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A Nation's Mental State

A Nation's Mental State

'TWILIGHT ZONE': One of the best-known victims of so-called "punitive psychiatry" is dissident and writer Vladimir Bukovsky. In the 1960s and 1970s, as a diagnosed "psychopath," he experienced firsthand the forced-treatment psychiatric units where Soviet authorities sent many of its political opponents.

Bukovsky, now 65, was one of the first to expose the truth behind the Soviet "psikhushki." In the early 1970s, his detailed accounts of the practice were successfully smuggled to the West. He also coauthored "A Manual on Psychiatry for Dissidents," meant to help fellow dissidents fight persecution. In 1976, he was forcibly exiled. He has lived in Britain ever since.

In 1992, Bukovsky traveled to Moscow to visit the place he believed was responsible for a great deal of his misery -- the Serbsky Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. Much of his writing documented the use of Serbsky as a state tool of repression.

In the spirit of reconciliation that came in the early years following the Soviet collapse, Serbsky director Tatyana Dmitriyeva acknowledged the role of the institute in past political repressions.

After the rise of Vladimir Putin to the presidency in 2000, however, Dmitriyeva once again recanted, saying the institute was guilty of no offense and that reports of punitive psychiatry were exaggerated.

Since then, a Serbsky official has gone on record as saying Bukovsky, at the time of his forced care, was undoubtedly "psychopathic." (As evidence, he cited the fact the dissident had written "hundreds of letters of complaint" following one of his arrests.)

Bukovsky is now seeking to return to Russia and secure a place as a candidate in Russia’s March 2008 presidential elections. A group dedicated to supporting his nomination this week issued a statement saying that, unless the Serbsky Institute formally recants, Bukovsky retains the right to sue either the institute or its employees for slander.

The statement also suggests that the Serbsky Institute's revised diagnosis may be used as a pretext for barring Bukovsky from the vote. Authorities have already tried three times to block his candidacy, pointing to the fact that Bukovsky, who was forcibly exiled in 1976, was no longer a Russian citizen and had not spent the past 10 years in Russia, as mandated by Russian law.

Bukovsky has since restored his Russian citizenship, and argues that his involuntary exile should not bar him from the vote. Bukovsky now fears his restored status as a "psychopath," may give election authorities a fresh opportunity to challenge his bid to become a presidential candidate.

The pro-Bukovsky statement notes that Dmitriyeva, the woman responsible for erasing the Serbsky Institute’s culpability in the practice of Soviet-era "punitive psychiatry," is currently a senior member of the dominant pro-Kremlin party Unified Russia.

Asked if punitive psychiatry is once again on the rise, Bukovsky said in an interview with Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" that "anything is possible in Russia. We live in a twilight zone."