In Russia, Psychiatry Is Again a Tool Against Dissent

After challenging a judge at trial, Marina Trutko, a public defender, was forced into a psychiatric ward. Roman Lukin was institutionalized after he called judges
After challenging a judge at trial, Marina Trutko, a public defender, was forced into a psychiatric ward. Roman Lukin was institutionalized after he called judges "creeps." Independent psychiatrists called each mentally fit. (By Vladimir Alexandrov - The Washington Post)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 30, 2006

DUBNA, Russia -- On March 23, police and emergency medical personnel stormed Marina Trutko's home, breaking down her apartment door and quickly subduing her with an injection of haloperidol, a powerful tranquilizer. One policeman put her 78-year-old mother, Valentina, in a storage closet while Trutko, 42, was carried out to a waiting ambulance. It took her to the nearby Psychiatric Hospital No. 14.

The former nuclear scientist, a vocal activist and public defender for several years in this city 70 miles north of Moscow, spent the next six weeks undergoing a daily regimen of injections and drugs to treat what was diagnosed as a "paranoid personality disorder."

"She is also very rude," psychiatrists noted in her case file.

In person, Trutko presents a different profile, reserved and formal as she recounts her legal and psychiatric ordeal and invokes the minutiae of Russian law without having to refer to texts. An independent evaluation found that although she did not have an "ordinary personality," she was "very gifted and creative" and displayed no psychiatric symptoms.

Trutko is new evidence that Soviet-style forced psychiatry has reemerged in Russia as a weapon to intimidate or discredit citizens who tangle with the authorities, according to human rights activists and some mental health professionals. Despite major reforms in the early 1990s, some officials are again employing this form of repression.

"Abuse has begun to creep back in, and we're seeing more cases," said Lyubov Vinogradova, executive director of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, an advocacy group. "It's not on a mass scale like in Soviet times, but it's worrying."

In those years, tens of thousands of dissidents were wrongfully subjected to forced hospitalization, sometimes for years, based on trumped-up diagnoses of "schizophrenia." Dissidents were said to exhibit inflexibility of convictions and nervous exhaustion brought on by anti-government activities. "Reformist delusions," the Soviets called it. If you were against communism, in other words, you were insane.

Some of the new cases have been abetted by institutions or doctors involved in it in the Soviet period. Trutko, who is originally from Uzbekistan, was diagnosed at the Serbsky Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry in Moscow, one of the most infamous of the Soviet institutions that imprisoned dissidents. It remains a secretive institution that has never faced up to its repressive past, according to human rights groups.

As recently as 2001, the institute's director, Tatyana Dmitriyeva, denied that the Soviet Union engaged in any more psychiatric abuse than Western countries, according to the report "Human Rights and Psychiatry in the Russian Federation" by the Moscow Helsinki Group.

One of signatures on Trutko's official evaluation, which declared she had paranoid personality disorder, is that of Yakob Landau, a longtime Serbsky psychiatrist who headed the institute's notorious Unit No. 4 during Soviet days.

Officials at the institute, a walled and forbidding complex in central Moscow, said no one was available to comment for this article. Investigators in Trutko's case declined to comment.

The charge that psychiatry is again being abused is not universally accepted within the profession. "The problem of forced treatment or psychiatric persecution existed more than 20 years ago, but it was solved. And since then I haven't heard of any case of forced psychiatric examination or treatment," said Vladimir Rotstein, president of Public Initiative on Psychiatry, an advocacy group.


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