K G B Psychiatry

The basic facts about the corruption of Soviet psychiatry and its use to suppress dissent are now beyond doubt. It has taken ten years to have them widely accepted (a process in which The New York Review has had a part).1 But the poison of the powerful psychiatric bureaucracy of Drs. Morozov, Lunts, and Snezhnevsky, like that of apartheid, or torture in Latin America, or thought reform in China, runs alarmingly wide and deep. It seems unlikely that a further decade will suffice for cutting off the flow.

This will not be the fault of the Soviet human rights movement. Ever since its main organ, the Chronicle of Current Events, was founded in Moscow in 1968, it began to publish systematic information on how dissenters were being interned in mental hospitals and forcibly, and often very painfully, treated with drugs. Its members have since built up a detailed picture of this complex phenomenon and led the struggle against it with a rare tenacity and courage.

The volume of the documentation is now vast. The Chronicle (which reports of course on many subjects apart from psychiatric abuse) recently produced its forty-seventh and forty-eighth issues, each 180 pages long.2 In 1971 Vladimir Bukovsky collected 150 pages of materials, to which Moscow’s Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes has now added a further 250 pages in the form of information bulletins issued over the last year.3 A Question of Madness by the Medvedev brothers described in detail Zhores Medvedev’s internment. Viktor Nekipelov, a poet and member of Yuri Orlov’s Moscow group set up to monitor the Helsinki agreement, has written a long and vivid memoir, Institute of Fools,4 on his experiences at the core of the corruption, the Serbsky Institute of Forensic Psychiatry. Shorter memoirs have come from a dozen other ex-victims still in the Soviet Union. And many statements have been made by yet others who have emigrated.

In 1977 the first full-length works of analysis appeared, attempting to assess all these as well as other materials. One, Punitive Medicine, was by Alexander Podrabinek, a member of the Working Commission and a young Moscow medical assistant who was recently put on trial.5 The other was by Dr. Sidney Bloch and the present writer.6 The conclusions of the two books were—despite the authors’ ignorance of each other’s activity—remarkably similar.

But the last refuge of the honest Western skeptic, the last shreds of his excuse for not accepting the facts at face value, did not perhaps disintegrate until this spring. Before then, a number of Soviet psychiatrists who had recently emigrated had testified to political abuses of psychiatry which they had witnessed. Their testimony was convincing but not very detailed: they were junior doctors who had worked in ordinary mental hospitals not specializing in the treatment of dissenters.

Now from the very heart of Soviet forensic psychiatry we have a new witness, Dr. Yuri Novikov, who has just published six long articles…

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