Soviet Psychiatry: A Message from Moscow


by Peter Reddaway

The address that follows is a slightly condensed version of remarks recently made by Alexander Podrabinek on videotape in Moscow. Their intended audience is the world psychiatric community and all doctors and laypeople who are concerned about the perversion of psychiatry for political purposes. The tape was shown on October 14, 1988, at a symposium of the International Association on the Political Use of Psychiatry held in Washington, DC, during, but separately from, a conference of the World Psychiatric Association. The WPA refused to allow the symposium to be part of its program.

Alexander Podrabinek is an auxiliary doctor, the Russian equivalent of an intern, a position above which he has been prevented from rising because of activities as a dissident. He is the author of Punitive Medicine, the widely praised book about politically motivated psychiatry. He completed it in 1977, and an English translation appeared in 1980 (Karoma Publishers, Ann Arbor, Michigan). In 1977 Podrabinek and other dissidents founded the “Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes.” Among the doctors who belonged to the commission was the psychiatrist Anatoly Koryagin, who was jailed for twelve years in 1981,1 but released early last year in an amnesty. He now lives in Switzerland. In 1980–1981 all the members of the commission were jailed for compiling and publicizing documentation on victims of political psychiatry, supporting them and their families and working for their release. Podrabinek was also charged with writing Punitive Medicine. In all, he served nearly six years of imprisonment and exile in 1978–1983.

Since 1987, Podrabinek has edited the weekly samizdat bulletin Express Chronicle, which circulates in about one hundred of the major Soviet cities and has won a high reputation among Western journalists in Moscow. It reports on violations of human rights across the country and provides a platform for free debate on these and related issues. The issue of October 30, for example, carries an analysis by Podrabinek of the draft of the new Soviet electoral laws, in which he criticizes them severely—as does Andrei Sakharov—for being undemocratic. The same issue contains a letter by Sakharov and others, protesting against official distortions of their statements on the number of political prisoners remaining in Soviet jails.

Express Chronicle, like its predecessor the Chronicle of Current Events, also reports frequently on the use of psychiatry, drugs, and mental institutions to suppress dissent. The address that follows generalizes from this mass of information, and is based also on Podrabinek’s work of the last fifteen years on abuse of psychiatry. The immediate impulse behind it is the fear that the USSR may be readmitted to the World Psychiatric Association next October, without decisive measures having been taken to end the abuse of Soviet psychiatry and to create guarantees that it will not be revived in the future. In 1983 the USSR resigned from the WPA when faced with the near certainty of expulsion. Last month it officially indicated its desire to rejoin…

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