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Belgrade Combating Fear Project

Project MOST, of the Centre for Anti-War Action, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, has been active in helping citizens overcome the trauma of war as a necessary first step towards breaking the cycle of violence in the Balkans. They are exploring a new approach to the problem – focusing on fear.

In Yugoslavia, the decades of political repression, war, poverty and isolation have caused “fearing” to be the starting point when people make decisions. Healthy fear, which has a protective function, has been replaced by pathological fear which leads to desensitization and exaggerated responses to situations.

Mental health professionals and development workers need to help unblock peoples’ creative energies that are bound in by fear. But they too are exposed to the same negative influences. So as a first step, MOST organizers decided to develop a training-therapeutic workshop that would enable participants both to learn how to help others and to work on their own individual fear and anger.

MOST and coalition of mental health groups and NGOs, with support from the Conflict Resolution Center International and others, put on two workshops. They were conducted by New York psychologist Ivan Kos. Kos is a specialist in analyzing and helping people cope with fear. A seminar he conducted last year in Yugoslavia on this subject attracted the positive attention. Seeing a broader application for his insights, they invited him back.

The first of the April 2000 workshops was with CEDUM Collaborators, a group of dancers, actors and experts who work on youth violence problems. The second included twenty psychologists who are working on therapy and non-violent conflict resolution. The emphasis in both seminars was on coming to terms with one’s own fears, understanding the destructive force that fear carries, and setting up networks for future international collaboration on the subject.

Since the CEDUM group involves adults who work directly with children, it is crucial for them to manage their own fears. Then they can be sensitive to the children’s fears. Therefore, the seminar goal was to encourage the facilitators to recognize their own fears.

Participants in the CEDUM workshop bonded closely as a group and decided to continue to hold regular meetings to support each other. They also created a new play about fears, which will be performed by children. Those attending the five-day workshop for therapists got an excellent education in ways to work with fears and they began building a supportive network. Attendees were deliberately chosen from a variety of fields and institutions to become the core of a future center for research and treatment of fear, to be founded in Yugoslavia by Dr. Kos.

What is fear – real or imagined?

The workshops were based on Dr. Kos’ four stages of fear. Fear, is a mechanism that alerts and protects an organism from a perceived threat. Although this instinctive fear is crucial to an organism’s survival, an inflated or distorted fear can have shattering effects. Kos identifies four stages of fear.

  1. Real fear, or Physiological fear, is based on a real situation, with the individual reacting reflexively. When you burn your hand on the stove, you have reason to fear touching it again.

  2. Realistic/Possible fear, or cognitive fear. This judgment, based in reality, often causes an individual to react so as to avoid a threat. When you wait to cross a busy road, you are making a judgement based on fear for your safety.

  3. Exaggerated or Emotional Fear. This category is most relevant to the Balkans. This involves an individual recalling past fears or occurrences and injecting them into a current situation.

  4. Imaginary or Behavioral fear. This occurs when belief changes from a potential danger to a certain threat. Found mostly in psychotics and paranoid individuals, the individual avoids situations for fear that what they have imagined may occur.

Kos encouraged therapists to recognize the type of fear that is affecting their patients and to bring it to the surface. Fear only holds power over people when it is allowed to remain in the shadows.

Kos observed that the general population in Serbia was inundated by fear, and frustration, causing low self-esteem, injured self-image and a reduced hope for a better future. Some of the participants in the current seminars had taken his seminar in 1999. He observed, “As opposed to the first time participants, the ‘old timers’ appeared to be more in tune with their fears, able to recognize them more frequently within oneself and others, and less tense to openly discuss them.”

One of the organizers, Dr. Dijana Plut, wrote in her evaluation, “The idea that impressed me most was that one should dig courageously into what looks the most frightening -fear. Fear is strong only when you are afraid of it in the darkness. It should be brought up to the daylight. Then it becomes weak, like any beast in hiding in the dark. It is powerless in the light. It cannot see anything, but you can see it. You become the stronger one. You start to handle it, to use it. This is where the best part begins – the fear starts to work for you, for the healing process. It becomes your guide. You follow it, and it shows you all the sensitive points; it shows you the way. It is enough just to follow it and to bring it open. “

There was a strong interest in repeating and expanding these seminars. The participants wanted more exposure to the fear training, and there are many that could not attend at all, who would want to do so in the future. One outcome was founding an international network to further explore fear in Serbia. The people involved in these networks will serve as the core of the Center for Research and Treatment of Fear, to be founded in Yugoslavia by Dr. Kos. This research will aid in creating future intervention and prevention programs.

Dr. Ivan Kos, 625 Main St., Ste 625, New York NY 10044 USA, Fax: +1 (202) 486 0048, E-mail: [email protected]

CENTER FOR ANTIWAR ACTION – GROUP; MOST, Attention: Gordana Miljevic

Macvanska 8, 11 000 Beograd

tel/fax +381 446 13 32 E:mail: [email protected]


Paul Wahrhaftig

Paul Wahrhaftig, has been active in organized conflict resolution since its modern beginnings in the early 1970s, both as a practitioner and organizer/networker. While maintaining an active mediation practice he continues to maintain contact with conflict resolvers around the world. Recently retired from his  position as President of the Conflict Resolution… MORE >

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