Serbsky Center

Serbsky Center

The Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry (Russian: Госуда́рственный нау́чный центр социа́льной и суде́бной психиатри́и им. В.П.Се́рбского) is a psychiatric hospital and the main center for the forensic psychiatry of the Soviet Union and Russia. The institution was briefly called the Serbsky Institute in the past and is briefly called the Serbsky Center now. Its hospital got a lot of negative publicity because many Soviet dissidents were incarcerated and tortured there.



A part of the institute building in Moscow

The Institute was organized in 1921. The institute is named after Russian psychiatrist Vladimir Serbsky. One of the main stated purpose of the institute is forensic psychiatry for the criminal courts. Moscow Serbsky Institute conducts more than 2,500 court-ordered evaluations per year [1].

The Institute also claimed leadership in studying different types of psychosis, brain trauma, alcoholism and drug addiction. Among the celebrities treated there of addictions was Vladimir Vysotsky [2]. The last director of the Institute (1990-2010) was Tatyana Dmitrieva [3]

Instrument of psychiatric repressions

In the Soviet Union, dissidents were often declared the mentally ill.[4]:9 Practically in all cases, dissidents were examined in the Serbsky Central Research Institute for Forensic Psychiatry[4]:78 which conducted forensic-psychiatric expert evaluation of persons brought to justice under political articles.[4]:30 Certified, the persons were sent for involuntary treatment to special hospitals of the system of MVD of the Russian Federation.[4]:30 In 1960s and 1970s, the trials of dissenters and their referral for “treatment” to special psychiatric hospitals of the system of MVD came out into the open before the world public, and information of “psychiatric terror,” which the leadership of the institute was flatly denying, began to appear.[4]:41 The majority of psychiatric repressions date from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.[4]:30

Alexander Esenin-Volpin, Viktor Nekipelov, and Zviad Gamsakhurdia [1] were among the prisoners of Serbsky Institute. Gen. Pyotr Grigorenko was determined as insane in the Serbsky Institute because he "was unshakably convinced of the rightness of his actions" and twisted by "reformist ideas."[5]

The official Soviet psychiatric science also came up with the definition of "sluggishly progressing schizophrenia", a special form of the illness that supposedly affects only the person's social behavior, with no trace on other traits: "most frequently, ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure," according to the Serbsky Institute professors (a quote [6] from Vladimir Bukovsky's archives). Some of them had high rank in the MVD, such as the infamous Danil Luntz, who was characterized by Viktor Nekipelov as "no better than the criminal doctors who performed inhuman experiments on the prisoners in Nazi concentration camps".[7]

Recent years

The Center underwent many changes over the last 10 or 15 years and psychiatry is not used for suppression of dissenters anymore, the Center Director Tatyana Dmitrieva said. The rooms where Soviet dissidents were imprisoned are used only to treat alcohol and drug addicts now[2].

Many psychiatric trials were pursued in order to confirm the inability to understand of many high-rank officials in cases of rapes and murders, as occurred in Chechnya by Yuri Budanov (he was eventually charged for his crimes, after more than three years of trials).

On the other hand, Yuri Savenko, the head of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, alleges that "practically nothing has changed. They have no shame at the institute about their role with the Communists. They are the same people, and they do not want to apologize for all their actions in the past."[5] Attorney Karen Nersisyan agrees: "Serbsky is not an organ of medicine. It’s an organ of power."[5]

In the early 1990s, the Director of the Serbsky Center Tatyana Dmitrieva brought the required words of repentance for political abuse of psychiatry[8] which had had unprecedented dimensions in the Soviet Union for discrediting, intimidation and suppression of the human rights movement carried out primarily in this institution.[9] Her words were widely broadcasted abroad but were limitedly published in the St. Petersburg newspaper Chas Pik within the country.[8][9] However, in her 2001 book Aliyans Prava i Milosediya (The Alliance of Law and Mercy), Dmitrieva wrote that there were no abuses in psychiatry and if there were those, they were no more than in the vaunted Western countries.[9] Moreover, the mentioned book by Dmitrieva administers to the old and new national intellectuals the rebuke that professor Vladimir Serbsky and others were wrong not to cooperate with the police department because otherwise there would have been neither revolution nor bloodshed and that the current intellectuals are wrong to oppose the authorities.[9]

Recent controversies

Moscow Serbsky Institute conducts many court-ordered evaluations. Results of some of them are hotly disputed

  • When war criminal Yuri Budanov was tested there in 2002, the panel conducting the inquiry was led by Tamara Pechernikova, who condemned poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya. Budanov was found not guilty by reason of "temporary insanity". After public outrage, he was found sane by another panel that included Georgi Morozov, the former Serbsky director who declared many dissidents insane in the past.[5]
  • Serbsky Institute also made an evaluation of the alleged mass poisoning of hundreds of Chechen school children [10] Panel found that the disease was caused simply by "psycho-emotional tension". [11] [12]
  • There are numerous cases when people "inconvenient" for Russian authorities are imprisoned in psychiatric institutions in 2000s. [13] [14] [15]. Some of the these people were diagnosed at the Serbsky Institute.

Drop in the level of forensic expert reports of the Serbsky Center

In 2004, Yuri Savenko stated that the passed law on state expert activity and introduction of profession of forensic expert psychiatrist actually destroyed adversary-based examinations and that the Serbsky Center turned into a complete monopolist of forensic examination, which it had never been under Soviet rule.[16] Formerly, a court could include any psychiatrist in a commission of experts, but now the court only chooses an expert institution.[16] An expert has the right to participate only in commissions, in which he is included by the head of his expert institution, and can receive the certificate of qualification as an expert only after having worked in a state expert institution for three years.[16]

According to Savenko, the Serbsky Center has long labored to legalize its monopolistic position of the Main expert institution of the country.[17] It turned out to be a considerable drop in the level of its expert reports.[17] Such a drop was inevitable and foreseeable in the context of the Serbsky Center efforts to eliminate adversary character of the expert reports of the parties and then to maximally degrade the role of a professional as a reviewer and critic of a presented expert report.[17]

On 28 May 2009, Yuri Savenko wrote to the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev an open letter, in which Savenko asked Medvedev to submit to the State Duma a draft law prepared by the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia to address a sharp drop in the level of forensic psychiatric examinations, which Savenko attributed to a lack of competition within the sector and its increasing nationalization.[18]

On 15 June 2009, the working group chaired by the Director of the Serbsky Center Tatyana Dmitrieva sent the Supreme Court of Russia a joint application whose purport was to declare appealing against the forensic expert reports of state expert institutions illegal and prohibit courts from receiving lawsuits filed to appeal against the reports.[17] The reason put forward for the proposal was that appeals against expert reports are allegedly filed “without regard for the scope of case” and that one must appeal against an expert report “only together with a sentence.”[17] In other words, according to Yuri Savenko, all professional errors and omissions are presented as untouchable by virtue of the fact that they were infiltrated into the sentence.[17] That is cynicism of administrative resources, cynicism of power, he says.[17]

The draft of the application to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation was considered in the paper “Current legal issues relevant to forensic-psychiatric expert evaluation” by E.Y. Shchukina and S.N. Shishkov[19] focusing on the inadmissibility of appealing against an expert report without regard for the scope of evaluated case.[17] While talking about appealing against “reports”, the authors of the paper, according to lawyer Dmitry Bartenev, mistakenly equate reports with actions of experts (or an expert institution) and justify the impossibility of “parallel” examination and evaluation of actions of experts without regard for the scope of evaluated case.[17] Such a point of view taken by the authors appears clearly erroneous because abuse by experts of rights and legitimate interests of citizens including trial participants, of course, may be a subject for a separate appeal.[17]

In 2010, when the outpatient forensic-psychiatric examination of Yulia Privedyonnaya, a member of a youth organization, was carried out in the Sebsky Center, its experts asked her the question “What do you think of Putin?” that Savenko called an inappropriate, unseemly, indelicate, and police one.[20]

In fiction

In 1976, Viktor Nekipelov published in samizdat his book Institute of Fools: Notes on the Serbsky Institute[21]:147 documenting his personal experience at Psychiatric Hospital of the Serbsky Institute.[22]:86 In 1980, the book was translated and published in English.[23][24]:312 Viktor Nekipelov, a well-known dissident poet, was arrested in 1973, sent to the Section 4 of the Serbsky Institute of Forensic Psychiatry for psychiatric evaluation, which lasted from 15 January to 12 March 1974, was judged sane (which he was), tried, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment.[25] In his account, he wrote compassionately, engagingly, and observantly of the doctors and other patients; most of the latters were ordinary criminals feigning insanity in order to be sent to a mental hospital, because hospital was a ‘cushy number’ as against prison camps.[25] According to the President of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia Yuri Savenko, Nekipelov’s book is a highly dramatic humane document, a fair story about the nest of Soviet punitive psychiatry, a mirror that psychiatrists always need to look into.[26] Only in 2005, the book was published in Russia.[26][27]

In the 1983 novel Firefox Down by Craig Thomas, captured American pilot Mitchell Gant is imprisoned in a KGB psychiatric clinic "associated with the Serbsky Institute", where he is drugged and interrogated to force him to reveal the location of the Firefox aircraft, which he has stolen and flown out of Russia.[28]


  1. ^ Official Site (Russian)
  2. ^ a b Article about the Institute in Newsru (Russian)
  3. ^ Biography of Tatiana Dmitrieva (Russian)
  4. ^ a b c d e f (Russian) Коротенко, Ада; Аликина, Наталия (2002). Советская психиатрия: Заблуждения и умысел. Киев: Издательство «Сфера». ISBN 9667841367. 
  5. ^ a b c d Glasser, Susan (Dec 15, 2002). "Psychiatry's Painful Past Resurfaces in Russian Case; Handling of Chechen Murder Reminds Many of Soviet Political Abuse of Mental Health System". The Washington Post.,+2002.  Translation of the article into Russian: "Болезненное прошлое российской психиатрии вновь всплыло в судебном деле Буданова". 2002-12-15. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  6. ^ Applebaum, 2003
  7. ^ Applebaum, Anne (2004). Gulag: a history. Anchor Books. ISBN 1400034094. 
  8. ^ a b (Russian) Светова, Зоя (2007). "Злоупотребление психиатрической властью в России — свидетельствует пресса". Nezavisimiy Psikhiatricheskiy Zhurnal (№ 2): 87–89. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d (Russian) Савенко, Юрий (2004). "Тенденции в отношении к правам человека в области психического здоровья". In Новикова А. Права человека и психиатрия в Российской Федерации: Доклад по результатам мониторинга и тематические статьи. Москва: Московская Хельсинкская группа. ISBN 5984400073. 
  10. ^ A mysterious illness moves along the roads and makes frequent stops in schools (Russian) - by Anna Politkovskaya, Novaya Gazeta, 2006.
  11. ^ What made Chechen schoolchildren ill? - The Jamestown Foundation, March 30, 2006
  12. ^ War-related stress suspected in sick Chechen girls - by Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2006
  13. ^ Speak Out? Are You Crazy? - by Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2006
  14. ^ In Russia, Psychiatry Is Again a Tool Against Dissent - by Peter Finn, Washington Post, September 30, 2006
  15. ^ Psychiatry used as a tool against dissent - by Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, October 2, 2006
  16. ^ a b c (Russian) Савенко, Юрий (2004). "Отчетный доклад о деятельности НПА России за 2000-2003 гг.". Nezavisimiy Psikhiatricheskiy Zhurnal (№ 2). ISSN 1028-8554. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j (Russian) Савенко, Юрий; Бартенев, Дмитрий (2010). "Психиатр и юрист о новой инициативе центра им. Сербского". Nezavisimiy Psikhiatricheskiy Zhurnal (№ 1): 85–86. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  18. ^ (Russian) Савенко, Юрий (2009). "Открытое письмо Президенту Российской Федерации Д.А. Медведеву". Nezavisimiy Psikhiatricheskiy Zhurnal (№ 2): 5–6. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  19. ^ (Russian) Щукина, Елена; Шишков, Сергей (2009). "Актуальные правовые вопросы судебно-психиатрической экспертизы". Российский психиатрический журнал (Издательская группа "ГЭОТАР-Медиа") (№ 6): 24–28. ISSN 1560–957X. 
  20. ^ Савенко, Юрий (2010). "«Как Вы относитесь к Путину?»". Nezavisimiy Psikhiatricheskiy Zhurnal (№ 1): 93–94. Retrieved 31 July 2011. 
  21. ^ Bloch, Sidney; Reddaway, Peter (1977). Psychiatric terror: how Soviet psychiatry is used to suppress dissent. Basic Books. pp. 177. ISBN 0465064884. 
  22. ^ Jena, S.P.K. (2008). Behaviour Therapy: Techniques, Research and Applications. Sage Publications. pp. 86. ISBN 0761936246. 
  23. ^ Nekipelov, Viktor (1980). Institute of fools: notes from the Serbsky. Farrar, Straus, Giroux. ISBN 0374177031. 
  24. ^ Keefer, Janice; Pavlychko, Solomea (1998). Two lands, new visions: stories from Canada and Ukraine. Coteau Books. pp. 312. ISBN 1550501348.,M1. 
  25. ^ a b Lader, Malcolm (26 July 1980). "Prisoners of psychiatry". The British Medical Journal 281 (6235): 298–299. PMC 1713856. Retrieved 4 February 2011. 
  26. ^ a b Савенко, Юрий (2005). ""Институт дураков" Виктора Некипелова". Nezavisimiy Psikhiatricheskiy Zhurnal (№ 4). Retrieved 4 February 2011. 
  27. ^ (Russian) Некипелов, Виктор (2005). Институт дураков. Барнаул: Изд-во организации «Помощь пострадавшим от психиатров».  (The Russian text of the book in full is available online on the website of Aleksandr Belousenko’s Library by click)
  28. ^ Thomas, Craig (1983). Firefox Down. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0553170953. 

See also


  • Antébi, Elizabeth (1977). Droit d'asiles en Union Soviétique. Paris: Julliard. ISBN 2260000657. 
  • Applebaum, Anne (2003). Gulag: A History. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-7679-0056-1. 
  • Boulet, Marc (2001). Dans la peau d'un.... Paris: Seuil. ISBN 2-02-038072-2. 
  • Fireside, Harvey. Soviet Psychoprisons. 

External links

Coordinates: 55°44′26″N 37°35′16″E / 55.740605°N 37.587866111111°E / 55.740605; 37.587866111111

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