From the Psychiatric Hospital to the Russian Duma
One Man's Story
Viatcheslav Igrunov as told to Ellen Mercer.
I was born October 28, 1948 in village village near the Zhitomir area of Ukraine. I studied for three years in the Institute for Public Economy in Odessa until I was kicked out for political reasons in 1973.
When I finished high school, I was not admitted to the university, despite the fact that I passed the required exams. I wasn't a Komsomol (Young Communist League) member and they told me that skeptical people can never be admitted on the historical faculty. Only in 1969, I entered the Institute for Economy. I also worked while studing in the Institute. My first job was in a printing house (1966) and my idea was to learn how to print leaflets. However, my first job didn't help me to fulfill this goal so I moved on to another - that of bringing paper to the printing presses - each role of paper weighing about 300 kilos. Within one month and a half, I discovered that I couldn't print leaflets there and I left. Next, I learned to be a "turner" at metal mechanic factory. I couldn't keep this job for long because there was no heating system and the water was frozen and my feet were injured because of the cold. The next job was as a night guard for the construction site -the best time in my life. I was able to paint there, to read books, to write my thoughts. I was at peace there and stayed a long time. I discovered many important things in life during that time. But then, 1968 came and Prague Spring came to Czechoslovakia. My friends told me that I needed to write a book about this event so that the people in Ukraine would not make the same mistakes as those in Czechoslovakia. This year marked his first detention by the KGB. My friends and I destroyed almost all of my papers and written materials before this meeting. This was my first warning of events to come.
I entered college in 1968 and started working two years later, while continuing my studies. I was responsible for a small private enterprise at a time when such businesses were prohibited. It was impossible to have a private enterprise at that time but there were factories of craftsmen and I managed a small division of such a factory where 12-15 people worked. I took the responsibility of inventing products to be produced in the factory and teaching the workers to provide all of the materials required to sell. The State took away 80% of profit. It was in this factory that I actually learned to understand economy despite the fact I was already a qualified economist by Soviet standards. In fact, my discussions at the Institute were often used as the basis for lectures by the Professors since I was considered to be the best student and my answers to questions were very long and detailed - sometimes lasting as long as 45 minutes. However, the knowledge I learned from the Institute was theoretical; my practical experience came from the factory and this experience caused me to reassess and change my theories. Before this practical experience, my position was very liberal but I gradually became more moderate.
During this time, I earned enough money to create a library of independent literature. In fact, I established the largest library of independent literature among dissidents and it existed for 15 years, with the average life of such libraries being 2-3 years. This library served over twelve cities in the region, including two major branches in Novosibirsk and Zaporozhye. In time, the KGB closed down this division; first attempting to do so legally. The authorities discovered, however, that while 1/2 of the overall factory was closed because of abuse, this division was a model of honesty. Thus, new methods were used to reach this goal: the Director was dismissed and a newly appointed Director closed the division, on instructions of the KGB.
After this factory division was closed in 1972, I got a minor job as an Administrative Assistant to a Professor of Philosophy at the Medical Institute in Odessa. Even then, the KGB was determined to have me fired and the First Secretary of the Communist Party Regional Committee reproached his functionaries for their failure to disrupt my work. The Chairman of the Department of Philosophy refused to fire me and I was asked to work there after I graduated from the Institute. This resulted in the Chairman being fired. Afterwards, I was given vacation time and not allowed to resume my work after vacation. Somewhat earlier, the dean of the faculty at the Economic Institute was fired and the new Director was instructed to expel me from my studies; however, it was difficult to do as I was considered to be a superior student. However within six months, the authorities had succeeded in their goal and I was expelled for "bad performance." After leaving the Institute, I worked as an electrician and continued in this job until my arrest on March 1, 1975.
The first time I found out there was a permanent surveillance in 1968 probably related to the fact of the discussion of the Czechoslovakan events. These discussions took place underground and I was not a dissident who called himself a human rights activist who protests publicly. I saw my role as helping to lay the groundwork for changes within the Soviet Union. I had the same views as human rights activists of the time but my methods of dissent were different. I didn't think that I needed to go public but maybe it was a mistake. In 1968 the KGB found out that my friends and I were thoroughly studying the Prague Spring and Czechosolvakian reforms. We organized a small rally to protest the invasion even though I was against public activities of that sort. On this occasion, I couldn't resist. Then, in the fall of 1968, I was delivered to the KGB headquarters in Odessa - with some others. I thought that they would never release me because one of my friends told everything about the underground group. But I succeeded to explain what they did in the way that facilitated my release. We first pretended to be incredibly stupid and took all responsibility upon ourselves, making the KGB think that it is a very narrow circle... a bunch of idiots. Nevertheless, interrogations went on for some time. They searched my house and my parents house - both illegal. I didn't protest and pretended to be the fool who doesn't understand. We had felt that we would be detained and, thus, we destroyed almost all of our papers in advance and the KGB wasn't successful in finding proof of their accusations. We were also helped by the fact that in August 1968, there was a huge upheaval of protest all over the country and in Odessa only a few were arrested. We were very few among the many thousands all over the Soviet Union to be arrested. One of my friends who was detained became an informer; within six months, we found out that he informed KGB and he confessed. All others of our group were absolutely reliable. In 1970, when I entered the Institute, the KGB tried to make an informer out of me and threatened to kick me out if I didn't cooperate. I said that, of course, I understood but that I had nothing to report. I said that I would be happy to tell but have nothing to tell. When they asked me to come to meet with them, I wouldn't show up and, finally, they stopped contacting me. I was again detained on August 9, 1974. Then one of my friends who was detained by KBG confessed that all of his books were given to him by me; in other words, he betrayed me.
It was from this time that my way to prison started. The KGB found a few brochures in my house that were considered criminal at that time. Then they detained my friend with a full bag of samizdat. About 30 people were delivered to KGB. That year, Odessa was second only to Moscow in the detention of dissidents. In spite of this, no books from the library I started were traced. No one betrayed us after that, even my friend who was detained with a full bag of books. The first day of detention, they failed to get the proof they needed and they let me go home - then I got dissentary and August 10, I couldn't stand. Friends visited me and we made an agreement how to behave - we reviewed our interrogations and realized who had given the information that led to our arrest. We then organized our behavior in a way that kept the KGB from getting more information. But surveillance continued and finally on March 1, 1975, I was arrested. I refused to speak to my interrogators at all. They arranged interviews interviews with some people who testified against me but they denied this when they saw him. The case against me was gradually falling apart so they sent me for a psychiatric examination. It was clear that they were unable to prove anything in the court so they used psychiatry.
While I would not cooperate with the KGB, I decided to cooperate with the doctors at the hospital. I wanted to prove that a healthy person could resist the pressure and can prove that he isn't mentally ill. Having anticipated that this might be the outcome, prior to my arrest, I sought information on the psychiatrists in the hospital. One of the readers of the library was about to lose her teaching job because she had told schoolchildren about some books which were banned. (Solz..."One Day in the Life of…”) She couldn't be fired legally, and, thus, they tried to declare her insane. We decided to protect her and prevented the examination and, in the process, found out who were the members of the expert panel and that the chairman was a friend of one of the dissidents. This dissident wrote some poems to this person and these poems were in his archive. No one could know it besides him....the chairman of the commission and the dissident.
This information helped me resist in the hospital. When all the experts said that I was ill and should be in the psychiatric hospital, the chairman objected and started to help me. He explained to the others on the council that I was not mentally ill because it was not possible to diagnose the status of my health because of the very complicated nature of my personality. They put pressure on me by telling me that I could get 7 years of imprisonment and 5 years of exile but now the Supreme Council of Ukraine is about to review the criminal code... and most likely prison terms will be increased because of people like me terribly undermined the state. I did not cooperate. In a month, I was sent to the Serbsky Institute in Moscow. When I was brought to the stolypin - or railway car for transporting prisoners, a guard who had seen his papers and knew that I was a political case approached me. A red stripe across the front page of my papers meant that I was "inclined to escape." He shared his sympathy for my views; I believed him because it was more dangerous for him than for me. It took 11 days to travel to the Serbsky from Odessa - a distance of approximately 1,000 miles. The guard advised me not to talk to the psychiatrists there and I followed that advice. I had no doubt that they would declare me mentally ill no matter what I said. I was also sure that they would take me to one of the worst special psychiatric hospitals in the Soviet Union, the one in Dnepropetrovsk and I decided that I would have to behave in a way that would ensure my early release when sent there.
After the first month at the Serbsky, there was no diagnosis given and it was only at the last examination - given by the notorious Drs. Lunts and Morozov - that I was declared to be mentally ill with sluggish schizophrenia. They indicated that the schizophrenia started when I was 17 years old. How can it be... if it started at 17, it would be absolutely visible by this time??
This "diagnosis" was followed by further interrogations by the KGB. They tried to negotiate with me once again as to whether I would go to a labor camp or stay in the hospital. I was very tough with them, however, and one interrogator threw the phone receiver so hard that he broke it. At one point, a KGB major advised him as to how to behave so that he would be declared normal and released. I refused to play this game, however, and, thus, continued my incarceration in the hospital. This was around the time that the Helsinki Treaty was signed... and Vladimir Bukovksy developed his campaign against psychiatric abuse.
I was kept in harsh conditions in a cell with criminals. The first had a mild form of Down's Syndrome and had been in school for one year. This person pressured me in various ways and, in all likelihood, was forced to do so by the authorities. Finally, I rebelled and was put with someone worse. The first cellmate wanted to kill me but I wanted to kill the second one! He told him about rape of little girls and other horrible stories. I had prepared myself for the hardships of prison but I soon realized that it wasn't easy in the hospital. I was once in the cell with 3 people who were not mentally ill... but one was a criminal. One killed 2 policemen and pretended to be crazy because he wanted to avoid the death penalty. I decided to betray the criminal... I feared that I would not survive that night. I told the guard and was moved to a different cell - which is probably the reason I survived.
I was in the Serbsky for a total of 2 months and 10 days and then to the KGB in Odessa... waiting for trial with the KGB and Article 70 - anti-Soviet propaganda with the special purpose to undermine the power of the state. 190.1 - anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda with no purpose to undermine the power of the state. Mine was 190.1 but KGB wanted to make it Article 70 but they couldn't do it. Then, in January 1976, they organized an interview with a psychiatrist from Serbsky again in Odessa. According to the law, if more than 6 months passes after the expertise, there should be another one. If one expertise concluded SPH should be used, so the court cannot decide in favor of regular hospital. I met the psychiatrist who asked me about my health; I said that I didn't believe that I was ill. He said that I was, indeed, ill but that I was substantially better at that time. After such treatment in detention, my nervous system can only improve! I couldn't understand why the psychiatrist was trying to persuade me that I was getting better but, at the same time, behaved in the opposite way as though I was very ill. One day, they came to the detention cell and ordered me to leave the cell with all of my possessions. They took me to the internal courtyard of the KGB pre-trial prison which was quite isolated and secret. They put me in a special truck with no windows and only a hole for ventilation. The light came from the hole and it was optical illusion of the place and so I saw that we were going in the direction of the Odessa Psychiatric Hospital.
Fearing all along that I would be sent to Dnepropetrovsk and thinking that the transport from the Serbsky was taking me there, I was extremely happy to see that I was heading back to Odessa! My wife and friend were there waiting for me... having had inside information on my whereabouts. No one could believe that I was smiling from ear to ear when I got off of the transport! This was 1976.
There was a film made of me at the Serbsky and it was sent along with my records and the history of my case. I refused to look at this material and told the doctor to read it and tell me why I was declared insane. She said that there were no indications in my file but the only serous symptom was that I was smiling when I arrived at the Odessa Psychiatric Hospital. I felt myself sort of a hero - having been diagnosed by the famous Lunts and Morzov and being in the same place where Bukovsky was... I was, in a way, happy to see and experience all with my own eyes.
I was put in the hospital in a special observation chamber so that the hospital personnel could observe my behavior. Normally, such patients are restrained in their beds but I refused to let them do this and, amazingly, they backed off. I was there for a week or so and was given a small amount of medication - which I never swallowed. After this week, a doctor spoke to me about her surprise that such a normal person behaved in a way that led to his arrest. She didn't understand why I was sent to the mental hospital as she didn't think I was mentally ill. Soon, they put me in the chamber for those who felt better, keeping me from going through all of the normal stages. Later, I noticed that nurses who give me pills tried to not watch me and see that I didn't take my pills. They were giving me a minimum amount of medication anyway. I had a friend who worked in that hospital as a psychologist. He had the idea that one pill is good for my health and nervous system and advised me to take it. I followed his advice and terrible things happened to me - I was unable to read, I couldn't see properly, I couldn't sit, stand or lie down but only could pace. Finally, I wasn't able to walk at all because of the pain in my knees. I had spasms whenever I tried to lie down. The head doctor was a Party organizational leader and was in a difficult position because he believed that I was healthy and didn't want to do anything harmful to me - but, at the same time, he needed to follow instructions. I also had insulin shock treatments although in less dosage than the normal. They injected me five times with no real results. When the dose was increased, my body felt very peculiar and I insisted that it had to be stopped. The doctor accepted the compromise and said that they would decrease it. He said that if they didn't treat me at all, that I would be given another doctor who would be more harsh - so I accepted it. I gained 10 kilos of weigh in 3 months. Then in 6 months, there was a new examination and the doctor advised that I should be released, which I really appreciated.
The hospital stay wasn't bad after that time. I could read books, even some that were banned, I could write and I had a box with a lock and only I had the key. No one else had such treatment. I could keep samizdat and wrote critical remarks on the wall under the rubble. A nurse came and didn't know that I had a special status and started a scandel and demanded to open the box, etc. I insisted that I would not open it and I was allowed to get away with this. The next day, however, I gave all things to my friends... My friends could visit me rarely but still they could do it. I could give things out the window to friends... After I gave up samizdat I read only books I wanted on linguistics, psychology, etc. I was able to do it as if I were free. I was given a courtyard to use even though patients walked by... they brought them to the small one and put me in the big one where I worked as a gardener. I could meet my wife there as though it were my property. My dissident friends visited me there. By the end of the summer, I already had a key to open the hospital doors... this was very special treatment. There were two doors to get out, two thick doors... Between the two doors, I met the chairman of the expertise who refused to say that I was mentally ill the year before. The psychiatrist shook my hand and said, "you are great. You have chosen the best tactics possible... congratulations." After that, the psychiatrist proposed that I conduct a sociological poll among the personnel of the hospital. It was then fashionable to do such polls but it was supposed to be done by personnel but they didn't find anyone who would accept it and was able to do it and, thus, the task was mine. I spoke to everyone who worked in the hospital.... 1100 in all... But the number of ill were 1050. Doctors told about their problems and thought that the poll could help them... Told me all kinds of personal things: whether they have washing machines, sewing machines, etc. But my doctor liked me. A year later or so, I got to know a girl whose mother worked in a neighboring department and she told me that all the doctors of the hospital knew all about me and said that I was the "smart one" without one drop of schizophrenia. The Commission decided that I could be released but the decision had to be confirmed by court.
Summer passed and I wasn't able to walk into garden any longer... And I asked for another job and was proposed to work in the library. It was a unique experience because they had a wonderful ancient library but in disorder. I started to put the books in order and made a full catalogue - the doctors were happy about this and said that for five years, they were unable to take any book and now they only asked and got it. This Library was located next to the gates to the city... and because I had a key and could move around, I decided to have a walk in the city. I started to do it regularly and even visited my friends. During New Year's, I celebrated in the apartment of a friend from prison. Later, a disaster happened: my wife went to live with her relatives and the water pipes froze and flooded the house. I went there from time to time to do repairs and KGB found out -they harassed the doctor which resulted in my being in a locked ward for two weeks. I was forced to wear a hospital suit. They took away the key and prohibited me from going to the library. I had to promise not to go to the city and the doctor apologized and explained that they had to punish me or otherwise he would be fired.
Usually after a decision is made to release a patient, the person is freed within two months. But my time went on and on. Finally, I demanded to know what was going on and they answered that the judge is busy, the court session would be in 2 days. Then they would say that the judge is sick, in 3 days, they said there were other participants, etc. etc. My release continued to be delayed for months and I was in a terrible state. Finally, in January, 1977, I was released.
I started to look for documents as I had to get my papers back in order to work. Month after month, they couldn't be found. Finally I applied for a new passport but there continued to be excuses as to why it wasn't ready. After many months, I lost patience and wrote a letter to the KGB. And I found out that my documents were there absolutely illegal. They did it to have an opportunity to speak to me after my release. They told me how I should live to avoid new imprisonment. I said that I would live as I wanted. They agreed to give back documents anyway. My passport had expired and I had problems getting a new one. Without the passport I couldn't get a job. This was done even though I was not on the psychiatric register.
On October 28, 1977, I was at my house with friends and saw an ambulance with police. A neighbor pointed me out and they asked if it was me. But I said "no", because the police had said my name slightly incorrectly. I released the dog and he attacked the police. I thought of escaping from the back yard but knew that they would find me. My mother came home then and she was an ambulance doctor - one of the directors of one of the ambulance stations in the city. She knew the doctors who came and persuaded them to leave and promised that the next day, we would go to the chief psychiatrist himself. They left and we celebrated my birthday - then wrote two letters to Chief Psychiatrist of the city from my mother and from me. We wrote that psychiatric abuse for political reasons is illegal and if I had had schizophrenia from the age of 17, it would be visible by now. I don't know whether the letters affected the Cheif Psychiatrist but they called my mother and invited us to his office. I was promised that I would not be detained and not be forced back to the hospital. I believed him and went to see him and we spoke for a long time. Afterwards, the Chief Psychiatrist said that they will never hospitalize me by force BUT I had to go to the psychiatrist in my region to be put on the register. From that moment, I was put on the register. Every month, I had to check in with the doctor who would ask me how I felt, if I needed help, etc. It was only a formality. In 1978, the KGB wanted to hospitalize me but the Chief psychiatrist refused to do it. They didn't find any psychiatrist who would order this commitment. There was great pressure on the doctors but none gave in. They said that if they were forced to admit me, they would do so for two days and release me I was deprived of my rights until 1983. I was released in 1977 and was without work for a year - and needing to support my small daughter and pay for their home. Later in Feb. 1978, my father helped me to get a job as a gardener in the tuberculosis sanatorium. I got the disease myself and it was in the advanced stage by 1981. Later, I got a job as an artist in the stadium in March 79. The KGB didn't know about it, when they found out, they were furious: they kicked me out and put a special stamp in my worker's identification (labor book) that I was deprived of a job because of violation of discipline, etc. This showed that I was first fired because of a court decision and then because of violation of the discipline. No one would hire me. Friends helped me get a job as a postman. Then I was a night guard for a long time. The KGB harassed me at any job I got and then told me that if I behaved in the right way, I could get a job according to my profession and they wouldn't hamper me.
From 1983 to 1987, I worked as an economist in a factory until I left for Moscow. There I was a journalist since fall of 87 in "20th Century and Peace." In 1988, I started a "Coordination Center for Informal Political Clubs in the Soviet Union." Then I created a Political Research Center within a Cooperative and was Director of Civil Society for Soros Foundation. In 1992, I started work as Director of the Analytical Center for Ministry of InterEthnic Relations. Then on December 12, 1993, I became a Duma member. At the same time, I am still Director of the Institute of Humanities and Political Studies.
I have not studied psychiatric abuse enough to make a serious conclusion as to whether there is a danger of this practice starting again. But, to my mind, there is no possibility for serious psychiatric repressions and I have no reports on such cases in all years as a Parliament member. I was a member of the Commission on the surveillance places, prisons and could have easily received complaints at that time but there were none.
My detentions and time in psychiatric hospitals seem to have had no lasting effects on me. I had prepared myself for such possibilities and it was a short and relatively easy time there. I have met two of the KGB guards in the city on different occasions and they shake my hand and are very pleasant. As a person, I feel ok about the experience.
In the very beginning of my dissident activities, I refused to work with those who considered themselves as victims and who wanted to destroy the regime because it destroyed their lives, etc. They described me as one who sacrificed himself for justice. I never felt as a victim. If one feels as a victim, he/she cannot be successful doing political work. If I lived in a different way and had not been in prison, it would mean that I had not fulfilled my duty. I have lived as I had to live. Thus, how can I be a victim?
Dissidents go to prison because of their assumed responsibility and to be punished for actions they feel they must take. They violate common law because they don't agree with it. I perfectly understand why they punished me. I had to be ready to pay for my disobedience and only if I pay that price, changes in society will be justified. My fate is not a sacrifice, it is a fee for the changes, payment for these changes, a condition for changes.
If you enter the process, you accept responsibility. A victim is not responsible for anything. Victims are those who are illegally repressed.
My experience in the psychiatric hospital convinced me that chemicals used for treatment are absolutely insufficient - true treatment should be connected to compassion. One has to be close to another and speak to them... I believe that treatment with words is more helpful than treatment with drugs. There is only one problem with this belief- talking therapies are very expensive. The Odessa Psychiatric Hospital had 1050 patients and 1100 personnel. This is sort of an industrial medical approach. Our professionals would need much higher skills in order to provide the type of treatment that our patients need. Russian society can hardly afford it. Putting patients into big hospitals is like putting them onto chemical leashes. I saw the suffering of patients every day subjected to huge injections and what it does to them: laying in beds, moving as sleepy flies, practically they became bees and not human beings. When they felt better for a while, they looked as very talented people... I had a very good friend who was a very good chess player - a patient... When I left the hospital, he gave me a textbook for chess playing. I remember him fondly until now... I knew him before - a strange man and at times was unable to control himself but he was inclined to conflicted personality. It was horrible seeing how he was treated in the hospital - it was very sad for patients there.
There were many among the dissident community who treated the personnel in psychiatric hospitals as "murderers in white suits." They blamed them and saw enemies in them. For me, it was more important to see human beings in them who are also put into difficult situations... My life was joined together with theirs. As part of my work, I told them that psychiatric hospitals are used for political repression. I explained that this is wrong and should not be done. Many tried to help the patients as much as they could without getting themselves into too much trouble. If I called them criminals, I could not have had this result.
Mr. Igrunov is a Deputy of the Russian State Duma (The Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation) where he is Vice-Chairman of the Committee for Commonwealth of Independent State Affairs and Relations with Compatriots. He is also Director of the Independent Institute of Humanities and Political Studies.
Great appreciation is expressed to Andrei N. Mironov, a Russian human rights activist, for his simultaneous interpretation during this interview.
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