09 April 2015
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 mental health.
In 1997 Robert van Voren was elected Honorary Fellow of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists.
- From the European Union official document: Psychiatry as a tool for the coercion in post-Soviet countries
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 AUGUST 2014