Forgiven and Forgotten

All along, the issue of psychiatric abuses has, regrettable as this may be, concerned merely an insignificant number of psychiatrists all over the world. Everyone has doubtless read or heard something or other about it, but let each one ask himself whether he has devoted to this even a few hours of his life and whether he could name at least some of his colleagues who would not act as he himsef. Defending the honour of their profession for the overwhelming majority of specialists has proved to be a matter not worth any special attention.

Those occupying an active position divided up into two groups diametrically opposed to each other: some took the facts, which meanwhile were known worldwide, seriously and voiced clear censure, while the others, facts notwithstanding, pharisaically defended the culprits. Sceptics with their philosophical "ifs" joined either of these groups.

There is no need to convince anyone today. Only some particularly lazy person might still be ignorant of the unlawful actions committed by official psychiatry against individuals objectionable to the powers that were the authorities not only in the Soviets' land, but also in Romania, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, and other socialist patrimonies. As the facade of communism's bastion crumbled, light penetrated into its torture chambers, spotlighting certain figures in white smocks bustling there. So what happened when the doubtful became certain? Did all rush to the victims' rescue and handcuffing of the criminals? By no means. There has been a paradoxical effect: the victims were forgotten right awav, and even those were no longer heard to mention any crimes who had assured all the world they were going to conduct a tribunal against Mengele's worthy followers.

How come? The overall reason is to be seen in the disintegration of the former USSR with a crumbling of the former power of its totalitarian regime. This joyful event entailed as a political consequence the utilization of the theory of "the system's fault' by way of the main factor in assessing past and present events in this country. It is on the fallacious sociopolitical system that all the guilt for all misfortunes having occurred in the former Soviet Union, and also in its torture chambers, is being placed. Immediate participants of unlawful actions and atrocities are now themselves being labelled as victims of the Soviet system. This means blasphemously putting them on a par with the people they had tortured or killed. The same old story we heard before, but not always were its champions allowed to get away with it. German nazis could but dream of such devence counsel. However, the twin brother of Soviet bolshevism, Hitlerist nazism, as a result of the war was condemned to eradication, whereas the West, according to its reasoning, does not wish chaos as a result of disintegration on the territory of the former USSR. That's why we have such a double-entry bookkeeping. That's also why the Human rights committees in Western countries are no longer interested in the issue of abuses of psychiatry in the countries of the Eastern bloc. Abuses will disappear along with the disappearance of the system that engendered them - this is today's simplistic theory of human rights and freedom fighters.

However, the system that is breaking up into territorial pieces continues to exist in these parts, if in a reduced and somewhat modified fashion. lt does so in that representatives of psychiatry continue doing wrong with impunity, in point of fact having been acquitted not only of their past crimes but also of possible future offences. After all, they are victims, and it is not that easy to change stereotypes worked out in the course of many years! This writer has received dozens upon dozens of letters from people living in the various member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States - people pronounced mentally healthy by independent psychiatrists - informing him of illegal psychiatric examination and hospitalization, of threats on the part of psychiatrists and of the KGB, of official public health institutions refusing to rehabilitate them, of trying experiences in seeking a job, of unlawful dismissals and other social limitations entailing material need or even penury.

The public organizations formerly concerned with the issue of psychiatric abuses on the territory of the former USSR have virtually renounced such activity or are giving it just the slightest of attention. The reason is, obviously, that sponsors are not prepared to finance projects not in line with the trend of government policy. What could be expected of others if even the former APUP was ashamed of its name and changed its signboard into some abstract "Geneva Initiative", leaving but a pitiful postscript in a small print line beneath. By its present-day style of work it will almost predictably change into a Dutch-Ukrainian print-shop for distributing instructive literature of a psychiatric profile among Ukrainians. To cultivate close contacts with the official bodies of public health in the former Soviet republics - this is the actual orientation of activities of the "Geneva Iniziative". Not for the purpose, say, of clearing Ukrainian psychiatry of the criminals from the Dnepropetrovsk special mental hospital but for the purpose of cooperation. Now the victims of psychiatric terror do not experience any tangible benefit from such a rapprochement. As to the national psychiatrist associations, they seem to have buried the issue of psychiatric abuse right after the Athens congress, considering it to have been settled once and for all. True, the APA did demand a reconsideration of the Soviet All-Union Psychiatric Association's membership in the WPA, but it did so only after the former had practically fallen apart.

The conditional reservation voiced during the WPA congress in Athens was never taken seriously by official Soviet psychiatry, which continues flatly to deny all accusations against it. Serviced by their foreign champions, the leading Soviet psychiatrists brazenly exploit the theory of "the system's fault", reducing the whole matter to those notorious "possible individual mistakes" and referring to the "factor of subjectivity in making a diagnosis". They could fell all the more invulnerable as many national associations were vying with each other in inviting exSoviet delegations without excluding persons involved in psychiatric abuses. Only once American public opinion (to APA's shame!) succeeded in blocking such a visit because the guest list included psychiatrists who had collaborated with the punitive institutions.

The leaders of Soviet psychiatry tried, in direct collaboration with the KGB, to split up the Independent Psychiatric Association (IPA) and to replace it by an analogous but controllable association having appropriated its name. Official psychiatric institutions refused to acknowledge the legal competence of any IPA experts' psychiatric conclusions. As the Soviet Union disintegrated territorially there emerged psychiatric associations of the republics; these new associations assumed the epithet "independent" while retaining all the former structures and subunits as well as their staff - thus we now have an Estonian and a Ukrainian Psychiatric Association. A splitting up also took place within Russia. After the IPA a St. Petersburg Psychiatric Association was founded, and on 26th October 1991 the All-Russian association emerged from the All-Union Association of Psychiatrists. Yet the latter, proclaiming itself as Federation of Psychiatrists, pretends to continue existing. All these newly-founded bodies represent nothing else but a reshuffle of the same old Soviet psychiatry functionaries, according to territorial or nomination criteria. Among the members of these organizations there still are persons directly responsible for psychiatric abuses in the past or perpetrating them now. Only the IPA, which was the first to stand out against the background of Soviet psychiatry, has in its by-laws an item precluding a psychiatrist involved in psychiatric abuses in the past or at present from becoming a membar of this association. This is the basis on which its independence rested from the very beginning, along with its total difference from all other Soviet psychiatric associations. The former nomenklatura psychiatrists continue, as a rule, to hold leading positions in the new bodies of public health, including psychiatry. Their real power, their financial options and their close union with the punitive system -accomplice of their crimes - permits them to block the flow of disclosures as well as to prevent any meaningful changes within former Soviet psychiatry.

Being one of the reasons for neglecting the fate of victims of punitive psychiatry, the present attitude of former dissidents and today's democrats deserves special attention. These people just slobber over such topics as "the system's fault" and "the guilt of all and sundry". Regarding yesterday' 5 partocrats or lickspittles adjusting to "run with the pack" all is clear. They are out for self-justification. But how is anyone to understand those who had paid a price for the right to defend human dignity if today they behave in a way altogether crossing out their entire former behaviour? What's the worth, for example, of Sergei Kovalyov's apprehensions, expressed in front of former political prisoners, that as a consequence of disclosing the names of informers (an act he considers undesirable) the democratic group of the Russian parliament might lose a great number of its members? A fine lot in which this former prisoner of conscience finds himself and which he is so anxious to preserve! Or Vladimir Bukovsky, nowadays shaking hands with the boss of a certain criminal department and seeing eye to eye with him regarding the inexpediency of publishing the KGB secret agents' names. A hero indeed! Semyon Gluzman, whose name is linked with General Grigorenko's history, readily put this name of his at the disposal of the Soviet semi-official organs which had decided nominally to reorganize a part of the former All-Union Psychiatrists' Association as the Ukrainian psychiatric association. With "independent" added. The entire psychiatric nomenklatura of the Ukrainian oblasts (districts) alongside with Gluzman turned into active founders and members of the new organization. Including the head psychiatrist of the Ukrainian ministry of the interior. Why then mention the punitive doctors of the past! Well, up to now it has not come to our knowledge that the ethical commission, headed by Dr Gluzman himself, has raised the question of inadmissibility of offensive persons, say, from Dnepropetrovsk special mental hospital, to an "independent" association. Maybe just because Gluzman, like many others, adjures us all "not to take revenge".

The theme of non-admission of "revenge" against Soviet party apparatchiks, KGB officers, punitive psychiatrists and others responsible for crimes perpetrated during the Soviet period of history, is being imposed by the same champions of "stability" and put forth as a primitive speculation by anybody deeming he would not be up-to-date were he not to parrot banalities repeated on every street corner. Publication of the crimes committed by the regime and of the names of the persons involved must first and foremost result in the removal of these individuals from public and economic domains, which afford them power over society on all levels. Psychiatry as an important branch of medical science certainly is one such domain. Today anyone guilty may say: "I won't do it again, only don't disgrace me before society, and let me keep all I have." But who will guarantee that scoundrels, not having been exposed and removed in good time, won't resume with new energy their former activities if tomorrow dictatorship will again seize power? We could rather guarantee the contrary. Anyway no person in his senses is able to explain why a single mother of several children should be judged "with all strictness of the law" for shoplifting a jacket for one of her little ones, while the people who killed Alexander Mironov in Kazan mental hospital should "not be exposed to revenge".

The present fate of yesterday's victims of psychiatric arbitrariness in the former USSR is awful. Particularly in the case of those not bearing a big name as political dissidents: they are subject to administrative persecution. In despair they turn first to Soviet authorities that won't lift a finger for them, then by old memories to former dissidents, or to Western organizations. But the former champions of the "insulted and injured", by means of such charity having gained fame and financial contributions to their organizations' funds in the past, today have turned away from the victims of a regime whose ruin they do not perceive as everybody's joy but rather as approaching apocalypse.

What is to be done? How are we to help people who by suffering have more than earned the right to help? There seems to be just one single means - to try and do all we can for each victim individually. The IPA has records of such people and is prepared to take upon itself the work of giving help and distributing support of every kind. This team of enthusiasts is to be wished that they may honourably discharge the ethical traditions refflected in the by-laws of their organization.

Zurich, 23rd February 1992

Authorized translation by Hanni Tarsis-Dormann

Psichiatria e Territorio, vol. XII numero 1-2, 1995.

HOME PAGE Go at the top of the page

A cura di Geko Sistemi