Do the Right Thing

38072215_2021826408147215_5307798211635707904_n.jpgFamous Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov picketing outside the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow on July 31, 2018. His placard reads, “Send Anya Pavlikova, 18, and Masha Dubovik, home immediately! #StopFSB.” Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik are currently under in police custody in a remand prison, charged with involvement in a “terrorist community,” New Greatness, that by all accounts was concocted by undercover agents of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) as a means of entrapping the people who attended its political discussions, held, allegedly, in rooms rented by the FSB for the purpose and fastfood restaurants. The fact that two teenage girls are in jail, while four of the ten people charged in the case are under house arrest has outraged many people in Russia, as well as the torture-like treatment meted out to Ms. Pavlikova by the authorities. Photo courtesy of the Support Group for Suspects in the New Greatness Case, a public group on Facebook

My posts on the New Greatness case and related affairs:

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Do you remember the controversy that erupted when Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989? I do, as well as going to a rather heated showing of the film at a cinema in downtown Portland, Ore., at which moviegoers were evenly divided between frightened white liberals and screaming black kids. That was a hoot.

The funny thing is that, when I watched the movie again a year or two ago, I realized that, for all its tremendous performances and stunning cinematography, editing, and directing, the question that plagued Americans in 1989—namely, what was the right thing to do?—was answered quite plainly and simply by one of the main characters at the end of the film. He understood what the right thing to do was and he did it.

When it comes to the Putinist secret police whacking on people who did nothing wrong— people like Oleg Sentsov, Anna Pavlikova, and the eleven young men implicated in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—there’s no controversy. If we don’t publicize their cases, discuss them aloud, make a fuss, make a lot of noise, show our solidarity, and encourage other people to do the same, they will die in the effort to get other political prisoners released (i.e., Oleg Sentsov) or be tried in kangaroo courts and sent to prisons for many years for thought crimes or no crimes at all (i.e., Anna Pavlikova, her fellow New Greatness suspects, and the eleven Network lads).

Is that you want? It’s not what I want. But I don’t hear many of you making much noise about it. What are you scared of? Looking stupid? So what, “being cool” is more important than doing the right thing? Or do you thinking doing the right thing should make you look cool? In reality, most of the time, doing the right thing either goes wholly unnoticed or makes you look stupid, as in Spike Lee’s film.

There are people, however, who almost always know what the right thing to do is and have learned the simple lesson that solidarity is a two-way street. One of those people is the famous Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov. {TRR}

 

Harmacy

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Back to the World of Me-Too Drugs: How Anti-Sanctions Will Deal a Blow to the Mental Health of Russians
Takie Dela
May 2, 2018

The ban on the import of drugs from the United States and other “unfriendly” western countries, tabled by MPs in the Russian State Duma, will worsen the mental health of Russians. Two psychiatrists discussed the consequences facing people with mental illnesses if brand-name drugs are replaced by domestic lookalikes.

The Big Picture
In early April, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin announced the imminent expansion of countersanctions by Russia towards the US and other western countries opposed to the Russian Federation’s foreign policies. In particular, there are plans to introduce a ban on the import of drugs from the countries on the sanctions lists, but only on those drugs for which there are domestic counterparts. However, many foreign-manufactured psychotropic drugs have domestic counterparts, and they will be banned, therefore.

Russia is not a happy country in terms of psychiatry. Every fourth Russian suffers from mental illness at some point in his or her life, and between three and six percent of the populace needs to take medications regularly.

Due to severe conditions such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder, hundreds of thousands of Russians lose the capacity to work and are unable to adapt to society. Many of them commit suicide. Modern drugs are effective enough to let most patients lead full lives. Their well-being depends on drugs, which they must take for many years and, sometimes, their whole lives.

The drugs in question are antidepressants, antipsychotics, tranquillizers (sedatives), and normotics (mood stabilizers). Nearly all the brand-name drugs in the field are produced in Western Europe and the US. If theban is adopted, they will vanish from Russian pharmacies, since nearly all these drugs have counterparts (i.e., generics), with the same active ingredients, that are produced in Russian and Eastern Europe.

When discussing the possbile stop list, experts named two popular antidepressants: Paxil (France) and Cymbalta (USA). Many other drugs popular in Russia, including the antipsychotics Zyprexa (Eli Lilly, UK) and Seroquel (AstraZeneca, UK/Sweden), and the antidepressant Zoloft (Pfizer, USA), could be included in the ban. What would be the consequences for millions of patients?

Increasingly Ineffective Treatment
Mental equilibrium is a delicate matter, and selecting drugs to treat psychiatric conditions can much more complicated than selecting drugs to treat somatic illnesses. The optimal outcome is for the individual not merely to stop experiencing severe symptoms like obsessive suicidal tendencies and hallucinations, but also to remain capable of working and leading a social life, rather than turning into a lifeless vegetable.

People with clinical depression, which can last for years, know well the laborious process of choosing the right drug and the right dosage that will finally let them live a normal life. The process can take weeks and months.

Matters are even more complicated with bipolar disorder. The disease’s two opposite phases require different medications, and an unsuitable drug can even worse the outcome of the illness. Schizophrenia presents such a variety of symptoms that a veritable cocktail of drugs is sometimes needed, and attending physicians have to make sure the side effects do not outweigh the benefits of treatment.

“Current guidelines for pharmacotherapy recommend prescribing the brand-name drug and not substituting a generic without good reason,” says Maria Gantman, a psychiatrist at the Mental Health Center.

Dr. Gantman prescribes her patient brand-name drugs, which have undergone high-quality trials on thousands of patients and have a proven effect. Generics also undergo trials when they are licensed, trials that prove their similarity to brand-name drugs, but the evidentiary base is filled with too many gaps, she notes.

“Generics are usually less expensive, and we start off with them if the patient cannot afford the brand-name drug. The abrupt replacement of one generic with another can produce a change in the effect. Due to the peculiarities of their ingredients, generics may be absorbed at a greater or lesser rate and generate a different concentration of the active ingredient in the blood. The people who suffer most are those forced to switch from a brand-name drug they have been taking for years and that was laboriously selected for them to a generic,” explains Dr. Gantman.

She fears the Russian authorities will approach the issue in a perfunctory manner.

“For example, there is a drug that is effective in treating schizophrenia, Rispolept. There are Russian lookalikes, sold under the generic name risperidone. But if the brand-name drug is banned, it hard to imagine what lies in store for people who survive by taking Rispolept Consta (Belgium), which does not exist in this form as a generic in Russia,” says Dr. Gantman.

“The problem is that theRussian pharmaceutical industry hopelessly lags behind the western pharmaceutical industry. There are certain types of drugs Russia just cannot produce, because it does not have the resources, the equipment or the research,” continues Anatoly Shepenyov, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. “Say, the antidepressant Cipralex (Denmark) cannot be synthesized in Russia. Folic acid is an indispensable drug, too. In Russia, it cannot be produced in the form needed for the synthesis of serotonin, that is, in the form needed for maintaining normal brain function.”

Side Effects
The side effects of psychotropic drugs are numerous and varied. Mental impairment, convulsions, fainting, anemia, and fever are only some of them. Predicting them ahead of them is impossible: they are the individual body’s reactions. A drug that simultaneously provides relief while not producing agonizing side effects is a valuable find for many patients.

Dr. Shepenyov illustrates the circumstances by mentioning the antidepressant Paxil (France). It has generics, for example, Rexetin (Hungary). Rexetin works, but its therapeutic effectiveness is lower. To get the same effect she would get from 20 mg of Paxil, thae patient would need to take at least 30 mg of Rexetin. As dosages increase, so do the side effects.

“The main difficult is not synthesizing the right substance, but isolating it in pure form. I’ll give you an example. The antidepressant must fit the receptor in the brain the way a key fits a lock. When generics are synthesized, a whole slew of impurities emerge, extra ‘keys,’ if you like. If you use this ‘dirty’ molecule, you won’t open the lock, but there will be something jammed in it,” notes Dr. Shepenyov.

The use of generics thus introduces the risk there will be a lack of therapeutic effect coupled with a slew of side effects that would never be produced by brand-name drugs. The liver also suffers more from the constant intake of “dirty” drugs.

“Take the most popular Russian-made antidepressant, Fluoxetine (a generic version of the US-produced Prozac). It is terrible in terms of side effects. Although its benefits are weak, patients suffer from phenomenal absentmindedness,” explains Dr. Shepenyov.

Withdrawal Syndrome
If western-produced drugs one day vanish from Russian pharmacies, thousands of patients will undergo withdrawal syndrome, the body’s physiological reaction to the absence of a substance to which it is accustomed.

“I felt terribly sick within a few days. I had a terrible chill, severe dizziness, nausea, weakness, and insomnia,” a female patient described her withdrawal from Paxil.

It is necessary to gradually reduce the dosage to avoid this effect, which means having a good supply of the drug and then just as gradually increasing the dosage of the new drug. This means weeks of enduring shaky health.

The Anti-Placebo Effect
“The anti-placebo effect is no less frequent and severe than the placebo effect. The patient knows she has taken another drug. This exacerbates her anxiety and could ultimately destabilize her condition. So, if an individual has taken the same drug for years and feels fine, there is no need to give her another drug. It’s risky,” says Dr. Gantman.

Both doctors are agreed that patient health should not be a geopolitical bargaining chip. According to Dr. Gantman, medical issues should be left out of the political games countries play, and she calls the State Duma’s plans to ban the imports of foreign-made drugs “profoundly unethical.”

“If Russian MPs adopt such a law, we should oblige them to be treated solely with Russian-made drugs, drive Russian-made cars, and use Russian-made telephones and computers. Those would be excellent sanctions that would finally force them to use their brains before making radical decisions without having the foggiest notion about either medicine or how the body functions,” concludes Dr. Shepenyov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Anastasia Plyuto
VK
May 12, 2018

A group picket was held on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Petersburg’s Ovsyannikov Garden, to protest the Russian State Duma’s tabling of a bill that would ban the purchase of drugs abroad. Yes, we have heard that legislators have suggested removing the word “drugs” from the wording, but we know much freighted the phrase “and other goods” can be.

To increase the chances city authorities would authorize the picket, activists applied for several venues at once. The authorities waited until the last possible moment to render a decision, and so there was no time to inform the public about the planned protest. Around a dozen people were in attendance, including a diabetic who depends on imported insulin, and several people outraged by the politics and statements of our MPs.

One of the placards featured a toy pyramid for little children, which MP Iosif Kobzon gave to a teenaged cancer patient while visiting a hospital in Simferopol in 2015. In our view, the incident reflects the lack of understanding displayed by our bigwigs when it comes to the needs of patients.

There were few visitors in the garden, and nearly none of them had heard of the law bill, but no one, from schoolgirls to a seventy-year-old female pensioner, was left unmoved by the subject. They reacted with surprise, indignation, and complete support for the picketers.

meds-1“You want to ban imported drugs? Start with yourselves. Treat your ailments with oak bark!”

meds-2.jpg“Insulin addict. Bring it on! Deprive us of our doses, assholes. ‘Life in Russia is no picnic: you can survive without insulin.’ Insulin or formaldehyde? Neuroleptics or belladonna? You choose, Russia!”

meds-3“State Duma! By banning the import of drugs, you are killing people!”

meds-4“Ban yourselves from driving Geländewagens! Hands off the drugs!”

meds-5jpg“Viva asymmetrical responses! (Genocide)”

Photos by Mikhail Ryzhov and Anastasia Plyuto. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Tomsk Residents Demand Release of Political Prisoners

Picketing Tomsk Residents Demand Release of Political Prisoners
Novosti v Tomske
April 23, 2016

“Free the political prisoners: Sergei Udaltsov, Alexei Gaskarov, Sergei Vilkov, Alexei Sutuga.”

The rally was held today at the Monument to the Construction Brigades, reports vtomske.ru’s correspondent.

According to our correspondent, around fifteen people were involved in the picket. One of the participants, Anton Sharypov, said that its main aim was to draw attention to the problem of political prisoners.

“In Russia today, there are many people who are subjected to illegal arrest, to what amounts to political repression, for their civic and political stances. We demand the release of those who are in prison and an end to torture and crackdowns so that people can live freely, grow, and help their country. None of these people are terrorists, which is how they are presented. They are ordinary people who work and study, and in their free time they are socialists and anti-fascists. They lend a helping hand to trade unions and grassroots groups. They are not criminals and murderers,” he explained.

In particular, the Tomsk residents at today’s picket supported Dmitry Buchenkov. According to federal media, Buchenkov has been accused of a resisting a riot police officer during the riot on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on May 6, 2012. He was arrested on December 3, 2015.

“We believe this is a provocation on the part of the security forces. There are witnesses who have testified that [Buchenkov] was in Nizhny Novgorod, his hometown, that day. However, he was basically abducted. His lawyers were not allowed to attend his pretrial custody hearing, and his relatives did not know his whereabouts for a long time. Now he is in police custody. They are going to try him on the basis of a photograph of another person. We believe this is political repression,” said Sharypov.

The picketing Tomsk residents also showed their support for Sergei Udaltsov, Alexei Gaskarov, and Tomsk activist Yegor Alexeev, who is suspected of posting extremist videos on the VKontakte social network, and collected donations for an aid fund for victims of political repression.

“Free political prisoners: socialists, anti-fascists, labor and civic activists!”

“Free political prisoners: Dmitry Buchenkov”
“Free Dmitry Buchenkov”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of Dmitry Kandinsky and vtomske.ru. Thanks to the May 6 Committee for the heads-up

Deportation of Crimean Tatars Remembered in Petersburg

Deportation of Crimean Tatars Remembered in Petersburg
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
May 20, 2015

On May 19, Petersburg democracy activists commemorated the Soviet Stalinist government’s mass deportation of Crimean Tartars on May 18, 1944. Activists held a series of solo pickets on Nevsky Prospect before gathering for an evening event at Open Space, a co-working venue run by the organization St. Petersburg Election Observers.

Several activists, including Vsevolod Nechayev, leader of the Democratic Petersburg coalition, Andrey Zyrkunov of the liberal-democratic party Yabloko, and Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, a famous local activist, took to the city’s main street with placards calling on fellow citizens to remember the anniversary of the deportation and blaming the current Russian authorities for preventing commemorations in Crimea itself.

IMG_8818Local activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev picketing on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015. His placard reads, “Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars is a crime with no statute of limitations! A people’s memory cannot be murdered! Even according to the NKVD’s statistics, 44,887 deportees from Crimea died in 1944–1945.”

Apparently inured to pickets and demonstrations of various kinds, passersby mostly exhibited indifference. A couple of young men attempted to harass the protesters, but most passersby merely glanced at the picketers before continuing on their way.

IMG_8836Picketer handing out leaflets on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015

In the evening, activists gathered at Open Space to continue their commemorations. Alexandra Krylenkova, leader of St. Petersburg Election Observers, is field coordinator of the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights.

Activists viewed a documentary film about the deportation and chatted with Asan Mumdzhi, a member of the Crimean Tatar community in Petersburg.

They also talked via Skype with Zair Smedlya, head of the Qurultay of the Crimean Tatar People. Smedlya described the current situation in the Crimea. Police arrest protesters en masse even at authorized protests and auto rallies, but generally the authorities refuse to grant permission to hold such events.

“The same old story,” muttered someone in the audience.

The current Crimean authorities have tried to turn the commemoration of the 1944 deportation into a celebration of the fact that President Putin signed a decree “rehabilitating” the Crimean Tatars on April 21 of this year.

Mumdzhi compared this to Jews being “rehabilitated” by Germans.

IMG_8905Asan Mumdzhi

Smedlya also claimed that people had been arrested for carrying Ukrainian flags, which is not illegal.

“Crimean policemen didn’t know the Ukrainian laws. Now they do not know the Russian laws,” Smedlya quipped.

The gathering ended with a screening of the Crimean Tatar-language film Haytarma, which tells the story of the highly decorated Soviet fighter pilot Amet-khan Sultan, who accidentally witnessed the deportation and managed to keep his family in Crimea.

 All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel