Pr Dr Maria Borcsa & Dr Katia Charalabaki 

Comment:  Reflections on the dialogue

The dialogue  took place at the conference organized by the German systemic association Systemische Gesellschaft:   “…Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung…” (Martin Buber)   SYSTEMISCH BEGEGNET WISSENSCHAFT at March 3-5/2016  in Dresden
 M: Dear colleagues, months ago I received an invitation to be a presenter in this conference and to speak about “How are … and what do our European colleagues do”? Later, I received a note from the organizers I could/should (?) focus on Greece… This was exactly when I spent some days in Italy on a systemic conference about poverty and met Katia again, and listened to her presentation about Greek families in psychiatric treatment. There was no alternative than asking her to come to Dresden; I can not speak about “our European colleagues” – but they can do themselves.

I may say we already had very interesting conversations via skype in order to prepare this meeting and I am thankful that Katia accepted to come and be here with us.

K: Thank you very much for the invitation, Maria, and all the organizers. I have been told not to make a speech, so I didn’t prepare one. I hope that you won’t think I am lazy as many Greeks are.


So what is expected to take place, I think, is   a conversation, a dialogue. A Greek person with German friends. I must tell you that when my Greek colleagues heard that I was going to come, they told me: “Are you sure you want to go?”


Anyway, the title of this dialogue is about the “meta-modern Greek drama”. Why meta-modern? Let me say some thoughts. Because at the current situation in Greece there is an abolition of all rules of the Enlightenment and also it seems that there are no new rules to be established. Drama is because people feel dramatically, and not a tragedy because there is no catharsis –the specific characteristic of tragedy according to Aristotle – on the horizon for the moment.

What we experience now in Greece is a relational distortion. We could say that in the relationships the absurd is prominent. And when I say relationships I mean all kind of relationships: families, colleagues, friends, institutions, politics, all kind of human relationships are new in an absurd way.

Today I think that the theory which in its own way can explain, first of all, the social and institutional phenomena is attachment theory. Just as the collapse of any secure attachment at the social, political, institutional level brings such reversals, so it is to experience unimaginable, unprecedented phenomena at all levels of human relationships.

This is the general frame and we could, if you want, discuss it.

M: Why do you call it a meta-modern Greek drama. Could you explain it a bit more?

K: As I said, we face abolition of all rules. Meta-modern was a movement after the 1960ies in philosophy and in art where, schematically, it was said “rules do not exist anymore, everyone can have the rules he thinks there must be”.

Question (from the audience): Is it the same as postmodern?

K: It is after postmodernism, meta-modern came after postmodernism. Postmordenism is a promotion of the notion of plurality in contest with the strict rules of the modern. Metamodernism is a fracture, a subversion, a disruption of any idea of progress. Another thing is the abolition of even the notion of any power. We may say that not having power is something we can see today in society, in politics and in institutions. And when I say power, I mean democratic hierarchy, power with democratic rules. That does not exist, hierarchy and rules. On the other hand, power without rules does exist and sometimes it is very harsh.

For example, social systems (institutions), export stress on the weakest members (i.e. in hospitals on patients, nurses, trainees). There is authoritarianism from the top to the bottom (a recent denouncement at the Psychiatric Hospital of Athens for brutality towards a patient who was bound all night because she was dancing in the hallway).

But there are also new phenomena. Members of the middle and lower hierarchy form “cliques” (through a paranoid systems function), that is to say small groups of the lower hierarchical level, that become very strong and they function in totalitarian ways inside the larger group, even over superiors (doctors and administrators). And this power is gained through bureaucracy, through trade-unionism, through politics. For example, what we see nowadays in our work: A director may not be able to direct essentially because there are these cliques.

M: And how did they become so strong these cliques?

K: This is meta-modern also, because they often gain power through information that has no meaning, they have store houses of incoherent information from the history of a hospital, let’s say, all kind of organizations and institutions. This ownership of bureaucratic information makes some of them indispensable, and thus they can control even their directors, administrators, managers  … There is arbitrariness and opacity, which sometimes reaches the extreme of sadistic control.

For example you may ask a clerk at your hospital something reasonable and he may answer “no, it is not possible, it is wrong, according to no x, no z, no y, etc, decision of the administration (so many years ago)”. Here the word “wrong” has no meaning. The functionary enjoys having power over other workers. The words have no meaning…Crisis has aggravated all these phenomena, has made them dominant.

M: You mean they are etiquettes?

K: Yes, it is a bureaucratic language. Bureaucracy is very powerful. The other way to form these cliques is triangulation. Of course triangulation in a lower level, for example through gossip -two people meet and speak about a third person whom they don’t like, they gossip- that’s a rather benign triangulation, sometimes protects people from being isolated, from introversion, it may be liberating for the weakest members. But we have observed, also, other phenomena. There are triangulations that are very hard, and we can see them when groups or people confederate in a way to destroy the third party. We see here coexistence of   undifferentiated elements with malignant triangulation. Typically, these perverse triangles symbolically take the form “two against one.” And then follow the so-called “primary processes” (basic assumptions): fragmentation into smaller groupings, anger all against all, a complete lack of substantive dialogue and prevalence of primitive destructiveness against any sense of logic and creativity (a de-intellectualization). After 2009, when the recession started in Greece, these situations have become the rule, not the exception of the rule.

M: And is this what you meant when you said that the relationships are different, you are speaking now from a team, an institutional, or an organizational perspective?

K: Yes, but also I am referring to the most close personal relationships; families, relatives, friends. Working as a family therapist, I see completely different situations in families. For example, there is now a lack of symbolization, an inability to symbolize. Members of families speak about money and material goods per se. It is this and it is not what it means, and they may be in terrible conflicts about one Euro, seeing one Euro as one Euro, and not what this represents, i.e. you love me, you give me, or you deprive me.

M: And you mean that lack of symbolization is…

K: … is a regression; people cannot give meanings and symbols… they go back to the earth. I don’t want to be so pessimistic concerning Greece, I am just saying and describing some new phenomena in this meta-modern area of my country during the recent years. It is not all Greek people like that, of course not. But, these are completely new phenomena on a social level, and not just on the level of personal or family psychopathology.

M: Also, speaking about relationships and dialogues you mentioned   communication, you observed that communication between the people is different.

K: This is a very difficult point. First of all, what you generally see are two poles. One pole is crying (I mean shouting) and the other pole is silence. The question is between these poles what does exist, can there be a “transitional space” for dialogue? I was telling you, Maria, something I thought about this situation. Melanie Klein, the psychoanalyst, has spoken about the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position. That means that the baby of about three months makes a splitting of the object, the bad and the good, idealizes and envies and wants to destroy. The mother is not integrated as a whole. And the depressive position is when the child recognizes the mother as a whole. What we first saw in society was a regression of people in the paranoid-schizoid position, where of course there are the extremes of hate for the “other”, politically or nationally, for example refugees. We saw envy for people who are in a better situation, or people that one cannot control. The most interesting for me is that there is an even greater, bigger regression to a position before the paranoid-schizoid one. Melanie Klein said that before the paranoid-schizoid position, sometimes a baby cannot distinguish between a good and a bad object, cannot make the splitting, so is oscillating between the two, and going with both of them – the bad and the good. There are people today in Greece who are behaving in that way. It sounds schizophrenic sometimes but, for example, the government votes for the laws coming from Eurozone and International Monetary Fund that deteriorate strikingly the wages or the social benefits, there is a great demonstration against these laws, and members and executives of the governmental party participate to the street demonstration!  They are in favor and against the laws! It is a position that declares “I am with and at the same time I am against”. It is a kind of double-bind.

M: It offers to the people a double-bind? Whatever you do is false?   We know that these create pathologies, it feels as if I act but in fact in the end it is learned helplessness …

K: In connection with the above, the non-functional triangulation and double binds, in a context of very rapid fragmentation of all relationships, there is a subjective experiencing of a “madman” time. Within this, there are other new phenomena. With the collapse of many ideological investments (as a result of the collapse of social attachment) new needs appear and people search ways to satisfy them by creating new relationships that are fantasized as an “antidote” to the trauma of the collapse of previous relationships. It is a kind of resort to utopia, which reminds the picture of Jean-Antoine Watteau “The Embarkation for Cythera”, the island of love, of the Celestial Venus, of idealization. But the “crazy” time quickly drifts the utopia, also, to collapse. So, once more there is search of a new utopia. And now we come to “Voyage to Cythera”, the poem by Charles Baudelaire: Instead of Celestial Venus the traveler sees a man hanging in a tree and the vultures have eaten his eyes and entrails. Or, this utopia is searched within ideology (partisanship and trade-unionism) which gives the illusion of power (with extreme example the fascist ideology which is “identification with the aggressor”).

M: What kind of coincidence is it that out of three versions of Watteau’s painting two came to Germany

By Antoine Watteau – Retouched from File:L’Embarquement pour Cythere, by Antoine Watteau, from C2RMF.jpg, originally C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page, Public Domain, Berlin, Charlottenburg.


K: Interesting… May be we should go back to Bateson, I think… Bateson has written an excellent paper which is called “From Versailles to Cybernetics”. It refers to the treaty of Versailles after World War I. And he starts saying “The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children, even at the third and fourth generation”.  And “The fathers had eaten rotten fruit and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (are rotten).  It is a situation that we see today in Greece and not only in Greece. Children, young people don’t know what really happened, and why. They just have no answers. And Bateson believes that the treaty of Versailles was the reason that we had World War II, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and everything. Because the Americans and British lied to the German people considering the treaty, they said it would be a good treaty and it was horrible, they pushed the Germans towards Nazism and so on. And Bateson says that we have to go to cybernetics, which means to go to a meta-level in understanding the history and the world. So we can speak about rules from a meta-level, because, as he says, “in war and in love everything is fair” (alowed) but “not everything is fair outside war and love”…

M: Which means that rules, guidelines are needed?

K: On a meta-level you can speak about rules and say what is alowed and what is not alowed. Well, I think this is very important, the meta-level. For the moment it is quite difficult to reach it, because we are “in love and in war”. But also –I will go back to the psychodynamic way of looking things- I think it is also very important to be able to look inside things, inside ourselves, inside the others. Not only from the meta-level.

M: And what about dialogue?

K: Dialogue means to be able to understand and to be able to be understood, to be able to see the other from inside and yourself from outside. Of course at these times, because of this kind of meta-modern situation, it is very difficult.

M: Would you say that this situation is defined by over-complexity?

K: It is over-complexity, but not only. It is entropy. Anyway, again I don’t want to become pessimistic and I am not really so much. Sometimes I am, sometimes I think that we should reach resilience, finally. And we are trying to do this by forming “islands”. Those islands will not be the utopian Cythera, they must be realistic islands of “eutopia” (ευτοπία): with other rules, other meanings, other understanding, other conceptualization, other communication. And I think the main rules in these islands must be trust and sincerity.  If you trust, if you can believe in sincerity of yourself and others you don’t have to be paranoid, you don’t have to be ambivalent, you don’t have to be nowhere. You can communicate if you trust and believe.  And also in these islands you can and you have to take responsibility for what you do. You are not just a part of the people, the “undifferentiated Ego-mass”. You are a person and you are responsible for your values, your choices and your acts. Of course, in such situations to be able to take responsibility means that you will pass your personal crisis –when you say “I am responsible to do that” you have a personal crisis, and it has pain and anger and many other difficult feelings. But, anyway, it is a way to participate in new groups that are not cliques but are groups with communication, rules and meanings.

John Bowlby has referred to the democratic functioning of institutions, the democratic chief or the “benign parent.” But what do we mean by democratic functioning of the institutions? Usually this is understood in the broader context, elections, electoral successes of parties, demonstrations. In my opinion the thing is the democratization of human relations: among members of families, therapists and patients, colleagues, services, institutions. So, this democratization, as long as altruism, must be expressed also on a “micro-level” and not with general excommunication and calling cries.

As Gregory Bateson has said “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer. The general good smells of hypocrisy to the rising generation.”

M: Let’s turn to the audience – maybe there are some questions, too.

Question: As you mentioned Gregory Bateson and the treaty of Versailles, I think this has much to do with humiliation, and I think what happened to Greek people has much to do with humiliation. So I would be interested in how we, how you can influence and help in a good direction.

K: It is a very interesting question but also very difficult to answer because there is an introversion of humiliation of the society to each person, so I would say it is too much, it is a big amount. Anyway, we found the islands that I told you. For example, for me psychotherapy is an island, and not only psychotherapy you do for yourself but psychotherapy you do as a therapist. That makes you have  higher self esteem. And there are maybe many other islands that can make you feel less humiliated. Another thing is not to deny humiliation, but also not cling on it (because this is another way to “sell” to yourself humiliation). But also, as I said, not to deny it.

Question: For me what you said seems that we have heard about trauma, like what happened to us was a little bit too much, difficult to integrate, so we have dissociation, a split inside, we have these reflexes of what you told us, of crying or silence. It’s a little like this, I think the picture of the islands, it’s like we say in trauma therapy we have to be in the “here and now”, to let the people mourn, feel what is here and now, as a basis for integration.

K: I think this is really very important, the “here and now”, and the islands are created in this way, but also I think it is very important to review history in a new reading. This is a way to understand what our parents and grandparents ate and our teeth are rotten. For example, I think Germany has many things to reflect on its history. Greece has the civil war, just after the end of World War II. It was a bloody war, brother killing his own brother. And we believe, I and many other colleagues and people believe, that in Greece there has not been mourning of the civil war. So this is a way to look back to history in a new way and to mourn for what has been lost. Also, the catastrophe of 1922, when the Greek population from Minor Asia, living there for three millennia, was expelled from Turkey came as refugees to Greece. This is a catastrophe that has not been mourned, really.

Question: Was it the exchange of populations, between Greece and Turkey?

K: No, this international convention for an additional exchange of population was agreed in Lausanneone year after the events, what we Greeks call Minor Asia’s Catastrophe.The catastrophe was that massively the Greek population left immediately under fire the burning Smyrna and other cities, just like what is happening now with refugees from Syria, in boats or swimming and being drowned.

To mourn means to go through the process, mourn puts an end and you remember the dead in the “here and now”, you do not become permanently depressed.

On the other hand, there is no negation of the mourning feelings. In Greece you can also see that. If you go to restaurants or bars at the evening, especially Saturday evening, you will see crowds of people in a frenetic cheer, laughing, enjoining themselves. Remember the scene of Lucino Visconti’s film “Death in Venice”, on Thomas Mann’s nouvelle, with Venetians and visitors laughing in the aristocratic hotel while the plague had already arrived in Venice. We can understand this, we all need it from time to time, but also we need to reflect on those images: they remind frenetic Charleston dances of the interwar, too.

Question: How do Greek people look to European politics and to Germany?

M: You really want to know?


K: Germany has been for the Greek people at the first position of Klein in the beginning, it is natural. But also here there is a meta-modern feeling. Most Greek people want the European Union and at the same time they feel that they are the black sheep of the European Union.

And to finish I will say something about nostalgia.

M: Yes please, I like your view on nostalgia.

K: Nostalgia is a new phenomenon in the “here and now” for the trauma. Nostalgia at all levels. Nostalgia for the Europe we used to have fifteen years ago and does not exist anymore, nostalgia for the buildings that have been made in your city. You walk in the center of Athens and you hear your friends saying “what beautiful buildings we have!” It is as they saw them for the first time. Or, another example, relative relationships are traumatized, Christmas Eve you invite your cousins with their families at home, and they say “Oh, what a beautiful carpet, where did you buy it, when did you buy it?”, and you have bought it twenty five years ago!

(Katia and Maria laugh)




Reflections on the dialogue between Katia Charalabaki- Maria Borcsa

Katerina Theodoraki, Child Psychiatrist, Family Therapist



This dialogue is rich in concepts and created many associations to me. It talks about the pathology caused by the crisis, the trauma, viewed with the clinical eye of the specialist.

The collapse of the Enlightenment laws had begun before the economic crisis, because for years we have lived in a spirit of commercialization, which does not help individuals to develop secure social attachment in society, since society does not provide any values ​​of meaningful living. So people live in isolation, and the crisis finds them without secure bonds.

Attachment theory, postmodernism, (there are no rules and everyone can have the rules he wants), power without rules, cliques (underground power), bureaucracy (another power), double-bind situations, isolated ‘islands’ of eutopia (trust, honesty, responsibility), democratization of human relations, the introjection of humiliation, are some of the many concepts discussed in the dialogue in relation to the crisis.

All these concepts bring to my mind what G. A. Vassiliou often mentioned, i.e. that differentiation and human development cannot happen in vacuum, but within a group and in interdependence with other team members. And about the power issues, the point is that group rules play the leadership role. So through dialogue the group will compose the individual positions of its members. The rules should promote communication, trust, and foster collaborative and not exploitative relationships.(*) In other words, the leadership is the laws (rules) of the group.(**)

So if our family is the first group of our development, and is in crisis and cannot offer a safe attachment, and all the other groups also are in chronic crisis (school, work relationships, institutions, friendships, etc.) the individual cannot find the “group” (employment, social, friendly, etc.) where he will become differentiated, learn to take responsibility, become more and more himself and at the same time contribute to the spiral development of the group through interdependence. This is extremely difficult.

So he regresses, as discussed in the dialogue, in all the ways described above.

But as we all know, because the crisis is also an opportunity and does not only lead to pathology, it can lead people to establish anotropically a new way of meaningful life which will make them actively to seek and create these ‘islands’ — with  labour and pain (because we are not prepared for this, of course).

Many such ‘island’ attempts are recorded in Greece with the development of various collectivities organized with other values ​​(humanitarian) and promoting resilience.

The book “Horizontalism”, edited by Marina Sitrin (2011), refers to the experiences of collectivities members in Argentina after the crisis of the 90s. They describe “therapeutic-type” experiences indicating how the dialogue and discussions changed them, helping them to develop their potential, their creativity and at the same time to become more communicable and empathetic with others and therefore more resistant mentally. The most important thing is that the benefit, which is described as an experience, results mainly from the process of participation, while the reaching of the collective target wasseen as a secondary issue.

(*) In Plato’s “Protagoras”, when primitive people killed one anotherbecause they did not know the art of politics, Zeus sent Hermes, (before the human race had become annihilated) to introduce shame and justice. These two elements would bring harmony and cohesion among the cities and promote friendship. Hermes asked Zeus how he should give them justice and shame. ”Share them out as the other arts are distributed? That is, one who possesses the art of medicine suffices for many, and the same is true of other craftsmen. Or should i distribute them to all people?” “To all,” replied Zeus, “and everyone has to participate, because if only a few are involved in these arts, cities cannot exist.” («On Policy”, ed. Konstantinos Despotopoulos, National Bank Cultural Foundation, European Foundation for the Promotion of Humanitarian Education).

(**) Here I will quote Euripides, who says in his lesser-known tragedy ‘Ion’ that the gods do not deserve respect when they themselves do not respect the laws…



Vassiliou G. & Vassiliou, V. (1983): On the Diogenes Search: Outlining a Dialectic-Systemic Approach Concerning the Functioning of Anthropos and his Syprasystems. In “The Evolution of Group Analysis”, Ed M. Pines, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina (2006) edited by Marina Sitrin AK Press, Edinburgh & Oakland, CA

Plato: “Protagoras” («On Policy”, ed. Konstantinos Despotopoulos (2009) National Bank Cultural Foundation, European Foundation for the Promotion of Humanitarian Education).

Euripides: “Ion”