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Russian term
психушка (slang)
Translit: psikhushka
English: psychiatric hospital
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Psikhushka ("психушка") is a Russian colloquialism for "psychiatric hospital". It has been occasionally used in English since the dissident movement in the Soviet Union became known in the West. In the Soviet Union, psychiatric hospitals were used by the authorities as prisons for forced treatment of political prisoners in order to isolate them from "normal" society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally. The official explanation was that "no sane person would declaim against Soviet government and communism".

Historians debate the circumstances of the origins of this practice, but there is evidence that it was used by the end of 1940s (see Alexander Esenin-Volpin), and it is generally believed that it was in wide use in the wake of the Khrushchev Thaw period in the 1960s. The official Soviet psychiatric science came up with the definition of "sluggishly progressing schizophrenia" (вялотекущая шизофрения), 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[1] 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".

The sane individuals who were diagnosed as "mentally ill" were sent either to a regular psychiatric hospitals or, those deemed "particularly dangerous", to a special ones, run directly by the MVD. The "treatment" included various forms of restraint, electric shocks, a range of drugs (such as narcotics, tranquilizers, and insulin) that cause long lasting side effects, and sometimes involved beatings. Nekipelov describes inhuman uses of medical procedures such as lumbar punctures as "treatments".

In 1971, Bukovsky smuggled to the West over 150 pages documenting abuse of psychiatric institutions for political reasons in the USSR. The facts galvanized the human rights activists worldwide, including inside the USSR.

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  1. ^  ISBN 0767900561 Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History, Broadway Books, 2003, hardcover, 720 pages
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