Category Archives: weaponizing psychiatry

Neo-Soviet Russia Continues to Weaponize Psychiatry

The Other Russia reports:

A Russian opposition activist, who says he was confined against his will to a mental hospital, [was ordered to] remain in the facility after a St. Petersburg court ruled in favor of his compulsory treatment on March 15th.  According to the ZAKS.ru online newspaper (Rus), Vadim Charushev is well known as the creator of several political web-resources and social networking groups.

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Annals of Weaponizing Psychiatry: Another one Bites the Dust

The Moscow Times reports:

An opposition activist has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital in the Tver region, two colleagues and a hospital official said Monday.

Roman Nikolaichik, 27, a lawyer and member of Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia coalition, was detained in Tver on Friday, questioned about his political activities and subsequently taken to a psychiatric hospital, where he remained Monday, said Maxim Novikov, head of the coalition’s branch in Tver.

The account was confirmed by Yevgeny Svetovidov, a spokesman for a monarchist movement, ARES, of which Nikolaichik is a member. A woman who answered the telephone at Litvinov Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in the Tver region town of Busharevo said Nikolaichik was being held in an isolation ward. She refused to connect him with a reporter but confirmed that he had been admitted Friday.

Nikolaichik’s detention echoes similar cases over the past year that human rights organizations have criticized as a step toward Soviet-era repression tactics. In December, human rights groups said Andrei Novikov, a reporter for a news service connected to the Chechen separatist government, had been released after nine months in a psychiatric hospital. Last summer, Larisa Arap, an Other Russia activist and journalist, spent six weeks in a psychiatric clinic.

Which law enforcement agency questioned Nikolaichik and sent him to the hospital was unclear Monday. Novikov and Svetovidov said Tver region prosecutors tried to charge Nikolaichik with attempted murder while questioning him on Monday. Svetovidov, citing Nikolaichik’s relatives, said that after questioning, a doctor declared the activist mentally unstable and ordered him to undergo treatment. Prosecutors denied questioning Nikolaichik or sending him to the hospital. “If there was a murder case against him, we would know about it,” said Galina Malyuta, a spokeswoman for the Tver region prosecutor’s office. Calls to Nikolaichik’s cell phone went unanswered.

Nikolaichik was a regular participant in the so-called Dissenters’ Marches, the Other Russia rallies that have often been broken up by baton-wielding police. Svetovidov said Nikolaichik had been targeted because he appeared on a list of Other Russia candidates for December’s State Duma elections. He said law enforcement officials had been pressuring him to leave the group since September. Nikolaichik has a wife and three children, Novikov said. They could not be located for comment Monday.

Neo-Soviet Russia Re-Weaponizes Psychiatry at a Rapid Rate

Paul Goble reports:

The forcible incarceration of political dissidents in psychiatric hospitals, one of the most notorious features of the later years of the Soviet Union, has been revived in the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin, according to Russian human rights activists. But until very recently, these actions have not sparked the kind of outrage by foreign governments and international psychiatric and human rights organizations that forced the Soviet authorities to release some of the dissidents it had treated in this way. And as a result, Russian officials may now believe they can get away with reviving the practice. Part of the reason for this difference in reaction, of course, arises from the end of the Cold War, but it also reflects the fact that so far, the victims of such official actions are fewer in number, live far from Western embassies and journalists in Moscow, and espouse views less sympathetic to Western audiences than many of their Soviet-era predecessors did. And in the words of one Russian human rights activist, Moscow’s failure to denounce the Soviet practice and punish those who engaged in it, something Western governments notably have not insisted upon, plays an additional role, leading some Russian psychiatrists to believe that there is nothing wrong in going along with their political matters.

Now, however, the international organization devoted to combating torture has taken up the case of a young man who has been subjected to forcible psychiatric treatment apparently for no reason other than that he opposes the authoritarian and arbitrary actions of the Putin-installed leadership of the Middle Volga Republic of Mari El. That groups criticism has prompted more media coverage in Moscow, including an extensive article in this week’s New Times that has been picked up by a variety of media watchdog sites, human rights groups, including Press-Attache.ru. That article details the criminal mistreatment of 20-year-old Artem Basyrov, who two years ago was a member of the National Bolshevik Party but more recently has worked with “The Other Russia.” At the end of last month, he was confined in a psychiatric hospital against his will, to prevent him from organizing an anti-government demonstration.

Given the brutality of the Mari El government, one that various European institutions have concluded routinely beats or even kills its opponents, its decision to subject Basyrov to forcible psychiatric treatment is hardly surprising, but because it recalls a phenomenon most had thought had ended along with Soviet power, it is disturbing. According to Roman Chorniy, the president of the St. Petersburg-based Civil Commission for Human Rights, the authorities apparently now find this practice attractive because it is easy for them to employ — they only have to get the approval of three often tame psychiatrists and can muddy the waters via planted stories in the media. And he notes that Basyrov is hardly the only Russian citizen against whom such vicious methods are being used. He points to the case of political activist Larisa Arap in Murmansk in Russia’s Far North and that of Vladislav Nikitenko in Blagoveshchensk near the Chinese border, both far removed from Moscow. Chorniy adds that, in his view, the authorities may ultimately use this technique against Nikolai Andrushenko, a St Petersburg journalist whose activities and whose suffering at the hands of the authorities in other ways have been far better documented and who may thus escape the worse fate of the others. “When we see this type of situation,” Chorniy told “New Times,” we are compelled to ”think about it as a system” rather than a set of isolated instances, as many in both Russia and the West have been telling themselves. And that, he suggested, means that everyone concerned about human rights needs to reflect on why such crimes have reemerged. “All those psychiatrists and their pupils, who were directly involved in practicing punitive psychiatrist” never suffered legally for what they did and never even had to acknowledge in public that such actions were morally wrong. As a result, it is quite likely that many of them still believe such actions are justified.

And thus, Western indifference so far combined with the attitudes of these “survivals of the past” have created a situation where as Chorniy said “we see the revival of punitive psychiatry,” the use of an important branch of the medical profession for goals entirely at odds with the principles of the Hippocratic oath.

EDITORIAL: Suicide Isn’t Painless

EDITORIAL

Suicide Isn’t Painless

We reported last week on yet another instance in neo-Soviet Russia of an opposition activist being yanked off the street and chucked into a psychiatric gulag. It seems that the Kremlin may really have convinced itself that anyone who would think of criticizing them is “crazy” and needs medication, just as the old Politburo had done.

And maybe they’re right.

Garry Kasparov sure seems to have gotten the message. The Moscow Times reported last week that after being arrested and having his wife and child harassed at the Sheremetvo airport with “document checks” until their plane had departed without them, and after the Kremlin denied his “Other Russia” party access to every meeting hall in Moscow for their nominating convention (as well as harassing them when they sought to bury one of their fallen comrades) he decided not to run for president after all.

It’s easy to criticize Garry’s decision as pathetically weak and cowardly, which it certainly was. After all, a really committed group of people could meet in barn or a forest clearing for that matter. Look at what Russia accomplished during the Siege of Leningrad. In India, Gandhi organized millions to march in bare feet and stand down rifles with bare hands.

But anyone who has lived in Russia knows how the country can tax your strength and exhaust your resolve. Many have plunged into Russia, like Warren Beatty’s character in Reds, full of idealism and illusion only to find their bubbles burst, and then their worlds. What beat Kasparov is not Vladimir Putin’s goons, but the people of Russia themselvs — whose unflagging, craven apathy, cowardice, indifference and complicity force one to ask the question: “Are these people really worth fighting for, much less risking your life to save?”

Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Foundation, one of Russia’s last remaining heroes, has concluded that the Russian people have decided to commit suicide, that they’ve simply given up on the idea of making life better in Russia. She states: “After the presidential election, we will have an utterly weak, destroyed parliament, a destroyed multi-party system, a wrecked constitution, and finally a weak presidency, which he requires for his self-proclaimed role as leader.” And the Russian people will have stood idly by and watched it all happen. In the space of just a few weeks, Putin negated the presidency by moving towards the prime ministry and negated the legislature by filling it with a single sycophantic party. A judiciary was never allowed to establish itself, the media establishment was brutally, physically crushed, and local government was negated long ago when Putin seized control over the governors. Russian parents have committed the one unpardonable sin of parenthood, to condemn their children to live out past mistakes.

L’etat, c’est Putin.

Did Russians know when they allowed Putin to take power that he would obliterate all the branches of government? How could they not have known? The only reason the people of Russia ever heard of Putin was that Boris Yeltsin introduced them. The people despised Boris Yeltsin, yet they voted overwhelmingly for his successor. Perhaps they felt that, vile though he was, if an anti-Communist maverick like Yeltsin could sell his soul to the devil and be responsible for bringing the KGB back to power only a few years after it had destroyed the USSR, then there really was no hope for Russia at all.

Putin is doing exactly what one would expect him to do as a proud KGB spy steeped in propaganda and able to think in only one way — he’s repeating the mistakes of the past. Just as Lenin made no provision for a successor, causing the nation to collapse into Stalinism and ultimate destruction when he passed away, Putin too is putting all Russia’s eggs in one basket, his own, as if he would live forever. He won’t.

And yet, there is no sign that Putin has any overarching commitment to any sort of idealism, as Lenin had. So we must ask: Is Putin simply part of the suicide movement, its instrumentality? Anders Aslund reported last week in the Moscow Times on information regarding Putin’s personal corruption that has begun circulating on the Internet. Aslund states: “The strongest evidence is the Marina Salye report on Putin’s corrupt foreign trade deals in St. Petersburg in 1992. The report has long been known, but the original has not been publicized until now. Two days before the election, a scanned report of the original popped up on several Russian web sites, and it suggested that Putin and his friends embezzled $92 million during the days he worked under St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. It was first leaked on the free-wheeling livejournal.ru, which was quickly bought by Alexander Mamut, a Kremlin-friendly oligarch.” Previously, Aslund had reported speculation that Putin’s personal wealth may now be in the billions.

So perhaps Putin doesn’t even care about Russia in his own warped sense of “patriotism,” but rather has concluded with the rest of his countrymen that the nation can’t and won’t survive, so grab what you can.

Russia’s demographic issues do indeed seem insoluble. Every year during Putin’s rule the workforce has grown smaller and the adult lifespan has grown shorter. The disparity between rich and poor has grown wider, and Russia’s enemies have grown more numerous. Russia can’t count a single major nation of the world as its true friend, and the rogue states like Iran and Venezuela with which it has courted alliances could stab Russia in the back at any moment.

Then there’s China. It’s impossible to imagine a scenario under which Russia will be able to safeguard its increasingly unpopulated Siberian territory from the expanding Chinese juggernaut, and with that territory will go the lion’s share of Russia’s oil resources. Without its oil, which will run out some day in any case, Russia cannot even present the illusion of a nation.

Of course, Russia could surrender Siberia to China and begin to operate a civilized society along the lines of prosperous former Soviet slave states like Poland and Czech Republic. But doing so would require one thing Russia seems to lack: a population that loves the country and wants to make sacrifices and take risks and shoulder heavy burdens to help it prosper. Russians always seem to want to take the easy way out, perhaps because they themselves don’t believe they are worth saving.

And maybe they’re right.

Russia, after all, isn’t India. It doesn’t seem that the people of Russia would rise to follow anyone, regardless of who it was, even a Russian version of Gandhi, because they have no deep-rooted belief system like the Indians had for such a leader to tap into. Perhaps so many years of Tsarist and Soviet rule have destroyed their roots and beliefs, and left them wandering like Jack Nicholson’s character after his lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And now, perhaps they go to meet the same fate. Perhaps all the provocation their government is issuing against the NATO allies is actually just a plea for NATO to open fire and put Russia out of its misery.

The only times in their history that Russians have been willing to stand and fight for something as a people is when they faced foreign invaders. Russians were willing to risk all against Germans and Frenchmen, but not against other Russians. They fought Napoleon and Hitler, but not Stalin and Brezhnev. It almost seemed as if, when a Russian decided that other Russians needed to suffer and forfeit their lives, the Russian people had to agree. The Bolshevik revolution is no exception; the battles fought during it were minor skirmishes involving only tiny armies, with most of the Russian population standing on the sidelines, gaping. The Tsar fell not because the Russian people dragged him down, but because they would not life a finger to protect him.

Viewed that way, most of Russian history can be understood as one long plunge from a great height towards jagged rocks below.

Still, though, there is no point in giving up on Russia until the collapse comes. We must surely begin preparing for that collapse right away, and that alone is reason enough to keep on top of the Russian problem. Moreover, all sports fans can tell stories about games that seemed utterly lost but which finally were won, perhaps even in the final seconds. Who can say whether someone may step from the wings to galvanize the Russians into a new burst of civilized energy in a last ditch effort to pull back from the abyss? And who can say that our support may not be necessary to encourage her to take that step?

On we go.

Another Opposition Activist Sent to the Psycho Ward in Putin’s Russia

The Associated Press reports that yet another opposition political activist has been sent to the loony bin in neo-Soviet Russia:

A Russian opposition activist was committed to a psychiatric hospital before government protests, supporters said Friday – the latest in a series of incidents suggesting a punitive Soviet-era practice is being revived. Artem Basyrov, 20, was detained by two plainclothes officers and ordered held in a hospital in the central region of Mari El on Nov. 23, a day before a planned demonstration, said Alexander Averin, of the opposition National Bolshevik Party. The party is part of the Other Russia coalition, which organized the so-called “Dissenters Marches” around Russia. Basyrov had run for the local legislature as an Other Russia candidate.

A local psychiatric board agreed with police, who alleged that said Basyrov had assaulted a girl, and concluded he was suffering from some mental illness. Basyrov was finally transferred from an isolation ward and allowed to have visitors on Thursday, said Mikhail Klyuzhev, a National Bolshevik member from the city of Yoshkar-Ola. Basyrov was still being held in the hospital Friday. Klyuzhev called the allegations “idiocy.”

“It’s all part of the hysteria before the elections,” he said. Russia held its parliamentary vote Dec. 2, and will hold its presidential contest in March. Prosecutors and other officials in Mari El could not be immediately reached for comment. Supporters said Basyrov did not appear to have been mistreated. Another psychiatric board was slated to review Basyrov’s case at the end of the month, Klyuzhev said. His case is the latest example of journalists or opposition activists being involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals. During the Soviet era, dissidents were frequently committed as punishment for protesting Soviet policies.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders said Andrei Novikov, a reporter for a news service connected with Chechen separatist government, had been released after nine months in a psychiatric hospital. This summer, Larisa Arap, an Other Russia activist and journalist, spent six weeks in a psychiatric clinic; supporters said it was punishment for her critical reporting. The Global Initiative on Psychiatry, a Dutch watchdog group, says psychiatry continues to be used for punitive, political purposes in Russia.

Larisa Arap Speaks

It’s really encouraging to see mainstream media like the Boston Globe is not going to simply forget shocking neo-Soviet abuses like those that occurred in the case of Larisa Arap (regular LR readers are already well familiar with her; if you are not, enter her name into the search engines at the top and bottom of the page or simply click “weaponizing psychiatry” at the bottom of this post), but rather will continue to investigate and report them. The Globe reports:

It was just an errand, one more stop to get through the red tape, said Larissa Arap.

Arap, a rights activist in Russia, said she was seeking a driver’s license, and all she needed was a routine signature from a doctor certifying that she was in good health. But instead of complying, a psychiatrist in the northern Russian town of Murmansk asked Arap whether she was the one who had written “Madhouse,” an article in a local paper that had exposed unorthodox and dismal conditions in psychiatric wards.

As she slowly responded “yes,” Arap recalled, it dawned on her why a security vehicle was parked outside. A policeman came in as two others waited in the hallway. The psychiatrist refused to sign the document.

“Because you are the author who wrote about the closed psychiatric system, which is forbidden, we are sending you to a psychiatric institution,” the psychiatrist said, according to Arap.

What followed that July day was a horrific six-week stay in psychiatric wards, said Arap, who recounted her story in an interview last week in Washington.

Activists say Arap was only one of countless Russian citizens who have been wrongly spirited into the hallways of mental facilities. The tactics echo those used during Soviet times, when a whole class of professionals, doctors, judges, and low-level officials cooperated with government officials to silence critics.

Some government critics have called the phenomenon “police psychiatry.”

These days, such tactics are used to muzzle political opponents, incapacitate rivals, or simply remove tenants from apartments where they are not wanted, said Marina Litvinovich, who accompanied Arap to Washington and who serves as a political adviser to the civic organization run by chess champion Gary Kasparov.

Arap said that, in her case, police dragged her out of the medical office and forced her into an ambulance, which took her to the Murmansk psychiatric clinic. She said they beat her in the waiting area, injuring her spine. Medical personnel ripped her clothes off and tied her to a bed, she said.

Officials at the clinic have denied allegations of abuse. “We are representatives of a state medical institution; they are libeling Russia,” said Yevgeny Zenin, the hospital’s chief doctor, according to Reuters.

Today, Arap, 49, still walks slowly, and there is swelling around her ankles.

“They started injecting me with some substance. I was petrified and I started having double vision. I lost consciousness and all sense of time. I would drift in and out of consciousness,” recalled Arap.

Her skin taut over hollow cheeks, Arap said she still feels the after-effects of the experience.

While she was being held, regional representatives of Kasparov’s group, the United Civil Front, and Arap’s husband wrote letters demanding that the hospital stop administering the substance.

Kasparov and other rights defenders raised their voices in protest as well, and Arap was transferred to a facility in Apatity, about 180 miles away.

All in all, Arap spent 45 days in confinement; she said the conditions were humiliating. At one point, she said, she went on a five-day hunger strike to protest. She lost 22 pounds from her already-skeletal frame.

An independent commission of psychiatrists and experts was set up to look at the case at the request of human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin. A court eventually ruled that Arap did not need to be in a psychiatric clinic. She was released Aug. 28.

While she was held, Arap said, she spoke to dozens who were perfectly healthy but found themselves in the same situation: forcibly hospitalized for political reasons, or because of some competitive business venture that wanted them out of the picture.

Litvinovich said it’s much easier to send people to a psychiatric hospital than to have them murdered. “Sure, you can get someone killed. But it is expensive and dangerous,” she said. “If you have them committed, it is cheaper and simpler; you just pay off the cops, doctors, the courts.”

Arap Speaks

The Independent Reports:

Larisa Arap has just emerged from a 46-day imprisonment in two Russian psychiatric hospitals. Pills were forced down her throat and she received injection after injection. She doesn’t know what medications they were, or whether they will cause permanent damage.

“I don’t feel very well, but I have a fighting spirit,” Mrs Arap said yesterday, adding that sometimes she was so drugged she could barely walk or speak

She was forcibly interned, not for health reasons, but over her association with the opposition group led by former chess star Garry Kasparov, the United Civil Front. Her arrest stemmed from the publication of an article entitled “Madhouse,” exposing the ghoulish practices of a Russian psychiatric hospital in the Murmansk edition of his organisation’s newspaper, Dissenters’ March.

She was interned in the very hospital she had written about. “We’re ready to take this to court, although the medics have made it clear that we’ll lose,” she said.

Russian activists say her ordeal confirms what they’ve argued for years: punitive psychiatry did not end with the Soviet Union. Now, critics suggest, if someone has a grudge – a husband, a business partner, even a psychiatrist – it isn’t difficult to get them confined to a padded room.

In recent years, Mrs Arap had been looking after the child of her daughter, Taisiya, in her home town of Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle. Problems first arose in 2003, when she uncovered corruption in her local housing association, as she reported in “Madhouse.” She was then attacked in her building, mystery callers threatened to murder her, and finally she was warned by the FSB, the KGB’s successor, to keep quiet. She didn’t.

Taken to a mental ward, Mrs Arap noted that many of its occupants seemed perfectly sane. “I was surprised that among them were lots of normal people,” she wrote in “Madhouse”. “But how they [staff] communicated with them: They shouted, they beat them up, they put them on drips, after which people became like zombies, they raped them, carried them off in the night and returned them in the morning, tormented.”

One woman was threatened with the removal of organs, Mrs Arap said. Children were told that if they didn’t give massages to medics they’d receive electro-shock therapy.

Mrs Arap was freed, but on 5 July, she was restrained at a clinic after stopping for documentation needed to obtain a drivers’ license. Her doctor asked if she had written “Madhouse,” and when she confirmed, police escorted her to a Murmansk mental hospital. Taisiya said that when she was first arrested, Mrs Arap was beaten, and went on a 5-day hunger strike in protest, consuming nothing but water and smoking cigarettes. It was only on 18 July that a court sanctioned her hospitalisation; until then, she had been detained illegally. Mrs Arap was moved to a hospital near Apatity, 180 miles from Murmansk, “without her agreement or the agreement of her relatives,” Taisiya said.

It was “a closed hospital from which people rarely return. … No positive feelings arise in this hospital. It’s a psychological hospital for the difficult, the dangerous, the abandoned.” Mrs Arap was eventually released when a commission, initiated by Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, said there was no reason for her to be hospitalised. She is due in court today to protest her treatment, and the United Civil Front plans to prosecute everyone involved, although a representative admitted the group has little chance of winning. “We were never told anything concrete about why she was locked up,” Taisiya said. “The most frightening thing of all is that the law gives a lot of power to psychiatrists and doctors to do what they want.”

UPDATE: Some malignant little Russophile troll, illiterate and hence unable to read our comment publication rules, has claimed that the world’s newspapers have not noticed Arap and that this proves the world doesn’t care about her. Just to help him look even more ridiculous, we offer the following additional links from major English language publications around the world. Undoubtedly, there are many in other languages as well.

America Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, New York Times

Great Britain – The BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph

Australia The Age

FranceThe International Herald Tribune

Russia – The Barents Observer

Free At Last!

Bloomberg reports that Larisa Arap (pictured) has finally received her freedom; in the hot glow of world outrage, it took more than one month. Can you imagine how long it would have taken if nobody had noticed? Remember how Jack Nicholsen got “free” of solitary confinement in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”?

A Russian journalist won release after 46 days of forcible confinement in a psychiatric hospital, a case human rights groups likened to the Soviet-era practice of locking up dissidents in clinics.

Larisa Arap, 48, who had written an article on maltreatment of children at a mental clinic in the northern city of Apatity, was hospitalized against her will on July 5. Doctors at the clinic released her today after intervention by Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, his spokeswoman Natalya Mirza said by telephone. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists had written to Putin asking him to secure Arap’s release. “The horrifying method of forcible psychiatric detention as punishment for dissent was a trademark of the Soviet past and has no place in a new, democratic Russia,” it said in the letter.

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel who was elected in 2000, has tightened control of political life in Russia, squeezing opposition parties out of parliament and eliminating most independent media. Arap, who belongs to an opposition movement led by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, was taken away in an ambulance after visiting a doctor for a routine health check needed to extend her driving-license, said Marina Litvinovich, a spokeswoman for Kasparov. Hospitalized in the northern port city of Murmansk, she was injected with drugs that weakened her, caused her tongue to swell, blurred her vision and affected her balance, CPJ said, citing her family.

On July 26, the authorities transferred Arap to the clinic in Apatity, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Murmansk, the place she had described in her article, the media freedom watchdog said. Lukin’s spokeswoman Mirza said that an independent psychiatric commission appointed by the human rights official to investigate Arap’s case had recommended her release.

Chicago Tribune Blasts Neo-Soviet Weaponization of Psychiatry

A devastating editorial from the Chicago Tribune rips the Kremlin a new one over its attempts to re-weaponize psychiatry:

Your Father’s Soviet Union

In the former Soviet Union, psychiatrists invented definitions of mental illness so warped that they came to include people guilty of nothing more than pursuing truth and justice. Dissidents routinely were tossed into psychiatric hospitals and tormented with psychotropic drugs merely because they had publicly disagreed with the government. If you opposed communism, the reasoning went, you had to be insane.

Those and other outrageous practices were routine for decades. But with the Soviet collapse, there was a sense among psychiatrists and watchdog groups in Russia and elsewhere that Russian authorities had halted such flagrant abuse of medicine and psychiatry.

Unfortunately, that may be false. As Tribune foreign correspondent Alex Rodriguez reported last week, Russian authorities are backsliding into Soviet-style repression, using psychiatry to suppress political opponents. “We’re returning to this Soviet scenario when psychiatric institutions are used as punitive instruments,” said Yuri Savenko, president of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia. “I call this not even punitive psychiatry but police psychiatry, when the main aim is to protect the state rather than to treat sick people.”

One chilling account: Earlier this summer, Larisa Arap, an activist with former chess champion Garry Kasparov’s movement opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, co-wrote an article alleging abusive practices at local psychiatric clinics. When she visited a Murmansk clinic to pick up a routine medical certificate to renew a driver’s license, a doctor called police and had her delivered to a local asylum. The apparent diagnosis: Opposing Putin. “One of the doctors asked whether I thought it was normal to write such things,” Arap’s daughter Taisiya said. “She said, ‘It’s not possible to write such things. It’s forbidden.’” In other words, she must be crazy to write those things.

So now Arap languishes in a psychiatric facility, drugged and woozy.

That’s a troubling throwback to Soviet days. The Soviets started to come clean and allegedly reform the system almost two decades ago. Officials acknowledged that psychiatry had been systematically used in the 1970s to suppress dissidents by declaring them mentally ill and committing them to asylums. It didn’t take much to warrant such treatment.

The government outlawed tossing sane people into mental institutions in 1988. Control of special psychiatric hospitals was handed from the police to health authorities. In 1991, a panel of Soviet scientists and psychiatrists formally apologized for one infamous case of unjustly diagnosing and hospitalizing a dissident who spoke out against Communist Party corruption and a “personality cult” around then-leader Nikita Khrushchev.

The abuses today don’t appear to be as widespread and systematic. But after so many years, why do they persist? One reason is that rule of law in Russia is still fragile. There are few checks and balances to prevent these kinds of things from happening. If a local psychiatrist or judge manages to commit someone for trumped-up reasons, there’s no strong national authority willing to intervene. Courts officials are often corrupt and tend to do the bidding of local and regional authorities.

It’s encouraging that some independent groups, such as Savenko’s, are willing to stand up to authorities and expose abuse. What’s needed now is the kind of unrelenting international scrutiny and pressure that forced reforms in the 1980s. That could come soon. Officials at the American Psychiatric Association say they’re “very concerned” and are examining allegations of abuse, according Dr. Carolyn Robinowitz, president of the American Psychiatric Association. “If this correct, this is absolutely shameful and intolerable,” she says.

If Soviet-style practices return, so must international scorn. Putin has striven over the past few years to “rebrand” Russia as a place that respects a certain amount of freedom of speech. It’s not your father’s Soviet Union, in other words. Except that, more and more, it is.

The Arap Saga Continues

Writing in the American Spectator, journalist and blogger Christopher Orlet blasts the Kremlin over the neo-Soviet weaponization of psychiatry:

At first blush it would seem a typical case of Russian President Vladimir Putin dipping into the Old Bolshevik’s Playbook — just another example of Life imitating Marx. But in today’s Russia, things are seldom what they seem.

Take the case of Larisa Arap. Ms. Arap, 49, is a journalist and, for the past six weeks, an inmate of a psychiatric clinic in the northwestern cities of Murmansk (the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle) and Apatiti. On July 5, 2007, Ms. Arap appeared for her annual physical, a requirement for renewing one’s driver’s license. It was during the exam that Dr. Marina Rekish discovered that her patient was the author of a newspaper story titled “Madhouse” that alleged child abuse and other barbarisms at the Murmansk Regional Psychiatric Hospital. Dr. Rekish immediately telephoned police who arrived minutes later –dressed in combat fatigues — and dragged the reporter to the hospital’s psychiatric unit where she has remained under “doctors’ care” ever since.

Both opposition leader and former chess champ Garry Kasparov and the chair of Russia’s Independent Psychiatric Association, Dr. Vladimir Prokudin, charge that Ms. Arap’s confinement is retribution for her investigative piece. The hospital’s chief medical officer Yevgeny Yenin dismissed any link between Arap’s piece and her confinement. He then violated his patient’s privacy rights by revealing that Ms. Arap had been committed once before. (Arap’s husband acknowledged that his wife had been in a psych unit for two weeks in 2004 for stress. It was during this stay that she witnessed the abuses detailed in her story.)

Soon after her arrest a Murmansk judge — acting on the recommendation of local authorities — declared the reporter to be “a danger to herself and others,” a view challenged by an account Arap’s daughter gave to the Chicago Tribune. “One of the doctors asked whether I thought it was normal to write such things,” Taisiya Arap told the Trib. “[The doctor] said, ‘It’s not possible to write such things. It’s forbidden.’” Doctors also told Taisiya Arap that her mother needed “long term treatment and might never leave the clinic,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.

When not investigating allegations of child abuse by medical professionals, Arap is a member of Kasparov’s opposition United Civil Front. Following Arap’s arrest, Kasparov told the Independent

Indeed, Ms. Arap’s detention recalls a time not so long ago when all Soviet dissidents were regarded as being of unsound mind, since “no sane person would declaim against Soviet government and communism,” and paranoia was defined as the obsession with “the struggle for truth and justice.” It was an effective and convenient way of silencing dissidents for institutionalization not only descredited their ideas, it broke them physically and mentally. “Treatment” often involved electric shocks, narcotics, beatings, isolation and torturous and unnecessary medical procedures like spinal taps. Patients were frequently doped into submission for years at a time. Whether this was more humane than summary execution or exile to labor camps in Siberia or Kazakhstan is a matter of debate.

One of those who served time both in a gulag and a mental hospital, Vladimir Bukovsky, told the Tribune that “as far as the current lot in power is concerned using psychiatry for political purposes is a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with opponents…you don’t have to hire a killer.” Such retro behavior is only to be expected, the director of Moscow’s Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Oleg Panfilov told the Independent. “When there are KGB officers in the government, they restore what there was during the Soviet era: propaganda, censorship, and repression.” (That an organization called the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations is necessary says all one needs to know about freedom of the press in Russia.)

Sadly Ms. Arap’s case is not unique. The Tribune has documented two similar episodes — one of lawyer Marina Trutko, another of businessman Roman Lukin, both recently committed to psychiatric hospitals for human rights activities.

These days it is no easy thing to completely isolate so-called mental patients, and a few officials have been able to meet with Ms. Arap, including Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, and three members of the Independent Psychiatric Association. The latter examined Arap and pronounced her to be of sound mind, though suffering from the effects of her confinement, maltreatment and her second hunger strike. The psychiatrists called for her immediate release.

Is this a case of a local medical mafia unable to shake its Soviet-era mindset and therefore taking the law into its own hands, or a thuggish government reverting to Stalinist tactics to silence and discredit the opposition? What do you want to bet it is, “All of the Above”? — that anyone can be forcibly detained “if you attack the interests of the local Gazprom, the local military base, or the local medical mafia. Attacking the interests of local bureaucrats is a terrible risk, because they don’t stop at anything to get their own back.”

It’s worthy of note the Russia Profile, the Kremlin’s slavishly insidious propaganda blog, has stated: “Larisa Arap is not a journalist, and in contradiction to what has been widely reported, did not write the article in question. She is an accountant at the Murmansk office of the United Civil Front, and was quoted at length in an article written by a journalist named Ilona Novikova entitled ‘Madhouse’ and published in a special edition of a local opposition newspaper titled ‘Dissenters March.’” This is really pathetic propaganda. Everyone associated with the opposition groups in Russia has a day job because there isn’t enough money to pay them. That doesn’t mean she’s not a journalist, and it’s been made quite clear that Arap was the de facto author of the piece in question, though she was presented as a source by the nominal writer.

Russia Profile also seeks to smear Arap by stating: “It seems that Ms. Arap does have a history of psychiatric problems.” It doesn’t give one single shred of evidence to back up this claim, and the fact that Ms. Arap had “psychiatric problems” at some point in her life has nothing whatsoever to do with whether there were grounds to incarcerate her. Shame on Russia Profile for this unsourced smear, and shame on all those associated with it!

But it’s also worthy of note that not even Russia Profile can completely deny the horror of this situation, though it does it all it can to minimize it. RP itself admits that Russia’s human rights Czar has examined the situation, found the detention totally bogus, and declared: “This woman is a member of the United Civil Front and as such was able to get international attention,” said Savenko. “But there are many other cases that are even more disturbing that have not made it to the public domain. We are on the verge of a wide-scale misuse of psychiatry for non-medical grounds that is reminiscent of Soviet times.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has written to “President” Putin to demand Arap’s release:

August 14, 2007

His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin
Moscow, Russia

Via Facsimile: 011 7 495 206 5137/206 6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by the illegal psychiatric confinement in the northern city of Apatity of opposition activist Larisa Arap. Arap’s forced hospitalization on July 5 came soon after the publication of a story she coauthored on the treatment of patients at the Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in Apatity—the same hospital where she is being held today.

On June 8, the Murmansk edition of the opposition newspaper Marsh Nesoglasnykh (Dissenters’ March)—the organ of the opposition coalition United Civic Front (OGF), led by Garry Kasparov—published Arap’s story. Titled “Durdom” (“Madhouse”), it described how harsh medical practices, such as the use of electroshock therapy, were reportedly used in treating children and adolescents at Apatity.

On July 5, Arap went to a local clinic in Severomorsk to receive the results of a medical checkup she had undergone a month earlier as a requirement to renew her driver’s license. What was intended as a routine doctor’s visit turned into a 40-day nightmare. Her doctor, Marina Rekish, who had issued a certificate for Arap a year earlier, asked her whether she was the author of “Durdom.” When Arap confirmed that she was indeed the author, Rekish told her to wait outside. After some time, the doctor returned with several police officers who detained Arap until an ambulance arrived. Arap was taken to a Murmansk hospital where she was injected with drugs that weakened her, caused her tongue to swell, blurred her vision, and affected her balance, according to relatives who visited her at the hospital.

On July 7, when Arap’s husband, Dmitry, and daughter, Taisiya, were allowed to visit her at the hospital, Arap complained that the medical personnel had tied her to her bed and beat her. To protest the treatment, Arap went on a five-day hunger strike on July 9. Yelena Vasilyeva, chairwoman of the Murmansk branch of OGF and Arap’s trustee, told the Russian press that Arap feared doctors were drugging her meals.

It was not until July 18 that a Murmansk district court officially sanctioned Arap’s hospitalization, meaning her 13-day detention had been illegal. The court upheld an appeal by the hospital holding Arap and ignored entreaties from her relatives and colleagues who pointed out that she was not a danger to herself or people around her.

Despite protests from local and international opposition and human rights activists, authorities continued to hold Arap and medicate her without her diagnosis. Doctors have also refused to give her diagnosis to her family, lawyer, and trustee. On July 26, the 49-year-old Arap was taken to the Murmansk regional psychiatric hospital in Apatity—the place she described in “Durdom.”

The city of Apatity is about 100 miles (161 kilometers) south of Murmansk, and the hospital is outside city limits in a forested area. Mental patients housed there are considered a danger to themselves and those around them. On July 31, during a visit to Arap at Apatity, doctors openly asked Vasilyeva whether her coalition, OGF, was afraid of publishing an article like Arap’s “Durdom.” Arap is still being held at the hospital.

Responding to local and international protests, the Russian Ombudsman for Human Rights Vladimir Lukin commissioned an independent psychiatric evaluation of Arap.

Yesterday, Yuri Savenko, president of the Independent Psychiatric Association, concluded that Arap has been illegally hospitalized, the Interfax news agency reported. “Larisa Arap has been put in a clinic by force, rudely, and without any grounds,” Savenko told Interfax. “This style, which is typical of the Soviet times—to protect the state and not the person—is used by inertia,” Savenko was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, local sources told CPJ that Larisa Arap’s daughter, Taisiya, was fired from her job at a Murmansk bank last week. Her employers told her she had been giving too many interviews about her mother.

Your Excellency, the horrifying method of forcible psychiatric detention as punishment for dissent was a trademark of the Soviet past and has no place in a new, democratic Russia. We call on you to personally intervene in the case of Larisa Arap, who has been living a nightmare because she wrote a story that angered those same hospital authorities “treating” her now. In view of yesterday’s expert conclusion by the Independent Psychiatric Association, we ask that Larisa Arap be immediately released and that a criminal investigation is opened against those responsible for her illegal detention and psychiatric treatment.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We await your reply.

Sincerely,
Joel Simon
Executive Director


EDITORIAL: An Open Letter to the Editor of Russia Profile

Dear Editor,

I’m appalled by Shaun Walker’s statement in “Madness or Manipulation? Case of Murmansk Activist Creates International Backlash” (8/16) that: “Larisa Arap is not a journalist, and in contradiction to what has been widely reported, did not write the article in question. She is an accountant at the Murmansk office of the United Civil Front, and was quoted at length in an article written by a journalist named Ilona Novikova entitled ‘Madhouse’ and published in a special edition of a local opposition newspaper titled ‘Dissenters March.’”

The fact that Ms. Arap has a day job does not prevent her from also being a journalist; virtually nobody who works for any of the opposition groups in Russia in a non-business capacity does so as a full-time professional, and for you to suggest otherwise is an outrageous smear on Ms. Arap’s reputation. Ms. Arap is actively involved in reporting on acts by the Russian government to undermine democracy, and that makes her a journalist. In my view, her standing as a journalist and her contributions to the field are far, far greater than, just for instance, Mr. Walker’s. The fact that the widely respected Committee to Protect Journalists, heartily agrees with me, and has written a letter of protest to “President” Putin expressing its outrage at her mistreatment, is a good indication of how far off base Mr. Walker really is. Moreover, the fact that Ms. Arap’s name did not appear on the byline of the article in question does not mean she was not integral in its reporting.

In his biography on your website, Mr. Walker is described as follows: “Born in London to Indian-British parents, he studied Russian History at Oxford University, before coming to Russia to work for an anti-AIDS NGO. He joined Russia Profile in June 2005. His interests include opera, breakaway states, good food, and Southampton Football Club.” That hardly sounds to me like the credentials of someone qualified to say who is a “journalist” and who is not, much less who actually is one himself (as Mr. Walker claims to be). How dare Russia Profile insult its readers’ intelligence by allowing this football-loving gourmand to issue an edict defining the term for the rest of the world. What has Mr. Walker ever risked for Russia — or for anything, for that matter?

Mr. Walker also writes: “It seems that Ms Arap does have a history of psychiatric problems.” I simply cannot believe that even an institution of your dubious ethical standards would allow this statement into print without being accompanied by solid proof that is is so, yet none was present in the article. Moreover, it is totally irrelevant to the propriety of Ms. Arap’s current confinement that she had treatment in the past, and you have not shown any evidence of any reports claiming she never did. In fact, all that has been reported is that she had a medical screening just before she was seized and was given a clean bill of mental health — something Mr. Walker fails to accurately inform your readers about.

I call upon Russia Profile to make full public disclosure of the extent of financial and other support it receives from the Russian government, including the “Russia Today” media propaganda campaign, and to give a detailed description of the involvement of state-connected flunkies in its day-to-day operations. In my view, in light of the support you receive, the forgoing statements have the clear tinge of biased attempts to shield the Kremlin from blame it richly deserves.

I also call upon Mr. Walker to apologize to Ms. Arap for his misleading statements. To me, his article reads like a propaganda piece churned out by the Kremlin in Soviet times; it admits facts it cannot possibly deny, then seeks to undercut their significance in every way possible. As such, I find it no more entitled to being called “journalism” than a letter written by Stalin. I realize, of course, that to you this is probably a great compliment to Mr. Walker. More’s the pity.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Zigfeld
Publisher

La Russophobe

Note: A version of this letter was e-mailed to the editors of Russia Profile.

The Arap Saga Continues: Now She Has Proof

From BBC Monitoring, by way of Industry Watch:

Text of report by Russian news agency Interfax

Moscow, 13 August: Having examined the United Civil Front [UCF] activist, Larisa Arap, the president of the Independent Psychiatric Association, Yuriy Savenko, made a conclusion that she had been put in a psychiatric clinic illegally.

“The story is much more complicated than ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but this very case – though it has no direct relation to politics – testifies that punitive medicine is still alive. And Larisa Arap has been put in a clinic by force, rudely, and without any grounds,” Yuriy Savenko told Interfax on Monday [13 August]. “This style which is typical of the Soviet times – to protect the state and not the person – is used by inertia,” the psychiatrist added.

He said that now he is writing a report on the examination which he will submit to Russian Human Rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, who had asked him to conduct the examination, either on Monday night or on Tuesday.

Larisa Arap was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric clinic on 5 July. Her UCF colleagues believe that this happened because of her public and political activity. In particular, the UCF paid attention to the fact that Larisa Arap was hospitalized soon after her article “Madhouse”, in which she described harsh treatment applied to children and teenagers in Murmansk Region’s psychiatric clinic, had been published in the Dissenters March newspaper.

Here’s the Telgraph‘s take on the situation (click the link in the second paragraph to read their extended coverage; click here to read our translation from the Russian press, published yesterday):

One of the nastier manifestations of the culture of spin for which the Blair administration became notorious was its tendency to brief against its dissidents (informally, of course) by casting doubt on their mental health. Clare Short and the late Mo Mowlam were both subjected to the slur, and we were even told that Gordon Brown was “psychologically flawed”. Distasteful as these slanders were, however, they could do little harm while Britain retained an accountable executive and a psychiatric profession of unimpeachable probity.

Things are different in modern Russia, where, as we report in horrifying detail today, it takes only modest influence to secure the incarceration and chemical torture of a business rival, wealthy relative or prosecution witness, and where the sectioning of citizens hostile to the Kremlin seems set to become once more a fact of political life. That Vladimir Putin is still treated by civilised nations, especially those of the G8, as the president of a democracy is an indictment of their cowardice, for since he came to power Russia has again become a corrupt dictatorship, barely distinguishable from the Soviet Union under Khrushchev.

Germany’s dependency on Russian energy, combined with the timidity of some of its neighbours, has helped smother European protests at Putin’s behaviour. So the sea-bed under the North Pole now ludicrously bears a Russian flag, and aerial sparring with Nato, abandoned after the Cold War, has been resumed. In its firm diplomatic response to Russian arrogance over the Litvinenko murder, the British Government has hinted that it is prepared to stand up to a man whose influence will undoubtedly persist long after he formally leaves office next year.

But other countries must follow, before any more of them become enslaved to the need for Russian gas. The alternative would indeed be madness.

Annals of Weaponizing Psychiatry: Now, the Neo-Soviet Dark Nights of Terror Begin in Earnest

Other Russia reports:

Larisa Arap is a writer and an activist for the United Civil Front, the opposition group founded and chaired by Garry Kasparov in 2005. The UCF has been an integral force in the Other Russia since its inception and Larisa Arap has been active in our activities in Murmansk and elsewhere. Ms. Arap also wrote an article detailing abuses in children’s mental health facilities, including the use of electroshock. As a consequence, she has been abducted by the authorities in Murmansk at a psychiatric clinic. She was held from July 5 to July 18 with no medical or legal information being given out by authorities. Only later did a court say she was “a danger to herself and others” — the classic formulation. She is being held and medicated against her will, although the hospital will not confirm her presence there.

UPDATE JULY 30: Ms. Arap’s daughter Taisiya has been able to visit her mother in the hospital. She requested to see the diagnosis of her mother and was refused by doctors citing privileged information. The photo above right was taken by her daughter with her cell phone at the clinic where her mother is being held (at left is the Ms. Arap’s normal view). We will be following Ms. Arap’s story closely. [We understand that the American consul from St. Petersburg is heading to Murmansk to inquire.]

The use of psychiatric detention as a weapon was quite popular in the days of the USSR. Dissidents regularly disappeared into prisons and hospitals under charges of mental instability. This time the interests are likely of a baser nature, as Kasparov puts it: “It could happen if you attack the interests of the local Gazprom, the local military base, the local medical mafia. Attacking the interests of local bureaucrats is a terrible risk, because they don’t stop at anything to get their own back.” This is not the first such incident of the Putin era and it is no surprise to see the revival of the old Soviet methods.

As is often the case after such incidents hit the news, Russian opposition websites have been attacked and made unavailable by massive DDOS assault. As of this writing, namarsh.ru and kasparov.ru are under attack.

To see our other reports on efforts to weaponize psychiatry in neo-Soviet Russia, click the “weaponizing psychiatry” link at the bottom of this post.

Annals of Weaponizing Psychiatry: Another Original LR Translation

La Russophobe has already reported three different times on the increasing weaponization of psychiatry in the neo-Soviet Union, and here through the good offices of our original translator is yet a fourth terrifying installment.

The Abuse of Psychiatric Authority
Zoya Svetova
Yezhednevniy Zhurnal
June 22, 2007

At the end of May the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia held a meeting in Moscow. Among the issues they discussed was the possibility or impossibility of a re-emergence in Russia of punitive psychiatry, the use of which against dissidents in the Soviet Union for many years covered Soviet psychiatrists in shame. This issue did not come up by accident. The introduction of censorship, political exiling, the use of the judicial system for settling scores with enemies, the appearance of political prisoners – all of these elements of the Soviet totalitarian system have gradually migrated back into Russian authoritarianism. The full picture is lacking only punitive psychiatry. According to sociological polls, most of the residents of the country are satisfied with their lives. The rating of the current president is simply off the scales. And suddenly there appear these people who are unhappy with these highly-rated authorities – they do not agree with them. Something is not right. Something is wrong with them. Could it be they’re sick?

The head of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, Yuri Savenko, assesses that “the authorities have not yet given the signal, but the appearance of the Law on Extremist Activities, which can be interpreted rather broadly, along with the inevitable appearance among protest-minded citizens of a certain percentage of people with so-called personality disorders, is likely to lead to some people being placed in psychiatric hospitals.” The problem is exacerbated by the fact that among professional psychiatrists there has never been the necessary assessment of the prevalence of punitive psychiatry in Soviet times.

Repentance for psychiatric repressions was expressed at the beginning of the 1990’s by the Director of the Serbskiy Institute, T.B. Dmitriyev, as was loudly broadcast to audiences in the West, and to Vladimir Bukovskiy, as described it in his book “The Moscow Process” (1996). But in Russia it was spoken of only unofficially, without “excessive noise”. Now, just ten years later, the very fact of the abuse of psychiatry has been categorically denied. And many psychiatrists continue to believe that there was nothing wrong with forced hospitalization of dissenters. One still encounters the view among some doctors that “putting anti-Soviet activists in the hospital saved them from being sent to the Zone” [TN: a.k.a., the Gulags].

Never Write a Letter to a Duma Deputy or Psychiatrist

Is it easy or difficult nowadays to forcibly hospitalize a “difficult” person?

The Law on Psychiatric Care regulates hospitalization fairly strictly, especially when it is done without the consent of the patient. Involuntary hospitalization is still allowed only in certain circumstances, such as when there is an indication of serious psychiatric disorder, which would pose a direct danger to the patient and those around him, or if the patient is helpless, or if remaining without medical care would result in a worsening of the patient’s condition. But the case of one resident of Moscow (we’ll call her “Elena”) seems to me a worrying symptom. Elena is not an oppositionist. She does not go to the March of Those Who Disagree. She is simply a non-standard person. And due to certain circumstances she turned out to be “difficult” for a fairly high-ranking official. And for this she suffered.

Psychiatric diagnosis is a somewhat delicate matter. In diagnosing one and the same patient, the opinions of doctors can vary widely. What one doctor may see as an indication of illness, another may consider a “borderline condition”, which does not pose a threat to either the patient or those around him.

“Obviously, this was an unfortunate experiment,” says Elena today, evaluating what happened to her. “I had always liked strong, self-confident, action-oriented women. Among those I took an interest in was the Duma Deputy Svetlana Savitskaya. I found her home phone number and called her with a request for her email address, so I could send her a certain political text. Savitskaya reacted to my call somewhat strangely: She said she was going to file a complaint with the police or have me committed to an insane asylum. She said that I was keeping her from sleeping and working. I later decided to give her a copy of a book by George Soros, “The Bubble of American Supremacy”. I thought that all patriotic fundamentalists should read this book. Along with the book I passed a disk of Tibetan music to the female guard on duty at the entrance to Savitskaya’s home. I then called Savitskaya to make sure she had gotten my book. Once again she was very unhappy with my phone call.” Elena was unperturbed, and next tried to deliver her political text to the Deputy in person. The “political text” contained some articles by well-known journalists, as well as Elena’s personal thoughts about the intelligence services and the role of Joseph Stalin in Russian history. Elena went through the entrance to Savitskaya’s building and rang her doorbell. Savitskaya did not open her door, but called the guards, and they ejected the unwanted guest from the Deputy’s building.

Could the behavior of our heroine be considered that of a person who was abnormal, aggressive, or presented a danger to society? No. Her behavior was odd, annoying, but nothing more than that.

Then Elena wrote a letter to the director of the Serbskiy Institute, Tatyana Dmitrieva, whose appearance on television Elena had much enjoyed. Elena decided that Dmitrieva could help her understand herself and give “an evaluation of the behavior of Savitskaya”. After giving a detailed description of her interactions with the Deputy, Elena waited for a reply from the psychiatrist Dmitrieva. At Dmitrieva’s request, the Deputy Director of the Center, Zurab Keklidze, answered the young woman as follows: “… in accordance with the charter documents, the Federal State Office of the V.P. Serbskiy State Scientific Center for Social and Judicial Psychiatry is not empowered to give an opinion (express an evaluative opinion) in either verbal or written form on the activities of any entity or person. Therefore, unfortunately, T.B. Dmitrieva cannot respond to your request.”

Elena still tried several times to send emails to Dmitrieva and called her at home. Eventually, Tatyana Dmitrieva complained to the police, and Elena was visited by a police officer from the local precinct who sought to find out why she would not leave the Director alone. No criminal case was ever brought against her. But a short while later Elena found herself in a psychiatric hospital. She had come to a lecture by Dmitrieva and, attempting to talk with her, lunged at her car.

Hospitalization “By Phonecall”

Dmitrieva’s driver called for a “psychiatric ambulance”. After talking with Elena, the doctors refused to hospitalize her. A second ambulance team also refused to hospitalize her. “I explained my actions to the doctors,” recalls Elena. “One of them told me that Dmitrieva had called the Moscow City chief psychiatrist. Then a third ambulance arrived, and they took me to the hospital.” There Elena was placed in the “acute section”, in a ward with a dozen seriously ill women. The next morning, in a meeting with a doctor, Elena said that she did not consent to remaining at the hospital. After two or three days, a court convened. “They told me that I had to stay in the hospital, or else my condition would worsen. They gave me antidepressants. Later various doctors and consultants came. I asked them to release me. But they kept putting it off. The most unpleasant thing was not knowing when I would ever be allowed to go home. I was afraid that I would lose my job. The first two weeks I was in a ward with 16 people. I couldn’t talk with any of them. It was horrible for me to even to look at them.”

Elena spent two and a half months at the hospital. Professor Aleksandr Gofman, a doctor who is well-regarded in his profession, believes that it was unnecessary to hospitalize Elena. “It should have been sufficient to treat her as an outpatient, explain to her that if she did not do as she said she would do, she would have to be hospitalized. But by her behavior, she did break the law. She could have been held criminally responsible for interfering in the work of an official functionary, for entering into an occupied domicile. And for disturbing a person’s peace, calling them on the telephone,” he explained. Another psychiatrist, Professor Vladimir Rotshteyn said, “Tatyana Dmitrieva receives hundreds of letters like this every day. And, as a rule, she does not answer them. A person who receives no answer usually stops writing. Hence, one cannot condemn Dmitrieva for being frightened.” He is certain that “hospitalization was good for Elena.”

The head of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, Yuriy Svenko categorically disagrees: “This woman was forcibly hospitalized without sufficient reason. Only the third ‘psychiatric ambulance’ team, which included a doctor who worked at the Serbskiy Institute, agreed to hospitalize Elena. She should not have been detained at the hospital for so long.” Savenko believes that the doctors who decided against releasing Elena from in-patient status were pawns of “divided loyalties”. On the one hand, they had taken the Hippocratic Oath, and were obliged to serve their patient, but on the other they were obliged to obey a senior official, in this case the chief psychiatrist of the Ministry of Health, who happened to be one and the same T.B. Dmitrieva.

“Every experienced psychiatrist has at various times attracted the attention of mentally ill people. This can in fact be quite dangerous,” continues Savenko. “So Dimitrieva’s first reaction was natural. But her failure to take into account the opinion of a consultant-professor, and then a second, and then a third, to say nothing of the opinions of the doctors at the hospital, clearly shows the extent to which professional ethics and the rule of law are observed by the country’s head of judicial psychiatry, who is also the sole leader and chief psychiatrist in the ministry. Such occurrences are not a rarity, but are carefully hushed up. Transparency in this case occurred thanks to the work of journalists and a fortunate confluence of circumstances. Hence, my arrival at the hospital was the final drop needed for the release of Elena, shortly before the end of the three-month period after which she would have lost her job, at which she does quite well. Her worshipping of Dmitrieva on the television was transformed into a stubborn desire to sue her in court. She approached our Association with a request for legal assistance in this. The fact that we were able to talk her out of a trial is more than enough proof that her behavior had no characteristics mental illness. Of course, a trial would have been very notorious. But we give priority to the individual futures of those who turn to us for assistance.”

Elena still has a bad taste from her stay in the psychiatric hospital. “None of the professors could explain my behavior. They simply said that there was no severe disorder, but there was depression. But no one would explain to me what sort of psychological problems I had and what I could do to get over them. I was there for two and a half months, and for nothing. So what was the point of sending me there for treatment? I needed a psychoanalyst, not psychotropic pills, which caused side effects in me, and worsened my depression. The question I asked Dmitrieva, as a leading specialist, how to explain my behavior, remains unanswered.”

This story is not only about how easy it is to get a non-standard, unusual person committed to a psychiatric hospital. It is also a story about indifference and intolerance.

Our parliamentary deputies and bureaucrats – worst of all, our government medical professionals – have forgotten how to get along with private citizens. They are deathly afraid of them. It is easier for them to brush off a person who wants to talk with them, simpler to declare them crazy, than to pay attention to someone who is asking for just a minute of their precious bureaucratic time.

Here is what Elena wrote in her letter to Deputy Svetlana Savitskaya: “Tolerance should be taught beginning in kindergarten, in the schools and colleges. One must have constant discussions about any theme. The main idea should be to instruct children in the field of argument. So that every person from childhood on is predisposed to conduct arguments and the search for information…”