Soviet Psychiatry of Punishment. Latvian Example

The Riga Psychiatric Hospital was made to help and cure. But, for some it became a new kind of Gulag prison camp.

The Riga Psychiatric Hospital was made to help and cure. But, for some it became a new kind of Gulag prison camp.

After the death of Joseph Stalin the Gulag was closed down and the numbers of the arrested people dropped significantly over the years. However, the Soviet repressive state apparatus still continued to exists and searched for more refined ways to punish and isolate those who did not agree with the Soviet state. And the psychiatry originally a medical science to help mentally ill persons, now was used to punish completely sane persons for being anti-soviet dissidents. The disbelief for the soviet propaganda or making anti-governmental acts was viewed as a sign of mental illness. Instead of sending to prisons where legal appeals were possible, people were declared mentally unfit and confined in mental wards. In long run this turned out to be even more effective way of punishment. After release from the mental ward, people were unable to get job in many professions because of the official documents that gave them discouraging diagnose. The illegitimate diagnose served as a tool of isolation from the society. Even after twenty years since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Latvian lawmakers only now has made a law that will rehabilitate the victims of the Psychiatry of punishment.

Soviet secret police had taken interest in field of psychiatry before the WW2. On 1939 NKVD the Soviet secret service took control over the psychiatric hospital in Kazan. It became one of the first Psychiatric Prison Hospitals in Soviet Union nicknamed Psikushka’s. After the end of WW2 on 1948 Andrey Vyshinsky first ordered to use psychiatry as a tool for punishment. Russian psychiatrist Pyotr Gannushkin also believed that in a class society, especially during the most severe class struggle, psychiatry was incapable of not being repressive. In so the Punishment Psychiatry was discovered during the Stalinist rule. But, it became prominent after the death of Stalin and denouncement of his repressions. Soviets were unable to maintain open repressions of the political dissenters because of the relative liberalization so they used more sinister methods.  On 1959 Nikita Khrushchev the heir of Stalin declared that persons that resist  the Soviet power are mentally ill. And Latvia as occupied part of the Soviet Union was no stranger to this methods.

Pēteris Lazda was PHD student in the Faculty of Law in the Latvian State University. In his dissertation he discussed the possibility of Latvian breakaway from the Soviet Union as it was granted by its constitution. It was no secret that these rights exists only on paper and the Moscow will never grant such right to any soviet republic by its own will. However, Lazda stressed that statewide poll might help to decide this question  and received the KGB attention. He was removed from the PHD studies or aspirantura as it was called then. Lazda decided not to quit and spread out the leaflets asking the deputies of the Latvian communist government to make decision of breakaway from the Soviet Union until June 1 1974.What he proposed was according to constitutions.

Consequently he was arrested by KGB. His case was made in 33 volumes, however the prosecutors wanted a mental expertise for the suspect could be too sick to face the court. There was n0 other way for in case of open trial Lazda might say the same things  as in leaflets and his dissertation. Asking to fulfill the constitution in trial would be very disadvantageous for the Soviet regime. So instead he was kept in prison camera, while the trial went without his presence. The Law Psychiatrist Ērika Rāta stood as witness and concluded that Lazda is mentally ill and needs to be sent to special mental institutions to be forcibly medicated.

As result Lazda was sent to Gulag of his own. Moved from one clinic to another, together with mentally ill people of all kinds in anti-sanitary environment. Patients were subjected to beating and forced medication. Lazda was forced to swallow capsules containing dubious substances and was checked with a big spoon to see if he had swallowed them. In case of resistance he received injections of Amizonum  a powerful drug that paralyzes the human movement and his senses.  Many of the patients could not withstand the destructive side effects of these medications and became even sicker than before entering the hospital. That was the very point of the forced medication- making sane man insane with use of powerful mind altering drugs.

Lazda was rescued by the alarmed human right groups in the west and Latvian exiles. To escape public international protests Lazda was released and granted asylum. In West  Germany a group of Medicine doctors and one professor made an independent expertise and concluded that his diagnose was made for political reasons.

Jānis Apse was born in Siberia since his parents were deported in March 25 1949. He graduated Polytechnic Institute in Tomsk. However, his anti-soviet views were the reason for diagnosing him with paranoid schizophrenia. For three months he was forcibly medicated with drugs who directly affected his central nervous system. His profession was heating system engineer. With such diagnosis it was almost impossible to work in this field.

Ivans Jahmivočs and Sandris Riga made an underground Christian movement. On 1969 they were arrested and from the prison ended up in various mental wards. The Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher stood up for their release. These are just few of the many hundred such stories. People subjected to such repressions tend to hide their unjust diagnosis because of humiliation and negative view from society.

Today there are many professions that require mental checkups. And if a person for ever what reason was diagnosed as mentally unfit during the Soviet occupation, he cannot work in this profession. And the same applies for people who were diagnosed for political reasons. For many years Latvian lawmakers were unable to design laws to rehabilitate them. To appeal the diagnosis person had to gather documents in archive and go the mental institution. And since many of the Soviet time medical personnel are still working there such task seems unpleasant to say the least.

Many of the doctors who issued these fake diagnoses were forced by the KGB. However, that does not prevent them from defending their actions. Some of them say that mentally fit persons perfectly understood how the soviet system worked and behaved accordingly. In so those who opposed or criticized the soviet occupation were not diagnosed without reason. That does not go far from the Nikita Khrushchev rhetoric. Others say that schizophrenic people often share political views. And that KGB was smart enough to recognize if their suspect is mentally unfit.

On January 2013  amendment for the law concerning the rehabilitation of politically repressed was made by Juris Judins from the Unity party. His amendment was however turned down by the Juridical commission of parliament. A alternate law was made by National Alliance lead by Human rights and Society commission and on June 20 2013 it was approved by parliament. The law still includes expertise report from Riga Psychiatry and Narkology center as its impossible to legally bypass this institution. We shall see how this law will work and how many people will be able to restore their justice.

The biased use of psychiatry during the Soviet occupation has made very negative effect on mental treatment today. People are afraid of mental diagnosis and especially the  mental hospitals. Because of the inhuman conditions in Soviet psychiatric hospitals that in some cases still persists today, they still rather viewed as prison camps than hospitals. Worst part that this psychiatry of punishment is still widely used in modern Russia. There have been many cases of political activists of all kinds ending up in mental wards. The danger still persists in Latvia itself. The freelance journalist Leonīds Jākobsons leaked private email conversations of Major of Riga Nil Ushakov that proved his ties with Moscow authorities. In result Jākabsons was pursued by police investigation and placed into mental ward to check if he is mentally fit. After the expertise failed to prove he has mental problems he was released. Later he was attacked by unknown assailants on the stairway of his house.  This proves that these Soviet traditions of punishment is far from over and may return in full-scale if we are not too careful.


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