Survivor of the Psychiatric Gulag


Survivor of the Psychiatric Gulag Memoirs By Petro Gngorenko Translated by Thomas P Whitney Norton 462 pp SI9 95 Reviewed by Harvey Fireside Author, "Soviet Psychoprisons" Here is a...

...Survivor of the Psychiatric Gulag Memoirs By Petro Gngorenko Translated by Thomas P Whitney Norton 462 pp SI9 95 Reviewed by Harvey Fireside Author, "Soviet Psychoprisons" Here is a "confession" by an author who "believed in Communist ideas and later served them fanatically " He is a remarkable man who rose from peasant roots to become amajor general of the Red Army A fervent Party member since age 19, he was driven by the injustices he witnessed to a persistent questiomng of the regime and, in his 60s, to a central role in the human rights movement in Moscow At 75, Petro Gngorenko, now stnpped of his citizenship and exiled m New York, still yearns for "the community in which I lived in the Soviet Umon, whose spirit I could always feel, even in the asylum " General Gngorenko is known to Amencans as the survivor of five years in some of the worst Soviet mental hospitals, or psychopnsons The "pliable psychiatrists" who do the KGB's bidding at the Serbsky Institute of Forensic Psychiatry twice declared him insane But his rationality was attested in 1969 by a commission of Tashkent psychiatrists, in 1972byayoung Jewishpsychi-atnst, Semyon Gluzman, who has just completed a 10 year sentence for "anti-Soviet activities", and most recently, in 1979, by a medical team at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital that concluded, "We could find no evidence of mental illness in Gngorenko nor could we find evidence in his history consistent with mental illness in the past ' There is nothing crazy about Gngo-renko's life, as told here Indeed, his courage, discipline and devotion to a cause represent the standard ingredients of a successful military career Until the advent of World War II, he had earned only commendations—for his mastery of military engineering, for his top grades at the General Staff Academy, for his bravery in skirmishes against the Japanese in 1939 Then, an offhand remark dending the policy that had left the Soviet Air Force a passive target for Hitler's blitzkrieg cost him arepnmand in his Party dossier The stain was washed clean by his War record on the Ukrainian front and by an abiding faith in Stalin's military gemus After the War, Gngorenko was appointed head of the Scientific Research Branch at Frunze Academy, Russia's West Point, where he pioneered the study of cybernetics He had learned to swallow doubts about politics No matter that the peasants of his native Ukraine were suffenng from an "artificial famine" designed to bring them on their knees into collective farms, that he directed "one of the most flagrant instances of barbansm in our age" by blowing up Russian Orthodox churches, that his comrades disappeared in the Great Purge as "enemies of the people " When buffeted by such horrors, Gngorenko clung to a belief in the wisdom of the kollektiv as superior to that of the In Coming Issues Phoebe Pettmgell on Stephen Sondy's "Riding to Greylock" and Donald Revell's "From the Abandoned Cities' Brian Thomas on Jacques Barzun's "A Stroll with William James' individual, in the ability of the Party to correct its mistakes He allayed any remaining qualms by filing complaints through channels In 1939, he took a report on tortures at the NKVD's Zapo-rozhe prison all the way to Chief Prosecutor Andrei Vishinsky, leaving convinced that "Moscow was struggling against them " Only much later did he comprehend that his appeal had played into the hands of the Lavrenti Bena faction that was taking over the secret police In the upper strata of the Soviet elite, where Gngorenko found life "quite comfortable," rationalizations were the norm The unforgivable act was going public with one's misgivings about the regime Gngorenko crossed that line when he warned a Party meeting in 1961 of the impending "repetition of the personality cult " Condemned as "politically immature," he was sent to do penance on a tour of the Far East During his Moscow leaves, though, he distributed leaflets for the the "rebirth of Leninism " So articulate a critic could not be allowed the forum of an open court The KGB ordered the Serbsky doctors to certify Gngorenko to the Leningrad psychopnson There, with his fellow inmates, he found the first chance to discuss politics freely, to undergo a "spmtual rebirth" and to discard lifelong "Communist habits and ideas " Released after Nikita Khrushchev's ouster and forced to eke out a living as a porter, Gngorenko educated himself in the practice of public dissent He participated in civil nghts protests, supported the Prague Spnng of 1968, and fought for the return of the Crimean Tatars from their Central Asian banishment Inl969,hewasluredto Tashkent by the KGB, rearrested and committed to four more years at the Chernya-khovsk psychopnson The final chapters relate his harrowing ordeal without self-pity, reflecting his faith in "a new generation not infected with fear " His story serves to rebut official Soviet claims that psychiatry is never bent to political ends, or that former patients who emigrate invariably end up in Western mental hospitals Careless translation has allowed some howlers to mar the text (among them the rechnstening of Dr Gerard [Gary] Low-Beer as Harry Lauber, and DerStern as Shterri) If readers are willing to overlook these errors and a few awkward passages, they will discover a fascinating account of a Soviet hero whose shabby treatment by his government has not dimmed his hopes for the humane transformation of his homeland...

Vol. 66 • June 1983 • No. 12

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