Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mental Breakdown

Russian authorities are sending critics to psychiatric wards. Speaking out now seems evidence of madness.

Soviet doctors once joked that the best way to get thrown into a psychiatric hospital was to send a telegram to Leonid Bezhnev that was critical of the Russian leader. Now that old gallows humor might have to be resurrected. Doctors and Kremlin critics say over the past year at least 10 journalists, political activists or critics of local authorities have been wrongfully hospitalized in mental hospitals. And though forcible psychiatric treatment for political reasons is still rare, ... Russia's mental hospitals are routinely used by unscrupulous relatives and criminals to remove inconvenient family members ... But increasingly, it is critics of authority who find themselves sent off to state hospitals.
For old dissidents like Vladimir Bukovsky, who was forcibly committed to a psychiatric clinic in the 1960s, these stories bring back chilling memories. "Once you are admitted to a mental hospital, he says, "any attempt you make to criticize the system or treatment will be evaluated as a sign or even proof of insanity." In modern Russia, it seems, as in the Soviet Union, you'd almost have to be mad to speak out.

MATTHEWS, Owen; NEMTSOVA, Anna. «Mental Breakdown», Newsweek, CL (10), Set. 3, 2007.

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