Daily Archives: August 20, 2007

August 20, 2007 — Contents

MONDAY AUGUST 20 CONTENTS


(1) EDITORIAL: Demanding Justice in Georgia

(2) In Neo-Soviet Russia, Writing Novels is Once Again a Crime

(3) Annals of Russian Racism

(4) In “Resurgent” Russia, Food Poisoning Runs Rampant

(5) Chicago Tribune Blasts Kremlin Over Arap

EDITORIAL: Demanding Justice in Georgia

EDITORIAL

Demanding Justice in Georgia

A monstrous horror is unfolding before our eyes in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, now struggling to become a member of the democratic fraternity of nations and to free itself from decades of Russian-Soviet oppression. How the West responds to this challenge will decide in large part the way in which our children and theirs will live their lives. We must not fail them, as we have done before.

As Reuters reported last Wednesday:

Georgia wants to join NATO but the alliance’s constitution says a country cannot become a member if there are conflicts within its borders, and Tbilisi has two. The breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions fought wars against Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Their declarations of independence have not been internationally recognized but Moscow gives them moral and financial support.

Once Georgia becomes a member of NATO, Russia will lose all hope of launching a military action to seize it back as a slave state, as it was in Soviet times, and it will become much more difficult, if not impossible, to use economic means to destabilize it. In order to block Georgia’s ascension into NATO, Russia is actively fomenting upheaval in both Abkhazia and Ossetia — doing things in those regions that it specifically demanded other countries not do in Chechnya. To put it simply, peace in Ossetia and Abkhazia is not in Russia’s interests, and Russia has done everything it can to make sure it does not occur — no matter how much hypocrisy it commits in the process. To put it even more simply, Russia is trying to use NATO’s own constitution against it. That must be stopped.

Russia has routinely reached into Abkhazia and Ossetia in order to stir their boiling pots, but most recently its actions escalated dramatically, beyond the point of no return.

As shown in the map at left, on August 8th Russian planes not only plunged repeatedly into Ossetia but, when they came under fire from Georgian partisans, flew out of Ossetia and into the heart of Georgia, jettisoning a missile as part of their evasive maneuvers that landed near the Georgian hamlet of Tsitelubani.

In a characteristic display of brazen dishonesty and craven cowardice, eerily reminiscent of what occurred in the aftermath of the Litvinenko killing (and at many other times during Russia’s sordid history), the Kremlin tried to deny any involvement, claiming the Georgians had bombed themselves in order to make Russia look bad. Their pathetic Keystone Cops display would have been humorous if so much were not at stake. Laying to rest all doubt, as if Russia could possibly be trusted, as we reported last week, when an international team of experts was dispatched by Europe to investigate, they quickly made mincemeat of the Russian lies and formally concluded that the warplane was Russian and had made multiple incursions into Georgian airspace. Still, no apology from Russia.

If Georgia had a NATO base, then sophisticated American fighter jets would have been scrambled to meet the Russian incursion based on sophisticated radar warning systems, and the Russian pilot would never have made it back to his “rodina.” He would have been blown of out the sky, as he should have been, as Russia would do to any plane that attempted such actions in Russian air space. But Russia feels it can act with abandon against Georgia because it is small and relatively helpless country that the West has not yet fully brought within its protection. How Russia, the largest country in the world by far, could be so desperate to get even more territory is something that only a Russian can possibly understand (though it may have something to do with the fact that Russia knows full well it can’t possibly defend its Siberian territory from Chinese incursions).

In other words, Russia is a craven, cowardly bully. Everyone in the world with the least bit of horse sense knows there is only one way to deal with a person like that. Serve him a knuckle sandwich. A whole plateful, if necessary.

So Georgia must have a NATO base, and that means it must have NATO membership. Right now. NATO was not created to implement a set of arbitrary rules and regulations about what sort of country is “fit” to join. It was created to protect us from the threats of our enemies — most specifically Russia (in its former guise as the USSR). NATO must do whatever is necessary to bring Georgia immediately within its fold of protection and to tell Russia, in no uncertain terms: Hands off, or else. Turkey is a member of the 26-nation NATO contingent. Turkey, as shown above, shares a long land border with Georgia. It’s militarily insane to leave Turkey’s flank unnecessarily exposed in this manner. The Olympics are scheduled to be held in 2014 within walking distance of Georgia’s northern border. Are we going to send our young athletes into a meat grinder?

Any other response than to immediately bring Georgia into NATO would be tantamount to the way the Allies handled Hitler in the early going of World War II, just after he grabbed Czechoslovakia. The Allies thought Hitler would be satisfied with this burnt offering, and then suddenly there was Poland.

When compared to the vital, vibrant democracies of Europe and North America, Russia is a pathetically weak and disorganized country with a ridiculous sham for a military and a cosmic joke of an economy. It’s political system is nothing short of medieval. But it can still wreck havoc in a small country like Georgia if nobody stops it, and it might grow stronger if left unfettered before, as the USSR did, it ultimately and inevitably destroys itself. If we choose not to stop the neo-Soviet Union in Georgia today, then we’ll more than likely have to stop it someplace much closer to home tomorrow.

Those are just the practical considerations. They say nothing about the simple morality of allowing a small country struggling to overcome years of Soviet oppression to be swallowed up by a large aggressor nation. If we allowed that, how would we sleep at night?

It’s time for the citizens of the West to call their leaders to account for this issue. It’s not only our leaders, but we ourselves, who are responsible to put things right in Georgia. If our leaders lack the intelligence or courage to do what is necessary, we must replace them with those who can. America is right now in the early stages of a presidential election cycle, and the question of Georgia ought to be foist upon every candidate, and often.

After all, they hold our children’s futures in their hands.

In Neo-Soviet Russia, Writing Novels is Once Again a Criminal Offense

Radio Free Europe reports:

Russia’s modern literary history might soon open a new chapter — an author facing libel charges for characterizations contained in a work of fiction. Moscow city prosecutors have already questioned Pavel Astakhov about his novel, “Raider,” and are now deciding whether to open a criminal case. The head of the city police’s main investigative directorate, Ivan Glukhov, initiated the investigation by asking prosecutors to open a criminal case against Astakhov and his publishing company.


According to Glukhov, the novel “contains numerous insulting and libelous deliberations” about the directorate, and defames the reputation of Russian police in general. In his letter to prosecutors, Glukhov acknowledges that the novel is “literary-fictional,” but argues that, because the text refers to a police unit that actually exists, readers are being led to believe that events depicted in the story are true.

‘Recognized Problem’

The author’s lawyer, Mikhail Burmistrov, strongly disagrees. He tells RFE/RL’s Russian Service that the issue of police corruption is nothing new — and is even openly addressed by high-ranking officials in Russia. Therefore, Burmistrov says, his client’s book is simply touching on a recognized problem. “He [Astakhov] is not saying anything new, just highlighting some problems more clearly,” Burmistrov says. “And, what’s most important from a legal perspective, he does not mention a single concrete individual. This is really a work of fiction. And fictional work is that is created by author’s imagination.”

“Raider,” which can be described as a crime thriller, follows a plot centered on mergers and acquisitions among companies. The protagonist, a businessman, bribes officers from the investigative directorate, who raid companies and open criminal cases to his benefit. But in the story, a young lawyer confronts the corruption. The possibility that a criminal case could be opened against Astakhov has surprised many. The genre of crime thrillers is very popular in Russia, and the wrongdoings of law-enforcement agencies are often addressed in works of fiction.

Crackdown On Freedom

Some analysts believe that there are deeper motives behind this case — that it is intended to serve as a warning to authors by holding the threat of prosecution for what they write over their heads. The author of the hugely popular “Day Watch” and “Night Watch” series and arguably the most popular science-fiction writer in Russia today, Sergei Lukyanenko, is among those who feel this way. “Of course this worries me,” he says. “Because it’s easy to cross the line between observing the law, which is an essential part of any civilized country, and abusing the rights of ordinary citizens, abusing freedom of speech, and so on. This is a very difficult thing — and in the struggle to protect these laws it would be easy to overstep the mark and start to limit a person’s right to express himself freely.”

To some commentators, the possible case against Astakhov also represents part of an ongoing crackdown on independence within the country’s legal system. Apart from being a writer, Astakhov is a successful lawyer. And at various times he has represented Russia’s formerly independent television company, NTV — now owned by the state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom — and Yukos, against which the government led a politically charged campaign. Some believe that such activities of an independent lawyer may have angered the authorities. Prosecutors are expected to decide within a week whether to move forward with charges against Astakhov.

The Horror of Racism in Putin’s Russia Further Revealed

Blogger, journalist and author of the forthcoming ever-so-timely book The New Cold War Mark MacKinnon documents the horror of racism in Russia first hand:

I still remember him. Tolessa was a young Ethiopian student attending Moscow’s famous People’s Friendship University, and one of the few I could find who would talk to a newspaper reporter about what it was like living as a foreigner – a black foreigner – in a time of rising Russian racism and xenophobia. It was a life of violence and fear that he told me about. He and the other African students on campus were so terrified of Russia’s notorious skinheads that they were afraid to leave their dorm rooms. When they did go out into the city around them, they went in groups.

Even at on-campus cafeteria, Tolessa was nervous and asked to sit at a table in the corner furthest from the windows. In the weeks before he and I had lunch, there had been eight arson attempts and several bomb threats directed at the dormitory where most of the African students were staying. “We stay on the campus and, if we want to go anywhere, we have to organize a group. Maybe in a group they won’t attack us,” he told me. “This group, the skinheads, they are not small in number. In fact, I sometimes feel as though they are half the population of Moscow. People tell us to leave this country, that Russia is only for the Russians.”

Russia for the Russians. It’s a phrase that I hear more and more often. One of my friends – as white as the Russian snow – was punched out for speaking English in Moscow. My wife and I were physically threatened by a group of skinheads on the metro who drunkenly told us “Yankees go home.” The fact that Canada is a separate state was lost on him, so we got off at the next station even though it was nowhere near from our destination.

The Moscow police, Tolessa told me, were open admirers of the “Russia for the Russians” crowd. When an African student who was attacked called for help, the police would just as often join the beating as stop it. It wasn’t just Africans. Anyone from the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia was liable to be targeted as chorniyy, or “black.”

For too long, the Kremlin tolerated and manipulated the ultranationalist crowd, allowing people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Dmitry Rogozin to spew hatred because it suited their political aims. If the West was truly worried that a Zhirinovsky or a Rogozin might come to power, it would let up in its calls for more openness and democracy and perhaps come to see someone like Vladimir Putin as a least-bad option. The strategy worked like a charm from a political point of view, but the monsters it created are now out of even the Kremlin’s control. Take the grisly execution video that was first posted on the Russian Internet community livejournal last week.

The killing of two men – one identified in a caption as an ethnic Tajik, the other as a Dagestani – was horrifying and disturbing. One was beheaded, the other shot, while their murderers shouted “Glory to Russia!” and displayed a Nazi flag. The video is titled “Operation of the National-Socialist Party of Russia to arrest and execute two colonists from Dagestan and Tajikistan.”

In a poorly attended press conference back in May, Alexander Brod of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights warned that, in the past two years alone, the number of skinheads in Russia had risen from 50,000 to 70,000. “Nowadays, they could be found in each regional center, they are emerging even in small towns and villages. In big cities, the attacks happen nearly each day and murders [are committed] weekly,” he said. In other words, the only thing truly remarkable about the livejournal video is that the perpetrators bothered to film it.

The Horror of Racism in Putin’s Russia Further Revealed

Blogger, journalist and author of the forthcoming ever-so-timely book The New Cold War Mark MacKinnon documents the horror of racism in Russia first hand:

I still remember him. Tolessa was a young Ethiopian student attending Moscow’s famous People’s Friendship University, and one of the few I could find who would talk to a newspaper reporter about what it was like living as a foreigner – a black foreigner – in a time of rising Russian racism and xenophobia. It was a life of violence and fear that he told me about. He and the other African students on campus were so terrified of Russia’s notorious skinheads that they were afraid to leave their dorm rooms. When they did go out into the city around them, they went in groups.

Even at on-campus cafeteria, Tolessa was nervous and asked to sit at a table in the corner furthest from the windows. In the weeks before he and I had lunch, there had been eight arson attempts and several bomb threats directed at the dormitory where most of the African students were staying. “We stay on the campus and, if we want to go anywhere, we have to organize a group. Maybe in a group they won’t attack us,” he told me. “This group, the skinheads, they are not small in number. In fact, I sometimes feel as though they are half the population of Moscow. People tell us to leave this country, that Russia is only for the Russians.”

Russia for the Russians. It’s a phrase that I hear more and more often. One of my friends – as white as the Russian snow – was punched out for speaking English in Moscow. My wife and I were physically threatened by a group of skinheads on the metro who drunkenly told us “Yankees go home.” The fact that Canada is a separate state was lost on him, so we got off at the next station even though it was nowhere near from our destination.

The Moscow police, Tolessa told me, were open admirers of the “Russia for the Russians” crowd. When an African student who was attacked called for help, the police would just as often join the beating as stop it. It wasn’t just Africans. Anyone from the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia was liable to be targeted as chorniyy, or “black.”

For too long, the Kremlin tolerated and manipulated the ultranationalist crowd, allowing people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Dmitry Rogozin to spew hatred because it suited their political aims. If the West was truly worried that a Zhirinovsky or a Rogozin might come to power, it would let up in its calls for more openness and democracy and perhaps come to see someone like Vladimir Putin as a least-bad option. The strategy worked like a charm from a political point of view, but the monsters it created are now out of even the Kremlin’s control. Take the grisly execution video that was first posted on the Russian Internet community livejournal last week.

The killing of two men – one identified in a caption as an ethnic Tajik, the other as a Dagestani – was horrifying and disturbing. One was beheaded, the other shot, while their murderers shouted “Glory to Russia!” and displayed a Nazi flag. The video is titled “Operation of the National-Socialist Party of Russia to arrest and execute two colonists from Dagestan and Tajikistan.”

In a poorly attended press conference back in May, Alexander Brod of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights warned that, in the past two years alone, the number of skinheads in Russia had risen from 50,000 to 70,000. “Nowadays, they could be found in each regional center, they are emerging even in small towns and villages. In big cities, the attacks happen nearly each day and murders [are committed] weekly,” he said. In other words, the only thing truly remarkable about the livejournal video is that the perpetrators bothered to film it.

The Horror of Racism in Putin’s Russia Further Revealed

Blogger, journalist and author of the forthcoming ever-so-timely book The New Cold War Mark MacKinnon documents the horror of racism in Russia first hand:

I still remember him. Tolessa was a young Ethiopian student attending Moscow’s famous People’s Friendship University, and one of the few I could find who would talk to a newspaper reporter about what it was like living as a foreigner – a black foreigner – in a time of rising Russian racism and xenophobia. It was a life of violence and fear that he told me about. He and the other African students on campus were so terrified of Russia’s notorious skinheads that they were afraid to leave their dorm rooms. When they did go out into the city around them, they went in groups.

Even at on-campus cafeteria, Tolessa was nervous and asked to sit at a table in the corner furthest from the windows. In the weeks before he and I had lunch, there had been eight arson attempts and several bomb threats directed at the dormitory where most of the African students were staying. “We stay on the campus and, if we want to go anywhere, we have to organize a group. Maybe in a group they won’t attack us,” he told me. “This group, the skinheads, they are not small in number. In fact, I sometimes feel as though they are half the population of Moscow. People tell us to leave this country, that Russia is only for the Russians.”

Russia for the Russians. It’s a phrase that I hear more and more often. One of my friends – as white as the Russian snow – was punched out for speaking English in Moscow. My wife and I were physically threatened by a group of skinheads on the metro who drunkenly told us “Yankees go home.” The fact that Canada is a separate state was lost on him, so we got off at the next station even though it was nowhere near from our destination.

The Moscow police, Tolessa told me, were open admirers of the “Russia for the Russians” crowd. When an African student who was attacked called for help, the police would just as often join the beating as stop it. It wasn’t just Africans. Anyone from the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia was liable to be targeted as chorniyy, or “black.”

For too long, the Kremlin tolerated and manipulated the ultranationalist crowd, allowing people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Dmitry Rogozin to spew hatred because it suited their political aims. If the West was truly worried that a Zhirinovsky or a Rogozin might come to power, it would let up in its calls for more openness and democracy and perhaps come to see someone like Vladimir Putin as a least-bad option. The strategy worked like a charm from a political point of view, but the monsters it created are now out of even the Kremlin’s control. Take the grisly execution video that was first posted on the Russian Internet community livejournal last week.

The killing of two men – one identified in a caption as an ethnic Tajik, the other as a Dagestani – was horrifying and disturbing. One was beheaded, the other shot, while their murderers shouted “Glory to Russia!” and displayed a Nazi flag. The video is titled “Operation of the National-Socialist Party of Russia to arrest and execute two colonists from Dagestan and Tajikistan.”

In a poorly attended press conference back in May, Alexander Brod of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights warned that, in the past two years alone, the number of skinheads in Russia had risen from 50,000 to 70,000. “Nowadays, they could be found in each regional center, they are emerging even in small towns and villages. In big cities, the attacks happen nearly each day and murders [are committed] weekly,” he said. In other words, the only thing truly remarkable about the livejournal video is that the perpetrators bothered to film it.

The Horror of Racism in Putin’s Russia Further Revealed

Blogger, journalist and author of the forthcoming ever-so-timely book The New Cold War Mark MacKinnon documents the horror of racism in Russia first hand:

I still remember him. Tolessa was a young Ethiopian student attending Moscow’s famous People’s Friendship University, and one of the few I could find who would talk to a newspaper reporter about what it was like living as a foreigner – a black foreigner – in a time of rising Russian racism and xenophobia. It was a life of violence and fear that he told me about. He and the other African students on campus were so terrified of Russia’s notorious skinheads that they were afraid to leave their dorm rooms. When they did go out into the city around them, they went in groups.

Even at on-campus cafeteria, Tolessa was nervous and asked to sit at a table in the corner furthest from the windows. In the weeks before he and I had lunch, there had been eight arson attempts and several bomb threats directed at the dormitory where most of the African students were staying. “We stay on the campus and, if we want to go anywhere, we have to organize a group. Maybe in a group they won’t attack us,” he told me. “This group, the skinheads, they are not small in number. In fact, I sometimes feel as though they are half the population of Moscow. People tell us to leave this country, that Russia is only for the Russians.”

Russia for the Russians. It’s a phrase that I hear more and more often. One of my friends – as white as the Russian snow – was punched out for speaking English in Moscow. My wife and I were physically threatened by a group of skinheads on the metro who drunkenly told us “Yankees go home.” The fact that Canada is a separate state was lost on him, so we got off at the next station even though it was nowhere near from our destination.

The Moscow police, Tolessa told me, were open admirers of the “Russia for the Russians” crowd. When an African student who was attacked called for help, the police would just as often join the beating as stop it. It wasn’t just Africans. Anyone from the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia was liable to be targeted as chorniyy, or “black.”

For too long, the Kremlin tolerated and manipulated the ultranationalist crowd, allowing people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Dmitry Rogozin to spew hatred because it suited their political aims. If the West was truly worried that a Zhirinovsky or a Rogozin might come to power, it would let up in its calls for more openness and democracy and perhaps come to see someone like Vladimir Putin as a least-bad option. The strategy worked like a charm from a political point of view, but the monsters it created are now out of even the Kremlin’s control. Take the grisly execution video that was first posted on the Russian Internet community livejournal last week.

The killing of two men – one identified in a caption as an ethnic Tajik, the other as a Dagestani – was horrifying and disturbing. One was beheaded, the other shot, while their murderers shouted “Glory to Russia!” and displayed a Nazi flag. The video is titled “Operation of the National-Socialist Party of Russia to arrest and execute two colonists from Dagestan and Tajikistan.”

In a poorly attended press conference back in May, Alexander Brod of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights warned that, in the past two years alone, the number of skinheads in Russia had risen from 50,000 to 70,000. “Nowadays, they could be found in each regional center, they are emerging even in small towns and villages. In big cities, the attacks happen nearly each day and murders [are committed] weekly,” he said. In other words, the only thing truly remarkable about the livejournal video is that the perpetrators bothered to film it.

The Horror of Racism in Putin’s Russia Further Revealed

Blogger, journalist and author of the forthcoming ever-so-timely book The New Cold War Mark MacKinnon documents the horror of racism in Russia first hand:

I still remember him. Tolessa was a young Ethiopian student attending Moscow’s famous People’s Friendship University, and one of the few I could find who would talk to a newspaper reporter about what it was like living as a foreigner – a black foreigner – in a time of rising Russian racism and xenophobia. It was a life of violence and fear that he told me about. He and the other African students on campus were so terrified of Russia’s notorious skinheads that they were afraid to leave their dorm rooms. When they did go out into the city around them, they went in groups.

Even at on-campus cafeteria, Tolessa was nervous and asked to sit at a table in the corner furthest from the windows. In the weeks before he and I had lunch, there had been eight arson attempts and several bomb threats directed at the dormitory where most of the African students were staying. “We stay on the campus and, if we want to go anywhere, we have to organize a group. Maybe in a group they won’t attack us,” he told me. “This group, the skinheads, they are not small in number. In fact, I sometimes feel as though they are half the population of Moscow. People tell us to leave this country, that Russia is only for the Russians.”

Russia for the Russians. It’s a phrase that I hear more and more often. One of my friends – as white as the Russian snow – was punched out for speaking English in Moscow. My wife and I were physically threatened by a group of skinheads on the metro who drunkenly told us “Yankees go home.” The fact that Canada is a separate state was lost on him, so we got off at the next station even though it was nowhere near from our destination.

The Moscow police, Tolessa told me, were open admirers of the “Russia for the Russians” crowd. When an African student who was attacked called for help, the police would just as often join the beating as stop it. It wasn’t just Africans. Anyone from the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia was liable to be targeted as chorniyy, or “black.”

For too long, the Kremlin tolerated and manipulated the ultranationalist crowd, allowing people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Dmitry Rogozin to spew hatred because it suited their political aims. If the West was truly worried that a Zhirinovsky or a Rogozin might come to power, it would let up in its calls for more openness and democracy and perhaps come to see someone like Vladimir Putin as a least-bad option. The strategy worked like a charm from a political point of view, but the monsters it created are now out of even the Kremlin’s control. Take the grisly execution video that was first posted on the Russian Internet community livejournal last week.

The killing of two men – one identified in a caption as an ethnic Tajik, the other as a Dagestani – was horrifying and disturbing. One was beheaded, the other shot, while their murderers shouted “Glory to Russia!” and displayed a Nazi flag. The video is titled “Operation of the National-Socialist Party of Russia to arrest and execute two colonists from Dagestan and Tajikistan.”

In a poorly attended press conference back in May, Alexander Brod of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights warned that, in the past two years alone, the number of skinheads in Russia had risen from 50,000 to 70,000. “Nowadays, they could be found in each regional center, they are emerging even in small towns and villages. In big cities, the attacks happen nearly each day and murders [are committed] weekly,” he said. In other words, the only thing truly remarkable about the livejournal video is that the perpetrators bothered to film it.

In "Resurgent" Russia, Food Poisoning Runs Rampant

RIA Novosti reports:

A total of 123 children have fallen ill in a case of mass food poisoning that has hit kindergartens throughout the Stavropol Territory, southern Russia, the local emergencies service said Friday. Since the poisoning outbreak, 44 children aged two to seven have been admitted to hospital along with one adult, while 39 are receiving out-patient treatment. A preliminary probe revealed that a single businessman supplied food to all the kindergartens affected, but it is unclear whether his products were the source of the poisoning.

The incident follows a number of mass food poisoning cases at children’s camps throughout Russia this summer.

In northwest Russia’s Novgorod Region about 120 children and adults were infected with an intestinal bug earlier this week. In late June in the Sverdlovsk Region, in the Urals, about 40 people, including 33 children, were hospitalized with acute intestinal infection. In the same month, dysentery led to the hospitalization of 93 children and two adults at two summer camps in the Moscow Region.

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.