Vladimir Bukovsky – the man who saved many political prisoners from psychiatric experiments

Goran Lefkov

Vladimir Bukovsky was one of the most famous whistleblowers in the former Soviet Union. His heroic deed is that in the 1970s he handed over 150-page documents to Bill Cole, a CBS News correspondent in Moscow. The documents he handed over described in detail the psychiatric torture inflicted on dissidents and communist freedom fighters by the then-Soviet KGB. The actions took place in the Psychiatric Hospital in Leningrad at that time, and the dissidents and the citizens who did not agree with Brezhnev’s regime were killed. They were locked up healthy in the same rooms with mentally ill patients and were poisoned with psychiatric drugs without knowing it.

Knowing that he had no right to leave the USSR, the then dissident Vladimir Bukovsky contacted the CBS News correspondent in Moscow. As Bukowski was under constant surveillance by the Russian secret services, they agreed to go on a picnic with their families in a forest near Moscow, where Bukowski handed over the documents to Bill Cole and gave him a video interview. It was later broadcast on television, but it took three months for the video to be smuggled out of the USSR and into the United States.

Written material about dissident abuses was published on March 12, 1971 in The Times, as written documents sent by the French human rights group. The same materials were published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

With these materials, at the meeting of the World Psychiatric Association in November 1971, Bukovsky addressed and demanded an investigation into the abuse of 6 people. For several years the media exerted strong pressure on the World Psychiatric Association, after which, at its sixth congress in 1977, it was decided to investigate nine cases of false psychiatric diagnosis by several Soviet psychiatrists. The investigation ended in 1983, with the decision that Soviet psychiatry was to blame, and they left the membership of the International Psychiatric Association to avoid exclusion.

Vladimir Bukovsky was arrested on March 29, 1971, imprisoned and sentenced to 2 years in prison for degrading Soviet psychiatry, and later in 1976 was deported from the USSR and exchanged with the imprisoned General Secretary of the Communist Party of Chile, Luis Corvalan. The exchange took place at Zurich International Airport.

He later lived in Western Europe, earned a master’s degree in Biology from the University of Cambridge and died there in 2019.

He held several honorary positions as a whistleblower, and in 1977 he was a guest at the White House and then-US President Jimmy Carter.