THE PLAN TO HALT:
THE STUDENT DEBT DRAIN
A short summary of a recent article
WHERE: Harvard Extension School 2019
INSTRUCTOR: Marlon Kuzmick
WHAT: A short summary on a topical subject pulled from current news cycles.
Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont with a decorator on speed dial just in case he has to remove residual orange stains from the White House, has thoughts on the paralyzing student debt balloon. In a July 2019 commentary piece on fortune.com Sanders in characteristic style points out that the crisis is our doing while extracting ourselves will equally be of our election. Literally.
He reminds the reader of the enormous dissonance between student debt in the aftermath of the 2008 crash and Wall Street’s slinking away. Sanders scratches his head at the shift to self- enrichment when considering that the G.I. Bill guaranteed free education to those who served, laying a foundation for a middle-class expansion, the girth of which was a modern wonder. Sanders reminds us that tuition was gratis from the 1940s until the 1970s while generous grants to the tune of 80% of college costs prepared the leaders of the world of tomorrow. Today however, costs have exploded with the highest Pell Grants covering a mere 30% of the same expenses. Some face a lifetime of debt and juggling multiple jobs in service to that debt.
The cost to the economy is devastating with negative effects on first-home buyers and entrepreneurs. Proposing that public education be free to learners, Sanders wants it to be paid for by taxing Wall Street vultures, emulating the education models of economies which we admire when they don’t threaten pocketbooks. He points out that the number of citizens saddled with student debt is now at 3.2 million, with seizure of Social Security benefits the prospect for some. Moscow Mitch may want to consider this cash-stuffed cookie jar before he obliterates it as a “costly entitlement.”
Let’s put this another way. We value how our pearly whites dazzle on a date. Student debt means that you are one un-popped kernel away from a hole where your Fortune500 grin was. Student debt forces people, often financially compromised, to make hard decisions. Catch-22 decisions. Rent or car payment? EpiPen or a stocked fridge? That popcorn-annihilated front tooth or a deposit on a better home?
As usual, under threat of “gimme-liberty-or-gimme-death” kvetching, we peel back a new American way: finding ways to make ‘em pay and make the man rich. And while you’re at it, burden the poor and hustle people of color to pay a lot more. Because money is speech and corporations are people. Just like Orwell said.
Dying To Move On.
The Slow Rise of
An analyis advertising, using The Apartheid Museum adverts as data
WHERE: Harvard Extension School 2019
INSTRUCTOR: Marlon Kuzmick
WHAT: An essay on a politcal subject from current news cycles.
The essay is based in the analysis of the an image
NOTE FROM INSTRUCTOR M KUZMICK.
A superb start to the term, Henrik
Just sending this quick to note that I have this down as an "A" in the grade book. It's a wonderfully entertaining and insightful piece.
It ticks all the boxes required for an academic essay, but it also does much much more than that, succeeding as a piece of high-end political commentary in a more journalistic vein as well.
That it does both of these at once is a testament to your skills as a writer and the intelligence with which you treat the topic.
Instructor Expo E-25, Harvard ES, November 2019
The stuff of trauma makes us us. We are shaped by it. Sometimes we don’t recognize exactly what we survived, and some of the adversity we process is inherited. Things that scarred our parents also affect us, defining us as generational recipients of trauma. And the line of succession carries on. Apartheid works in the same, nefarious way: South Africans are made of the stuff of Apartheid. All of us are shaped by it. We don’t all realize that we didn’t outlast Apartheid and that we are merely trying to manage the after-effects. Our ancestors made a system of segregation out of old trauma scars which, in turn, still shapes us as generational recipients. But we are more than that. We are the cradle of humankind—home of Mrs Ples and Homo Naledi (Cradle). We live by Ubuntu, the philosophy of being who we are, because of each other (Metz). And yes, we gave the world Apartheid. But through temporal shift and evolved ideology, fault lines have manifested indicating our avoidance of past humiliation and it goes deeper than history repeating itself. George Santayana of the “Golden Age of the Harvard Philosophy Department” said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Mink). We selectively remember our past, while still humiliated by Nongqawuse, Marikana, the Mfcane, a violent People’s War, and xenophobia. These events need to be part of any prism that attempts to understand South Africa’s textured past.
An advertising campaign produced in 2105 for the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, makes comparisons between images showing extreme violence, which appear related by being fundamentally motivated by a shared mindset. But to quote Magritte, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. And like Magritte interrogating the appearance of things, what may look like Apartheid represents a fulcrum of generational trauma: conflated, and packaged to appear as something else (Levy). Each Apartheid Museum advert consists of two images juxtaposed, and integrated to weave a temporal tale of assonance. The slogan “Make sense of the past. Make sense of the present” appears on each creative execution. At face value the images and the events they refer to, appear similar, in fact during a creative discussion as the ads were prepared for award season, the creative team released boards explaining the concept stating that “when Apartheid ended, the destructive social patterns it established were not magically undone.” Due to the insidious nature of Apartheid, there will always be trace elements of it in aspects of South African life. It is corrosive, prevailing in the torpidity of restorative economic equality.. The Apartheid stain still shows up in comments by arch-conservatives like the Afriforum movement of chauvinist whites, unrepentantly prone to protecting white minority privilege at the expense of majority rights. But hoping to heal, by reapplying the same Band-Aid on a wound of humiliation while hemorrhaging hope is not a strategy for sustainable success. A 2012 article in The Atlantic sums the conundrum up by saying that “the narrative of South African exceptionalism has limited our analysis by making it difficult to see it as anything other than further evidence of the failure and disappointment of South African liberation” (Magaziner).
The first advert by the Apartheid Museum references the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976. The protests were symptomatic of the rise of a new political consciousness which actively rebelled against the newly minted Bantu Education Act (Baker). The man associated most with Apartheid, HF Verwoerd, justified the Act by saying, “There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, absorption in the European community” (NGO). The Apartheid government had just released various school textbooks on African tribal mythology in Afrikaans, instead of one of the other twelve recognized languages, resulting in bloody riots (Baker). There can be no doubt that the school system, which was segregated at its core, with black schools surviving on meager funds, staffing, and substandard syllabi were a direct expression of an Apartheid regime ideology. However, the school system was segregated long before Apartheid started, while still under British rule, and a 1936 investigation into the issue had already diagnosed the problem. In his 2009 investigation of African colonial history, The Pluralist, TJ Curry notes that the “disposition toward Blacks was firmly rooted in a colonial and assimilationist logic that ultimately sought the cultural destruction of African-descended people” (Curry). The comparison image, integrated to make them virtually indistinguishable, shows contemporary police officers opening fire on the striking mineworkers at Marikana in 2012.
When hasty comparisons need to be made with the Apartheid regime, Marikana resurfaces. The tragedy is so frequently misappropriated that it is losing political potency, becoming a reduced version of itself, in much the same way as Benghazi became code for anti-Hillary propaganda in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential election. The Marikana Massacre and Apartheid are not in any way synonymic. Apartheid pre-ordained people of color to be disadvantaged by electoral inequality and disproportionately affected by a cumulative poverty problem. It is rooted in the country’s Dutch and British colonial history, specifically as it pertains to land ownership and mineral rights. By contrast, the striking Marikana mineworkers were underpaid and under-represented at union level, with scant support at board level. The politically motivated execution of mineworkers, striking in accordance with the constitution, was actioned by a post-Apartheid South African police force. The police acted on directives by the democratically elected President, Jacob Zuma. The slaughter proceeded with the blessing of Cyril Ramaphosa, a non-executive director of the mining group, and Jacob Zuma’s 2019 replacement as president of South Africa. Not Apartheid then. The point must be stressed that the fingerprint of Apartheid can be found all these actions, even on extreme perimeters. It is noteworthy, however, that in the South African context, Apartheid’s fingerprints are frequently accompanied by those of new nationalism, nativism, and Afrophobia (Mbolo).
Since the fall of Apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC) has continued to expand on its language, which roots itself in elements of their chosen trauma. The expanded concept is prone to bloat. Once parameters are tested and deemed permissive, the extent to which additional instances and events can be accommodated are limitless. Within the South African context, the expanded version has accommodated the act of Apartheid, as well as actions perpetrated by rogue agents on the periphery of the system. Frequently the actions fall outside the definition of Apartheid, but because the concept of Apartheid is so malleable, a confluence of ideologies may redefine the concept. William Gumede, associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance writes that “the ANC in the past could use the bogeyman of the continuing legacy of Apartheid to generate support, accusing opposition parties, whether white or black, of being linked to Apartheid, of accusing black opposition parties of being too inexperienced to govern, and emphasizing its role as the defender of black interests. But the scale of the corruption, mismanagement and incompetence of the ANC in government has made these arguments increasingly unconvincing” (Gumede).
There are flashpoints in South African history of such cataclysm that it solidifies in the sediment of the collective trauma of the country. One of the most contentious is a story of mass hysteria, fueled by superstition and fear. It echoes Salem, Massachusetts, closely, with the exception that instead of residing neatly in the pages of a play, the African version resides as unprocessed trauma with very really contemporary political consequences. The tale of Nongqawuse concerns a young girl, a prophet, who received a vision from the gods: “The whole community will rise from the dead; and all cattle now living must be slaughtered, for they have been reared by contaminated hands. There should be no cultivation.” The ancestors promised to return with new livestock, and the amaXhosa were instructed to prepare for the arrival, by slaughtering all their cattle and setting fire to their crops. The prophesy turned into reality as the amaXhosa commenced with a systematic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cattle (Dall). It was a critical time for the amaXhosa as the British increasingly encroached on amaXhosa land, introducing Christianity to the population as they made inroads into the territory. Despite no intervention by the ancestors, and increased advancements by the British, the amaXhosa continued with the destruction of their livelihood. The amaXhosa found themselves starving and living with the rancid stench of decay. Some of the amaXhosa had to survive by eating the mimosa tree bark and cases of cannibalism was reported, while some were forced to abandon their children. English settlers were compensated for burying the corpses of deceased amaXhosa, and some farmers were able to buy starving refugees as farm laborers (Davies).
The Nongqawuse tale is imprinted in the collective memory of some South Africans and has informed much prevailing political mythology. Most recently, the venerated politician and writer Moeletsi Mbeki added his voice, when he said that the country is in the throes of what he termed a “Nongqawuse syndrome” (Ncube). The transparency of this syndrome is so easily homogenized with politically myopic values that political parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or the virulent Black Land First (BLF) utilize the blur to gaslight any societal gains made since the halcyon days of 1994 and the Mandela democracy. A prime example of the rhetoric is a 2018 comment by BLF president Andile Mngxitama when he suggested that “you kill one of us, we will kill five of you. We will kill their children, we will kill their women, we will kill anything that we find on our way” (Gous). This view, rooted squarely in the humiliation of both Nongqawuse and Apartheid, has led to to writer and philosopher Achile Bembe to say that the “Nongqawuse syndrome is a populist rhetoric and a millenarian form of politics which advocates, uses and legitimizes self-destruction or national suicide, as a means of salvation” (Mbolo).
In a recent article, Fairchance Ncube describes how “If you don’t find this ‘Nongqawuse Syndrome’ in the utterances of the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP), the EFF you haven’t been listening closely to their prophecies of economic freedom and promises of ushering the downtrodden masses to a ‘better life for all’ or dreams of establishing a ‘classless society’ and borderless South Africa among other lies” (Ncube). He continues that there is an appetite “to appeal to narratives of nativism and indigeneity as the indispensable basis for certain entitlements, particularly the land and its natural resources”. An institution such as the Apartheid Museum must know how the “Nongqawuse Syndrome”, its dormant humiliation, and the “white problem” of Apartheid intersects and informs the scenes captured in the adverts.
The second advert integrates an image of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre with an image of 2012 Marikana Massacre. Superficially at least, the optics tell a similar story: black policemen have opened fire on innocent black people. But if we want to heal a hurt, divided, and confused country, we need to recognize the causes of original trauma and understand how it causes humiliation expressed as violent revenge. It is especially challenging when “the tendency to perceive South Africa in the specific, limiting context of apartheid and its aftermath” is expressed in a full ad campaign by the Apartheid Museum. In this advert’s case, the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre was carried out under command of a white Apartheid government, with black police officers forced to shoot black protestors. The comparison image from the 2012 Marikana Massacre, shows black policemen, aiming at black protesters, at the behest of a black post-Apartheid government. The psyche of the community leading up to the Sharpeville Massacre was at breaking point, shaped among other things by history. To understand the scope of group trauma which has remained largely unprocessed, we need to look further back than Apartheid’s 1948 nascence, and look specifically at flashpoints which contribute to a collective hardened scar tissue. Collective trauma is insidious and the product of the unconscious, affecting individuals within their unique circumstances differently (Lewis). The Marikana Massacre has an origin story which is temporally and ideologically remote from the Sharpeville. The image used by the museum, however, perpetuates a loaded narrative by treating the events as equal. Mirroring Marikana and Sharpeville in an advert, a “not guilty” verdict is effetely delivered on post-Apartheid inaction which absconds the tenets of South Africa’s fragile democracy. It reads as buyers remorse. The ideology of the entitlement culture is still attached to a humiliation/revenge structure, reframed through an us/them lens, which is congealing into a contaminated group identity which defensively externalizes negative projections. In order to gain broader perspective, we need to investigate the motivations behind tribal violence as pictured on the material from the Apartheid Museum campaign. The adverts are positioned as visual representations of the long-term legacy of Apartheid, while ignoring the reality of the complexities of history and how the actions caught by the images are inextricably linked to a continuation of tribal humiliation and legacies of tribal conflict.
Dr. Vamık Volkan calls the tendency to selectively interpret history, “entitlement ideologies.” He connects it with dominant group’s difficulties in mourning physical losses or prestige at the hands of an enemy. Mourning is an obligatory human psychobiological response to a meaningful loss. He points to the fact that diplomacy has become increasingly hard to manage due to past fears, disillusionment, mythology, and fantasy colliding under a macroscope of contemporary conflict (Volkan and Zintl). Illustrating the effect of entitlement ideology is the Mfcane, the crushing. Shaka Zulu, founder of the amaZulu empire, forced a mass migration leading to the death of an estimated two million people between 1820 and 1840. Some historians believe that the Shaka Mfcane is exaggerated due to the Apartheid government’s overstating black-on-black ruination as mechanism to advance their agenda (Cobbing). Shaka did, however, move aggressively into the northern territories against the Swazi kingdom while expanding the Gaza Empire, paving the way for the Ndebele, a branch of the amaZulu tribe under the leadership of Mzilikazi to annex what is now south-western Zimbabwe. Undeniably, Shaka left a wasteland in his wake.
A 1998 lecture transcript by Dr. Volkan explains the process of acquiring Chosen Trauma—pointing out that the word “chosen” should not be interpreted as willful adoption or random appropriation. According to Volkan the word indicates a subconscious process by which a group identifies with past injustice, grafting legitimate unresolved trauma onto collective conscious, echoing in language like “We will never forget.” Dominant societies seldom dwell on chosen trauma, instead accusing smaller group of deliberate cherry-picking, and “not getting over it.” Volkan notes that “while groups may have experienced any number of traumas in their history, only certain ones remain alive over centuries.” He goes on to explain that group mythology reflects undigested events and humiliations, with increased risks of the unprocessed humiliation, starting to define the group (Volkan and Itzkowitz). Furthermore, an unintended consequence of chosen trauma is what Volkan has termed Entitlement Ideology (Volkan). In simple terms, it is a revenge philosophy establishing a debt that has to be repaid. The terms of that debt could include political bribery, economic advancement, or claiming innocence and condoning violence under a banner of chosen trauma.
The xenophobic hostility captured on film, as leveraged by the third Apartheid Museum advert under a banner of understanding the past, infers that xenophobia is an elongation of the Apartheid legacy. The advert juxtaposes a visual of a violent 2015 xenophobic attack with an image showing ANC supporters assaulting Inkatha Freedom Party members6 during the People’s War in 1990. Both of these events are the direct result of humiliation suffered generationally, exacerbated by Chosen Trauma. In attempting to present the events in the images as Apartheid adjacent, the advert becomes the embodiment of what happens when mass trauma is left untreated. The People’s War, which raged between 1984 and 1994 nearly brought South Africa to its knees in trying to establish the ANC as the single ruling party. Emboldened by Russian training, the resultant People’s War relied on a duel strategy: the first was the conviction that advancements can only be made through a combination of military and political tactics with commitment to randomized guerrilla maneuvers (Jeffery). The second was an understanding of the enemy as multifaceted and besides the Apartheid regime, included rival political and tribal factions who needed to be neutralized. The mechanisms to achieve the desired levels of fear and confusion were extreme and Jeffery writes: “It is the rising incidence of necklace executions that has sparked real terror.” Jeffery writes about the murder of suspected Apartheid government mole Tansanqa Kinikini’s eldest son in 1985, who was hacked to death and set alight. Kinikini saved his younger son from brutal murder by shooting him before the crowd could get to him. It was the beginning of a period that would see the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, necklace thousands as part of a strategy to wage war with rival tribes especially the amaZulu. William Gumede controversially ventures that the constant inter-tribal guerrilla war was potentially of benefit to the white National Party (NP), who could justifiably go to black residents and point at the violence espoused by a malevolent possible ANC government while ginning up some ersatz benefits of keeping the Apartheid status quo (Gordin). Gumede makes a textural point by affirming possible unintended consequences of violence, which is unacknowledged by the Apartheid Museum. It forms part of unresolved trauma’s wider causation challenge and what Volkan interprets as unprocessed generational humiliation, which defines the group while identifying shared enemies, resulting in disastrously nativist consequences (Volkan).
Modern South African nativist nationalism of is hard to reconcile with the ethos of Nelson Mandela and the promise of the Rainbow Nation of 1994 as a place of inclusion and acceptance. When interviewing members of society, especially those who are in close contact with the crisis, the answers are remarkable matter-of-fact. I had the opportunity to interview Zimbabwean artist Ronald Muchatuta, well regarded for his series of paintings appropriately called Xenophobia, about his experience of violent attacks on African foreign nationals in South Africa. When entering South Africa, Ronald escaped a rabid mob who wanted to restrain and execute him for being a “Shona job stealer.” In Xenophobia he portrays the immolation of a young Zimbabwean woman by necklacing. The series follows her journey as she progresses from relaxing on a blanket; to her feet bound by a tire; then a match lit by elongated fingers; and finally her upper body burning brightly. Her skin is covered in a “China bag” pattern, the bag used by fleeing refugees to carry what belongings they have left. Ronald did the same when leaving Bulawayo. I asked why the skin is patterned and he responded: “We are the bag. It defines us. When people see a China bag they see a criminal—because even President Ramaphosa believes that” (Muchatuta). Ronald is referring to a comment made by Ramaphosa that there is a link between refugees and crimjnality (Pressly). It’s what journalist Achille Mbembe calls “the absurdity of this logic of insularity that is turning the country into yet another killing field for the darker people, ‘these foreigners’. But it would not be absurd, since the government of South Africa is either unable or unwilling to protect those who are here legally from the ire of its people, to appeal to a higher authority.” Mbembe makes a point that “we should all be making sure that we rebuild this Continent and bring to an end a long and painful history—that which, for too long, has dictated that to be black (it does not matter where or when), is a liability” (Mbembe).
In the post-Apartheid democracy the concept of culpability and confession has taken on a tone of urgency as the country continues to heal. Certainly from a white, Afrikaner viewpoint, every opportunity to atone and identify the complicity of your people, is an opportunity not to squander. A short while ago I had the privilege of hosting Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We talked, in Afrikaans, about the good news that sometimes comes out of our bad news country. Bishop Tutu has long been an advocate of the concept that we are all diminished when others are humiliated. It is perhaps this quality which is most pressing in the campaign by the Apartheid Museum. It urges us reject the growing sense of Afrophobia by confronting our burgeoning nativism (Mbolo). Because failure to do so will diminish us. And worse, cause us to repeat the same cycles of violence and humiliation. Nothing illustrates this shared humanity more than we I asked Arch to sign his book for me. Instead of a convoluted bible verse or generic message, he simply wrote: “God Bless Henrik. And Desmond.” This was Ubuntu, the sharedness of our humanity. We were just two people in a world of billions trying to survive while learning, reflecting, and loving. We were manifesting the redemptive truth of the Ubuntu mantra: I am. Because of you.
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