Is there a resumption of political psychiatry in the former Soviet Union?
Why are professional psychiatric organisations in the rest of the world reluctant to be critical of Russian Psychiatry, when it abuses diagnosis and turns it into a political tool? A new paper in the academic journal 'International Psychiatry' published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists explores the issue: 'Is there a resumption of political psychiatry in the former Soviet Union?' by Robert van Voren.
Robert van Voren (1959) is Chief Executive of
the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP) and Professor
of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at Ilia State University in
Tbilisi (Georgia) and at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas
(Lithuania). He is a Sovietologist by education and graduated from
Amsterdam University (modern and theoretical history + Russian
language) in 1986, and defended his doctoral dissertation in Kaunas
(Lithuania) in October 2010.
Starting in 1977 he became active in the
Soviet human rights movement. For many years he traveled to the
USSR as a courier, delivering humanitarian aid and smuggling out
information on the situation in camps, prisons and psychiatric
hospitals. The information was used in Western campaigns for the
release of Soviet dissidents. Van Voren led the international
campaigns against the political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR, as
well as in defence of individual political prisoners such as Irina
Grivnina and Anatoly Koryagin. He also organized eight annual
Sakharov Congresses in Amsterdam as a contribution to the campaign
to bring about the release of this Nobel Peace Prize winner.
In 1980 Robert van Voren co-founded the
International Association on Political Use of Psychiatry (the
predecessor of GIP) and became its General Secretary in 1986. He
was Director of the Second World Center in Amsterdam and board
member of many organizations in the field of human rights and
In 1997 Robert van Voren was elected Honorary
Fellow of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists.
During the 1960-1980s in the USSR, psychiatry
was turned into a tool of repression. Soviet psychiatry was cut off
from world psychiatry and developed its own - highly institutional
and biologically oriented – course, providing at the same time a
“scientific justification” for declaring dissidents mentally ill.
Since the collapse of the USSR there have been frequent reports of
persons hospitalized for non-medical reasons, mostly in the Russian
Federation and Ukraine.
The abuses are caused by an underdeveloped
mental health profession with little knowledge of medical ethics
and professional responsibilities of physicians; by a system that
is highly abusive and not able to guarantee the rights of patients;
because of corrupt societies where also psychiatric diagnoses are
for sale; because of lack of financing and interest by the
authorities and in some cases because of a deteriorating political
climate in which local authorities feel safe to use psychiatry
again as a tool of repression.
Through targeted interventions from outside
the situation could be considerably ameliorated and a clear break
with the past could be made possible. In this respect the European
Parliament can play a crucial role in empowering those who wish to
make a clear break with the Soviet past.
Is there a resumption of
political psychiatry in the former Soviet Union?
Robert van Voren
INTERNATIONAL PSYCHIATRY VOLUME 11 NUMBER 3