Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 25
13 December 1999

Sam Vaknin A   B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
The Elders of Zion

Sam Vaknin

I was shown the same book in Yugoslavia, in Macedonia and in Bulgaria - The World Conspiracy - a shabby tome written by an ageing "scholar." The main, unabashedly anti-Semitic, hypothesis (presented as undisputed fact) is that the Jews rule the world supreme - always have, probably always will. Lists of prominent Jews in the world of international finance are reprinted with lists of influential Jews in the Soviet Communist regime. And it all amounts to a well-organised, secretive machinery of illicit power, claims the author with all the persuasion of a paranoid.

Yet, anti-Semitism is only one species in a zoo of rumours, conspiracy theories and meta-histories. Superstitions, prejudices and calumny thrive in the putrid soil of disinformation, misinformation and lack of information. In the void created by unreliable, politicised and corrupt media - rumour mills spring eternal.

It is a malignant growth, the outcome of a breakdown of trust so complete that communication is rendered impossible. This is the main characteristic of the East (from Russia to Albania): distrust. Citizens and politicians, businessmen and government, the media and its consumers, manufacturers and service providers, the sick and their doctors - all suspect each other of ulterior motives and foul play. More often than not they are all quite right to do so.

It is a Kafkaesque, sealed universe in which nothing is as it appears to be. This acrimonious divorce between appearances and essence, facade and truth, the Potemkin and the real - is a facet of daily life, of the most mundane exchanges, of the most trivial pursuits. Motives are sought with increasing urgency - why did he do it, what did he try to achieve, why had he not chosen a different path, why here, why with us, why now, what can it teach us. Information is frantically pursued, appearances discarded, data juggled, heated debates ensue, versions erupt, only to subside and be replaced by others. It is a feverish ritual, the sound of clashing exegeses, of theories constructed and demolished in vacuo.

At the heart of it all, is the unbearable uncertainty of being. Political uncertainty under Communism was replaced by economic uncertainty under the insidious and venal form of capitalism that replaced it. Tucked in identical cubicles, the citizens of planet Communism were at least assured of a make belief job in a sprawling bureaucracy or in a decrepit factory, manufacturing redundant documents or shoddy goods.

Subsistence was implicitly guaranteed by the kleptocracy that ruled them, and, in principle, it was always possible to ignore the moral stench and join the nomenklatura, thereby developing instant upward mobility. Corruption, theft and graft were tolerated by the state as a means of complementing income. Life was drab but safe as long as one abstained from politics and subserviently consumed the bitter medicines of acquiescence and collaboration. The vast majority (with the exception of the USSR under Stalin) were not affected by the arbitrary capriciousness of history. They decayed slowly in their housing estates, morally degenerate, possession-less but certain of a future that was the spitting image of their past.

Under the spastic orgy of legalised robbery of state assets that passed for privatisation, millions were made redundant while thousands enriched themselves by choreographed looting. The results were instability, unpredictability, uncertainty and fear.

In a world thus unhinged, the masses groped for reason, for a scheme, for a method in the madness, for an explanation, however sinister and ominous. Anything was preferable to the seemingly random natural forces unleashed upon them with such apparent vengeance. Even a "World Government" (a favourite), the Illuminati (a freemasonry-like movement but much more odious), the Jews, the USA, aliens. The greatest conspiracy theory of them all - the phoenix of religion - sprang back to life from the ashes it was reduced to by Communism. A host of mystical beliefs, sects and cults mushroomed noxiously in the humid shadows of irrationality.

Thus, every event, no matter how insignificant; any occurrence, no matter how inconsequential; and any coincidence, no matter how coincidental - assume heraldic meaning. People in these domains carry their complex jigsaw puzzles with them. They welcome each new piece with the zeal of the converted. They bellow triumphantly with every "proof" of their pet theory, with every datum, with each rumour.

Things don't just happen - they whisper - things are directed from above, ordained, regulated, prevented, or encouraged by "them." A group of 400 rule the world. They are Jews, they are the Serb Mafia, or the Bulgarians - or the Americans who plan to dominate (which obviously puts Kosovo in context). They are the rich and powerful, the objects of envy and frightened admiration, of virulent hate and rage. They are responsible. We pay the price - we, the small and powerless and poor. And it is hopeless, it has been like that forever. The disparity between them and us is too great. Resistance is futile.

Why was this president elected? Surely, the West demanded it. Or political parties conspired to rig the vote. Or rich businessmen supported him. What is the real aim of foreign investors in coming to these godforsaken places, if not to infiltrate and penetrate and establish their long term dominion?

And wouldn't it be safe to assume that all the foreigners are spies, that all the Jews collaborate, that the neighbours would have liked to conquer and to subjugate us, that the world is a colossal puppet show? In other words, is it not true that we are puppets - victims - in a theatre not of our making? They filter out that which does not conform to their persuasion, does not accord with their suspicions and does not fit within their schemes.

This deferral of responsibility brings relief from shame and blame. Guilt is allayed by symbolically and ritually passing it onto another. Fear is quelled by the introduction of schemata. These are potent psychological incentives. They provide structure to the amorphous, bring order to the chaos that is the brave, new world of the economies in transition. Flux is replaced by immutable "truths," possibilities by certainties, threats by "knowledge." It is a re-construction and re-conquest of a paradise lost by giving up the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

It is this hyper-vigilance, this elevated suspicion, these instant certainties fabricated from frail pseudo-theories and conspiracies - that make the Man of the East so easy to manipulate, so vulnerable, so amenable to collude in his own downfall. Bewitched by his self-spun myths, captivated by his own paranoia, under the spell of his magical, immature, thinking - non-critical, non-analytical, non-discriminating - he is exquisitely susceptible to crooks and charlatans, to manipulators and demagogues, to the realisation of the very threats he tried to fend off in the first place.

Here is what the DSM (Diagnostics and Statistics Manual) IV (1994) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has to say about paranoids and schizotypals:

The Paranoid Personality Disorder

A pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

(1) Suspects without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her
(2) Is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates
(3) Is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her
(4) Reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events
(5) Persistently bears grudges, ie is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights
(6) Perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack
(7) Has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by acute discomfort with, and reduced capacity for, close relationships as well as by cognitive or perceptual distortions and eccentricities of behaviour beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) Ideas of reference (excluding delusions of reference) - (sv: the delusional belief that others are looking at him pointing at him, talking about him, especially in a derogatory manner)
(2) Odd beliefs or magical thinking that influences behaviour and is inconsistent with subcultural norms (eg superstitiousness, belief in clairvoyance, telepathy, or "sixth sense"; in children and adolescents, bizarre fantasies or preoccupations)
(3) Unusual perceptual experiences, including bodily illusions
(4) Odd thinking and speech (eg vague, circumstantial, metaphorical, over-elaborate, or stereotyped)
(5) Suspiciousness or paranoid ideation
(6) Inappropriate and constricted affect
(7) Behaviour, or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar
(8) Lack of close friends or confidants other than first degree relatives
(9) Excessive social anxiety that does not diminish with familiarity and tends to be associated with paranoid fears rather than negative judgements about self.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 29 November 1999

The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He is an Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.

Sam Vaknin's articles for Central Europe Review are archived here.

Sam Vaknin's website is here.



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