Stockholm syndrome and democratic system of Pakistan
It was 23 August 1973 when people were taken hostage in the Kreditbanken by a 32-year-old Jan Erik Olsson, but the victims formed a kind of ama-zing positive relationship with their captor as the hostages quickly forged a strange bond with their abductors in six days of captivity. It is believed that the perpetrators did no physical harm to the hostages. Interestingly few acts of Olsson were considered kind enough towards the hostages. For instance, he draped a wool jacket over the shoulders of hostage Kristin Enmark when she began to shiver, soothed her when she had a bad dream and gave her a bullet from his gun as a keepsake. Similarly, when another hostage Elisabeth Oldgren complained of claustrophobia, he allowed her to walk outside the vault attached to a 30-foot rope, and Oldgren told a year later that although leashed, “I remember thinking he was very kind to allow me to leave the vault.” Olsson’s benevolent acts curried the sympathy of his hostages. “When he treated us well,” said the only male hostage Sven Safstrom, “We could think of him as an emergency God.” Indeed, all the four hostages developed a powerful positive feeling towards their captor. They believed that this is the person who is going to let them live.
The reaction of hostages during and after the horrific incident lead to the coinage of a famous phrase, “Stockholm Syndrome”, by a criminologist Nils Bejerot. While, psychiatrist Dr Frank Ochberg was intrigued by the phrase and went on to define the syndrome as, “First people would experience something terrifying that just comes at them out of the blue. They are certain they are going to die. Then they experience a type of infantilization, where like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission”. He further explained that small acts of kindness, such as being given food prompts a “primitive gratitude for the gift of life”. Stockholm syndrome is a peculiar but well-known psychological reaction that sets in when hostages develop an affective link and positive feelings towards their kidnappers. The whole situation is quite relevant to our political system since independence. It’s not a stretch to see this syndrome at work in our democratic system. The political parties have made the citizens their hostage, people are promised for a bright future but never seen any improvement in the education, health or infrastructure of the country. Instead, they witnessed unemployment, inflation and are overburdened by the taxes. But, almost all the voters, even those aware of their captivity, justify their kidnappers’ decisions. How many brush-off austerity policies with a simple “it’s just what has to be done”? A significant part of the population, while certainly not the entire population, seems to be complacent about today’s kidnapped democracy as if they have surrendered themselves emotionally and given themselves up to their captors.
Our political leaders insulted a large proportion of the population since the inception of Pakistan as they failed to deliver and fulfill their promises again and again. Without any doubt, they still have their followings, got their votes. Those supporters had positive feelings towards their leaders despite deception of people. One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of the Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim and identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat.
Similarly, the Stockholm-Democracy Syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding which occurs when strong emotional ties develop between political parties and their supporters who vote for them, even after being betrayed and insulted. Some of the examples in our country are known as “Jiyalas”, “Patwaris”, “Jamatiyas” and “Youthias”. It is difficult to understand that why the diehard supporters vote for their beloved party and what they had achieved being involved with this political system. Voting for the beloved party is the political version of Stockholm syndrome, which causes obsessive voters to develop a psychological alliance with their political captors despite the consequences of voting for something that is so obviously against them and their family’s best interests.
Furthermore, in “classic” forms of kidnapping, the criminals themselves often contact the relatives and loved ones of their hostages to make demands. In doing so, they raise the alarm, which can also be raised by anyone who may have witnessed the kidnapping. But something different takes place when a democracy is kidnapped. In this instance, the kidnappers intentionally keep quiet about what is happening. They do not want to draw attention to what they are doing. They make no calls and showcase no distressed victims, nor do they seek to attract media coverage to voice explicit demands. The kidnappers’ (Political Leadership) power lies in their capacity to keep their control over institutions silent. To do so, the kidnappers must develop their influence as subtly as possible. They need citizens to perceive that all is normal and suppose that democracy works. Appearances must be reassuring enough that no-one fears the power that the kidnappers acquire, so that their control is not threatened, or at least not openly questioned.
Obviously in our democratic system the politicians have proved themselves that it is difficult for them to resist against the pressure of monetary gains. Resultantly, we are facing and living in an amputated and kidnapped democratic system that no longer protects citizens’ interests. Unsurprisingly, this concern has become much more generalized among citizens in the last decade. Journalists, activists, politicians and economists have also intuitively employed the concept of “kidnapped democracy” to describe our political predicament. The term kidnap is clearly a useful metaphor for understanding the times and power relations in which we live, especially if we can spell out its meaning, its consequences, and the stakeholders (the kidnappers and the hostages) who intervene in the process.
Kidnapping implies that someone is being held against their will. At the mercy of the kidnapper, the hostage loses any capacity for action and free movement. So, when democracy is kidnapped, its main institutions and basic structures – parliaments, political parties, trade unions, mass media and NGOs – are held hostage.