18 April 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Beating your chest in righteous anger is always pleasant, but especially in time of war. It is precisely at such a time that one can neglect details, not notice differences and indiscriminately throw mud at everyone – it will all be put down to the war.
The Ukrainian Psychiatric Association has appealed to the World Psychiatric Association to suspend the membership of the Russian Association of Psychiatrists. At first glance, the reason is quite in step with the times: ‘Because of the immoral, belligerent behaviour of the Russian government and the inability of our Russian psychiatrist colleagues to adhere to the most basic ethical norms.’
The authors of the appeal, Semyon Gluzman, president of the association, and Irina Pinchuk, its vice-president, write: ‘At the current time the Russians have shown they do not deserve to be among our colleagues and share our common responsibility to uphold our ethical obligations with regard to the health and safety of our fellow human beings.’
To an outsider, the appeal would seem reasonable and fair: Russia is the aggressor, the Russian Association of Psychiatrics has not spoken out against the war, so it supports it, therefore expel them from the World Psychiatric Associaiton and be done with it.
However, there is one catch: the Russian Association of Psychiatrists does not exist. I do not think that Mr. Gluzman and Ms. Pinchuk do not know this. Russia is represented at the World Psychiatric Association by two professional associations: the official Russian Society of Psychiatrists, which is supported by the authorities, and the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia.
Which of the two did Gluzman and Pinchuk have in mind? Neither! They invented a third ‘Russian Association of Psychiatrists’ that does not exist. It is more convenient to introduce confusion. It is a deliberate ambiguity. After all, if they were acting in good faith, the authors should have explained that the Russian Society of Pyschiatrists is the successor to those psychiatrists who practiced punitive psychiatry in Soviet times and who were expelled from the World Psychiatric Association in 1983, but were reinstated in 1989 after a public admission of wrongs. The Word Psychiatric Association is a non-governmental, free association, and one of its main objectives is to prevent the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes. Who better than Gluzman to know that? But no, with feigned righteous anger they sweep everyone into the same pile and demand wholesale reprisals.
And to justify their demand, they write in their appeal: ‘It is sad that, for unknown reasons, Russian scientists and our fellow clinicians in Russia silently look on at the massacre taking place in Ukraine. Not one of them has openly condemned the war, the war crimes, the actions of their president, their government and their country. By their silence it is as though they are pretending this war does not exist and that they support the actions of the Russian government.’
They say they are sad! Amazing hypocrisy. ‘Not one of them has openly condemned the war’ is scathing, but it’s a lie. As early as 26 February, more than a month before the appeal by Gluzman and Pinchuk to the World Psychiatric Association and two days after the war began, the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia issued an open and public condemnation of Russian aggression: ‘We say NO TO WAR! … We express our strong disagreement with the aggressive actions of the Russian authorities and call for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine. We also feel responsible for what is happening.’ These words of solidarity addressed to the Kharkiv Association of Neurologists, Psychiatrists and Narcologists of Ukraine were signed on behalf of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia by its president, Yury Savenko. The appeal has been published on the website of the Independent Psychiatric Association Russia.
I will not remind former Soviet political prisoner Semyon Gluzman what people who live under dictatorship risk when they make such appeals. Perhaps he has forgotten. I point out, however, that in a free Ukraine it would have been safe to publish this, but on the website of the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association there is not even one word of condemnation of the Russian invasion. Maybe it makes sense to pay attention to the beam in one’s own eye?
Within a professional corporation, there can be various kinds of relationships reflecting a struggle for influence, opposing schools of thought, professional competition, games of ambition, and much more that is not always attractive. But duplicitous understatement and brazen lying do not adorn either psychiatrists or former political prisoners. Even if they are done out of lofty and patriotic motives.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove