On Dissidents and Madness

From The Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev to the "Soviet Union" of Vladimir Putin


The book contains the memoirs of Robert van Voren covering the period 1977-2008 and provides unique insights into the dissident movement in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, both inside the country and abroad. As a result of his close friendship with many of the leading dissidents and his dozens of trips to the USSR as a courier, he had intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of the dissident movement and participated in many of the campaigns to obtain the release of Soviet political prisoners. In the late 1980s he became involved in building a humane and ethical practice of psychiatry in Eastern Europe and the (ex-) USSR, based on respect for the human rights of persons with mental illness. The book describes the dissident movement and many of the people who formed it, mental health reformers in Eastern Europe and the response of the Western psychiatric community, the battle with the World Psychiatric Association over Soviet, and later, Chinese political abuse of psychiatry, his contacts with former KGB officers and problems with the KGB’s successor organization, the FSB. It also vividly describes the emotional effects of serving as a courier for the dissident movement, the fear of arrest, the pain of seeing friends disappear for many years into camps and prisons, sometimes never to return.

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Robert van Voren (1959) became active as a human rights activist in 1977. In 1980 he co-founded the Global Initiative on Psychiatry-GIP (then called the International Association on the Political Use of Psychiatry) of which he is currently Chief Executive. GIP successfully campaigned to have the Soviets removed from the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) in 1983. In 1990-1991 GIP started to assist reform minded psychiatrists in the (former) USSR to humanize mental health care. Since then the organization has become active in forty countries in Central & Eastern Europe, the former USSR, Africa and South-East Asia. Robert van Voren was elected Honorary Fellow of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1997, Honorary Member of the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association in 2004 and was knighted in 2005 for his work as a human rights activist. In 2003 he was granted Lithuanian citizenship.
"Il s’agit d’un document exceptionnel, tant dans sa forme que son contenu, qui nous plonge dans l’histoire des abus politiques de la psychiatrie et dans l’histoire individuel de cet homme qui a décidé de consacrer sa vie à combattre ces abus malgré toutes les difficultés et toutes les déceptions. Un travail abyssal qui s’avère sans fin tel le tonneau des danaïdes." – in: Revue Européenne de Psychologie et de Droit, May 2012
"Robert van Voren has written an unusual and deeply engaging book. (…) Remarkable, contrasting evolutions occur in the basic perceptions of individuals who come together from totally different worlds and, miraculously, interact. The resulting relationships can be both startling and moving. For all these reasons, van Voren’s book is hard to put down. I recommend it to students of human nature and international affairs - without reservation." – Peter Reddaway, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, George Washington University
"The author of this book presents the picture that shows how in the broken empire, people accustomed to humility, fear and other attributes of slavery are learning to live in the space of freedom - freedom of responsibility, humanism and respect for human dignity. Robert van Voren personally participated in all these processes. He was so much involved in our situation and our problems that we seemed to forget that he was a foreigner." – Semyon Gluzman, former dissident and political prisoner
"Robert van Voren is the rare revolutionary leader who can continue to provide leadership in the complexity of a post revolutionary period. He also possess a superb capacity to write about these events in a most interesting fashion. Many readers will be deeply interested in learning about these important accomplishments." – Dr. Melvin Sabshin, Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association from 1974 to 1997 and an active participant in criticizing the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union
Foreword By Leonidas Donskis
Chapter 1: The Soviet Union on my mind
Chapter 2: The Soviet Union in 1980
Chapter 3: The world of couriers
Chapter 4: Campaigning for dissidents
Chapter 5: Demonstrating in Poland
Chapter 6: Playing “musical chairs” with the WPA
Chapter 7: The Soviet Union in 1985
Chapter 8: Sleeping behind my desk
Chapter 9: Intermission, and back to work
Chapter 10: The gorillas of Sakharov
Chapter 11: The mouse and the elephant
Chapter 12: Playing chess in Athens
Chapter 13: The Soviet Union in 1990
Chapter 14: The doors are opened
Chapter 15: Ukraine on the map
Chapter 16: The Romanian marsh
Chapter 17: Change of course in Bratislava
Chapter 18: From black and white to shades of grey
Chapter 19: From humanitarian aid to structural aid
Chapter 20: Romance with the WPA
Chapter 21: New style abuse
Chapter 22: A successful failure
Chapter 23: Renewed struggle with the WPA
Chapter 24: Into prison
Chapter 25: Becoming Lithuanian
Chapter 26: Reforming against the wind
Chapter 27: Looking back
Historical Data
Index of Names
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