic networks around the project of political ‘re-education’ in the early Cold War period. How was this psychiatric internationalism different from the one informing international health and relief organizations, and was socialist psychiatric internationalism more effective in achieving its proclaimed goals than its Western counter-part? This research will also be relevant for our understanding of the socialist bloc, its political goals, its treatment of medical professions (especially psychoanalysis), as well as of the dynamic relationships between different states within the Soviet-dominated camp.

Ana Antic

Ana Antic