Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Speaking Out in Freedom, Anatoly Koryagin

It was in prisons and camps that I made the greatest discovery of all: faith in God, the sure knowledge that He is there when all else fades away. Dr. Koryagin

    Renowned Russian psychiatrist Dr, Anatoly Koryaain was arrested in February, 1981 for his written condemnation of the political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR, published in the medical journal Lancet under the title "Patients Against Their Own Will." Thanks to pressure from the West, Koryagin was released in February of this year and was able to emigrate to Switzerland where he arrived April 24 together with his wife Galina and their three sons.

    As a condition of release, the KGB tried to elicit a statement from Koryagin that in future he would refrain from "illegal activities which would be harmful to the Soviet state." Koryagin not only refused to agree to such a proposal, which he considered "an insult and an attempt to try to make me recognise myself to be a criminal...[rather than] a victim of political repression by the KGB ," but he said frankly that when released "I will continue to concern myself with matters of human rights and civil liberties."

     In freedom Dr. Koryagin has wasted no time in acting upon this promise, speaking out at every opportunity on behalf of those left behind in the Gulag. Communicating by phone to Keston College in June on the occasion of the publication of its new book "Religious Prisoners in the USSR," Dr. Koryagin emphasized that now "amid a false sense of euphoria in the West about the extent of glasnost, there is a greater need than ever to stress that persecution of believers in the Soviet Union still goes on. This persecution is not, perhaps, as overt as it has been in t he past--fewer people are being brought to trial under such articles as 'anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda' and 'anti-Soviet slander,' but the Leninist dictum that 'the eradication of religion is our State duty' is still in force. Many hundreds of people are still in the camps and psychiatric prisons of the Gulag for no other reason than their belief in God, their desire to profess their faith and live out their lives in accordance with its teaching.

    "...while the so-called 'Council for Religious Affairs' continues to exist, while the religious legislation remains as it is, so does the stranglehold of the State on the Church, so do the State's attempts to seize and control man's most precious possession--his soul, and his right to serve God above all else..."

    Given Dr. Koryagin's professional specialty it is not surprising that he is particularly keen to concentrate on defending prisoners of conscience detained in psychiatric institutions. In an interview with Christian Solidarity International (reprinted in KNS 5/14/87), he describes the current situation of psychiatric detainees and expresses his hopes for future action.

    Regarding Christians in psychiatric hospitals: "The situation for religious believers does not in fact differ from that of other prisoners. The believers often have stronger convictions. So it happens, above all at the beginning when the authorities are trying to break the will of the prisoner, that the situation of the believer is worse than that of other prisoners. One should stress, however, that the guards and KGB officers (if they get nothing out of a prisoner) do take note of the fact that he is strong and firm in his faith. Then they no longer apply special measures to him, except on the direct orders of the KGB."

     On specific information regarding individual Christians in psychiatric detention: "It is very hard to say anything concrete. When the doors of a psychiatric clinic close behind a prisoner, the information reaching the outside is just as sparing as from a labor camp or prison. Of course, it I sa psychiatric clinic, but first of all it is a prison. Only rarely do concrete details become known. We know only that people there suffer day in and day out."

     What can we do? "Defend them without ceasing and demand their release, work with those who are campaigning for them in the USSR, with religious figures and organizations which, I believe could come into being in the USSR in the near future--for there is a lot of talk now of a rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Church. Many people, above all young people, are turning to Christianity. That is understandable, for the ideology of Communism and Marxism has lost so much credibility that a truly thinking person can no longer accept it. In the soul of man there is a spiritual vacuum. This is filled above all with the religious thoughts of Christianity. The increase in the number of religious believers is visible, even if there are no statistics .... Western organizations should now begin a defense campaign for all dissidents interned in psychiatric hospitals and then devote their particular attention to religious prisoners. Their activities must be intensified; the time has come when Western efforts bring results, as the Soviet authorities must take protests from the West seriously."

    Dr. Koryagin has asked Archbishop Antony of Geneva and We stern Europe to receive him into the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. He is expected to be baptized soon.