Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 18

In what could have been the final issue of the pro-democracy twice-weekly publication Novaya Gazeta (no. 41, June 10), the award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya, in an article entitled “The Chastisers: The Very Same Doctor Who Imprisoned [Soviet] Dissidents in Prison Psychiatric Hospitals Has Lifted Responsibility from Colonel Budanov,” reported that the recent ruling by the Serbsky Institute in Moscow that Colonel Yury Budanov had been temporarily insane at the time that he strangled a young Chechen woman, El’za Kungaeva, in March of 2000, was due largely to the efforts of Dr. Tamara Pechernikova. Pechernikova, who has served as a psychiatrist at Serbsky for fifty-two years, “was the doctor who, after representations made by the KGB, interrogated [Natalya] Gorbanevskaya in the Serbsky Institute [in 1969] and then produced the required medical verdict: Gorbanevskaya was determined to be a schizophrenic, socially dangerous, and was ordered to undergo mandatory treatment in a psychiatric hospital of the special type.” Politkovskaya interviewed the completely sane Gorbanevskaya by telephone concerning the incident.

Another leading Soviet dissident determined to be insane by Pechernikova in the 1970s was the well-known activist Aleksandr Ginzburg. Politkovskaya interviewed Ginzburg’s wife by telephone concerning the case. She also spoke with Vyacheslav Igrunov, currently a deputy of the Russian State Duma and member of the Yabloko faction, who was arrested in 1976 for distributing copies of The Gulag Archipelago and was then diagnosed by Pechernikova as being insane, said to be suffering from “sluggish schizophrenia.” Igrunov related to Politkovskaya that, following Pechernikova’s diagnosis, he had been forcibly interned in a cell together with criminally insane persons and had remained alive only by a miracle. “In the crimes of the KGB-FSB,” Politkovskaya summed up, “over the past three decades they have been aware that Pechernikova would not let them down.”

What, Politkovskaya went on to ask, has been the effect on Russian soldiers serving in Chechnya of Pechernikova’s “absurd” diagnosis concerning Budanov? “The army has been waiting: would there be a precedent at the trial [of Budanov] in Rostov-on-Don? Could one behave as Budanov did? Pechernikova has said to them: ‘You can’…. On May 22, to take one example, in Argun, a sympathetic 26-year-old elementary school teacher, Svetlana Mudarova, was carried off at dawn by [Russian] soldiers from her home at 125 Shalinkskaya Street. Like El’za Kungaeva, Budanov’s victim, she was jammed into an armored vehicle while still wearing slippers and a bathrobe. For two days, the soldiers did everything they could to conceal the location where they were keeping the kidnapped teacher. On May 31, her mutilated body was tossed into the ruins of one of the houses in Argun…. To this Pechernikova has said: ‘Yes, you can do it.'”