Orthodox America


The Cry of the New Martyrs – Under Threat of Madness  


Let them not say: We have swallowed him up. Let them be shamed and confounded together who rejoice at my woes…Let them rejoice and be glad who desire the righteousness of my cause (Ps. 34:29,31)

I thought every day about the system of psychiatric pressure and soon became firmly convinced that there was a secretly authorized plan for the transformation of dissidents from the Soviet system into lunatics         (Gen. Petro Grigorenko, Memoirs)

     Totalitarian regimes are incapable of tolerating any appreciable degree of independent thinking. They feel nervous when a subject steps out of line and take measures to discourage it. Solzhenitsyn, in his massive three-volume study, exposed the West to the cruel magnitude of the Soviet Gulag--a system of prisons and camps which has been operating for decades, silencing dissident voices with brutal physical conditions and years of isolation from normality, In more recent times a still more insidious method of punishment has been used on recalcitrant citizens: forcible incarceration in psychiatric "hospitals" and the accompanying "treatment" with d rugs. This threat is used increasingly in the case of believers whose profession of faith alone gives pretext for suspicion of 'abnormality' in an officially atheist, conformist society. The victim of psychiatric pressure faces not only excruciating physical pain as a result of the massive doses of drugs administered, but also the chilling prospect of being transformed into a drooling idiot. Solzhenitsyn has justifiably called the confinement of sane people in psychiatric hospitals as "tantamount to sending them to gas chambers"

    In the introduction to last year's Christian Prisoners List published by Keston, Yuri Below, a Russian journalist who was a Gulag resident for 15 years, writes:

    "The late head of the political section of the [Serbsky Institute for Forensic Psychiatry in Moscow], professor Daniel Luntz, told me straight that all believers are quite simply "mentally ill" because they have a false conception of something which does not exist." Keston adds that this particular institute "has a sinister reputation for coming up with nonsensical diagnoses for perfectly sane people in an entirely arbitrary manner. If a prisoner is held to be not accountable on the grounds of mental illness, the trial is held, without the prisoner even being present, and he or she is sentenced to indefinite confinement in a Special Psychiatric Hospital."

    According to the First Guidebook to Prisons and Concentration Camps of the Soviet Union (Avraham Shifrin; Stephanus, 1980) there are more that 80 such institutions with concentrations in Moscow and Leningrad. V.I. Chernyshev, a professor of mathematics/ interned in one of Leningrad's SPH's wrote:

    "Although I am afraid of death, I would rather be shot. How horrible, how loathsome is the mere thought that my soul will be soiled, crushed! Man's individuality vanishes, his brain is numbed', his sensibility destroyed,: his memory lost. What is worse, as a result of the ‘treatment’, the delicate texture of human personality is coarsened, and this-brings death to creation." One of Chernysheo's fellow inmates, N.I., had been languishing there for more than 25 years, steadfastly refusing to pay the price demanded for his freedom--denial of his faith in God.

    Thanks to the courage of Orthodox Christian Gennadi Shimahoy, author of Notes From the Red House (Montreal, 1971), the West possesses an extraordinary document in which Shimanov details his personal experience as a victim of psychological harassment: the innocuous postcard requesting his presence at the clinic, the "routine" confinement that becomes prolonged, concern for his wife and child, threat of compulsory treatment "in the interest of society" with which, as a believer, he is "out of harmony." What would happen? "There's been some progress” the doctors would say. "He no longer believes in God. He can only think with difficulty, of course, and can hardly speak..." Shimanov's response is a vigorous testament of faith:

            "God' s will be done in everything ! Let them drive me out of my mind, or leave me in my senses, all is well and good under the High Heaven, I accept everything that God sends; as a child accepts from the hands of his father: sweetness and bitterness, reason and madness; light and darkness; any evil and every good .... In life you go round and round... and get tired and irritated... Sometimes you indulge yourself--but you know, right inside you, all the same, that all that is just the husk;...and all that is underneath i s hope in God."

            Dr. Anatoly Koryagin, a Soviet psychiatrist who at one time ,worked at the military enlistment office in Kharkov, told Below that "dozens of young men who expressed religious views in interviews with recruiting officers were sent straight to the medical commission to determine whether they were fit to serve in the army. Many of them were sent for compulsory treatment in terrible psychiatric hospitals."

             In 1979 Dr. Koryagin became a member of the Working Commission of the Misuse of Psychiatry for Political Reasons. In examining specific cases of those forcibly committed, Dr. Koryagin found no evidence of any psychological disorder On the contrary, these individuals appeared to be exceptionally motivated, clear-thinking, communicative, energetic and well-educated. They had no past history of any psychosis, and it was only when they entered into conflict with the ruling system that they were singled out as needing treatment. For publishing the results of his investigation ("Patients Against Their Own Will" in Possev, Feb. 1981), Dr. Koryagin was arrested and condemned to seven years in labor camps and five year's exile.

    At that time it was hoped that the World Psychiatric Association would bring pressure to bear on the Soviet All-Union Society of Psychiatrists and Neurologists, but the latter quit theWPA in March, 1983, just before the World Congress, precisely in order to avoid censure, and psychiatric abuse in the USSR. It has continued.

    Soviet disapproval of the Christian Seminars (initiated by Alexander Ogorodnikov in the early '70's) revealed itself in a number of arrests and test cases. Among them was that of Georgi Fedotov, forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1976. When Ogorodnikov tried to visit his friend, he had an alarming conversation with the administrative head of the unit, Vladimir Levitsky:

    O: "Do you consider belief to be abnormal, pathological?"

    L: "I'm an atheist and I believe in science and reason."

    O: "The Church doesn't reject those--on the contrary, it includes them in itself and gives them a universal absolute significance, But all the same, is faith pathological?"

    L: "As an atheist, I consider it an abnormality...even an illness. You are talking about [Georgi] as a healthy person, and I as a sick person, and we won't find a common language. As a doctor I want to protect him from your harmful influence. It's having a bad effect on him .... We are tearing [Georgi' s] personality apart! You are pulling him towards God, and we...towards the devil. So I'm using my rights as a psychiatrist to deny you and your friends access to him .... And I shall keep him in the hospital as long as necessary.''

O: "Are you sure you'll cure him?"

L: "I'm not sure but we shall treat him with medication."

    Thanks to pressure from the West, Fedotov was released in a matter of weeks, although in January 1980 he was again committed; he had been seeing Western correspondents in an effort to gain publicity abroad for Fr. Dimitri Dudko. (Religion in Communist Lands, Vol. VIII, No. 2)

    Medical treatments in these institutions are deliberately painful. Vladimir Bukovsky describes some of them in his book To Build a Castle (Viking, !978). They include insulin shocks, injections of aminazine “which made the patient fall into a permanent doze of stupor and cease to be aware of his surroundings, and sulfazine or sulfur which "inflicted excruciating pain on the patient and induced a high fever for two or three days. "Worst of all was the "roll-up": "For some sort of offense a prisoner would be lightly wrapped from feet to armpits in a wet sheet or strips of canvas. As the material dried out, it shrank, inflicting terrible pain on the prisoner and scorching his body all over. The doctors frankly called our hospital 'our little Auschwitz. '"


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