Soviet-era psychiatry in new issue of Cahiers du Monde russe

The new issue of Paris-based journal Cahiers du Monde russe includes two articles on psychiatry in the region during the Soviet period:

Sarah Marks ‘From Experimental Psychosis to Resolving Traumatic Pasts: Psychedelic Research in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1954-1974/ De la psychose expérimentale à la guérison des traumatismes du passé  : la recherche psychédélique en Tchécoslovaquie communiste, 1954‑1974’

Drawing on research papers, archives and scientific memoirs, this paper reconstructs the psychedelic research projects developed in Prague between 1954 and1974, situating psychiatric research in Communist Czechoslovakia within the transnational context of Cold War science. It traces attempts to induce experimental psychosis as a means of exploring the aetiology of schizophrenia; as well as the resilience of psychoanalytic theory and practice in Czechoslovakia, illustrated by approaches to psychotherapy using LSD as an accelerant. Time – and the subjective experience thereof – formed a fundamental part of the psychotherapeutic process, and the researchers explicitly utilized hallucinogenic drugs to actively manage patients’ memories of their own past within the controlled environment of the clinic and the therapeutic relationship. The use of pharmacological and psychological techniques to control experiences from the patient’s history for therapeutic purposes fitted into a wider progressive project for the improvement of human subjectivity itself: they appeared to offer a utopian method for revisiting and ultimately curing trauma. Ultimately, psychedelic research resonated with broader interests of socialist modernity, which was concerned with facilitating future human potential, and the use of science and technology to further social progress.

Gregory Dufaud ‘Quel usage des thèses pavloviennes en médecine? Schizophrénie, incertitudes scientifiques et psychiatrie en Union soviétique/ The use of Pavlov’s theories in medicine: schizophrenia, scientific uncertainty and psychiatry in the Soviet Union’

This article deals with psychiatric interpretations and uses of Pavlov’s theories. The author shows that the choice to base psychiatry on Pavlov’s theses was not self‑evident. It was made because it seemed likely to turn psychiatry into a modern specialty on par with other medical specialties or biological disciplines in terms of its truth regime. At stake in the redefinition of psychiatry were recognition and legitimacy concerns related to both the discredit that psychiatry had long suffered and the competition with physiology: as of the late 1920s, physiologists started to question psychiatry’s ability to apprehend mental illness and explain human functioning objectively. As it progresses, this study of the advent of physiological psychiatry shows the interrelation of production of knowledge, institutional reconfigurations and moral values.


CFP: Religion & Medicine Conference, Birkbeck, University of London 15-16 July 2016

This conference will explore the relationship between religion and medicine in the historic past, ranging over a long chronological framework and a wide geographical span. The conference’s focus will be primarily historical, and we welcome contributions which take an interdisciplinary approach to this topic.

Four main themes will provide the focus of the conference. The sub-themes are not prescriptive, but are suggested as potential subjects for consideration:

1. Healing the body and healing the soul
• Medical traditions: the non-natural environment and the ‘passions of the soul’.
• Religious traditions (for example, the Church Fathers, sermons and devotional literature).

2. The religious and medicine
• Medical knowledge and practice of religious personnel, including secular and regular clergy.
• Nurses and nursing.
• Medical practitioners, religious authorities and the regulation of medical activity and practice.

3. Religious responses
• Religious responses to epidemics, from leprosy to plague to pox and cholera.
• Medical missions in Europe and the wider world.
• Religion, humanitarianism and medical care.

4. Healing environments and religion
• Religious healing, miracles, pilgrimage.
• Institutional medical care (including hospitals, dispensaries and convalescent homes).

Proposals, consisting of a paper abstract (no more than 300 words) and a short biography (no more than 400 words), should be submitted to by 30 October 2015. We will respond to proposals by early December. For more information please visit our website, and follow us on Twitter: @RelMedConf2016.

Psychiatry in Communist Europe – out today!


CEEHM Network fellow editors Sarah Marks and Mat Savelli have put together a wonderful and groundbreaking volume in the Mental Health in Historical Perspectives series of Palgrave. This is the first book to address the history of psychiatry under Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union to East Germany. It brings together new research addressing understandings of mental health and disorder, treatments and therapies, and the interplay between politics, ideology and psychiatry. It challenges assumptions about the extent of political control, exploring beyond the instances of punitive abuse of psychiatry, and recognizing the international exchanges which informed the development of research and practice in the region.

More details and full review to follow. Until then, sign up to get your copy hot off the presses at the publisher or Amazon!

Cow Horn Cupping in Croatia

Healing spas have a long tradition in Central and Eastern Europe, being used to alleviate a range of conditions from tuberculosis to infertility to depression. Although they fell somewhat out of vogue during parts of the twentieth century, the renaissance of what our biomedical culture calls “complementary and alternative medicine” has hastened the revival of many old spa towns. With the proliferation of discount flights from Western Europe, many small towns across the region are banking on medical tourism to help bolster otherwise flailing regional economies.

About 50 km from Zagreb in the region of Zagorje (perhaps best known as the county that gave birth to Tito), lies the village of Krapinske Toplice. Reputedly known as Aquae Vivae during the Roman era, the village’s thermal springs prompted the construction of its first bath in the mid-17th century. The first recorded account of the local waters being used medically stems from the early 18th century when a Viennese physician by the name of Stockhammer visited.   Within the Habsburg scientific and medical community the region’s reputation began to grow, prompting Baron Heinrich Johann Nepomuk von Cranz (a botanist and physician obsessed with mineral waters) to conduct chemical analyses of the springs.

It was not until the mid-19th century, however, that word of Krapinske Toplice truly began to spread. Much of the credit for this is owed to a man called Jakob Badl, himself a beneficiary of the famous waters which seemed to have cured his sciatica. In response, Badl bought the local pools, set up a hotel and restaurant (the Bellavue), and built the area’s first hospital, a building capable of housing 75 patient-clients at a time. From this point forward, the village’s famous waters became known as something of a top health destination, appearing in European tourist literature of the time. Beyond the Austro-Hungarian elite, a substantial number of people travelled from France and Italy in the hopes of solving their ailments.

Although foreign medical tourism declined during most parts of the twentieth century, the Socialist-era government attempted to prop it up by building the “Rudarskom” hotel (with indoor thermal pools) and opening the Special Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation. The clinic employed a number of social workers, psychologists, and “defectologists” (specialists in the study and treatment of physical and mental disability in children – a field perhaps most commonly associated with the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky), becoming something of a centre for mental and emotional wellbeing.

The village is still best known for its spas and Jakob Badl’s pioneering work in medical tourism has not been forgotten; he is held in such high esteem that the village now celebrates Badlfest (yes, for real) and modern tourists can even visit his mausoleum.

These undated (20th c.) photos are from the Wellcome Collection. They are described as being from the village’s “peasant spa” and some feature the practice of cupping through the use of cow horns.

‘The Perils of Peace: The Public Health Crisis in Occupied Germany’ is now Open Access

Jessica Reinisch’s The Perils of Peace has just been published as an Open Access monograph. You can download the full pdf from the OUP catalogue for free, here:


In The Perils of Peace Jessica Reinisch considers how the four occupiers – Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States – attempted to keep their own troops and the ex-enemy population alive. While the war was still being fought, German public health was a secondary consideration for them: an unaffordable and undeserved luxury. But once fighting ceased and the occupation began, it rapidly turned into an urgent priority. Public health was then recognized as an indispensable component of creating order, keeping the population governable, and facilitating the reconstruction of German society.

But they faced a number of problems in the process. Which Germans could be trusted to work with the occupiers and how were they to be identified? Who could be tolerated because of a lack of alternatives? How, if at all, could former Nazis be reformed and reintegrated into German society? What was the purpose of the occupation in the first place?

This is the first carefully researched comparison of the four occupation zones which looks at the occupation through the prism of public health, an essential service fundamentally shaped by political and economic criteria, and which in turn was to determine the success or failure of the occupation.

Hidden Persuaders: Histories of Brainwashing and the Psy-disciplines during the Cold War at Birkbeck, University of London

The Hidden Persuaders research group at Birkbeck, University of London headed by Daniel Pick have recently launched their website, blog and a series of events.


On the 3-4th of July they will host a conference, ‘Brainwash: History, Cinema and the Psy Professions’:

“Early cinema had frequently explored the hypnotic processes it was accused of inducing. But the intersecting fears of mind control at the movies and in the consulting room seemingly entered a new stage of complexity with the Cold War. New theoretical and visual languages of ‘brainwashing’ emerged, and the ideas of Pavlov and of Freud were often placed side by side. In the decades after 1950 (the year in which the word ‘brainwashing’ was coined), film further explored subliminal interference. Roles for ‘psy’ experts working for shadowy organisations were to feature, and the dangers of psychological experiment returned again and again.

Visions of ‘conditioning’ and ‘programming’ resonated on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Work such as Shivers (1981) by the Polish filmmaker Marczewski explored the communist indoctrination of young people. In the West, films such as The Mind Benders (1963), The Ipcress File (1965), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Parallax View (1974) played upon conjoined political and psychological terrors of brainwashing.  Most famous, ironic, and perhaps most imitated of all works in this tradition was The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Meanwhile, many specialist commentators in the human sciences explored the vulnerability of the ‘captive mind’, considered the psychic effects of ‘totalitarianism’, the nature of induced desires and manufactured anxieties, advertising, not to mention extreme sensory experiences (and deprivation) in shaping behaviour and thought. The limits of an individual—or a group’s—capacity to remember, to will, to know, and to organize were probed; and terms such as ‘regression’ and ‘automatism’ gained a substantial new purchase.

In this workshop we ask whether the Cold War obsession with brainwashing was a break with past narratives and anxieties over mental manipulation and suggestion. We consider how far cinema, television and video have been caught up in this history of hidden or coercive persuasion, and how far they have changed the terms of debate. What forms of human experimentation inspired interest in brainwashing, and vice versa?  And how and why did depictions of automatism on screen so often connect to fears of the ‘psy’ professions?”

Tickets are abailable here:

Albert Maysles 1955 documentary “Psychiatry in Russia”

American documentary film-maker Albert Maysles died this week, after a long and auspicious career. Although perhaps best known for his films of the counterculture era made with his brother David – and in particular Gimme Shelter (1970) which followed the Rolling Stones during their US concerts in the late ’60s – Maysles first documentary from 1955 was made after a visit to Soviet ‘mental hospitals’. It remains one of the few films to document clinical practice and training in Soviet psychiatry of the era, including footage of Pavlovian ‘electro-sleep therapy’.

The New York Times published Maysles’ obituary this morning.

Call for Papers: The history of health and disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945

 Institute of National Remembrance and Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences invite you to participate in the international conference “The history of health and disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945”, which will take place in Warsaw, 14-15 October 2015.

The material destruction, difficult sanitary conditions, poverty, as well as infectious disease epidemics collecting a heavy toll are important phenomena, often overlooked in the historiography, describing the post-war reality of Eastern Europe.

A new political order, introduced in this part of the continent, also covers the issue of health care. Some of the basic questions to be discussed during the scheduled conference are: to what extent, however, was the theme of universal, free access to health care put into practice in the second half of the twentieth century, what problems were encountered while implementing the reforms of the health care system by the end of the 80s, and how they were perceived by ordinary people.

The history of health and disease constitutes a relatively new field of historical research and it focuses, inter alia, on issues such as health policy of the state (the idea of public health), living conditions, and public health awareness. Issues related to health and disease refer to the particularly delicate sphere between the private and the public life. Therefore, research on the historical circumstances refers to a number of significant problems both in the field of social policy as well as within the scope of everyday life and mentality.

How in the postwar period (but also before the war) the concepts of health, disease, cleanliness, and dirt were defined in the culturally diverse European societies, and to what extent they have undergone transformations in the second half of the twentieth century; what influenced the directions and pace / dynamics of cultural as well as awareness and mental changes, – these are additional questions and problems we would like to focus in the discussions planned.

Other issues to be discussed during the conference include:

  • Health policy of communist states
  • Sanitation and quality of life
  • Awareness and health education
  • The health status of the citizens of the people’s democracy countries
  • The health care institutions and their activities in practice
  • Excluded groups? War invalids, mentally ill, the disabled
  • Aging of the population
  • The phenomena of medicalization
  • Transformation of civilization and health issues
  • Occupational diseases, occupational medicine and OHS in socialist factories
  • Problems of in-patient and out-patient health care
  • Adaptation practices and health habits
  • The social position of doctors and medical / hospital staff
  • Patient and the total institution
  • Health – a public or a private sphere
  • Non-medical treatment

We are also open to other suggestions regarding the discussion of problems of the post-war history of health and disease in Eastern Europe. We invite both historians and cultural theorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and all researchers dealing in their work with issues falling within the framework of the planned program of the conference.

The conference will be held in Polish and English (with simultaneous translation). The organizers will cover the authors’ of the papers costs of stay (accommodation, meals) and the travel expenses will be reimbursed.

Please send the applications form to the address:

The deadline is 30 April 2015.

Please enclose the abstract of the paper (up to 300 words in Polish or English), a short CV of the author and a fragment of one of the previous publications (articles). The organizing committee will make the selection and notify authors by the end of May 2015. We plan to publish the conference papers.

The Cold War legacies of vaccination

Reposted from the original blog post on The Reluctant Internationalists:

Academic life, as I have learned, makes you painfully aware of the many different regimes of immunization across the globe. Moving between fellowships and jobs, our first son got his vaccines in four different countries – that means four distinct healthcare systems, vaccination schedules, payment structures and vaccination records in three different languages. I think it is safe to say that he has become a reluctant internationalist in his own way. As for us, parents, we pretty much did what we usually do in our working life. We spent hours after each vaccination appointment to analyze the microcosm of public health systems: the doctor-patient encounter. We have been fascinated by the carefully crafted pro-vaccination speech prepared by our American paediatrician, the kind, but firm approach of the German doctors, the inescapable abundance of posters and leaflets on vaccination in the British surgery, and the lack of any kind of publicity and a matter-of-fact discourse in the district paediatrician office in Hungary.

This personal experience has also made me particularly interested in the way childhood immunisation is conceptualised and the points when it is contested or even seems to break down, such as the current ‘anti-vaxx’ controversy prompted by the Disneyland measles outbreak. As I am currently finishing a chapter on debates surrounding the Salk vaccine in Eastern Europe in the 1950s, I started thinking about how communist public health officials would have made sense of debates like this.

An excellent analysis by Jennifer Reich, published in Gender& Society has brought up an important point that would surely have sparked the interest of the communist vaccinators. In this study Reich is speaking to a debate that, in broad brushstrokes, posits crazy and irresponsible people (mainly women) against rational and responsible parents, physicians and public health experts. Reich is arguing that the ‘anti-vaxxers’ are far from being ‘crazy’: in fact, they base their decision on time-consuming research and their choice reflects their social and economic privilege. Not only is this analysis important in understanding current American anti-vaccination movements and their consequences, it also makes clear that behind this potential public health crisis is the primary role of the patient-consumer and an interpretation of personalised medicine. According to Reich’s study, mothers who decided not to vaccinate their children were unconvinced by arguments that they should be participating in public health and expressed that their responsibility was to their own children, not others’. This is along the lines of what popular satirical outlets, such as The Onion have picked up on.

Responsibility for health was exactly the thing in the crux of Cold War attitudes towards public health. Eastern European party dignitaries and public health officials were always happy to boast that countries like Czechoslovakia and Hungary triumphed over polio years before the West and about a decade before the United States did. Their Western colleagues acknowledged the feat, and explained this with totalitarian state organisation – effective epidemic management tends to be authoritarian. The Eastern Europeans had a different explanation, however: the socialist model of organising public health, where prevention is seen as key to the health of the population, healthcare is available to all, vaccines are free, and the paternal state takes responsibility over children’s health. They pointed to the ‘backwardness’ of America for sacrificing the health of children to selfish and market-driven agendas.

Article detailing the Sabin vaccine campaign of December, 1959. Népszava, December 12, 1959. p. 1

With the end of the Cold War, we could dismiss this as a moderately interesting episode in history, but, as most things in the Cold War, such sentiments, experiences and ideologies have long-term effects. Traces of the Iron Curtain linger in vaccination coverage: measles, for instance, tends to appear in Western Europe much more than in the East. In 2011 of all measles cases in Europe, over 83% was reported from Western Europe, while Central and Eastern Europe accounted for less than 14% of them. According to data from 2013 by the WHO, inPoland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary the vaccine coverage for measles has been 98-99%, while in the US it is 91%, UK (after a dip to 81% in 2004) rising to 95%, France 89%.

Vaccine coverage of course is a marker of superiority only in Cold War rhetoric. It does not reveal much about the quality of healthcare, access to it, or the overall health of a population. Coverage rates can also quickly change due to political unrest and/or economic problems, like in Ukraine, where vaccination has hit critically low rates in the past decade. However, when comparing politically and economically stable countries in the Global North, this difference between East and West does reveal Cold War legacies and attitudes towards the responsibilities of citizens. In much of Eastern Europe, the state expects physicians and parents to comply with vaccination policies without much debate or contestation, and parents expect the state to provide free vaccine and to guarantee its safety. The ‘social’ in medicine is very much still present and high vaccination rates are still a point of pride for Eastern European governments.

Vaccine resistance is also not a phenomenon. Since there had been vaccines, there has been resistance to it – revealing a wide variety of reasons, usually connected with a much larger issues regarding power relations, distrust, religious integrity, etc. In some societies, like Britain, vaccine resistance has a long history, since the introduction of Jenner’s vaccine.But resistance to vaccines is not even something particularly Western, even if we limit our view to the Global North, although it is slightly more difficult to spot on the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain in the Cold War era. Archival sources give a glimpse of resistance to the Salk vaccine in Hungary, which had to do mostly with opinions that the state was not fulfilling its public health provider role adequately, either by following the ‘wrong’ method of injection, or supplying vaccine lacking in quality and quantity.


There are, of course, new aspects of today’s vaccine resistance in the Global North. Parents have easy access to information online and can establish ties with each other over social media. These ties and the flow of information does not stop at borders, making vaccine resisters at once national agents – in that they respond to a particularly local set of problems of state, public health and culture – and internationalists who participate in shared networks across the globe. Over 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the wind of change might finally reach public health organisation and vaccination in Eastern Europe. In Hungary, where vaccination is compulsory and free, the voice of vaccine critics seems to be growing steadily, drawing mostly on social media, supported by arguments based on translations from English language materials. With a healthcare system that perpetually seems to be on the verge of breakdown – another Cold War legacy -, questions of responsibility for health keep bubbling up to the surface. But for now, the legacy of a previous century is imprinted on my child’s body, who has moved with ease back and forth between East and West, unknowingly becoming a vaccine cosmopolitan.

UCL/BPS Seminar, 6pm 23rd February


Sarah Marks ‘Communist Psychiatries? Neurasthenia and Modernization in Czechoslovakia and East Germany’


The question of whether there was such a thing as a ‘Communist Psychiatry’ is still an unanswered historical question. In the Soviet satellites of Central Europe there were cases where psychiatric research and practice appeared untouched by ideology, such as the psychoanalytic LSD psychotherapy projects in Prague, or Karl Leonhard’s development of a genetic aetiologies of mental disorder in East Berlin. Yet there are other cases in which psychiatrists attempted to create an approach to mental health that accorded with the philosophies and priorities of the regime. This paper will examine one of the most coherent ‘Communist’ approaches to psychiatry in the region.

From the end of the 1950s a plethora of publications came out on the subject of neurosis and its prevention within medical research journals, as well as popular pamphlets and ‘lifestyle magazines’. Many actively continued…

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