Robert van Voren

"Cold War in Psychiatry: Human Factors, Secret Actors"

For 20 years Soviet psychiatric abuse dominated the agenda of the World Psychiatric Association. It ended only after the Soviet Foreign Ministry intervened. "Cold War in Psychiatry" tells the full story for the first time and from inside, among others on basis of extensive reports by Stasi and KGB - who were the secret actors, what were the hidden factors?

Based on a wealth of new evidence and documentation as well as interviews with many of the main actors, including leading Western psychiatrists, Soviet dissidents and Soviet and East German key figures, the book describes the issue in all its complexity and puts it in a broader context. In the book opposite sides find common ground and a common understanding of what actually happened.


Book details

Title: "Cold War in Psychiatry: Human Factors, Secret Actors"

Author: Robert van Voren

Language: English

Binding: Paperback

Page Count: 532

Publisher: Rodopi Editions

Publication Date: July 2010


Book Reviews

"This is a highly detailed account of a still incompletely understood chapter in Cold war and psychiatric history. As such it should be of interest to scholars working on those topics."

The Russian Review - Vol. 70, No. 4, October 2011

“The use of psychiatry to silence political dissenters was undoubtedly one of the most pernicious sides of the Soviet regime. No wonder that the leaders of perestroika believed that stopping this criminal practice was one of the most urgent priorities. Robert van Voren’s book is the very first full investigation of this problem. I highly recommend this book.”

Anatoly Adamishin, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR

“Robert van Voren writes history in an innovative, effective, and vivid way. He weaves into the story of Western responses to the abuse of psychiatry in the USSR his probingly personal interviews with key players. Apart from presenting a skillfully interwoven succession of personal and institutional dramas, this book will also be valuable to students of the varied ways in which international professional bodies succeed or fail at upholding ethical standards of behavior by their members. In sum, this fast-paced and readable book combines the fruits of painstaking archival research with episodes of high-voltage human interest. It's hard to put down.”

Peter Reddaway, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, George Washington University

"On Dissidents and Madness"

"On Dissidents and Madness: from the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev to the "Soviet Union" of Vladimir Putin" 

The book contains the memoirs of Robert van Voren covering the period 1977-2008 and provides unique insights into the dissident movement in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, both inside the country and abroad.

As a result of his close friendship with many of the leading dissidents and his dozens of trips to the USSR as a courier, he had intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of the dissident movement and participated in many of the campaigns to obtain the release of Soviet political prisoners.

In the late 1980s he became involved in building a humane and ethical practice of psychiatry in Eastern Europe and the (ex-) USSR, based on respect for the human rights of persons with mental illness.

The book describes the dissident movement and many of the people who formed it, mental health reformers in Eastern Europe and the response of the Western psychiatric community, the battle with the World Psychiatric Association over Soviet, and later, Chinese political abuse of psychiatry, his contacts with former KGB officers and problems with the KGB's successor organization, the FSB. It also vividly describes the emotional effects of serving as a courier for the dissident movement, the fear of arrest, the pain of seeing friends disappear for many years into camps and prisons, sometimes never to return.


Book details

Title: "On Dissidents and Madness: from the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev to the "Soviet Union" of Vladimir Putin"

Author: Robert van Voren

Language: English

Binding: Paperback

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Rodopi Editions

Publication Date:  May 2009


Book Reviews

“Robert van Voren has written an unusual and deeply engaging book. It is unusual, first, because it describes the efforts of reformers in most of the formerly communist countries to combat serious political abuses of psychiatry and then to update and humanize whole systems of mental health care. The book also stands out for the skill with which the author weaves into the narrative his memoirs about an unorthodox personal odyssey. He has long been a layman operating in, and ultimately honored by, multiple communities of doctors. It is this artful combination of themes that, propelled by the author's dynamic prose, engages the reader from the start. Remarkable, contrasting evolutions occur in the basic perceptions of individuals who come together from totally different worlds and, miraculously, interact. The resulting relationships can be both startling and moving. For example, a cold-blooded KGB officer comes to embrace humanitarianism, while a seasoned opponent of the secret police, the author, starts to see its members as vulnerable human beings capable of compassion and personal change. For all these reasons, van Voren's book is hard to put down. I recommend it to students of human nature and international affairs - without reservation.”

Peter Reddaway (Professor Emeritus of Political Science, George Washington University)

"Undigested Past: The Holocaust in Lithuania"

Robert van Voren gives historical background on Jews in Lithuania and socialism and delves into the origins of anti-Semitism in Lithuania. He describes Jewish life in Lithuania between the World Wars and looks at issues of compliance and collaboration during the occupation and the Holocaust in Lithuania. During WWII, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviets in 1940 and by the Germans in 1941. Lithuania's Jewish minority was totally exterminated during the war, along with Polish and Lithuanian citizens.

This book has been rightly considered one of the finest books on the Holocaust ever written, and although is primarily dedicated to Lithuania, nevertheless it covers other important areas of Europe and surely belongs to the must read essays for any European about the Holocaust tragedy. The author analyzes how psychological factors influence ordinary people to become mass murderers and why it is so difficult to accept the role of perpetrator in addition to that of victim.

By comparing the extermination of Lithuanian Jews with the extermination of the Jews in the Netherlands, and examining interlocking factors that led to the violence, the study seeks to understand and explain why the unbelievably tragic events of the Holocaust took place in Lithuania, a county hosting a large Jewish community for 500 years, and how these events influence the Lithuanian society still today.


Book details

Title: "Undigested Past: The Holocaust in Lithuania"

Author: Robert van Voren

Language: English

Binding: Paperback

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Rodopi Editions

Publication Date: June 2011


Book Reviews

"This is a most honest, balanced and tactful attempt to promote self-reflection and self-understanding in two nations involved in a brutal genocide. If you are a Lithuanian or a Jew, after reading this book you have no other choice but to redefine your personal identity in order to answer the questions: What does it mean to be a Lithuanian? What does it mean to be a Lithuanian Jew? I thought I knew the answers, but I was wrong."

Levas Kovarskis, Lithuanian psychoanalyst 

"As Lithuanians, we need to face the deep and painful reflections of the events highlighted in this remarkable book.  A great deal of work is needed on both sides to restore trust between Jews and Lithuanians and, for those not afraid to do so, reading this book is a very good first step."

Danius Puras, psychiatrist

"Despite the multitude of available works on the Holocaust, this admirably concise, yet detailed, volume will be an eye-opener for many - probably most - of its readers.  Particularly valuable is its comparative (not contrastive) survey of the behavior of many in Lithuania and The Netherlands during and after the Second World War. In no sense is this book 'anti-Lithuanian', for, as the author well realizes, it was not only the Jews in that country who suffered terribly under Nazi and Soviet occupation.  This monograph deserves a very wide readership, especially in Lithuania."

Martin Dewhirst, University of Glasgow, Scotland

about the Author

Robert van Voren (pseudonym of Johannes Bax) is a Sovietologist by education, a Honorary Fellow of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists and Honorary Member of the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association. He was also Permanent Representative of Ukraine in the Benelux for Humanitarian Affairs in 1994-1997, and in 2005 he was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for his work as a human rights activist. He is currently Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (Lithuania) and Ilia State University in Tbilisi (Georgia).

Starting in 1977 he became active in the Soviet human rights movement. For many years he traveled to the USSR as a courier, delivering humanitarian aid and smuggling out information on the situation in camps, prisons and psychiatric hospitals. The information was used in Western campaigns for the release of Soviet dissidents. In 1980 Robert van Voren co-founded the International Association on Political Use of Psychiatry (the predecessor of GIP) and became its General Secretary in 1986. He was Director of the Bukovsky Foundation/Second World Center in Amsterdam and board member of many organizations in the field of human rights and mental health.

Van Voren has written extensively on Soviet issues and, in particular, issues related to mental health and human rights, and published a dozen books. His most recent ones are On Dissidents and Madness (2009), Cold War in Psychiatry (2010) and Undigested Past – the Holocaust in Lithuania (2011).

Robert van Voren is also Chief Executive of of the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (GIP), an international foundation for mental health reform which took part in the campaign against the political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR. The GIP is a main contributor to improving psychiatric care in countries of the former Soviet Union as well as Central and Eastern Europe, and also focuses on the political abuse of psychiatry throughout the world and human rights monitoring, is headquartered at Hilvershum (the Netherlands), and as regional centers in Tbilisi (Georgia), Sofia (Bulgaria), and Vilnius (Lithuania), and a country office in Dushanbe (Tajikistan).

The Global Initiative on Psychiatry uses a local approach to helping the mentally ill in underprivileged countries around the world. In Robert van Voren’s words, their idea is that “mental health services should be locally empowered, locally adapted, community based, user oriented, and focused on keeping people with mental illness in society, instead of taking them out.

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