Suppressed Freud makes comeback

After decades under suspicion, Sigmund Freud is making a comeback in the country of his birth 150 years ago, where he left a legacy complex enough to merit a few sessions on the couch.

In Prague, seminars, conferences — one chaired by President Vlaclav Klaus — and public exhibitions over his influence on art, as well as smaller events in his birthplace Pribor, all testify to something of a Freud revival in the Czech Republic.

Ten years ago for the 140th anniversary [of Freud’s birth], there was only a symposium organised by one organisation,” said Michael Sebek, a practising psychoanalyst and former head of the Czech Psychoanalytical Association.

“Freud is definitely making a comeback,” he added.

Sebek credits the renewed interest and rehabilitation of the acknowledged father of psychoanalysis to the Czech Republic’s entry into the European Union in 2004 and the fact his contribution to European culture can now be clearly perceived.

“Since then, we’ve had the feeling Freud is also something that belongs to us,” he said.

Freud was born on May 6, 1856 in the Moravian town of Pribor, or Freiberg as it was known then, but only spent three years there before his family moved to Vienna where he lived most of his life.

For many Czechs he is rather awkward to define. Like Franz Kafka, he was a Czech-born German speaker from a Jewish family.

“This is still a hot potato, the question of Czech nationality,” said Jiri Kocourek, a psychoanalyst who in March helped open the Czech Republic’s first psychoanalytical clinic in the central town of Opocno.

Sebek and Kocourek both practiced as “underground psychoanalysts” during the 1948-1989 Communist era.

Freud’s psychoanalysis was regarded then by the authorities as a bourgeois concept and banned. Nevertheless, old copies of his works still circulated and unofficial seminars were held, Kocourek said. “We were even sent patients by psychiatrists,” recalled Sebek.

In 1969, Pribor established a museum dedicated to Freud which was able to continue uninterrupted, though with little promotion, throughout the following years of Communist “normalisation”.

The Communists were not alone in attacking Freud. His works were banned and burned by the World War II-era Nazi invaders, while even after the fall of the communist regime his ideas were met with coldness and suspicion.

“It was something foreign, something that was not Czech,” Sebek said, while conceding that traditional Czech hostility to anything Austrian probably also played a part.

Although Czechs might now be more aware of Freud, some of the old suspicion and hostility still lingers, according to Kocourek, who pointed out that the Czech 150th anniversary commemorations were far smaller to those in Austria.

“The denounciations of Freud over the years must have had an affect,” Sebek said.

In Pribor, the undistinguished family house where Freud was born, a stone’s throw from the town square, has been renovated and restored.

It will reopen on May 27 as a museum which aims to complement those existing in Vienna and London.

Summing up its mission, the town hall’s website says: “We will not repeat known facts and events, but attempt to introduce Sigmund Freud [above all to the Czech public for whom he is not well known] by means of his ideas.” – AFP

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