Thursday, February 20, 2020

By Reviving Punitive Psychiatry, Russia Again Becomes ‘an Evil Empire,’ Podrabinek Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 13 – Unfortunately, there are many “banal dictatorships” around the world which maintain themselves by force and violence and even total lies, Aleksandr Podrabinek says. But most do not cross “a red line” separating these forms of rule from those whose existence the rest of the world can’t tolerate.

            Among regimes that have are Nazi Germany with its gas chambers, Cambodia and Ruanda with its mass destruction of the population, the Central African Empire with a cannibal as ruler, or today’s North Korea, the human rights activist says (

            The USSR also fell into this category when it began to misuse psychiatry against its opponents. People around the world could tolerate a lot. They could even justify concentration camps because their countries had prisons and torture because their own investigators were often “not angels.” But punitive psychiatry was something else: it crossed a line.

            Today, Podrabinek continues, “punitive psychiatry does not have even distant analogues in the free world.” And consequently, regimes like Vladimir Putin’s which engage in it as did his Soviet predecessors put themselves “in the ranks of the outcasts of humanity.” And thus it is appropriate to say that “’the evil empire’” has returned.

            Two days ago, he reports, Oleg Sofyanik, a resident of Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea, received a call from the local psychiatric hospital which asked him to come in. He asked in response what would happen if he didn’t and was told that the police would come, bring him in and that as a result “he would remain here forever.”

            Sofyanik had experience with the abuse of psychiatry in Soviet times and hasn’t had any contact with that field in “more than 30 years.”  In 1977, he wrote a letter to Deutsche Welle about the need to struggle against the Soviet state. The KGB called in him for “a prophylactic conversation.”

            But that didn’t help, and two years later, he and some friends created an underground Committee of Fighters for Freedom which disseminated fliers in Sevastopol calling on people to over throw ‘the blood regime of Brezhnev.’” Not surprisingly, the KGB found him and handed him over to psychiatrists but they pronounced him sane, perhaps because  he was still a minor.

              After finishing school, he was again detained by the KGB, this time in 1982 in Moscow for seeking to meeting with US embassy personnel to tell them about his experiences and ask for help in emigrating.  For that, he was exiled from Moscow. Then he was drafted but ran away from military service before being confined in a psychiatric hospital.

            And it was then, in 1984, that he was diagnosed as suffering from “’creeping schizophrenia,’” the diagnosis of choice for Soviet doctors dealing with dissidents. After his time in the hospital, he tried to escape from the USSR by taking a cruise ship between Odessa and Batumi and then jumping overboard with an inflatable boat.

            Again, he was caught, and again he was confined to a psychiatric hospital, this time for 15 months. Upon his release, he continued his life as a dissident; and in March 1988, Sofyanik wrote to the Soviet government renouncing his Soviet citizenship. For that, he was again incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, this time for six months.

            That was his last blush with psychiatry until this week. A year after his last incarceration, the All-Union Society of Neuropathologists and Psychiatrists denounced the political use of psychiatry and promised never to do so again.  But, as Podrabinek notes, no one who had done so was punished; and those who knew how to do so continued to remain available.

            The call to Sofyanik and the threat that he will be detained for life are the results, the human rights activist says.  Not surprisingly, the victim hopes to escape from Russian-occupied Crimea to Ukraine.

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