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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back in the USSR: You Have to be Crazy to Believe in the Truth

"And Moscow girls make me sing and shout. That Georgia's always on my mind" - Back in the USSR

For anyone who's missed the days of the Cold War, the good news is that aside from a brief respite during the Yeltsin era, they're back with a vengeance. Russian weapons are headed around the world again, Russian armies are threatening former Soviet Republics and dissidents are finding out the hard way that the bad days are back.

But it's about more than just tactics, dictatorships don't begin with bullets, they begin with a mindset and it's clear that the mindset is deeply ingrained in the Russian authorities, sometimes in ways that many Western observers are not equipped to recognize.

Domestic Russian propaganda has deployed claims that Saakashvili is mentally ill with Russian psychiatrists quoted as saying that Saakashvili is deranged, schizophrenic and in need of treatment, including in some sources even forcible hospitalization.

While to Western ears such rhetoric seems too much like a childish insult, it means something far more ominous in Slavic regions... especially when you take stock of the source of some of these claims, Prof Farid Safuanov from Serbsky Institute of Social and Forensic Psychiatry.

The Serbsky Institute doesn't mean much to most people, except to careful students of the Cold War. Based on the premise that mental illness is a social rather than biological disorder, the Serbsky Institute was used to imprison and torture numerous political dissidents under the guise that they were "mentally ill."

A special category of Schizophrenia had been developed that was defined not by any hallucinations, but by a social disconnect manifesting itself as dislike for Russia and its government. This category was used to imprison and torture high profile dissidents including Vysotsky, Bukovsky and General Grigorenko, who lobbied on behalf of the Crimean Tatars.

To understand just what this concept of mental illness means I'll just quote the following paragraphs...

Gen. Pyotr Grigorenko was determined as insane in the Serbsky Institute because he "was unshakably convinced of the rightness of his actions" and twisted by "reformist ideas."

The official Soviet psychiatric science also came up with the definition of "sluggishly progressing schizophrenia", a special form of the illness that supposedly affects only the person's social behavior, with no trace on other traits: "most frequently, ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure," according to the Serbsky Institute professors.
Which of course naturally defines people who believe in reform, resist reeducation and fight for truth and justice as mentally ill or outright insane. They could then be extensively drugged, electroshocked and otherwise tortured. When General Grigorenko was imprisoned at the Serbsky Institute, he had daily visits asking him not how his "health" was, but how his "views" were.

While you might think that those old days are gone, they're not. The psychiatric imprisonment of dissidents continues today. Cases such as this are far from unusual today...

Vladimir Chugunov, editor of the independent weekly Chugunka and recipient of the 2002 Sakharov Prize for freedom of expression, has been held in psychiatric detention since 21 January 2007. More than two and a half months later he remains detained in isolation. English PEN is deeply concerned for the wellbeing of Chugunov, believed to be held in violation of his right to freedom of expression, and joins calls for his release.
Under the Putin regime they're part and parcel of the old KGB tactics

On July 5, Arap appeared at Dr. Marina Rekish’s office to pick up a medical certificate needed to renew her driver’s license. Russian driver’s license renewals require annual certificates from a doctor and a psychiatrist stating that the applicant is physically and mentally capable of driving.

Last year, Rekish issued Arap the certificate without hesitation, says Elena Vasilyeva, head of the Murmansk branch of Kasparov’s pro-democratic movement called Other Russia. This time, however, Rekish had a question as Arap sat in her office. “She asked, ‘Are you the author of that article?’” Vasilyeva said, relating what Arap told her.

When Arap replied “Yes,” Rekish asked her to wait outside. Moments later police dressed in camouflage arrived and hauled Arap away, holding her arms crossed behind her back as they walked her to an ambulance.

And these days the Serbsky Institute has been put to some very ugly uses indeed, from exempting Russian soldiers involved in massacres by reason of insanity to persecuting Pentecostals and Mormons.

Tartu, November 16 – Moscow’s Serbsky Institute, notorious in Soviet times for its criminal use of psychiatry and drugs against dissidents, is now playing an important role in the Russian government’s efforts to combat the spread of religious sects.

The main address to the meeting, which was hosted by the local health department and the St. John Society of Orthodox Doctors, was given by the Serbsky Institute’s Professor Fedor Kondratyev. His comments, summed up by the paper, deserve attention because of the light they shed on how Moscow may approach what it clearly sees as the sectarian challenge.

Kondratyev said that the influx of sectarian activists into Russia from abroad increased dramatically in the 1990s, but he argued that the purposes of this influx had not changed: „This is one of the most effective measures of the struggle of the West against the powerful Russian state."

Stenyaev said that in Tula oblast the sectarian threat now includes hundreds if not thousands of people in four communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 12 communities of Pentecostals, and a variety of smaller religious groups, ranging from Mormons to the Roma to representatives of Oriental religions. Perhaps significantly, he did not mention the Wahhabis or any other Muslim groups.

Fedor Viktorovich Kondratiev, was not so long ago accused of persecuting political prisoners. The professor, however, denied these charges: "I can firmly maintain that the opinions spread in those year that psychiatric terror existed in our country and that there was a punitive psychiatry are the fabrication of those people who now are defending the totalitarian sects. This is slander which was used for antisoviet purposes and now is used for anti-Russian goals."


Back in the USSR. And it feels so good, doesn't it?

The Serbsky Institute which once tortured people for Anti-soviet activity will now torture them for Anti-Russian activity. There will be a cell available for the Mormon right next to the cell for Saakashvili and all the other enemies of the Motherland. There are after all no shortage of mentally ill people out there who still believe in truth and freedom. Because in Russia you have to be crazy to oppose the government and believe in the truth.

To Westerner observers the call for psychiatric intervention may seem silly, but to those who know Russian history and understand the Russian present, it is an ominous call every bit as important both symbolically and literally as the Russian tanks rolling across the Georgian border and the Russian troops occupying Georgian towns and cities.

All the more so because it was a reality long before then. Germany's fall into darkness didn't begin when it invaded Poland or Czechoslovakia. It began with the imprisonment and execution of Hitler's opposition. The Serbsky Institute is one of the more ominous symbols of the USSR, a symbol of political repression that is very much alive today.


I'm back in the U.S.S.R.
Hey you don't know how lucky you are boys
Back in the U.S.S.R.

11 comments:

Lemon said...

I was always surprised that anyone thought that Russia had ever changed.

Bar Kochba said...

Natan Sharansky describes how the KGB tried to convince him that he was crazy. They argued that lunacy is really anybody who fails to conform to societal norms. History repeats itself.

Keli Ata said...

Absolutely fascinating Sultan. And terrifying.


Sadly Lemon, a lot of us did think it was over. That includes me (sigh).

The dramatic call by Reagan to tear down the wall to Boris Yeltsin being tipsy and dancing, to Billy Joel in the early 1980s singing "Back in the USSR" in Lenningrad we thought the Russia of old was gone.

No more hammer and sickle.

Sultan, that psychiatric torture institute sounds reminds me so much of the Nazi war criminal dentist in "Marathon Man" torturing Dustin Hoffman in the dentist chair, drilling into his teeth without anesthesia as he keeps asking him, "is it safe?"

Or the plot to silence a woman who knows the true identity of Jack the Ripper in the movie "From Hell"--the forced imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital and total lobotomy.

Or the torture of Winston Smith in "1984" until he really believes 2+2=5.

How ghastly to think that the subject of horror movies is a reality in Russia. Wher'e Amensty International on this institute?

It makes Abu Graib and Gitmo sound like summer camp compared to it.


Personally, I think Putin made efforts to appeal to the Russian middle class so that anyone not in tune with his PR about the new progressive Russia would appear paranoid and insane, not unlike the backward villagers in horror movies about Transylvania who believed in vampires.

The truth of the evil and very real Prince Vlad the Impaler became fused with the myth and folklore of the vampire Dracula.

Lemon said...

Evil is always evil.
Russia is an evil nation with evil ideals and plans.

Yobeeone said...

I think if you combined all the evil that's ever happened in history and stuck it next to Russia on a scale - Russia would still win.

They've just always been the poster child for evil. The question is - why?

Sultan Knish said...

Why? Because the Russian people worship their leaders as near gods.

Keli Ata said...

So in the end the cause of the evil can be boiled down to idolatry, then? Men as godlike figures with their own sick "commandments."

Christianity has always been obsessed with Russian communision and Russia in general. Catholics are taught to pray for the conversion of Russia specifically. Something to do with a revelation the Virgin Mary gave the three kids in Fatima (I know, I know, wacky stuff).



And I heard on a TV show some guy from Ebenizer USA which helps Jews from Russia make aliyah claim that it all has to do with Russia being the country of the north mentioned in the bible.

Beyond that I'm clueless. I never did follow why Russia is so important to Christians but apparently it is.

Lemon said...

I treat most people like gods.
When they come for a meal I serve them burnt offerings.

Sultan Knish said...

I don't think the Russians ever really became Christians in the Western sense, they were simply forced in to trade their idols which they had not all that long ago relative to Europe, for leader worship

Keli Ata said...

Shabbat Shalom Sultan, Lemon, Yobee!

Anonymous said...

Really late comment but whatever.

Russia is evil because the Eastern Christianity (Orthodox Church) never underwent a reformation like the Western Church (Roman Catholic).

So the mentality of 'absoluteness' regarding the Church as an institution in Orthodoxy still holds sway.
Now, unlike other Orthodox lands throughout history (Serbia, Greece, etc), Russia was never really under any occupation, be it Islamic, Austro-Hungarian or whatever.

It was pretty much in its own bubble and was left to roll around in its own Orthodox religion, more or less interrupted, which over centuries produced a society obsessed with leader worship and power structures.

Communism became the new Orthodoxy, the State the new Church, the Party the new Clergy, and Leader the new Patriarch/Tsar.
Basically a change of clothes, but the same thing underneath.

That's why Russia is evil. Because Christianity got to FULLY ingrain itself onto a culture. The West managed to free itself from the shackles of it because of the reformation, and the other Orthodox lands ironically prevented from being totally ingrained with Orthodoxy because of constant foreign occupation and interference.

-Strahinja

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