7 Poly L. Rev. 82 (1982)
Psychiatric Treatment for Political Dissidents in the USSR

handle is hein.journals/polylawr7 and id is 82 raw text is: Psychiatric treatment
for political dissidents
in the USSR

Michael Ellman Solicitor*

In any modem society, one of the great-
est pressures on the life of an individual
is the pressure to conform. Even in the
West, individualists are (and particularly
were until the 1960s) considered odd and
deviations from the social norm categor-
ised as unhealthy and socially danger-
ous. Thus, homosexual behaviour, even
between consenting adults, was a crime,
and is still the subject of social pre-
judice and ridicule.  Recently, an
elderly woman was released from a
mental hospital where she had been
confined in the 1920s for the 'abnormal'
and socially unacceptable behaviour of
bearing an illegitimate child: no doubt
her family and/or friends had considered
it so inconvenient (and perhaps she had
refused to be ashamed) that she must be
mentally deranged, and that was how she
was categorised.
In the U S SR, where Party members and
their parents struggled for years to
achieve what they genuinely think of
(and, having no contact with the outside,
have no yardstick by which to find them-
selves wrong) as a near Utopia, anyone
who deliberately struggles against it
must be abnormal and so a danger to
society. We are talking here of a highly
regimented and repressive society which
it has been since Tsarist times.
Diagnoses of mental illness
Soviet psychiatrists themselves, brought
up in the same narrow educational and
social system as their compatriots, are
not immune from these attitudes, and
have  reinforced their diagnoses by
appropriate scientific theories.  Thus
'apparent normality' is not sufficient to
prevent individuals being labelled as
'dangerously mentally ill' and forcibly

detained in hospital under the theories
of Professor Snezhnevsky and others of
the  Serbsky  'Institute for Criminal
Psychiatry'.
The practice is covered by a secret
directive on emergency confinement of
mentally ill persons who represent a
social danger, issued on 26th August
1971 by the Ministry of Health with the
Procurator-General and the Ministry of
the Interior. This states that mentally
ill people may be confined to a psych-
iatric hospital without their permission
or their family's if they are an evident
danger to themselves or those around
them. The terms for the symptoms are
so broad and lacking in medical pre-
cision that they cover almost any non-
-conformist behaviour : for example, a
hypochondriac  delusion, causing an
abnormal aggressive attitude in the ill
person towards individuals or organis-
ations and institutions and a system-
atic syndrome of delusions with chronic
deterioration if it results in behaviour
dangerous to society.
These diagnoses have been backed up
by new appellations of mental illness,
such  as   sluggish  schizophrenia
invented by Professor Snezhnevsky.
In 1973, for the first time, Soviet psych-
iatrists  became  worried by foreign
attacks on their professional activities
and put out a statement which was
widely publicised within the USSR and
sent to foreign newspapers :
There is a small number of mental
cases whose disease, as a result of
mental derangement, paranoia and
other psycho-pathological symptoms
can lead them to anti-social actions

Most of the examples,
and much of the material
for this  article, are
taken from the Amnesty
International publication
Prisoners of Conscience
in the USSR (Amnesty
International,  London,
2nd  edition  1980) to
which the writer is much
indebted. The quotations
of speech come from the
Chronicle  o f  Current
Events (the Samizdat -
a private publication by
dissidents, also pub-
lished in English by
Amnesty International.

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