Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs - Psychiatric “Treatment” of Christians

Having failed in over half a century to accomplish its goal of eradicating religion through terrorist means, communism has adopted a yet more deadly weapon--psychopolitics.

When Stalin fell from favor, his arbitrary and brutal methods of dealing with 'enemies of the state' also came under criticism and the liquidation of masses of people was no longer considered politically judicious. Rather than being shot outright, political and religious dissidents were more often sent to "corrective labor" camps and the Gulag system swelled with more and more new citizens. However, man's innate desire for something higher than a mere social system, indeed, his very conscience, would not allow the threat of a 10 or 20 year sentence spent behind the barbed wires of Gulag to still the yearnings of his heart. In the 50's and 60's the dissident movement--both political and religious--only increased its ranks. At first the communists (who claim to abide by their Constitution) tried to apply the law and many were sentenced with "Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda". A church sermon could easily fall into this category even though Article 52 of the same Constitution guarantees "freedom of religion." Many of these dissidents turned to study law for use in self-defense. Undaunted by such a counter-attack, the Soviets pulled their own trump--of declaring such dissidents "insane". No longer were there needed the formalities of a courtroom trial. The signature of a psychiatrist was enough to lock someone up in an insane asylum with no recourse to appeal. Courageous men and women might be found willing to endure the physical tortures of the Gulag regime, but to risk their very sanity?

In the person of Solzhenitsyn we have an experienced spokesman for the system of Gulag. In 1976 another dissident was expelled from the Soviet Union, Vladimir Bukovsky. Still in his 30's, he had spent 12 years in various Soviet prison institutions--including psychiatric prisons. Once in freedom, he wrote that as he was being driven to the airport terminal where he had landed in Switzerland, "I couldn't rid myself of a strange sensation ,--as if, thanks to a blunder by the KGB, I had carried out something very precious and important, something forbidden, something that should never have been let out of the country. Something no search could ever discover. This "treasure" was his memories which were published under the title, To Build A Castle.

Here in the West we have received glimpses of Soviet psychiatric abuse against Christians and other dissidents (G. Shimanov, "Notes From the Red House", Monastery Press, Montreal) but nowhere have they received a more thorough treatment in book form than in Bukovsky's memoirs. Here indeed is a spokesman for the hundreds upon thousands "treated" in psychiatric institutions which, under Kruschev, began springing up like mushrooms.

More and more of our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ are undergoing "treatment'' in such "hospitals". The eyes of the West are all but blind to this psychiatric abuse. When Bukovsky tried to alert the World Psychiatric Congress in 1976, they declined to discuss his documentation. But he himself writes: "I had never entertained any illusions about the West. Hundreds of desperate petitions addressed, for example, to the UN, had never been answered. Wasn't this sufficient indication? Even from Soviet institutions you got an answer .... But over there the ground just swallowed them up" (Bukovsky, p.436). Shall we too remain silent?

Just what is psychopolitics and on what grounds is it applied? A very shocking booklet, edited by a former member of the Communist Party in this country, gives an all too clear description of the purpose and methods of psychopolitics. It contains an address by Beria to American students at Leningrad University in a class on Psychopolitics which carries a solemn warning:

"Psychopolitics.., deals with the very top strata of 'mental healing' .... With the institutions for the insane you have in your country prisons which can hold a million Persons and can hold them without civil rights or any hope of freedom. And upon these people can be practiced shock and surgery so that never again will they draw a sane breath... Psychopolitics is a solemn charge. With, it you Can erase our enemies as insects. You can cripple the efficiency of leaders by striking insanity into their families through the use of drugs, You can wipe them away with testimony as to their insanity. By our technologies you can even bring about insanity when they seem too resistive" (Coif p.3).

Lest anyone think this approach totally unreal or extreme, one need only think of the increase of mental health programs in the last 20 years, the increased use of drugs and the popularity of the psychiatrist rather than the priest in treating mental problems.

This in no way is intended to discredit the psychiatric profession, but rather to show that the communists are deadly earnest and we are naive to think that the psychiatric abuse practiced in the Soviet Union, will remain behind the Iron Curtain.

One of the primary aims of psychopolitics is the destruction of religious groups: "You must work until 'religion' is synonymous with 'insanity' .... If mental hospitals operated by religious groups are in existence, they must be discredited and closed" (Goff, p.61). While this shows the theory behind psychopolitics, Bukovsky's book describes its practice.

First, how is it determined that one is mentally ill and needs treatment? "Khruschev figured that it was impossible for people in a socialist society to have antisocialist consciousness .... Wherever manifestations of dissidence couldn't be explained away as a legacy of the past or a provocation of world imperialism, they were simply the product of mental illness" (Bukovsky p. 196). The diagnosis depended upon the "psychiatrist" interrogator. Sometimes it was "creeping schizophrenia'' which did not require any outward manifestations, but was still treated with agonizing doses of haloperidol. Or it was "paranoidal development of the personality": "...complaint about persecution by the KGB, being searched and followed, and dismissal from work were pure persecution manias. The more open and public your position, the more obvious your insanity" (Bukovsky p. 357) One leading psychiatrist had incarcerated thousands of sane men in lunatic asylums on orders from the KGB. But as always in the Soviet Union, "they find it easy to put people away, letting them out is a real problem" (p. 253). "No matter which way you turned, norma1, sincere answers merely supplied further evidence of your sickness .... Even when they concluded by asking me whether I considered myself to he ill, my negative answer proved nothing: What madman regards, himself as mad?" (p. 198).

And what of the "treatment" itself?

Drugs are administered as punishment for 'anti-social behaviour'. These are not only painful hut can have lasting side effects which "... can be countered by additional medication but this is denied to dissidents or Christians. Aminazin is a depressant which makes people depressed, sleepy and apathetic. Sulfazine makes the body rigid, swollen and aching, with a soaring temperature, Haloperidol has side effects similar to Parkinson's Disease. Gershuni said of it, 'You no sooner take a step and you are longing to sit down, and if you do, you want to walk again but there is nowhere to walk.' Pyotr Starekik told his wife that it made him feel be was outside himself. Insulin leads to weight increase and stops people sleeping or reading normally. Moditen depo is another frequently used drag. What is worse, these drugs are often given without any prior medical examination" (Janice Broun in "NEWS", March, 19803. Bukovsky said that a few of the doctors called the psychiatric hospital in which he was interned, "our little Auschwitz."



 How anyone endures such treatment is a testimony in itself. One of the most tragic cases is that of the Russian Orthodox nun, Valerya Makeeva,

Raised in a family of unbelievers, she was first arrested in 1949 at the age of 20 upon the instigation of her mother. She was taken to the Serbsky Institute for psychiatric examination where she was declared "mentally ill" with a diagnosis of "schizophrenia" and sent to Kazan special hospital for four years. Upon her release she entered a convent where she stayed for 10 years until it was closed by Kruschev. She then moved to Moscow and organized the support of other homeless nuns by making prayer books and embroidering belts with words from Psalm 90. In 1972 this group was forced to disband and Sister Valerya was locked up in Psychiatric Hospital Number 5, for seven months. Arrested a third time in 1975, she spent 5 months in jail. In June 1978, she was again arrested and accused under Article 162 of the Criminal Code of "being engaged in a prohibited trade.'? At the Serbsky Institute the doctors came up with the following diagnosis: "Insanity, socially not dangerous 'psychosis' requiring treatment in a special hospital. In April 1979, she was sent to the Special Psychiatric Hospital in Kazan, one of several prison hospitals for the criminally insane in which both political dissenters and religious people have been interned. There she has received such doses of drugs that her right arm is paralyzed and her health completely deteriorated. Both Fr. Gleb Yakunin and Dr. Andret Sakharov have described this as politically motivated abuse of psychiatry.