How Individual Emotional Episodes Feed Collective Memory
Bernard Rimé University of Louvain, Belgium
Véronique Christophe University of Lille, France
Some years ago, the former prime minister of Belgium, Paul Vandenboeynants, was kidnapped. One late afternoon after driving home from work, he was accosted by three men who were waiting for him in the garage. He was brutally attacked and taken away. A few days later, his kidnappers demanded a large ransom for his release. The news of the kidnapping shocked the entire country. Although retired from the government, Minister Vandenboeynants was still a very prominent figure in Belgium. A former president of the Christian-Democrat party, he had developed a public persona that appealed to the vast majority of Belgians. He was adept at using the media and was a spectacular communicator. In the late 1950s, he had been among the first politicians in the world to train with professional counselors to enhance his use of radio and television. He was also a powerful and influential businessperson famous for his battles with the Belgian Tax Administration both within and outside the courtroom. He was known to everyone in Belgium as "VDB"--the abbreviation of his name that he made famous in election campaigns.
His kidnappers had driven VDB to an isolated house out of the country, in northern France. There he was kept for a month. Most of the time he remained blindfolded and tied to a bed. He later reported that he felt his physical integrity and his life were under constant threat during his entire captivity. Secret negotiations were conducted between the kidnappers and the family. Although this was never made official, a part of the requested ransom was paid and eventually he was released. He was dropped by car