Soviet Psychiatric Abuse: The Shadow Over World Psychiatry

Soviet Psychiatric Abuse: The Shadow Over World Psychiatry. By Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway.

Gollancz £10.95.

“Anti-Soviet convictions simply cannot exist. Anti-Soviet statements or opinions are the result, either of mental disturbance or of cynicism or of ignorance.” Not the trite jibe of a seasoned apparatchik, but the considered professional opinion of Dr Stanislav Korolev of the Kazan Psychiatric Hospital.

In the last two decades, just under 500 people whose views differed with those of the authorities have been incarcerated in special psychiatric hospitals (SPH). People judged embarrassingly normal by eminent Western psychiatrists were injected with Sulphazin. Others, as the authors relate, suffocate slowly when wrapped in wet canvas. Like the Inquisition, release can only be secured through recantation. Many refuse. Alekset Nikitin, a miner who established a trade union to fight for workers’ rights was flown 2,000 miles to be interned in an SPH on the Chinese border. The participants in this medieval ritual sometimes construct their own auto da fe. Raiza Ivanova, a teacher and Orthodox Christian mother of two, didn’t recognize the official church. Arrested, pumped with drugs, interned in Kazan SPH, she hanged herself in 1977, Valery Zaks, a Ukrainian Jew who applied to go to Israel, jumped to his death from the roof of the Dneipropetrovsk SPH.

This important book also concentrates on the campaign of psychiatrists both inside the USSR and outside its borders to condemn and outlaw Soviet practice. It is a fascinating study of the education of professionals, far removed from the political arena. Despite the initial silence of the World Psychiatric Association and the innate narrowness of some of its officials and supporters, the sense of indignation mushroomed. Detailed documentation by dissident Soviet psychiatrists such as Semyon Gluzman and careful research by Alexander Podrabinek gradually lifted the veil of incomprehension from the eyes of many a Western psychiatrist. Indeed, the Soviet Association catalysed this anger by a policy of stonewalling and silence, occasionally coloured by diversionary mumblings of “cold war propaganda”.

This culminated in a radical resolution by the apolitical Royal College of Psychiatrists to expel the Soviet Society from the World Psychiatric Association. It passed with a large majority. With the fulcrum tipping opinion in the direction of confrontation, the Soviet Society, capitulated and formally resigned from the world body in January 1983.

The authors show that there has been success in alleviating the conditions of the persecuted. Even so, it appears that this small core of senior Soviet psychiatrists, for ideological and opportunist reasons, still carry out these tasks for their political masters. This will certainly not be the last book on this subject.

Times Higher Education Supplement 1985

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