Archival and Memory Studies

The Usage of Repressive Psychiatry in the Soviet Union - Case of Petre Meunargia, Placed in the Psychiatric Clinic

08 September 2020

In the Soviet Union, various forms of coercion were used for political repression: violation of the right to life, damage to health, imprisonment, exile, expulsion from the state, forced placement in a psychiatric institution, deprivation of citizenship, forced labor, confiscation and destruction of property, illegal dismissal, placement in special settlements, Eviction, various restrictions on human rights or freedoms, which were carried out by the Soviet state for political reasons. This was done by the decision of a court or other state body and was related to false accusation of a crime, a person's political opinion or resistance to the existing political regime, and social, class or religious affiliation. [1]


Since the 1950s, following the implementation of Khrushchev's policy of softening, the scale of repression from the Stalin era decreased and its forms changed. However, one of the most severe forms of repression—forced treatment in psychiatric institutions—gradually became more common in the Soviet Union. Article No. 58-10 of the Stalin-era Criminal Code, known as "Anti-Soviet Propaganda," was retained in the revised Criminal Code of 1958 as Article No. 70, titled "Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda." These articles were often utilized to justify psychiatric diagnoses. According to the theoretical framework established by academician Andrei Snezhevsky [2], any non-conventional thinking or beliefs deviating from the norm could easily be labeled as criminal offenses and serve as grounds for psychiatric diagnosis. [3]


Placement in a mental institution was one of the most severe punishments, as it involved the use of cruel methods: sulfazine injections, insulin coma therapy, and prolonged therapy with neuroleptics—all aimed at "curing" patients of anti-Soviet views. Patients were often subjected to beatings by both nurses and criminals selected from regular prisons for forced labor in mental institutions. Disobedient individuals were wrapped in wet clothing, which would constrict upon drying, causing unbearable pain. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many political prisoners recounted these and other brutal methods in their memoirs, with most bearing permanent scars. [4]


Member of the Association of Psychiatrists of Ukraine, former dissident and political prisoner S.F. Gluzman accuses the Soviet state of using psychiatry for political purposes, for which this field has become a punitive tool. Here he also emphasizes the indifferent attitude of the state, because the treatment of psychiatric diseases was not regulated at the legislative level until 1988. Soviet psychiatry was completely separated from world psychiatry and did not share the achievements of science. Gluzman also notes that doctors, like the majority of citizens, did not have a sense of justice. In his opinion, the terrible condition of hospitals led to the dehumanization of medical personnel and doctors. Such staff often showed unethical and even cruel attitude towards patients. As one example, a Ukrainian psychiatrist cites statistics according to which 37 out of 52 Soviet psychiatrists surveyed agreed to the use of sulfozine, a neuroleptic banned in other countries.[5]


It is impossible to determine the exact number of people affected by repressive psychiatry, since statistics have never been published, but the number of people examined by the Serbian Institute of Forensic Psychiatry gives us a certain picture: for every 1 examined suspect who was not convicted under Article No. 70 ("anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda") included 40 suspects who were tried under this article. Accordingly, the percentage of people who were given a psychiatric diagnosis among dissidents and political prisoners was much higher than among people convicted under other articles. [6] 


It was the practice of repressive psychiatry that was used in the 1950s against Petre Meunargia, a citizen of the Georgian SSR and a communist figure.


Petre Meunargia


At different times, Petre Meunargia was the former chairman of the district council, an employee of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the deputy chairman of the Red Cross of the Republic and the deputy chairman of the Supreme Court. On March 5-9, 1956, he took part in the anti-Soviet demonstration, personally compiled 9 anti-Soviet bulletins, which he distributed with the inscription - "Liberation Committee". According to the decision of the Supreme Court of the SSR of Georgia, Petre Pavlovich Meunargia was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment on July 12, 1956.


Petre Meunargia was deported to Russia, to the "Dubravlag" labor camp located in the village of Yavas of the Autonomous Republic of Mordovia. Even there, he did not stop his public activity, and on his initiative, an illegal organization - "Committee for the Liberation of Georgia" was founded. This committee developed the "Charter for the organization of the future Georgia".


On February 5, 1957, the Security Committee of the Mordvetian SSR received information about the convict Meunargia, M. Kipiani, I. Kukhianidze and Bibileishvili, and on March 6, 1957, they were searched. Meunargia and Kifiani were brought to Tbilisi.


On May 28, 1957, the Criminal Law Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR decided to terminate the criminal case against Petre Meunargia. However, just one month later, he was sent to the Surami psychiatric hospital for forced treatment. 


According to the decision of the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR on November 20, 1958, the other convicts involved in the Meunargia case were each sentenced to 10 years and subsequently returned to Dubravlag. Declared insane, Meunargia was initially sent back to the camp, and later transferred to a psychiatric hospital for forced treatment. Between December 25, 1958, and May 10, 1959, he resided in the hospital under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR, located in the city of Kazan. [7]


On April 18, 1959, the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR decided to cancel the forced treatment of Meunargia, and on May 10 of the same year, he was released. Petre Meunargia returned to Tbilisi, where he passed away in 1972 at the age of 84.


Nestor Tsanava, Kuchu Chikovani, Petre Meunargia and Simon Tsanava - 1917


In 1990, the case of Petre Meunargia was reconsidered by the Prosecutor's Office of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia. Within the case, numerous interesting details emerged regarding Petre Meunargia's involvement in the events of March 1956. Enclosed is the letter from the Prosecutor of the SSR of Georgia, dated February 21, 1990, wherein he concludes that there were no indications of criminal activity in Petre Meunargia's actions. We provide the translation of this mentioned letter from Russian: 


The former archive of the Security Committee of Georgia - Archive Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Department I, Fond No. 6, File No. 5620, Box No. 10.

To the Criminal Law Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR.


Petre Pavlovich Meunargia was born in 1888 in the village of Kheta, Khobi municipality. He was a former member of the Communist Party since 1917, had a secondary education, was married, had no previous convictions, and was retired. He resided at 185 Soviet Street, Tbilisi. 


He was convicted under the first part of Article No. 58-10 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to eight years of hard labor in a camp, followed by a three-year deprivation of the right to vote.


Before the trial, he underwent examination by forensic medical experts, who determined him to be sane. The report noted that during his activities in March-April 1956, he exhibited no signs of insanity; only the initial manifestation of cerebral vascular sclerosis was observed.


On May 28, 1957, Meunargia was re-examined by a forensic psychiatric medical expert at the Asatiani Scientific-Research Institute of Forensic Psychiatry in Tbilisi, after which he was declared mentally insane.


On June 28, 1957, the Criminal Law Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR made the decision to terminate the case against Petre Meunargia, sending him to Surami psychiatric hospital for forced treatment.


On August 25, 1958, Meunargia underwent examination by experts from The Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. His criminal activities during 1956-1957 were deemed to be a result of insanity, warranting forced treatment and isolation in a special psychiatric hospital. 


On September 29, 1958, following a protest from the prosecutor's office, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR annulled the verdict of July 12, 1956, which sentenced Meunargia to exile in a labor-correction camp for 8 years, followed by a deprivation of the right to vote for 3 years. The case was remanded to the court for reconsideration and to implement medical measures.


On November 20, 1958, the Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR decided to place Meunargia in a special psychiatric institution for treatment, pursuant to Article 10 of the Criminal Code.


According to the verdict of the Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Georgian SSR, Petre Meunargia was found guilty of systematically composing and sending anonymous letters to party and Soviet bodies, containing strongly anti-Soviet-nationalist and slanderous content against the Communist Party and the Soviet state, following the mass riots that occurred in Tbilisi on March 8 and 9, 1956, until the day of his arrest.


In his anonymous letters, he expressed grief over the exposure of Beria, the enemy of the people. He called on the masses to separate Georgia from the Soviet Union.


During the mass riots of March 8-9, 1956, he hung a flag from the balcony of his house and attempted to speak on the radio. However, he did not wait for his turn and returned home. From the balcony, he encouraged the riot organizers and urged them to disobey. 


From the case materials, it is evident that Meunargia pleaded not guilty, although he admitted to creating and sending anonymous letters himself.


The only witness questioned at the court was N. Lebanidze-Agladze, who portrayed Meunargia in a particularly positive light. Additionally, Lebanidze-Agladze stated that they did not see the flag hanging from Meunargia's balcony or hear any calls to the riot organizers.


In his autobiography, written testimony during the preliminary investigation, he praised Lenin in his letters and poems as "a man who created a new, unrepeatable life, made of billions of parts of humanity ... He was a great internationalist from head to toe ... He was simple and humane " etc.


He also glorified Stalin, considering him a genius. "His relationship with Lenin was a prototype of the relationship between Engels and the great Marx... He did not deviate from Lenin's path, although he had big and small mistakes, although such a titanic work could not be carried out without mistakes... Especially since everything was appreciated, everyone applauded him, He was praised, exalted to the sky, and no one allowed himself the right to criticize even when a gross error was exposed"... Later he wrote "the people who raised the personality cult of Stalin to the sky, declared him a leader, a sage, a hero, a marshal and even a generalissimo, after his death, trampled him underfoot, attacked his work and leveled it to the ground, thereby rejecting their own exaggerated assessments."


In his letters, Meunargia criticized the electoral system, the eviction of people from their homes, expressed outrage at the harassment of the old Bolsheviks, objected to the wrong appointment of cadres, lamented the low political level of the population, criticized the incorrect system of taxation, pointed out the poor performance of the press, and decried the ignorance of democratic principles, among other issues. 


Along with fair criticism, he overestimated Stalin's role, saying "that all the comrades went to Stalin's side, worked with him collectively, raised him to the sky, made him a supernatural person, and while he was alive, no one criticized or warned about anything... A great man died and the persecution of the deceased and his nation began, which resulted in March 9 - the bloody day”.


Meunargia explained the creation and distribution of anonymous letters as follows: "...I had two options for this - to declare openly or anonymously, I chose the more possible option - anonymity. That's because at that age I kept myself from going to jail."


Meunargia sent anonymous letters and poems to party and Soviet organizations under pseudonyms such as the "Liberation Committee," "Voice of Tbilisi Industrial Workers," and "Bulletin 1, 2, 3," among others. These anonymous letters were addressed to institutions including the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR, the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, as well as to entities in Armenia, the Union of Writers of the Georgian SSR, and the Rustaveli Drama Theater. In these letters, Meunargia expressed his displeasure with the events that occurred in Tbilisi on March 8 and 9, 1956.


"On March 9, 1956, the uncrowned king of Great Russia, Nicholas III (referring to Nikolai Bulganin), shattered the hopes and faith of the Georgian people. He indiscriminately shot dozens and hundreds of people at a peaceful mourning rally near the monument of the great leader of the people, Stalin, in the city of Tbilisi. To conceal the traces of this unprecedented bloody crime, dozens of the deceased were callously thrown into the Mtkvari river. Such cynicism is unparalleled in world history. Nicholas III and his lackey Nikita (referring to Khrushchev) executed hundreds because of Stalin. The Georgian people will no longer tolerate the mockery from these individuals and from the degenerate son of the Armenian nation, Mikoyan (who betrayed Transcaucasian Lenin - Shaumian)".


In his anonymous letters, explanations, and poems, alongside valid criticism of the Soviet system in our republic, as well as individual leaders of the party and the government, he engaged in immature, false, unhealthy, and superficial discussions of current events in our country. His personal evaluations, thoughts, and views lacked a revolutionary character in their content and direction. He did not distribute these anonymous letters to the population but instead took them to the leadership of the party and Soviet bodies, believing that they would become aware of the events occurring in the republic and take appropriate measures. Thus, there is no evidence in the case indicating that Meunargia was hostile to the Soviet government and engaged in anti-Soviet agitation. On the contrary, there is evidence in the case suggesting that he was a genuine Bolshevik, who worked honestly and conscientiously throughout his life.


Based on the above, according to Article 35 of the "Law on the Prosecutor's Office of the USSR":


I request 


that the judgment of the Supreme Court of the SSR of Georgia of June 12, 1956 and all subsequent court decisions be changed and the case against Petre Meunargia be terminated due to the absence of signs of guilt in his actions.


Prosecutor of the Georgian SSR, V.A. Razmadze”.


In total, Petre Meunargia spent almost two years in psychiatric hospitals, from June 28, 1957, to May 10, 1959. Hanging the flag at the demonstration and writing letters expressing displeasure to the Soviet leaders resulted in the most severe punishment for him. 


Also, Meunargia's case is a visible example of how merciless the regime created with Stalin's direct participation was even towards people who glorified the "leader" until the end of their lives, including in prison. Such a paradoxical attitude towards the figure of Stalin has always existed among the Georgian population, and even today, compared to other post-Soviet countries, the rate of positive attitudes towards the figure of Stalin is the highest in Georgia. One of the main reasons for this is that with the direct participation of Stalin himself, during his rule, his cult was significantly intertwined with Georgian nationalism. That is why, to this day, the number of people in Georgia who worship a person whose established regime was so merciless to even his staunchest allies is not so small.



You can read the original archive document translated in the article here.



[1] Law of Georgia: Recognition of Georgian citizens as victims of political repression and social protection of the repressed. https://matsne.gov.ge/ka/document/view/31408?publication=11 


[2] Andrei Snezhevsky (1904-1987) - Russian academician and the director of the Institute of Forensic Psychiatry named after Professor Serbsky. He developed the concept of the so-called "flowing schizophrenia" (Вялотекущая шизоферния), which was widely used in Soviet repressive psychiatry.


[3] Kovalyov, Andrei [Андре Ковалёв]. Взгляд очевидца на предысторию принятия закона о психиатрической помощи [View of the eyewitness to the backstory of the adoption of the Mental Health Law]. Nezavisimiy Psikhiatricheskiy Zhurnal [The Independent Psychiatric Journal]. 2007 [Retrieved 28 February 2014];(№ 3):82–90. Russian.


[4] Richard J., Bonnie L.L.B. Political Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union and in China: Complexities and Controversies.The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 2002. Vol. 30, no. 1. P. 136—144.


[5] https://neuronews.com.ua 


[6] «Новое время» (1991, № 5, С. 32)


[7] Collection: «Словарь диссидента», Грузинский раздел, unpublished.

You can read the original of the translated document in the article here.