Mind What You Post Online, or You’ll Be Sent to the Loony Bin

watchingThey’re watching your every word.

Police Investigators Request Compulsory Psychiatry Treatment for Joke on VK Social Network
OVD Info
20 August 2018

Police investigators in Petersburg have asked a court to commit Eduard Nikitin, a disabled man charged with arousing enmity by posting a joke on the VK social network, to compulsory psychiatric treatment, writes Interfax news agency.

Petersburg’s Nevsky District Court is currently hearing the case in closed chambers.

The charges against Nikitin were filed in 2017. He was accused of violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code for posting a caricature and joke on his personal page on the VK (Vkontakte) social network in 2015.

“He was given a psychiatric evaluation. Police investigators have asked the court not to criminally prosecute him, but to have him committed to compulsory treatment,” Maxim Kamakin, the accused man’s attorney, explained to Interfax.

Forensic examiners discovered “extremism” in a joke in which a character doubts the positive changes after an election, as well as in the use of the word vatnik in a caricature.

“This is the first time I have heard of charges like this being filed for a joke, albeit not the most decent joke and a political one to boot,” Kamakin added.

Nikitin said he was summoned by police investigators as part of an enquiry in 2016. Subsequently, the investigators did not contact him for over a year. In late 2017, however, Nikitin received notification of criminal proceedings.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea

Elena Lysenko
A picket for the release of Crimean lawyer Emil Kurbedinov on 31 January 2017 in Simferopol, Ukraine. Photo by Elena Lysenko

Psychiatry as a Tool of Political Repression in Crimea
Madeline Roache
Special to The Russian Reader
April 9, 2017

Lawyers and human rights activists claim the Russian authorities in annexed Crimea have been persecuting human rights activists, most of whom belong to the Muslim Crimean Tatar community. The Crimean Tatars, who make up about 15% of Crimea’s population, have vocally opposed Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula since February 2014. As a result, the group has been specially targeted by Russian authorities. Many Crimean Tatars have been forced to leave the region to avoid harassment and arbitrary arrest.

According to a new report, presented on March 23 by Ukrainian advocacy group Crimea SOS, a total of 43 local activists have been abducted since Russian troops occupied Crimea in February 2014—allegedly, by the Russian authorities and their accomplices. Eighteen of those who were abducted are still missing and six have been found dead.

Robert van Voren, a Dutch human rights activist and political scientist, said that, since the annexation, many Crimean Tatar activists who oppose the occupation have been arrested and subjected to abuse and imprisonment in psychiatric institutions.

“Since the annexation of Crimea, Russian authorities have prosecuted and forced into exile virtually all those who oppose the Russian occupation, including key leaders and activists within the Crimean Tatar community”, he said.

Emil Kurbedinov, a prominent Crimean lawyer, told the Guardian that, between December 2016 and March 2017, twelve Crimean activists were forcibly admitted to psychiatric hospitals in Crimea. Four of them remain in hospital, while the rest have either been transferred to prison or discharged.

According to Kurbedinov, Crimean activists are treated in a degrading way and face appalling conditions in psychiatric hospitals.

“Some are placed in isolation and are denied their basic needs, such as access to a toilet. Others are housed with numerous people suffering from severe mental illnesses. The activists are interrogated about their alleged involvement in ‘extremism’ and their views of the government. They are also deprived of the right to speak with their families or meet their lawyers on a one-to-one basis without a guard being present. All of this violates international law,” he said.

All of the Crimean activists were arrested on suspicion of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which Russia, unlike Ukraine and other countries, has declared a terrorist group. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) asserts there is no evidence to suggest the organisation has anything to do with terrorism, nor is there any proof the men were even involved in the group.

Kurbedinov says their arrest was illegal and a breach of protocol, as it was not sanctioned by a judge but ordered by a police investigator.

According to KHPG, a further 19 Crimean activists are currently in custody, accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, has declared all the activists in custody political prisoners. KHPG claims that one of the detainees, Emir Kuku, was most likely arrested due to his work for the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, which provides legal assistance and support to members of Muslim groups.

Last year, Kurbedinov defended Ilmi Umerov, a Crimean Tatar activist who openly opposed the Russian occupation. Umerov was sent against his will to a psychiatric hospital in August 2016. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Umerov in May 2016 in the Bakhchysarai District and charged him with separatism. Umerov is also a representative in the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, an elected body that was suspended by Moscow after it annexed Crimea. Human Rights Watch heavily criticized the case, calling it “a shameful attempt to use psychiatry to silence [Umerov] and tarnish his reputation.” Umerov was released twenty days after his confinement.

Kurbedinov argues that these cases have “acutely raised the issue of the vulnerability of ordinary citizens who have no civil rights whatsoever before the legal and judicial monolith.”

Soviet Psychiatry
The practice of punitive psychiatry in the present day is particularly disturbing given its historical use as a tool of rampant political repression the in the later decades of the Soviet era. Psychiatry was used to systematically confine and punish Soviet dissidents. However, under President Vladimir Putin, cases of the alleged political abuse of psychiatry have resurfaced, leading many to believe that the Soviet-era practice has returned.

The involuntary hospitalization of protestor Mikhail Kosenko in Russia in 2012, is just one of many modern-day cases that has been widely held up as an example of the political abuse of psychiatry. Kosenko was convicted on charges of rioting and assaulting a police officer during the Bolotnaya Square anti-Putin protests in Moscow on May 6, 2012. The case sparked international attention from human rights activists, who asserted the charges were fabricated and that Kosenko’s hospitalization was unnecessary.

The abuse of psychiatry in Russian criminal trials is not uncommon, according to Yuri Savenko, psychiatrist and head of the Independent Psychiatric Association (IPA) in Russia.

“Psychiatry is now frequently part of the procedure in criminal trials where there is no concrete evidence: it is more economical in terms of time and effort just to obtain a psychiatric diagnosis,” he says.

This disturbing phenomenon is of particular concern to the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP), a human rights organization that protects human rights in mental healthcare. FGIP closely monitors the practice and is currently compiling a report about cases of psychiatric abuse in the post-Soviet states, to be published later this month.

Madeline Roache is a London-based freelance journalist focusing on human rights conditions in the former Soviet Union. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Times of Central Asia, and Euromaidan Press.

“The Delirium of Religious Reformism”: Punitive Psychiatry Makes a Comeback in Chelyabinsk

Alexei Moroshkin. Photo courtesy of Memorial
Alexei Moroshkin. Photo courtesy of Memorial Human Rights Center

Chelaybinsk Resident Alexei Moroshkin’s Stay in Mental Hospital Extended Six Months
OVD Info
January 11, 2017

On January 10, the Soviet District Court in Chelyabinsk extended Alexei Moroshkin’s forced confinement in a psychiatric hospital for another six months, according to his mother Tatyana Moroshkina. Moroshkin had been sentenced to compulsory psychiatric treatment after having been accused of calling for violation of the Russian Federation’s territorial integrity.

According to Moroshkina, the court paid no attention to any of the arguments made by the defense, neither that her son’s actions and statements did not pose a threat to others, nor that, according to his medical record and the opinion of his physician, he was not dangerous and there was no need to hospitalize him. In making its ruling, the court was guided by the unsubstantiated opinion of court-appointed experts that Alexei Moroshkin could be dangerous, said his mother.

Moroshkin was committed to Regional Clinical Mental Hospital No. 1 in Chelyabinsk in December 2015. Prior to this, a court had considered the charges of calls for separatism made against him in connection with texts, posted on the VKontakte social network, about the need to establish a Ural People’s Republic. In November 2015, a court absolved Moroshkin of criminal liability, declaring him mentally incompetent on the basis of opinions submitted by medical forensic examiners, who during the police investigation had diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, adding that he suffered from the “delirium of religious reformism.” This diagnosis was occasioned, apparently, by Moroshkin’s online publications and interviews dealing with the virtual Church of the Chelyabinsk Meteorite, which he had invented. At present, acccording to his mother, the medical experts do not mention delirium, but nevertheless consider her son mentally ill and a danger to others.

Before criminal charges were filed against him, Moroshkin had never been under a psychiatrist’s care.

According to his mother, Moroshkin’s physical condition has deteriorated: he suffers from a heart disease. The court also failed to take this circumstance into account.

In October 2016, Moroshkin was suddenly transferred to a wing with worse living conditions than before. Shortly before this, the hospital’s head physician was fined for refusing to provide information about Moroshkin to his defense attorney.

Currently, another case involving Moroshkin is under investigation. He has been accused of painting a bust of Lenin in Chelyabinsk in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and charged under Article 214.2 of the Criminal Code (vandalism).

Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg: Where Fascists Roam the Streets at Will

NODite who assaulted Petersburg reporter David Frenkel yesterday in plain sight of several witnesses, including policemen standing nearby. Photo courtesy of David Frenkel
NODite who assaulted Petersburg reporter David Frenkel yesterday in plain sight of several witnesses, including policemen standing nearby. Photo courtesy of David Frenkel

David Frenkel
Facebook
December 12, 2016

I read in the news what happened to me today [Sunday]. I was surprised by a lot of what I read and decided to write my own account.

I had been taking pictures of an unauthorized LGBT march in support of social and labor protests on Nevsky Prospect. The march ended in the Catherine Garden. After it was over, some of the activists, who had folded up their banners and placards, and the journalists crossed the street to Malaya Sadovaya, where the National Liberation Movement (NOD) were holding a rally. The NODites and activists got into a war of words, and I pulled out my my camera. In particular, I photographed a colorful NODite in a fur hat who immediately hit my camera before kicking me several times (One of the blows was captured on Arseniy Vesnin’s video). The NODites also shouted that I was a “little Yid.”

The NODites often insult other people and let their fists and feet do the talking (the most striking example was the attack on Arseniy Vesin himself), and I asked the policemen standing nearby whether they could do something about the assailant. They refused to register my complaint, and so I called for a police patrol to come to the scene. They arrived very quickly, but they refused either to detain the assailant or even check his papers. Instead, they checked my papers. After I asked them repeatedly, they finally gave me a pen and paper so I could file a complaint.

When I had finished writing the complaint, it transpired the NODite had already escaped. I was told I could go to the police precinct [to file the complaint] whenever I liked. I stepped away to discuss with Arseniy whether it was worth going to the precinct right then. The police came over to me and said one of the female NODites had filed a complaint against me for attempting to disrupt their authorized rally. The police took me to the 78th precinct, on Chekhov Street.

At the station, the police almost immediately drew up papers stating I had been delivered to the precinct, and then I went to give testimony about my own complaint. Initially, everything was cool, only they kept asking me questions about the LGBT rally. How had I found out about it? How had I met with them? Where had been going?

I refused to answer these questions. The police responded by asking me whether I was in my right mind. Then the deputy commander of the precinct showed up. First, he demanded I turned off my phone (I refused), and then he came down hard on me, saying I was not a journalist, that I could not prove I worked for Kommersant.  (I really did not have my ID on me, but I had contacted the editors, and I knew they had telephoned the precinct and confirmed my testimony.)

The deputy commander kept “poking” me, saying I had no respect for the authorities, elders, and the police. I agreed with this, reminding that my assailant had not been detained. When our argument turned more emotional, he threatened to call an ambulance brigade to check my mental competence. Then he left.

The police finished taking my testimony and left me to wait, god knows for what. The whole time Varya Mikhailova and my dad were at the front desk. They were told I had not been detained, but delivered to the police station, and that I would be released any minute now. Arseniy Vesnin, who had testified that the NODite had assaulted me and had tried to give his video to the police, was also at the station.

For a while, nothing happened. Then suddenly an ambulance brigade showed up. They immediately grabbed my papers from the table. When I protested, they told me to move to another chair. I had been sitting right under the surveillance camera and for my own safety I didn’t want to move to another chair, which I told them. So they tried to move me by force. When I resisted, the doctor attempted to strangle me, and two orderlies twisted my fingers and tried to tie my hands with a tourniquet. Yet they could not manage to move me to another chair. I stayed where I was. They also tried to confiscate my camera bag, which I held onto with my elbows. I said they would take it away from me over my dead body.

“No problem,” they replied.

The whole time I was shouting and calling for help, but the police were laughing and filming the incident on video.

Meanwhile, the orderlies whispered in my ear that they would “fuck [me] up” and “kick [me] in the balls.” Just like the NODites, the medics made fun of the fact I was Jewish. They asked me something about the “Christmas seder” (?) and made several jokes about circumcision.

As I learned later, the deputy precinct commander was chatting with my father while this was going in. The policeman was trying to persuade Dad I was a “difficult boy.” He asked him something about fights, alcohol, and drugs. He said I was behaving inappropriately: I was, allegedly, sitting hunched up and constantly making phone calls. The doctor later told my father that I had not been taken away to the insane asylum only because he, my father, had turned up at the precinct.

After half an hour of “conversing” with the medics, the sense of which I still have not figured out, I was untied and released from the precinct. The misdemeanor charges filed against me by the female NODite were dropped.

At the trauma bay, the bruises on my neck and arms, and the scrapes and scratches on my fingers were photographed and registered.

Such is the work of a journalist. I’ll post the report from the march a bit later.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Gleb Astafiev: Trampled by the Madding Herd

Gleb Astafiev
Gleb Astafiev

Trampled by the Madding Herd
Darina Shevchenko
16-year-old Gleb Astafiev is being tortured in a psychiatric hospital because of his picket in support of Pyotr Pavlensky
Radio Svoboda
June 11, 2016

In late May, Gleb Astafiev, a 16-year-old resident of the village of Ketovo in Kurgan Region, held a solo picket in defense of artist Pyotr Pavlensky,  then on trial in Moscow for setting fire to the doors of FSB headquarters. The young man sewed his mouth shut, grabbed a placard on which he had written the inscription “Pyotr Pavlensky’s action was a replay of Varg Vikernes‘s famous gesture,” and stood next to a store in downtown Kurgan. This was a reference to Pyotr Pavlensky’s first action, Seam (July 23, 2012), in which the artist sewed his mouth shut and took to the streets of Petersburg with a placard that read, “Pussy Riot’s action was a replay of the famous action by Jesus Christ.”

Astafiev was taken to a police station, and then sent to the Kurgan Regional Neuropsychiatric Hospital.

On the day Pavlensky was released, Astafiev was able to access the Internet for the first time during the thirteen days of his incarceration at the mental hospital and contact the outside world. He told Radio Svoboda how he had wound up in the hospital and what was happening to him.

Gleb, who sent you to the psychiatric hospital?

After the police detained me when the picket was over, my mother talked for two hours with them. I think they did a number on Mom, because she came back for me accompanied by an ambulance crew, and I was hauled off to the looney bin. My mom thinks I am crazy. She is convinced that normal people don’t sew their mouths shut and take to the streets bearing placards. Mom is a simple woman, and she doesn’t understand my action was an artistic metaphor. The closed mouth is a symbol of the absence of freedom of speech in Russia. My mom watches TV too much, so her mind has been warped by propaganda. It’s very hard to explain the message of my action to her. Mother did not support my creative experiments, but after the action she got angry at me. She doesn’t even bring food to the hospital. Grandmother, on the contrary, has been treating me better since the action. Now she sympathizes with me. The relatives are not planning to spring me from the nuthouse for the time being. The doctors have not said anything to me about the subject.

You sound very calm and confident. How do you feel? Have you been forced to take meds?

They tried to vegetate me with pills, but I spit them out. The first five days I was held in the special supervision ward. They tossed me in with the worst crazies, but I was forbidden to leave the ward. I was in there with eight oldsters. Three of them rarely showed any signs of life. The other five screamed at night, beat the floor with their fists, and raved. They tried to force me to kowtow: to wash the floor and clean up. I refused. I am currently under routine supervision, but I cannot leave the wing.

Do you know that Pyotr Pavlensky has been released? Do you regret you wound up in the mental hospital because of your action in support of the artist?

Of course not. I am very glad for Pavlensky! Maybe it was thanks to the support of different people, including me, that he was released. The regime really doesn’t like people like Pavlensky, because a real actionist is a free spirit and openly declares it. I think I did my bit for free speech with my action, which was, of course, a reference to Pavlensky’s actions.

What were your feelings when you were standing there alone holding a placard, surrounded by strangers who were probably aggressive to you? Did anyone support you during the action?

I thought up and did the whole thing myself. My action was entitled F.P.P. (an abbreviation for “Free Peter Pavlensky”). Passersby reacted differently. Mainly, people were surprised. There were lots of riffraff there. One creep swore at me at the top of his lungs for twenty minutes. Some people came up to me and had their pictures taken. There was an old couple who stood next to me the whole time. Once, the old woman came up to me and said, “You’re a fool. One man does not make an army.” The old man periodically yelled loudly, “Look, people! He is holding opposition placards!” I ignored all of it.

Around thirty minutes after I started the action, two grown louts in black vests (security guards, apparently) came out of the Pushkin Shopping and Entertainment Center. One of them jumped me and tried to grab the placard. I wouldn’t give it up. A dude who was around twenty saw the scene from the window of his car. The fellow jumped out of his ride and told the guard to leave me alone. It’s a pity that many people don’t understand the difference between art and hooliganism and madness. Actionism is lovely! I really love actionism, especially Viennese actionism.

Why are you able to see the difference?

Hard to say. I’m an ordinary schoolboy from a simple family. I read a lot, especially science fiction. I think a lot about what’s going on with my own head. I want to have a vivid, interesting life, not a life like the majority’s: home, work, and television. I can’t talk anymore. I see the medical staff coming.

Gleb Astafiev standing next to the door at FSB headquarters that Pyotr Pavlensky set on fire
Gleb Astafiev standing next to the door at FSB headquarters that Pyotr Pavlensky set on fire

Gleb Astafiev’s action has sparked a fierce debate among Kurgan Region residents on social media. Some Internet users have admired the young actionist’s audacity and honesty. Others have written that Astafiev is as abnormal as Pavlensky. Astafiev has said he is uninterested in the negative feedback of philistines. He is suffering from a lack of communication most of all now. A girlfriend has been visiting Gleb at the hospital. She asked that her name not be printed, because she did not want to attract any public attention.

“That hospital is a hellish place: closed, stuffy, and miserable. Gleb is now all alone there. He is very depressed: almost no one comes to visit him. He doesn’t even have anything to read. Gleb asked me to buy him science fiction books. Gleb’s pupils are dilated: apparently, they are medicating him. I don’t know Gleb that well. Before his incarceration in the hospital, we had seen each other only five times. We met by chance at a concert by a local band. He wanted to have his picture taken with me and my ex-boyfriend. Then Gleb seemed like a cheerful, carefree, very dear and open boy, a young idealist with a dream. He and my ex-boyfriend then traveled to a Krovostok concert. A bit later, I realized that Gleb was very independent and intelligent, and had a very strong spirit for his age. Even today at the hospital he didn’t complain and didn’t ask for anything special except a couple of books and a bit of food. I know nothing about Pavlensky, but Gleb had the right to support him. I am surprised his mother sent Gleb to the hospital, but he is definitely not a whacko, as the majority thinks. The opinion of the herd is often wrong.”

Pyotr Pavlensky is not the only artist whom Astafiev has tried to support. In November of last year, the team at the news website Mediazona shot a documentary film about Astafiev. The reporters there were touched by the story of a young man who had borrowed money to travel from his village to the trial of the band Krovostok. In November 2015, Yaroslavl Regional Court considered rescinding a district court’s decision to ban the group’s songs and block its website. The trial resembled a comedy with a happy ending: the court took the side of the musicians. The members of Krovostok liked Astafiev so much that when the trial was over they took him along with them to Moscow for a big concert.

Margarita Filippova, photo and video editor, Mediazona:

“We were making a series of documentaries about the Krovostok trial. I noticed a long commentary by Gleb on Instagram. He wanted to know when the next hearing was and whether he could come to Yaroslavl to get the autographs of the guys in Krovostok. The photographs in Instagram initially made him look too eccentric. But when we saw him at the train station, we realized he was a very modest, friendly guy. That was when it occurred to me to show this absurd trial through the eyes of a touching 16-year-old boy who made the long trip from Kurgan to support his idols. Gleb is like a kid from another world, a world distant from our reality where we lazily follow insane trials on our iPhones, sighing and voicing our dissent, at best, on Twitter.

“Gleb sees the world like an artist, but at the same time he has a very rational attitude to reality. He has a good sense of the country in which he lives, and he really wants to change his life. I’m sure it will work out for him. Gleb feels responsible and concerned about other people. When I was sixteen I wasn’t worried about protesting artists, and I sure didn’t know what a court trial was.”

Zarina Kodzayeva, camera woman, Mediazona:

“Gleb is a very independent and open person. It seemed to me that Gleb didn’t have a drop of the infantilism you would expect from a teenager. He argues things sensibly and behaves like an adult. He and I chatted a lot when we were shooting the film. I found it very interesting to listen to him. Gleb writes things himself. When he speaks, you can tell he loves the Russian language. I got the sense this kid believed in the power of deeds. It really was important to him to support Krovostok and Pavlensky. One of the most important questions in documentary filmmaking is who can be a main character, the hero, and who cannot. Aside from the context, which might turn into a story, there is always an intuitive understanding that probably has to do with a person’s energy. I think Gleb is an absolute hero. And now he continues to prove it with his actions.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Dmitry Vorobyovsky Freed by Voronezh Court!

Dmitry Vorobyovsky
Dmitry Vorobyovsky

Court in Voronezh Rejects Forced Psychiatric Hospitalization of Opposition Activist
Rosbalt
May 12, 2016

A Voronezh court has refused to involuntarily hospitalize opposition activist Dmitry Vorobyovsky in a mental hospital. As Voronezh political activist Alexander Boldyrev has informed Rosbalt, the opposition activist has been released from the hospital.

“I did not even expect this outcome, since even the hearing was declared open. But the prosecutor’s office did not support the motion to involuntarily hospitalize Vorobyovsky,” said Boldyrev.

Commenting on Vorobyovsky’s release, lawyer Olga Gnezdilova suggested that appeals by human rights organizations played a role by forcing law enforcement officials to pay attention to the letter of the law.

On Friday, May 6, Vorobyovsky was forcibly taken to the clinic from his home. People who said they were employees of the city gas company called at the door of his apartment. When Vorobyovsky opened the door, he was restrained and dragged off to an ambulance. The administration of the Voronezh Regional Psycho-Neurological Clinic filed a petition with the court to have the man forcibly hospitalized. Doctors called the hunger strike Vorobyovsky announced after his abduction “symptoms of his illness.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the good news. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Punitive Psychiatry Is Back (Again): The Case of Dmitry Vorobyovsky

thumb_uploads_images_BlogPost_2139_ba835cd8c223f9d263d6afb31d9b51a3__
Dmitry Vorobyovsky holding a placard that reads, “Down with Putin and his KGB gang!”

How Quiet Peace Activist Vorobyovsky Wound Up in a Mental Hospital: His Lawyer’s Story
Alla Chernyshova
Activatica
May 11, 2016

On May 6, someone rang the door of Voronezh grassroots activist Dmitry Vorobyovsky. The people at the door said they were from the municipal gas company. However, as soon as they entered the apartment, it turned out they were psychiatric hospital orderlies. They suddenly restrained Vorobyovsky, despite his sister’s protests, and took him to the Voronezh Psychiatric Hospital in the city’s outlying Tenistyi neighborhood. Vorobyovsky is currently at the hospital, where he has been injected with unknown drugs.

At 2:15 p.m. on May 12, the Soviet District Court in Voronezh will hear Vorobyovsky’s case. The psychiatric hospital wants to get a legal seal of approval for his hospitalization. Civil rights activists have launched a campaign of support and have asked people to send letters to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

How legal and justified was the activist’s hasty hospitalization? To find out, I spoke with his lawyer, Olga Gnezdilova.

Was there any background or reason for what happened?

Theoretically, there is a background. The doctors cite the fact he was diagnosed in 1983, and he had been registered with the hospital. But he has felt absolutely normal for thirty years. He has not been aggressive. So now we have posed the question: if he needs treatment, then prescribe a course of treatment. He can undergo treatment at home. After all, he was not showing any signs of needing hospitalization or even treatment, meaning he interacted normally with other people and went to protest rallies. But of course he really irritated the local authorities. He has been detained by police on several occasions. But there are no grounds for subjecting him to compulsory medical treatment.

Were there incidents when he behaved aggressively?

No, Dmitry is generally a very calm person. He holds pacifist convictions. He is against violence, and he has protested the war in Ukraine. He is a very cultured, polite person. He has never had any aggressive outbursts his entire life, although formally, he had this diagnosis. On the other hand, even odd behavior is not cause in itself for forcible hospitalization.

He has been absolutely calm and living with his sister. They entered his home under false pretenses, by pretending to be city gas company employees. His sister objected to his being detained, since were no grounds for it at all. When I spoke with him, he told me the whole story himself.

Why do we have to go to court now? Because there we can voice an alternative stance. We need a platform where we can voice our arguments. Currently, he is basically being held against his will, but by law a court hearing has to verify the validity of the claims against him. In court, we can petition to conduct an alternative forensic examination as to whether he is a danger or not. Generally, being a danger to society or oneself is grounds for involuntary hospitalization: for example, if a person beats his head against the wall or plans to kill someone. This does not apply to anyone and everyone whose health is a bit quirky.

What, in your opinion, was the real reason for the hospitalization?

At first, we thought it had to with the May 9 celebrations, which were attended by various officials. Dmitry often takes to the street with placards. It is usually one and the same placard. [See the photograph, above — Editor.] They probably thought he would spoil the “view” for them.

But now it is May 11, and he still has not been released. So, basically, it is hard to say. Maybe it has something to do with the [nationwide parliamentary] elections [in September]?

Some dispatched an ambulance to his house. The hospital won’t say who it was. We think it was the work of our secret service.

How is Vorobyovsky now? Are they giving him shots of some kind?

Yes, they are injecting him with drugs. We don’t know what they are. The doctors are not telling either us or him what they are, claiming it is confidential medical information.

But have they affected his condition?

Basically, he feels okay right now. He is not sluggish or sleepy. I have spoken with him: he conversed with me normally. It is another matter how long this will last.

Tell me, how does the whole situation appear from a legal point of view? They gained entry to his home disguised as municipal gas company employees, restrained him, and took him away.

From a legal point of view, they should have put the issue to the court within forty-eight hours. We really expected a hearing on May 8. We spent the whole day running around to the on-duty prosecutor, to the court, to the hospital. Everywhere we went, we told them that since they had detained him right before the holidays, on a business day, at five in the afternoon on May 6, then be so kind as to put the issue to the court, find an on-duty judge. But we were told that on-duty judges do not rule on such matters, only on arrests. There is a law that allows judges five days to review the hospital’s petition. But at the same time, this provision had already been ruled unconstitutional a bit earlier. Generally speaking, according to the Constitution, any detention must be authorized by a court within forty-eight hours. Even if a person is considered violent, and they grabbed him and tied him up, be so kind as to put the question of his hospitalization to the court.

That did not happen, and we believe this is a serious violation. We have already obtained authorization from Vorobyovsky for an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, at least in connection with his being detained for forty-eight hours without a court order and his being tied to the bed.

He was tied up?

Yes, for the first three hours after he was brought to the hospital, he lay tied up. His hands and feet were tied. His body went numb, of course. It is a very painful procedure. We are going to file a complaint.

Where is he now?

Vorobyovsky is at the Voronezh Municipal Psychiatric Hospital, in the Tenistyi neighborhood.

Do you think he ended up there because of his public activism?

We think someone instigated the call due to his public activism.

What protest rallies was Dmitry involved in?

Practically in everything that took place. For example, he was involved in a picket in defense of [imprisoned environmentalist] Yevgeny Vitishko, in a rally against the war in Ukraine, in a rally against proposed nickel mining in Voronezh Region. Basically, he has always joined in every opposition event.  And yet on his part there have never been any conflicts or aggression, any reason to isolate him from society, like now.

But there were arrests?

Yes, there were administrative detentions. But that is a common occurrence at such events. A few people are always detained by police.

What are your next moves for getting him out?

We are now mostly waiting for the court’s decision. We cannot go any further without it.

On May 8, we appealed to the prosecutor’s office to intervene. They forwarded our appeal to the Investigative Committee. It now must make a decision within three working days, beginning yesterday. However, under these circumstances it is the prosecutor’s office and the court that will primarily be making the decision.

As soon the court’s ruling is rendered, we will be contacting the European Court of Human Rights. It cannot be done earlier.

In addition, Amnesty International has now launched a campaign for people to bombard the prosecutor’s office and the municipal health committee with requests to comment on Vorobyovsky’s case.

Journalists in Voronezh have told me that all day yesterday people were calling the city health authorities and mental health clinic. However, citing medical confidentiality, the officials refused to comment even on the fact that Vorobyovsky has been detained too long without a court hearing. Meaning they will not even answer questions have nothing directly to do with medical issues. The prosecutor’s office has been telling callers they can complain to the Investigative Committee, that they are not planning to do anything.

At the moment, we are hoping the campaign will ultimately make them start giving people answers.

How are the doctors behaving under the circumstances?

Differently. The on-duty doctor who was there when I visited the hospital and asked Vorobyovsky to come out of his room and meet me, basically agreed with me when I said he was completely normal and behaving well. Yet she said that was because he had already been receiving treatment. The deputy chief physician, with whom I spoke on the phone, told me quite confidently they would definitely file suit, and that there were grounds for compulsory treatment and confinement in the hospital. But he considers Vorobyovsky’s diagnosis such grounds. Yet the doctor could not tell me the reason for the hospitalization and said the hospital did not know who called the ambulance.

I gather that who called the ambulance is the big secret?

Yes. And the hospital also believes that Dmitry is having a relapse. But the question is what this relapse consists of.

So a man is sitting at home, not bothering anybody, and an unknown person calls the ambulance for some reason. So the next event is the court hearing on May 12?

Yes.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Pyotr Pavlensky: We Live Between Fascism and Anarchy

Pyotr Pavlensky: We Live between Fascism and Anarchy
afoniya.wordpress.com
February 19, 2016

pyotr

With the news that actionist artist Pyotr Pavlensky was sent to the notorious Serbsky Institute of Psychiatry in a clear case of punitive psychiatry (for more on the case and its context, read Gabriel Levy’s excellent blog post), there is obviously a need to highlight and protest this fact but also a need to listen to Pavlensky’s own ideas and concepts. Here is a small excerpt, published in a Russian online magazine, which will be part of a forthcoming book on the artist in the context of Russian actionism. 

The original interview with Anastasia Belyayeva was posted on the website Snob on February 16, 2016.

—Giuliano Vivaldi

________

It was recently announced the organizers of the Innovation Contemporary Art Prize had disqualified Pyotr Pavlensky’s performance Threat, in which he set fire to the doors of the FSB building in Moscow. This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Pyotr Pavlensky in Russian Actionism, which publisher Ilya Danishevsky has kindly allowed Snob to run.

* * * * *

Let’s talk about your audience. I am curious about this. In an interview with a Ukrainian television channel you stated that art should articulate, because it is rather difficult for people themselves to articulate why the state is crushing them. Your mission is to articulate?

A kind of diffusion has been taking place. We all find ourselves in a similar situation politically. Certain controversial things are happening to us, fairly unpleasant things. The issue is what is happening and how. Everyone senses it one way or another. But the problem is articulating what the authorities are doing, for they diffuse everything. A persons reads the news, goes to a shop, goes outside or has to go to work, and he sees that for some reason everything is bad, but this badness is somehow diffused.

You articulate this for your audience?

Well yes, for those who can see and hear it. 

When you articulate, if you want your message to be heard, you have to correct for the stereotypes people have, their cultural code, what they are ready for and what they are not ready for. It seems to me that, as a consequence, the people who need an explanation are simply unable to interpret your message, while those who are able, do not need an explanation. So the outcome is somehow nonsensical.

Those who are able do not need an explanation and those who are unable—

The audience of the national TV channels experience, at most, certain negative emotions when they see your actions. It is unpleasant and repulsive to them. Then they are told why you have done this. And this “unpleasantness and repulsion” get mixed up with the reason you did it.

That is exactly what I work for. These temporary gaps are intentional. The precedent remains, and then something happens, and a person comes back to it. One social network user wrote to me that, at one point, he was very much opposed to everything I did. I wrote something to him in response. And he told me in a letter that in the past he had written a lot against the actions, but then he was faced with certain situations in life. It seems the state apparatus had ground him down somewhere along the way. Now he supported this mode of action and apologized.

[…] 

photo_0_1

I have encountered many situations, and I have a rough idea as to how people react to my actions. An excessively emotional response usually can be found in abundance only on the Internet. In real life, when I meet people, I usually see they understand things quite well. Only once in the subway was there an altercation with someone, not even an altercation, but a guy simply went hysterical when he recognized me. A rather young guy recognized me in a subway car. He double-checked my image on the Internet and then began running round the car. We were all riding the subway, the train was moving, and he was running round this car calling on people to rise up against me, to join forces against me. Not a single person supported him. He stuck his phone in people’s faces, but they just brushed him aside as a crazy, hysterical individual. I observed how people reacted. Not having garnered any support, he accused me of humiliating our country, of humiliating him, [Red Square], and so on. It was clear from people’s glances that even if they had recognized me, I didn’t detect any incomprehension towards me or any aggressiveness amongst them. People are rather more understanding than not.

As for that social media user who wrote to you, was it pleasant to get such a reaction?

Of course, he supports some of my ideas.

Is this a rather unique case or does this “I have finally understood you” happen periodically?

Yes, it does happen now and again. There is a whole range of human responses. Sometimes, I feel the force of this whole range of reactions. When I prepare myself for an action, different public reactions flash through my mind at the moments of greatest tension. When you abstract yourself from it somehow, there is understanding to a certain extent. Why can I see this reaction even in my mind? Because we have the same sources: the Internet, maybe television, newspapers, and other things. We all feed on the same sources of information. I confront this range of responses afterwards, after the action has been carried out. Naturally, there are both positive and negative responses.

In the meantime, it remains somewhere in the same—

It will always stay like that, you were starting to say, this issue that some understand, while some do not. The thing is that if I begin to think in these terms so as to make the actions more understandable, and that in this case I need to do them such-and-such a way, it will end up as populism. I will end up trying to please people. That is not my objective.

That is not the objective. The objective is to get your message across in a minimum amount of time, straight away, in clear symbols.

A body wound up in barbed wire, what could be clearer? You understand that here there is no way you could be clearer.

718f

It seems to me there is a kind of clear reaction when people see a man nailing his scrotum on Red Square, and the first unfounded response is that people call you an exhibitionist or homosexual. That is the initial Russian response: he is not right in the head. In Russia, abnormality is associated with homosexuality, and if you are homosexual that means you are a pervert. Regarding such reactions, don’t you think the essential point is somehow diluted?

If you are talking about how the media tries to influence the response, then of course they are endlessly attempting to make the pendulum of reactions swing between regarding it as a criminal act and insanity, and so one can always expect a certain incomprehension. But it is another question how this influence affects people who actually see an action. During Fixation, one woman was constantly asking, “What’s wrong with him? Is he sick?” Of course, it is rather sad that the cult of psychiatry has such power over public consciousness. However, if a genuine conversation about psychiatric norms does start, that is just wonderful. That is a field that needs to be worked through. That is my first point. Second. About this gesture . . . I am not trying so much to invent or concoct something. The gesture of nailing one’s scrotum down is quite rooted in the culture. It is a gesture employed by prisoners.

Why do they make this gesture?

They do it in different situations.

As a protest?

Yes. They take their lack of freedom, the impossibility of movement, to an extreme. Often, there are wooden floors in prisons, and they nail themselves down. How are you going to move them then? A person is already imprisoned, and he has nailed himself to the floor. This is fixation. And you know, when I talk in my text about the way the country has been turned into a prison camp, about a police state, I am not talking about this lightly. November 10 was Police Day. Each year, banners hang everywhere in the city: November tenth, long live our beloved police! All these signs on the surface. I work with these signs because they are part of the culture. It is important where all this is drawn from if one talks about working with contexts. Without this, the gesture of prisoners would remain behind these fences, doors, and yet more fences. With this large number of barriers, information just does not get to us. You cannot even find photographs of this, because no one in the prisons would be prepared take them. Everyone knows this is happening somewhere behind a large number of doors. But here it is happening at the very center. However, if truth be told, a very conditional border was removed. November 10, banners, the memoirs of dissidents and prisoners: these are markers that link everything in a single statement. If this does not exist, then a passerby will start to think: Red Square, naked, I don’t know . . . I could argue that maybe he is a naked exhibitionist . . . I don’t know the degree to which it works. A naked man: why is he naked? A naked man is a man deprived of everything, even his clothes. It is a degree of impoverishment, an indicator of absence.

Of vulnerability?

No, not of vulnerability. That is not part of the message. The naked man is an expression of a condition, stripped, denuded, and deprived of everything. It is, on the other hand, the body as such. It is what can be found under everyone’s clothes. In any case, clothes always mark you, they are clothes of some kind; they build up an identity. While the body is simply the body. All bodies are similar in one way or another.

To what extent are the police part of your actions?

They are a very important part. To a large extent, they do it all themselves, they engineer everything. Everything changes places [during the action].

In the sense that they arrest you?

No, in the sense of how they react to it. It is not my body that turns out to be the victim. Everything is based on the fact that the authority figures are, in fact, victims of the situation, because they find themselves in the most subordinate situation. They have to obey regulations. I am working with subject-object relations. Above all, law enforcement officials are afraid, but they are obliged to exercise their authority.

They are obliged to free you.

To do something or free me.

Does the fact they are the authorities and are obliged to free you a revolution or something else?

They become the objects of the situation. That is, they . . . I think this is an important aspect: the state objectifies people, compels them to subordinate themselves to regulations, to move within the range of the permitted and the impermissible, to stay in this corridor. A person who submits is an object. When an action is carried out, they become objects, objects raised to a certain power perhaps. Besides the fact they are objects in the first place, performing certain functions, they also become art objects. They want to neutralize: their authority obliges them to do it. They are tasked with neutralizing and eliminating events, with mopping up streets or squares. But this compels them to serve an opposing end. They begin to engineer events. They become characters, actors. Everything is based on them. My own action is kept to a minimum. I simply sit there and do nothing. Or I just stand there. 

And if they had not come, would you have still sat on Red Square?

Yes. It is unclear how an event is going to develop until it actually takes place. It is enough to posit a figure of silence, and the situation is then constructed around the silence. Because the police, ambulance crew or just plain people who would attack me or do something else are simply part of the social body. Something happens: rejection is also a kind of interaction. A senselessly airtight situation: I came, I left. Another important fact is that I speak with everyone in the same way. I communicate with journalists, psychiatrists, and police investigators in the same way. There exist definite rules as to how everything is engineered. If one keeps to the rule of the figure of silence and does not react to the authorities, there should be no interaction. I remain static, but when the action phase ends, when the doors have closed, I start talking, and I talk with everyone in the same way. I make no distinction between journalists whom I am going tell all and, for example, a police investigator. I can, of course, mock the investigator as it were, but it is not mockery really. It is me who involves him in the art process. What has become of these dialogues? Who has achieved their goals in this situation, art or the bureaucratic apparatus? And with my cause I . . .

If everything in the country were fine, what would you have done?

I don’t know.

So you could say that the worse the situation is in the country, the more work you will have?

I understand. The situation is what? It is an unrealizable utopia. There will never be such an ideal society and state. It seems to me that there are certain defining things in people’s nature: subject-object relations and the concept of power. These things dominate all others.

You don’t particularly like the concept of power, do you? I take it that, roughly speaking, you believe it cannot be a good thing, something reasonable? Can power be a good thing?

I believe it cannot, because power’s objective is to create a fully predictable individual. Because an unpredictable individual is a dangerous individual. The closer a person gets to the condition of a subject, the more he goes beyond borders. He looks for something new, and this is dangerous for the powers that be, because he becomes ungovernable.

Would you have protested in any country in the world?

Not in the same way. You must understand there are different contexts. I’m not a professional protester.

Protest art?

Political art. I am not involved in protest art. Political art and protest art are far from one and the same thing. Protest art is when you take to the streets with a placard. There is a NO there, and here there is a YES. That would be a generalization. I take it as a premise that political art involves working with mechanisms of control.

Fine. Political art. Would you have done political art anywhere?

I don’t know. If I lived in another country, maybe I wouldn’t have done political art. Given how I think now, I would probably have found something to do. But maybe it would be something formally similar, because different countries and different control systems generate different ways of suppressing the human imagination. 

Is there a model or regime you find ideal? Anarchy perhaps?

Probably anarchy is an ideal model. I am aware its ideal rests on its impracticability. It is unlikely that humankind will decide to sacrifice the benefits of scientific and technological progress to utopian anarchy. Anarchy is liberation from certain paradigms, it is resistance, a rejection of certain impossible rules. Anarchy involves working with the concept of power.

Anarchy is what you find most congenial? Or is it something else?

Yes, I probably find it congenial in some way. There is insurrectionary anarchism, and there are other kinds of anarchism. Anarcho-communism is a contradictory delusion: the dictatorship of equality versus the dictatorship of freedom. Either there is the one or the other. It is difficult to imagine the emergence of punk culture in a dictatorial regime of universal equality.

Would you like to live in a state where anarchy ruled?

There can be no state where anarchy rules.

A city where everything takes shape in this way. There is anarchy, but something takes shape all the same.

Undoubtedly. That is why I say it is anarchy. The individual’s life is spent in permanent struggle for subjectivation and self-assertion, because all possible resources, forces, interests and, ultimately, other people or groups of people work towards objectivation, towards subjugation. Even if a pseudo-anarchist structure was to take shape, groups or structures would still emerge that would turn it all

Systematize it.

Yes, turn it into an ossified mass. And it is better to reject these dogmas before they have managed to become political disenchantment. History persuades us that the lessons of the twentieth century did not prevent the kibbutzim from reconciling the beautiful idea of communal property with the defense of the growing and sacred borders of the state of Israel. This constant self-assertion has to be rejected. It is like a never-ending process.

Is there an ideal model for individual existence? Is it possible the way you see it: that nobody usurps you, and you do not intersect with anyone? 

It’s difficult for me to say. It all depends on the person. A person must overcome the [rules] imposed on him—

Globally.

Globally, there is a movement towards the anarchist model.

Then everything will circle round again?

Without a doubt. There is a certain range or continuum, of course. As in the [Grazhdanskaya Oborona] song: “Everything that is not anarchy is fascism.” We are situated between these two poles. Fascism not in terms of the Italian model or some other model, obviously, but as a kind of generic term. Fascism as absolute diktat, absolute and total control. And there is the other pole: anarchy as a certain absolute freedom. In fact, all the oscillation occurs between them.

And in the middle, between these two extremes, normality rolls along?

I have never thought about what is in the middle. I don’t know what is in between. In between there is dull liberalism with its shoddy political correctness.

I am just trying to understand your goal in this essentially vicious circle. You understand that things will never be wonderful?

What actually changes society and generally produces transformation? Certainly not any political templates or schemes, because working with cultural codes is the most important thing. Semantic precedents influence how a person relates to what happens around him. They are his reflexes, developed vis-à-vis different situations. Which of his associative models are activated, and what kind of situational response does he make? He may give a quick response, or he may, upon reflection, make a decision. This is the field where the struggle takes place. Regimes change, of course. There was the Soviet regime. Before that there was the monarchy, the Russian Empire, and now there is this regime. In any regime, the siloviki [military and security services] are in power. In 1917, there was a revolution, there were changes, and there were significant changes in culture, art, and how people related to each other. Things were in motion for fifteen years, and then there was a reaction. The Bolsheviks suffocated everything, and things were rolled way back.

Do you have an overarching idea about you are doing? Where are you taking all this? What point between fascism and anarchy seems to you the most appropriate?

You undoubtedly need to push everything in the direction of anarchy because

Because something budges at least a little bit?

Even for things to remain as they are, you already need a certain effort. If you make a great effort you can move things a little further. On the other hand, there is a very strong force moving us in the other direction, towards fascism and absolute subjugation. The state apparatus with its huge resources, an entire system of agencies, is working towards this. It is a constant clash. It never stops. For me, the head-on collision takes place on this stretch of road. It is ridiculous to dream those forces that are a hindrance will eventually dissolve and disappear, and we will suddenly find ourselves in anarchy and living under a different model. I think this is a more realistic perspective on things. But speaking theoretically, of course, when you loosen frameworks and push back borders, you really help others, the people who come after you.

Translated by Giuliano Vivaldi and reprinted here with his kind permission. See my previous posts on Pyotr Pavlensky.

People and Nature: Punitive Psychiatry Back in Vogue in Russia

Russia: punishment psychiatry back in vogue
People and Nature
February 17, 2016

The Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been sent to the notorious Serbsky Institute of Psychiatry, and his family and lawyers are worried about him.

On November 9, 2015, Pavlensky poured petrol over the doors of the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB) building at Lubyanka Square in central Moscow and set fire to them. He named the action Threat (Ugroza). Friends photographed and filmed him as the flames took hold. (Damage was done, but no one was hurt.) Pavlensky was arrested soon afterwards.

The FSB’s building was inherited directly from the Soviet KGB. Thousands of the regime’s political opponents were tortured and killed behind its austere façade.

Pavlensky has been charged with “vandalism motivated by ideological hatred,” whatever that means, and appeared at the Tagansky District Court several times. At his first appearance he compared his case to those of Crimean activists jailed on false “terrorism” charges – including Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov – and said he would not address the court further.

Oleksei Chirniy, who was charged along with Kolchenko and Sentsov, was also detained at the Serbsky Institute prior to his trial. His supporters alleged he had been mistreated with psychotropic drugs.

Pavlensky is also awaiting trial for charges arising from an earlier performance, Freedom (Svoboda). In February 2014, days after the removal  of Ukrainian president Viktor

Separation (Otdelenie). Pavel Pavlensky protesting against punishment psychiatry, October 2014. Photo courtesy of Calvert Journal

Yanukovich, he went with collaborators to the Maly Konyushenny Bridge in Saint Petersburg, setting light to car tires and banging dustbin lids, to recreate the atmosphere of the Maidan demonstrations in Kyiv.

Pavlensky was sent to the Serbsky State Scientific Centre for Social and Forensic Psychiatry last month (on January 27) to be observed by doctors. The centre was then closed due to an outbreak of a strong flu-like virus, and Pavlensky’s lawyers have been denied access to their client.

Human rights campaigners are focusing on Pavlensky’s case and Amnesty International have expressed concern about it.

On February 3, in Pavlensky’s absence, the Tagansky District Court extended his detention to March 5. His wife expressed fears for his health in a Facebook post: “We do not know if they are injecting him with drugs, trying to give him pills. We don’t know.”

Meanwhile, artists are protesting a decision by the National Centre for Contemporary Art to throw Pavlensky’s performance out of the contest for this year’s Innovation Prize.

His action at the Lubyanka was included after an online vote by critics. But on February 15, the organizers of the prize struck it off, on the grounds that it had involved an illegal act. Members of the expert committee that advised the organizers were angry; art critic Anna Tolstova quit the committee, saying: “I don’t consider myself obliged to agree with censorship and become part of the repressive machinery of the state.”

Clearly, the Innovation Prize organizing committee has taken a step backwards. In 2010, the prize was won by the Voina group for painting a large phallus on a bridge near FSB headquarters in Saint Petersburg.

Punitive psychiatry has been on the rise in Russia again since the 2011 demonstrations against government ballot-rigging.

In October 2013, Mikhail Kosenko, one of the defendants brought to trial after those demonstrations, was sentenced to indefinite psychiatric treatment after the Serbsky Instititue declared him insane. Psychiatric treatment was also used in the recent case of Crimean activists, three of whom are serving long jail sentences in Russia and are widely regarded as political prisoners.

Pavlensky has protested against punishment psychiatry. In October 2014, he sat on the wall of the Serbsky Institute and cut off his earlobe to make his point. He then wrote: “Armed with psychiatric diagnoses, the bureaucrat in a white lab coat cuts off from society those pieces that prevent him from establishing a monolithic dictate of a single, mandatory norm for everyone.”

But punitive psychiatry goes back much further. It was used in the Soviet Union from (at least) the 1940s, to deal with those who defied its tyrannical, misnamed “socialism”, and became widespread in the 1960s. It was the Serbsky Institute that developed the diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia” (vyalotekushchaya shizofreniya) which was widely applied to political dissidents.

Not only were internationally known oppositionists, such as the independent trade union organizer Vladimir Klebanov and the Second World War general Pyotr Grigorenko, confined to psychiatric institutions, but psychiatry was used against large numbers of less-well-known Soviet citizens. (Indeed two western writers who studied the phenomenon in Soviet times concluded that the abuse of psychiatry against prominent dissidents was “probably only the tip of an iceberg.” It had a wide-ranging function in dealing with “social deviants,” “suppressing individuality […] so that the state can maintain a stifling social as well as political control.” Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway, Russia’s Political Hospitals, Gollancz 1977, pp. 278-279.)

An early (and typical) case was that of Revolt Pimenov, a maths student who resigned from the Communist Party’s Youth League, was diagnosed as schizophrenic and consigned to a psychiatric hospital – the sentence being lifted when he agreed to rejoin the league! His story is recorded in the marvellous archive of the Chronicle of Current Events, a dissident journal. (Thanks to J. who drew that to my attention!)

Revolt Pimenov in his student days. Photo courtesy of the Chronicle of Current Events

Finally, a thought about Pavlensky’s art. I am pretty conservative in my artistic tastes, but it works wonders for me. What is an artist supposed to do when his government becomes increasingly repressive and supports military mayhem in a neighbouring state? Paint landscapes?

In my view, setting fire to the doors of the Lubyanka was a cry of sanity in an insane world. I’m not blind to the limitations of individual protest, but this protest tried seriously to deal with the state machine’s monstrous corrosion of humanity.

If you are a western leftie thinking “Well, this is hardly the worst example of state repression,” give me some credit. I know. I, too, see the sickening irony in the denunciation of Putin for ordering Syrian children’s deaths to gain diplomatic advantage by people who had little to say about Tony Blair and George Bush ordering Iraqi children’s deaths on a vastly greater scale. Well, you know what, it’s not a competition! Putin’s violence is part of the same process as Tony Blair’s, not some sort of answer to it.

For me, this is about the reality with which my friends, activists in social and labour movements in Russia and Ukraine, have to deal.

If you’re a psychiatrist, please get on to your professional association about that institute. If you’re an artist, please get on to that art centre about that competition. If you’re a letter writer, please follow Amnesty’s advice on protesting to the Russian prosecutor, and if you’re fighting for some other cause, big or small, please keep doing what you’re doing. How else can we deal with the inherent madness of the system under which we live? GL, February 17, 2016

Meaningful art: the Lubyanka ablazePeople & Nature, November 2015

■ For the latest on the Crimean political prisoners, read the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Editor’s Note. A huge thanks to Gabriel Levy for writing this timely and pointed essay and especially for his permission to republish it here.

Mikhail Kosenko’s Appeal Hearing Is Tomorrow, March 13

russia_179107_mikhail_kosenko_dmitry-borko-banner

On March 13, Mikhail Kosenko’s sentence will be appealed in Moscow City Court. Mikhail [who was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International] was one of the Bolotnaya Square defendants, and he was sentenced [in October 2013] to compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital. His case was originally tried separately from that of the other defendants because of a disability. But his story really should be treated separately: it is so simple and straightforward, as if it were staged on purpose to make clear to anyone, even a child, that in Russia a struggle is underway not between two groups of people who hold different views on the country’s future, but between people and monsters.

Mikhail’s trial lasted almost a year. During this time, Zamoskvoretsky District Court Judge Ludmila Moskalenko did not permit Mikhail a single family visit, although she knew that Mikhail’s mother was ill and her health was deteriorating. And when his mother died in September without having seen her son again, Moskalenko refused to let Mikhail attend the funeral. Mikhail found out about all this, about his mother’s death and the fact he could not say goodbye to her, in a cell in Butyrka Prison from a REN-TV news report.

During the trial, defense attorneys presented videos and photographs showing that Mikhail did not even come close to police officer Alexander Kazmin, whom he allegedly kicked and hit, tearing off his ammo pouch. Four eyewitnesses corroborated that Kosenko had not touched the “victim.” When Kazmin himself testified at the trial, he was unable to identify Kosenko as the man who had assaulted him and refused to perjure himself. “I’m not Russian trash,” he said.

On October 8, 2013, Judge Moskalenko found Mikhail Kosenko guilty and sentenced him to compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital. His treatment could last indefinitely. If, by analogy with the old Soviet Union, we imagine that the Chekists [i.e., the Putin regime] will stay in power another fifty to sixty years, then there is every chance Mikhail will never get out of the madhouse. But even if he gets out in ten years or three years, the consequences could be irreversible. Mikhail really does have a [mild] mental illness and problems with communicating, but anyone who followed the trial over the last year would have come away convinced that Kosenko is an absolutely sane, reasonable and intelligent man. At the very least, read his statement in court.

“Palace” psychiatry is quite capable of turning this man into a vegetable, all because, two years ago, a certain man had his inauguration spoiled and took offense. On March 13 at 10 a.m. in Room 334 of the Moscow City Court (8 Bogorodsky val) we can try to prevent it from happening. Let’s try! Mikhail’s sister, nephew, and cat Musya (whom he took in from the streets), are waiting for him to come home.

Source: Facebook

Photo courtesy of Dmitry Borko and Amnesty International