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Russian Captives Latest Evidence of 'Stockholm Syndrome'

Hostages tell of sympathy for their Chechen captors

AMAZINGLY, when the freed Russian hostages of Budennovsk came to tell their stories, many had kind words for their Chechen captors and harsh words for the Russian soldiers who tried to shoot their way into the hospital where they were being held.

A woman in her 40s told Lee Hockstadter of the Washington Post, "The Chechens were good to us. We should free Grozny," the battered capital of Chechnya. Some spoke of their captor's kindness to children. A few remarked on the Chechens' decent manners and seriousness of purpose. Some said that the Chechens had donated their own blood to aid wounded hostages.

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A housewife said that when the Russian Army attacked, "I saw one of the Chechen fighters wrap a little boy in his arms to protect him." A computer programmer said she had no anger against her captors. "Their goal was to have peace talks," she said. "They didn't try to kill us like the Russians." (Actually, five hostages were executed on the first day.)

The hostages' families, immersed in official propaganda about Chechens as gangsters and terrorists, received all this with astonishment and often anger. An indignant woman snapped at a group of liberated neighbors, "Have you become Chechens or what?"

This phenomenon of captives bonding with their captors reminded me of the Stockholm Syndrome. That was a name coined by psychologists after an episode in 1974, when four Swedes were held hostage for five days in a bank vault. When they were released, they spoke warmly of their captors. One woman acknowledged being sexually attracted to one of them.

There have been other examples of the Stockholm Syndrome. Patty Hearst joined the Symbionese Liberation Army guerrillas who kidnapped her. Reg Murphy, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, was kidnapped and held for ransom. He said he began to associate his abductor's demands with his own well being.

Frank Ochberg, an expert on hostage psychology and an occasional consultant to the FBI and Secret Service, has analyzed the phenomenon of captives developing positive feelings for their captors. He wrote in 1979 that the hostage is placed in an infantile situation, sometimes unable to eat, move, talk, or go to the toilet without permission. This dependence can be the precursor to affection, as an infant might feel toward a parent.

When I spoke to Dr. Ochberg the other day at Michigan State University, he said Budennovsk looks like the Stockholm Syndrome. "I've heard the stories of captors and captives bonding in so many languages now," he said. "From the Italian judge who said his kidnapper reminded him of his 16-year-old son. From the Netherlanders held hostage by Moluccans on a hijacked railroad train. And now from Russia, that strange tie that can develop between captors and captives."

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