Punitive psychiatry returning with a vengeance in Putin’s Russia (Image: Kasparov.ru)
One of the most horrific aspects of the last years of the Soviet Union was the abuse of psychiatry to repress dissidents, an abuse which sparked international outrage and the expulsion of the USSR from the World Psychiatry Association, has now returned in spades, according to Zoya Svetova.
A journalist and commentator for MBK Media, she describes the way in which prosecutors and the courts are abusing psychiatry in the case of Yury Dmitriyev, the head of the Karelian section of the Memorial Center, after their efforts to imprison him on child pornography charges broke down.
That happened after experts said that the prosecutors’ contentions about the photographs in question were without foundation. Their testimony should have led to Dmitriyev’s exoneration and release. But instead, the judge agreed at the end of last year to a request of prosecutors that he be dispatched to the notorious Serbsky Institute for evaluation.
No one had ever suggested that Dmitriyev has any mental conditions before, Svetova says; but the prosecutors clearly remembered both Soviet precedents from the communist party’s struggle against dissent and more recent Russian ones in which individuals were examined by the Serbsky, declared incompetent, and forcibly incarcerated in psychiatric facilities.
In Soviet times, Iosif Brodsky, Vladimir Bukovsky, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Vladimir Faynberg, Petr Grigorenko, and Valeriya Novodvorskaya were among those who passed through this particular circle of hell, the Moscow journalist says. Most were “diagnosed” with “sluggish schizophrenia,” a condition especially useful because “doctors’ said it had no symptoms.
Viktor Nekipelov, a poet who also passed through the Serbsky in the 1970s, said that at least at that time, “in the West began active protests against the use of psychiatry in the USSR as a means of suppression of dissent.” Svetova implies that people of good will in the West must now do the same once again.
“Thanks to the unmasking work of Vladimir Bukovsky and the activity of the Working Commission for Investigating the Political Use of Psychiatry for Political Goals within the Moscow Helsinki Group, people in the West in the mid-1970s began to write and speak about psychiatric repressions against dissidents in the Soviet Union.”
Since that time, the Serbsky Institute has devoted a great deal of effort to “restoring its good name,” Svetova say. But now, under Vladimir Putin, it is again acting in the same way, first against two participants in the Bolotnoye protests of 2011, the only difference that its favored diagnosis is not “sluggish schizophrenia” but rather “paranoid schizophrenia.”
“In both cases,” Svetova continues, “the doctors of the Serbsky Institute devoted more attention to the core of the criminal cases through which their ‘political’ patients rather than their psychological state.” The Dmitriyev case takes all this to a new level and should be the focus of international attention.
According to the journalist, “if [Dmitriyev] is held to be incompetent or some sexual deviations are found, then in Russia and in the world again people will confidently be able to begin to speak about the use of punitive psychiatry” by the Kremlin. Svetova says that she thinks that the Serbsky doctors “must understand this very well.”
“Everyone who has followed the Dmitriyev case knows that it is political although an attempt was made to cover it with a shameful criminal affair. Yury Dmitriyev, a man who has done a very great deal for remembering the victims of political repressions of Stalinist times, himself has fallen under” exactly the same repressive measures.
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