by Aleksandr Podrabinek
August 11, 2007
Last Friday, the head doctor of the hospital promised her relatives that on Tuesday Larisa would be transferred to a so-called outpatient hospital. This hospital was even shown to her relatives and some French journalists who came with them. Larisa, not having been informed of these promises, announced a hunger strike. On Monday her friends urged her to stop her hunger strike in order to be transferred to an easier form of hospitalization. She stopped it. But they had tricked her - she wasn’t transferred anywhere.
The leader of the Murmansk United Civil Front (OGF; a human rights organization) Elena Vasilyeva said that the Regional Health Department ordered that Larisa Arap not be transferred anywhere and instead undergo another trial to confirm the necessity of holding her long-term in a mental hospital.
Larisa is not allowed to read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio. The genuine mental patients are being turned against her. As Larisa herself confirmed, it was announced in the ward that if she did not stop her hunger strike the rest of the patients would not be allowed to smoke. If one can easily imagine what would happen in such a situation with normal people, what could be expected from genuinely sick people?
“The deputy director told us,” said Elena Vasilyeva, “that previously forced hospitalizations had proceeded on a smooth path, without any human rights issues, and this was their first instance otherwise.” A horrible tragedy has begun. In the Soviet Union such occurrences were in the thousands.
Now, in contrast with the Soviet era, there remains in the country a free press, legal human rights organizations and political associations. Thanks to these, the case of Larisa Arap has gained publicity. It is being written about and discussed in both Russia and abroad.
Only the authorities in Russia are silent, as if, in the words of Vladimir Nabokov, “they are holding blood in their mouths.” Sullen and unruffled. Not a word is uttered, not by the Prosecutor General, nor the law enforcement agencies, nor the Minister of Health, nor the Guarantor of the Constitution [TN: Putin] or his minor Guarantors. Only the Commissioner for Human Rights has reacted, and then not on his own initiative, but only after an appeal to him by the OGF and Independent Psychiatrists Association.
Initially, one could suppose that events in Murmansk were a strictly local initiative, without the approval of the federal authorities. But now, in the second month of Larisa Arap’s psychiatric hospitalization, it is becoming clear - the authorities have silently consented to the use of psychiatric hospitalization against the political opposition. She is testing the strength of a new method for dealing with inconvenient people, or more exactly - a poorly forgotten old method.
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Note from the Translator:
In an article printed one week before the above (The Gang, Yezednevniy Zhurnal, 03 Aug 2007), commentator Aleksandr Ryklin pointed out that while the case of Larisa Arap strongly resembles Soviet-style punitive psychiatry, it is in some ways even worse. As Ryklin recounts the story, Arap’s forcible hospitalization was the result of an essentially personal grudge by a local psychiatrist, Dr. Olga Reshet, who recognized Arap as being the author of an investigative report about abuse of children at her psychiatric hospital. Ryklin goes on to note:
“Many human rights workers, including the Novaya Gazeta commentator (and sometimes author on YeZh) Aleksander Podrabinek, have begun to talk about ‘punitive psychiatry’, which was so widely practiced in the Soviet era. But I think this is not an altogether accurate comparison.
“I would have difficulty imagining a situation in which a lower-level Soviet psychiatrist could make the decision to forcibly hospitalize a normal person on some sort of personal motivation - and then it would still require the sanction of the responsible agencies and high-ranking officials.
“What happened in Severomorsk was altogether different. A regular doctor turned out to be able, on her own and without any sort of direction from above (if Larisa had not come in seeking a certificate of mental health, she would still be free today), to ruin the life of another person, hurl her into an abyss of monstrous suffering and humiliation. They have deprived Larisa Arap of her freedom, they are administering some sort of injections to her (Larisa’s husband, with whom she was allowed to meet, has confirmed that she can hardly walk and can speak only indistinctly), they are tying her to her bed, they are beating her.”
Interestingly, however, the authorities have not taken the opportunity to blame the entire affair on Dr Reshet and move on, apparently intending instead to send a signal to people like Arap… and, probably, people like Reshet as well.
Read more about Ms. Arap's case here.