Fanon’s Moscow observations

Alice Cherki, a friend and colleague of Frantz Fanon, writes in her memoir:

Fanon went to Moscow in mid-January 1961. He had put on some weight, and his white cell count was substantially lower… [Dr. Michel] Martini remembers that Fanon came back expressing a great interest in the achievements of the Soviet Union. I remember him as being more circumspect, however, particularly where social problems were concerned. “The Russians and the Ukrainians,” he said, “see the Chechnyans and even the Georgians as barbarians.”

While Fanon may have exaggerated the prevalence of this view in 1961, it’s remarkable that he detected it and shared his findings with a friend. Nowadays, this attitude – “down there, they are mostly barbarians” – seems rather widespread among relatively well-educated Russians, although the more polite the company you keep, the less likely you are to hear a passionate defense of such views.

He was disappointed that his meetings with Soviet psychiatrists had been so cursory and that the authorities, using his poor health as a pretext, had refused to authorize more substantial encounters. The only psychiatric establishment he had been permitted to visit did not meet his approval. “Their system relies primarily on confinement, and there are no open clinics,” he protested.

That “psychiatric establishment” must have been considered one of the best in the country at the time. From the early 1960s, the Soviets started practicing “penal psychiatry,” subjecting dissidents to painful, humiliating and sometimes destructive “treatment” to “cure” them of their nonconformism. Fanon couldn’t have been aware of these abuses but he had rightly noted the system’s reliance on confinement, a prerequisite for them.


  1. Aren’t Georgians highly respected for their culinary and artistic traditions?

    • In Soviet times, some Russians enjoyed Georgian cuisine, appreciated Georgian art and admired Georgia’s intelligentsia but found the mores and customs of its common folk, especially of small-town and/or mountain dwellers, backward and violent. After Saakashvili’s reforms, many Russians found a grudging respect for Georgian society. It’s a developing story.

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