Peter Reddaway and Robert van Voren on the call by Semyon Gluzman and Irina Pinchuk for the World Psychiatric Association to suspend the Russian Society of Psychiatrists. A response to Aleksandr Podrabinek
Peter Reddaway
Robert van Voren

9 May 2022

by Peter Reddaway and Robert van Voren

This article is a response to ‘On a duplicitous appeal’ by Aleksandr Podrabinek, published on Rights in Russia 18 April 2022 [a translation of ‘Обращение от лукавого,’ originally published on Facebook].

Peter Reddaway is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at The George Washington University. Robert van Voren is professor of Soviet and Post Soviet Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania, and at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. He is also director of the Andrei Sakharov Research Centre on Democratic Development in Kaunas and chief executive of the international foundation Human Rights in Mental Health-Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP).

During all the decades that we worked in defense of Soviet dissidents and political prisoners, one of the aspects we admired most was their steadfast positioning, sticking to their convictions and accepting the consequences, however harsh they were. We supported them in every way possible and accepted that sometimes the complexity of living under constant pressure led to intransigence and unnecessary stubbornness. This was what kept them going, and it created a bulwark against KGB machinations and repression.

However, there are limits. The rebuke by Aleksandr Podrabinek to Semyon Gluzman and Irina Pinchuk in response to their call to have the Russian Psychiatric Association excluded from the World Psychiatric Association is not only unnecessary but also foolish and rather insulting. 

Indeed, on March 16, 2022, Semyon Gluzman, President of the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association, and Irina Pinchuk, Vice-President of the same organization, sent a letter to the Executive Committee of the World Psychiatric Association to terminate the membership of the “Russian Psychiatric Association” because of their refusal to condemn the Russian invasion. The letter read: “Because of the immoral belligerent behavior of the Russian government and the failure of our Russian psychiatric colleagues to adhere to the most basic standards of ethics, we respectively [respectfully] request that the World Psychiatric Association suspend the Russian Association of Psychiatry. For the moment, the Russians have demonstrated that they are not worthy to be counted amongst our colleagues and to participate in our shared responsibility to meet our ethical obligations to protect the health and safety of our fellow human beings.” When writing the letter, Semyon Gluzman, a former political prisoner who spent ten years in camp and exile for opposing the political abuse of psychiatry, was sitting in his flat on the 15th floor of his apartment building in the suburb Obolon in the north of Kyiv, while sirens were going off six or more times a day because of the daily bombardments by Russian artillery and missiles. Irina Pinchuk, a refugee from Donetsk, was hiding in the bomb shelter of her building equally frequently, as she lived near the Antonov factory in Kyiv that was constantly bombed. Eventually she fled for a second time, to Uzhgorod, where she continues her work to help deliver emergency aid to mental institutions in the country.

Clearly, the letter was written in Russian, quickly translated and sent off to set a process in motion that is still ongoing. More and more voices have joined the Ukrainians, demanding a removal of the Russians from the WPA, especially since the European Psychiatric Association already took that important step. Everybody understands that nobody is talking about the tiny “Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia”, a group set up in early 1989 with active support from both Semyon Gluzman and ourselves, and which mainly thanks to Gluzman’s efforts became a member of the WPA in 1989, with the prime purpose to break the monopoly of the Soviet psychiatric association over psychiatry in the USSR. However, it never grew into a real alternative and has had one and the same President now for 33 years. It was also not able to become a competitor to the official Russian Psychiatric Association, which officially carries the name “Russian Society of Psychiatrists (RSP)”. 

This RSP is of course the association Gluzman and Pinchuk referred to, and Podrabinek is intelligent enough to understand that. The RSP is still dominated by the same nomenklatura that ruled Soviet psychiatry and that has persistently looked the other way when political abuse of psychiatry in Russia resumed and all efforts to develop a truly independent and modern mental health care in Russia were killed off by the leadership of Russian psychiatry, united in this “Russian Society of Psychiatrists”. 

To start this little word game by Aleksandr Podrabinek is not only childish, but also insulting. Instead of telephoning Semyon Gluzman, with whom he once was a “brother in arms”, or sending a letter to the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association expressing his support, he writes a totally useless and condescending blog that only shows his desire to be “more virgin-white than the Pope”. Maybe it was written out of spite, because Podrabinek knows full well that, contrary to himself, Gluzman has spent literally every day since the collapse of the USSR to work for a humanization of mental health care, not only in Ukraine but also in other countries in the region, including Russia. And while Russians are bombing away Ukraine, he continues to do so, even when the sound of Russian rockets are a permanent companion in the not so far distance.

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