Part 1: The Stockholm Syndrome  

Why is it that despite being fully aware of their tormentors and the misery they cause, some people still support them? Why do people still vote for individuals whom they know are responsible for their suffering? Why is it that some people still retain positive feelings towards individuals who have abused them in the past?

These are vexing questions that probe the inner chambers of the human mind. They are difficult questions because such reactions are counterintuitive. Why would anyone sympathize with or defend a person who deliberately hurts them? Why would someone think a person that has engineered their suffering holds keys to their liberation? It seems utterly irrational for an abused person to side with their abuser. Yet it is not uncommon to find victims of abuse expressing sympathy with or even defending their abusers.

The closest we have for an explanation of this seemingly irrational behaviour is a psychological phenomenon called “Stockholm Syndrome”. It is defined as a psychological response whereby a person in captivity develops positive feelings and partiality towards their captor. Instead of being hostile to their captor, the captives tend to identify with them and their cause. The abused person becomes the defender and protector of the abuser.

It is named the Stockholm Syndrome after a notorious robbery that took place in the capital of Sweden in 1973. Two robbers held four bank workers hostage for six days. During that period, an unusual bond developed between the robbers and the hostages. When one of the hostages spoke to the Swedish Prime Minister on the phone during the hostage, she expressed disappointment that the authorities were refusing to meet the demands of the robbers. She said they were more scared that the police (who were trying to free them) would cause them trouble. This unusual phenomenon whereby hostages become sympathetic and loyal to their captors and no longer see them as the problem was from then on coined the Stockholm Syndrome.

La Casa De Papel

The Stockholm Syndrome is dramatized and personified in the popular Spanish series La Casa De Papel (Money Heist), a bank robbery of epic proportions. All members of the gang, except The Professor, use city names to disguise their identities. There’s Tokyo, Nairobi, Berlin, Moskow, Oslo, Helsinki, Rio, and Denver. There is also Stockholm. But Stockholm was not a member of the original gang. The story behind her switch from hostage to robber brings the Stockholm Syndrome to life in a dramatic fashion.

Stockholm’s real name was Monica. She worked for the bank that was being robbed and so she became one of the hostages. One of the robbers, Denver, was assigned by the ruthless leader, Berlin to kill Monica as punishment for her transgressions. But Denver found it difficult to execute her. He feigned the execution by shooting her on the thigh. Then he helped stop the bleeding and hid her in one of the rooms in the building, secretly bringing her food and medication. 

Monica felt eternal gratitude to Denver for these acts of kindness. After all, had he not literally saved her life? Never mind the fact that Denver was a member of the gang that was robbing the bank and had held them hostage and therefore endangered her life in the first place, she now saw him as a lifesaver. Monica began to develop positive feelings towards Denver. It was so intense that the two fell in love during the heist. It soon blossomed into an amorous relationship. 

However, at some point during the heist, Moskow told Denver that his relationship with Monica was not real love. Moskow was Denver’s father and a member of the gang. He explained to his son that the only reason why Monica had fallen for him was that she was a victim of something he had heard before called Stockholm Syndrome, where a hostage develops affection for his captor and he, Denver, was Monica’s captor. This left Denver confused and distraught. He had never heard of this Stockholm Syndrome and had sincerely believed Monica was in love with him.

Feeling bad about the situation, Denver tried to break off his relationship with Monica. When Monica saw this, she was surprised. Denver explained to her that she did not love him; that she was a victim of something called “Stockholm Syndrome”. However, Monica insisted that she was genuinely in love with him. To top it off, she declared that she was adopting the name Stockholm as her new identity. 

She became a fully-fledged member of the gang, complete with a city name for her identity, just like all the others. The genius of the drama is that it remarkably personifies the Stockholm Syndrome through the character who falls in love with her captor. 

The Stockholm Syndrome has been observed in other real-life situations. Patty Hearst, who came from a wealthy family, was kidnapped by a group of revolutionary militants in 1974. She developed close feelings with her captors and their cause. She later helped them in a bank robbery. 

But why does this happen? When people are involved closely in difficult situations, even when they are rivals, they end up developing bonds. Those who have watched Democrats, the award-winning documentary on the constitution-making process in Zimbabwe may recall how Douglas Mwonzora representing the MDC-T, and Paul Mangwana, representing ZANU PF became very close, even sympathizing with each other. This despite the many daily fights they were involved in in the early period of the process. During the Inclusive Government, proximity in the corridors of power resulted in some bonds developing between ZANU PF and MDC Ministers. 

These bonds are likely to increase where the person in the more powerful position shows acts of kindness and mercy towards the weaker party. If in a hostage situation the captor allows a captive to go to the toilet, or to have some water, the captive might see these ordinary things as great acts of kindness. If the captor spares the life of a hostage, the hostage will see the captor as having saved their life. This is even though their life is in danger because of the captor’s actions. We have already seen this in how Denver and Stockholm fell in love in Money Heist.

The Stockholm Syndrome could be a helpful tool to examine and understand the relationship between politicians and citizens in authoritarian environments. In such environments, the relationship between rulers and citizens is that of captors and captives. Citizens are held captive by their rulers. Just like hostages in a heist, the lives and freedoms of citizens are entirely at the mercy of the rulers. But while citizens know that the rulers are responsible for their predicament, some of them still support them anyway. Some of these citizens are swayed by the small acts of kindness that the authoritarian rulers throw their way from time to time.

For their part, authoritarian rulers are adept at using small acts of kindness to lure citizens to their side. When rural citizens get agricultural inputs or food aid, for example, they see the government as a lifesaver. When the government announces that it is paying bonuses in foreign currency, public servants are grateful, never mind that they spend the whole year earning in useless local currency. When the courts release an opposition cadre on bail, some people celebrate and think it is about justice. But the activist should never have been in jail in the first place. 

Sometimes the government makes an unpopular decision before the President steps in to reverse it. That way he appears like a man of the people. While some people might see through it, others will see the President as a person who is responsive and generous. These small favours and acts of benevolence can be enough to sway people towards members of the authoritarian regime, both past, and present. Some will be swayed to vote for them or to embrace them as allies in the struggle.

The Stockholm Syndrome has even more effect when combined with a strategy of divide and rule. Divide and rule is an easy way of managing captives. Once you create a wedge between them, you sow seeds of mistrust, doubt, and animosity, all of which impede cooperation. Captors divide the captives into two groups: one group is given favours while the other is subjected to harsh treatment. Naturally, members of the favoured group feel indebted to their captors and develop positive feelings towards them. They might even begin to defend them against their fellow captives on the other side. Instead of identifying with their fellow captives, the favoured ones begin to identify more with their captors. 

In politics, architects of divide and rule pick a few members of the group whom they shower with praises and accolades while viciously attacking the rest of the group. They start imagining and manufacturing factions within the group, hyping the “good faction” while denigrating the so-called “bad faction”. They will manufacture blatant falsehoods to create doubt in the minds of the group. The tragedy is if the hyped members fall for the gimmicks. Signs that they are falling for it include when they start amplifying the so-called “good side” of the captors, underplaying their cruelty. They might even defend their tormentors ahead of members of their group. Authors of divide and rule will keep adding fuel to the fire they created. 

This divide and rule strategy can only succeed if the supposedly favoured members of the group succumb to the lure of false praise and accolades. They must see that they are being used in a subtle game of divide and rule. Anyone who declares that they are not for your organization and attacks it and its members cannot possibly be a genuine ally. They are pursuing their interests and you just happen to be a convenient tool in that enterprise. There is nowhere in the history of humankind where, during a war, one side has genuinely praised and defended some members of its opponents while attacking the others, unless the agenda was to divide and conquer. When Ian Douglas Smith showered praise on Bishop Muzorewa, it was not because he rated him. He simply saw him as a convenient tool to protect his constituency’s interests while thwarting his major opponents.

For members of the opposition, knowing that they are potential victims of the Stockholm Syndrome is an important step in avoiding it or mitigating its effects. When you see yourself getting too close to or sympathizing with your captors, then the risk of acquiring the Stockholm Syndrome is too high and steps must be taken to mitigate it. Be wary of characters that are generous with personal praises while attacking your colleagues. If you find yourself pinning your hopes on the oppressor or former oppressors, it might be useful to consider implementing risk-mitigation measures.

Part 2: “Be wary of Greeks bearing gifts”

The adage “Be wary of Greeks bearing gifts” originates from a legend in Greek mythology. The legend is drawn from a tale in Homer’s famous poem, The Iliad which describes the end of a long-drawn war between the Greeks and the Trojans in ancient times. The war had been going on for nearly ten years, with the Greeks laying siege upon Troy, the Trojans’ city, but to no avail.   

With both sides exhausted, the Greeks built a large wooden horse, which they left at the gates of Troy seemingly as a peace offering. The Greeks then appeared to sail away in retreat. When the Trojans saw the wooden horse, they saw it as a sign of surrender and that the war was over. They opened the gates of their walled city and took the structure inside. Soon celebrations began. After all, the war was over, wasn’t it? The Greeks had surrendered and retreated.  

What the Trojans did not know was that well-armed Greek soldiers were hiding inside the belly of the large wooden structure. Therefore, by bringing it into their city, the Trojans had allowed the enemy inside too. In other words, the Greeks had entered the Trojans’ citadel without even fighting. And just as the Trojans dropped their guard, the Greek soldiers came out of the wooden horse and opened the gates of Troy for their fellow soldiers who were lurking outside. The Greeks entered Troy and won an easy victory. According to the legend, that is how the Trojans were defeated.

Over time, when something was referred to as “a Trojan Horse”, it was because it was a weapon that was disguised as a gift. It is the Roman poet Virgil who is credited with coining the phrase “Be wary of Greeks bearing gifts” in his account of the legend of the Trojan War. When people say beware of the Greeks bearing gifts, they are warning you to be careful because sometimes things that are presented as gifts can turn out to be your greatest undoing. 

The enemy will offer you a Trojan Horse and if you do not exercise caution and due diligence you will end up with more problems in your organization.

Modern readers may be familiar with the term Trojan as it is used in respect of computer viruses. They are so named because the strategy mimics the legendary Trojan Horse: they appear as benevolent gifts and once inside the system they destroy and steal data.

The legend of the Trojan Horse is as relevant to politics as it is to other areas of life. Cunning political players will use the Trojan Horse strategy to destroy their opponents from within. Zimbabwe’s political opposition needs to be wary of the possibility of Operation Trojan Horse. After a long-drawn political struggle, the opposition might be feeling the effects of exhaustion, resources may be scarce, and some members may be losing patience. In such situations, it is easy to grab onto anything, believing it will bring salvation. It is very easy to fall for anything that appears to offer a chance of success.

But it is also important to remember that the point of exhaustion and desperation is also a point of greatest vulnerability. There will be offers of gifts and it is hard to resist the allure. But these gifts may also be weapons in disguise. It is important not to behave like the Trojans. Before you bring the wooden horse into the gates of the city, be sure that it is not carrying the opponent’s troops. Here, it is important to remember that ZANU PF factions differ in their fights over who should oversee their party, but they are united by their allegiance to it and its way of life. You only must look at the list of former ZANU PF members who joined the MDC over the years, only to return to ZANU PF once opportunities arose. They will almost always return home, where they are ideologically located. 

The MDC Alliance must be wary of attempts to separate Nelson Chamisa from the party. The notion that there is convergence over Chamisa but not the party is divisive and preposterous. Chamisa is an important figure in Zimbabwean politics, but he is not a lone ranger and the attempt to cast him as such should be strongly resisted. He cannot be excised from the political organization that he leads. Someone cannot claim to like him while treating the organization that he leads with contempt and disdain. 

In this regard, the idea that the only election that matters is the presidential race is grievously mistaken. A president cannot run the country effectively, if at all unless he is also in control of the parliamentary party. An election strategy that prioritizes the presidential candidate and relegates the parliamentary race to the margins would be a disaster. When all is said and done, the opposition should not fall for cheap gifts as the Trojans did in that Greek legend. If they are not careful, they might find themselves under siege after letting in the enemy through the gates.

I know you want a word on the by-elections that were announced this week. That is a subject for the next BSR.     

First published by WaMagaisa 


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