22.3 Materials concerning the forthcoming International Congress of Psychiatrists [16 September 1971]

<< No 22 : 10 November 1971 >>

On 16 September 1971 the English newspaper The Times printed a letter signed by Professor F. A. Jenner and other English psychiatrists (44 signatures in all) on the subject of V. Bukovsky’s appeal to Western psychiatrists, which was published in The Times on 12 March. V. Bukovsky had asked them to make a thorough study of the official medical and other documents, which he attached to his letter, dealing with the confinement, mainly in hospital-prisons, of persons who had protested against certain actions of the Soviet government.

In his letter (which we quote from The Times) Bukovsky wrote:

“I realise that at a distance and without the essential clinical information it is very difficult to determine the mental condition of a person, and either to diagnose an illness or assert the absence of any illness. Therefore I ask you to express your opinion on only this point: do the above-mentioned diagnoses contain enough scientifically-based evidence not only to indicate the mental illnesses described in the diagnoses but also to indicate the necessity of isolating these people completely from society? ”

Prof. Jenner and his colleagues at the Department of Psychiatry of Sheffield University [8] write that having studied the reports of the examinations of P. Grigorenko, I. Yakhimovich, N. Gorbanevskaya, V. Fainberg, V. Borisov and V. Kuznetsov they “express grave doubts about the legitimacy of compulsory treatment for the six people concerned, and [also about their] indefinite detention in prison mental hospital conditions”. The authors of the letter to the editor go on to say, “It seems to us that the diagnoses on the six above-mentioned people were made purely in consequence of actions in which they were exercising fundamental freedoms—as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution. ” And later: “The misuse of psychiatry for political and other ends is, of course, an insidious danger, not only in the USSR, but also elsewhere.

“We also especially hope that the Soviet government will reconsider the case of Vladimir Bukovsky, who acted with courage in making his appeal and who appears to have suffered in consequence. The information we have about him suggests that he is the sort of person who might be embarrassing to authorities in any country because he seems unwilling to compromise for convenience and personal comfort, and believes in saying what he thinks in situations which he clearly knows could endanger him. But such people often have much to contribute, and deserve considerable respect.

As he has appealed to us to make some sort of statement on persons—outspoken like himself—whom he believes to be the victims of corrupt psychiatric practice, we feel that to answer with a stony silence would be not only wrong but also inhuman…. A deeply disquieting pattern, sometimes involving the punitive and potentially dangerous use of powerful drugs, seems to be emerging in the treatment of dissenters in Soviet mental institutions. We therefore call on our colleagues throughout the world to study the voluminous material now available, to discuss the matter with their Soviet colleagues, some of whom we know to have doubts as grave as our own, and to raise the issue, as Vladimir Bukovsky requested, at international conferences such as that of the World Psychiatric Association in Mexico City from 28 November to 4 December. ”

[From the original text of the letter. The Chronicle’s translation contains a few minor inaccuracies. ]

On 30 October 1971 a “group of Lithuanian intellectuals” addressed a letter to the International Congress of Psychiatrists. [9] The letter recalls that in the armed struggle against Soviet authority between 1944 and 1953 about 50,000 Lithuanian partisans perished, while the same number died in prison or in exile (in all about 350,000 people were exiled, i.e. one-sixth of the population of Lithuania). Among the political prisoners there were many who were mentally ill, but whom no-one treated …

But now, the letter says, they are beginning to “treat” healthy people. The authors of the letter give the names of several Lithuanians who have been subjected to compulsory treatment in psychiatric hospitals:

• Algis Statkevicius, a sociologist, arrested on 18 May 1970 for a number of books described by officials of the KGB as being about “red Fascism” (for a long time he was in the “Lukiski” hospital-prison, and was then transferred to the Vilnius Psychiatric Hospital) [on him see Chronicle 17.12, Item 2 and 17.15, No 74 and supplement];

•  Jablaskus, arrested in 1971 for circulating leaflets (Kaunas Psychiatric Hospital);

•  Vatslav Sevruk, [10] not admitted to the entrance examinations for the philosophy graduate school of Vilnius University because of a “mania for Marxism and truth-seeking”; and

•  a teacher [name unknown] of Lithuanian language and literature, director of studies at a Birzai [100 m. N of Vilnius] secondary school, arrested in June 1971 and at present held in a psychiatric hospital for writing a book on the struggle of the Lithuanian partisans, which he attempted to send abroad.

*

On 24 October 1971 Izvestia printed an article by K. Bryantsev [11] entitled “False friends in the quagmire of slander”, in which the idea that mentally healthy people are placed in psychiatric hospitals in the Soviet Union is maintained to be a “slanderous fabrication”.

An anonymous reply to this article has appeared in samizdat. The author of the reply is satisfied that there were no grounds for the diagnoses made on V[aleria] Novodvorskaya and Zh[ores] Medvedev (see Chronicle 13.2, and 14.3). “All the other reports of forensic-psychiatric examinations which … specialists have managed to study”, writes the author, “similarly contain no serious scientific arguments, while their descriptive sections contain facts which have often been extremely crudely manipulated.” The unscrupulousness of the examinations, in the opinion of the author, is the result on the one hand of interference by the organs of investigation, and on the other—of the dominance in Soviet psychiatry of the “Snezhnevsky theories”, which are thought by a number of eminent Soviet psychiatrists to be “completely unscientific and fantastic”. These theories, writes the author, “can be concisely defined as an unlimited expansion in the diagnostics of a disease, the symptoms of which are highly uncertain and which has acquired the name of ‘schizophrenia’ ”.

“The triumph of Snezhnevsky’s theories” (Prof. A. V. Snezhnevsky, Director of the Institute of Psychiatry of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences and a full member of the Academy, “practically holds a monopoly of the entire science of psychiatry in the USSR”) “was secured in the early fifties after the so-called ‘Pavlov session’ of the USSR Academy of Sciences and Academy of Medical Sciences, which was followed by crude administrative repressions against the most eminent Soviet scientists on charges of ‘anti-Pavlovian activities’

“The result of Snezhnevsky’s uncontrolled hegemony over Soviet psychiatry has been his creation of a ‘school’ — a multitude of medical practitioners, including forensic- psychiatric experts, who in defiance of the obvious, and in spite of the psychiatric experience of centuries, diagnose ‘schizophrenia’ when there are absolutely no grounds for doing so. ”