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Grigory Pasko: The Gulag Unconcious

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The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung wrote : “He who has achieved a perception of reality is inevitably solitary” [This is a translation of the Russian version of Jung’s essay “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man”. The standard English version reads somewhat differently: “The man whom we can with justice call ‘modern’ is solitary”–Trans.].  

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I first read these lines sitting in jail as a political prisoner of the Russian state.  In the gulag reality is somehow quickly perceived, literally with the skin. And also – by the state of health. I did not meet people who after jail would remain healthy for a more or less long-lasting period. My jail term ended with a cancerous tumor of the kidney. Luckily, German doctors removed it in time, and for now I survive.

But I well remember those conditions in which this and other aches and pains were acquired. And the fact that such incidents take place daily in Russian jails makes it impossible to forget.  It’s a shame that these incidences do not often become public knowledge nor rouse such interest in society as did the incident with the lawyer Sergey Magnitsky.


A lawyer for the well-known fund Hermitage Capital Management, Sergey Magnitsky, who was being charged with taxcrimes, expired in the hospital of the «Butyrki» investigative isolator.  The prisondoctors, I am confident of this, wanted to conceal the true causes ofthe death of the 37-year-old person. They failed.

First, lawyers hadpreserved the declarations of the investigatee. Second, he himself kept a diary (How well I understand him: prison solitude (it isinside, even in the presence of a dozen cellmates around you) forcesyou to seek ways of communicating with the world by means of just suchdiaries. I myself wrote them.).

It was reported that a pre-investigative check would be conducted basedon the fact of the death of Magnitsky. Maybe it even will be conducted.Only what will it change? I am confident that nobody of the jailerswill bear any punishment at all. Because it’s not they who need to bechanged, but the ENTIRE jail system of the Russian GULAG.

mag211509.jpgLord, how many times has it already been written-spoken about replacingthe system! But it, the bitch, doesn’t change. Why? Because each andevery time we contrive to place at the head of the system one of thosesame people, even though it be with different surnames. The GULAG forthese people – is inside their brains. They are – not even themiscarriages of this system, they are – its dear and beloved children.

It’s not the kalinins – reimers that should be heading the system ofRussian jails and camps, but such people as Valery Abramkin and AndreyBabushkin.

Noteworthy is the reaction of the investigator who was handlingMagnitsky’s case: he is found in shock from what has happened. Becausealready in December he was planning to take the case to trial. I knowthe psychology of such investigators: he is counting on a reward, butthe investigatee, the «ungrateful boor», goes and dies all of a sudden.One can take comfort in the thought that the next time around, thisgumshoe is going to show a bit of concern for the well-being of his«ward». Although… probably not: for such sleuths arrestees are -expendable material: one more, one less… The whole country is -potential Magnitskys.

The environment does not grant the personality the opportunity tobecome it at all, but merely reveals what had already been laid in it.“That’s the opinion of the psychiatrist Jung. Maybe he’s right. Maybenot. Because that environment which we call “the Russian penitentiarysystem” is capable all by itself of altering the consciousness of evena prepared person who has entered into it. Altering, it goes withoutsaying, for the worse.

The Russian prison environment – this is an illustration of theJungian collective unconscious: the existence of the system is basednot on the experience of a concrete person, but on the experience ofthe entire system as a whole. And you do remember the experience ofthis system? Read Shalamov,Solzhenitsyn…Magnitsky’s diaries…

Magnitsky tried to understand this system. But the system of thecollective unconscious did not yield to understanding. It never didbecome for Magnitsky an object of total perception.

A person dies in jail, sometimes never having understood: for what? and why?

He hadn’t even been convicted yet. Nobody had even found him guilty.

The whole horror of the Russian prison system is in that it deadenspeople until they become found guilty of at least something and untilthey learn to resist.

Of course, whether I wanted to or not, I remembered my own prisonpast. This was in the Vladivostok SIZO [investigative isolatorprison–Trans.], but what does it matter where specifically this was.This is everywhere!

For the greater part of the time, they held me in a solitary cell. Andfor the greater part of the time did not immediately remember aboutwhere they had seated me. Once this was a basement cell. A week beforesome new year, I caught a chill (as it later became clear, I hadbilateral festering otitis). Wild headaches, shivering, temperature… Adoctor did not come, and they did not lead me to him. On the eve of theholiday, I was the last thing on anyone’s mind. And after the holiday -all the more so. Ten days I suffered so much that I don’t even want tothink about it now. Then, when I began to come around again, and whenthe pain began to subside, they led me to a doctor. He started to saysomething about the necessity of tympanometry, an audiogram, theconsultation of an audiologist, antibiotics and alcohol compresses… Irecall that with some kind of flowery obscenity I brought him back toreality, to our dear unconscious. «Yes, yes, of course», the youngdoctor, not yet become completely brutalized from the jail environmentsurrounding him, forlornly mumbled.

Medical treatment in jail is always connected with difficulties. Andit’s not even about the absence of normal supply of prison hospitals:relatives will help, if they exist. It’s about the fact that not placedbefore the jailers by the state is the task: to answer with their hidesfor the life of the inmates.

This is why they couldn’t care less if a «patient» has died or if life still smolders in him.
After the incident with Magnitsky, immediately other news (about thiswrote «Novaya gazeta»): the rector [provost–Trans.] of Northern StateMedical University (SGMU), academician Pavel Sidorov since April of theyear 2009 is being held in the SIZO of Arkhangelsk on suspicion ofobtaining a bribe in an amount of 50 thousand rubles. Colleagues of therector assert that the bribe had been instigated. The gravely illperson is being held a seventh month in a SIZO, although the first daysafter the arrest Sidorov passed under convoy in the intensive care unitof the city hospital of Arkhangelsk with the diagnosis «hypertoniccrisis». From there they sent him off to jail, despite the fact that tothe cardiological and neurological problems, was added aggravation ofthe course of diabetes, which he had suffered from for more than 30years.

…No doubt someone else will write about such occurrences. Then,everybody’s going to forget these occurrences. Until the next such fact.

Horror doesn’t stick long in our heads: consciousness doesn’t allow it.And the collective unconscious doesn’t allow it even more so.

Photos of Magnitsky’s funeral are from «Novaya gazeta»