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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Under Hypnosis

I recently witnessed a hypnosis session conducted by Dr. Vladimir Raikov at the State Center for Preventive Medicine. The patients all seemed so weak and defenseless, but there was no reason to worry about them: They were being treated by a doctor who is world-famous in scientific circles. In general, however, very few people who practice hypnosis professionally in Russia have medical qualifications. While looking at the faces of Raikov's patients and then listening as one woman told me about how she is constantly afraid to interact with people, I could not help but think of other scenes I have witnessed -- entire halls filled with people nodding their heads, laughing and crying while deep in hypnotic trances. I recalled the eyes of the children, fanatically and greedily soaking up every word of the preacher or ekstrasens. These people, just like the woman I met at Raikov's office, could not deal with their problems themselves. The only difference is that they made a mistake in choosing their "father and teacher." It is a mistake that Russia has made before, sitting glued to the television while the famous psychic Anatoly Kashpirovsky demonstrated the ability of a single personality to dominate completely the psyches and consciousnesses of others. There have been other such cases in recent times, and for some reason I also kept thinking about Vladimir Zhirinovsky's success in last year's elections. All of this must be considered against the background of a downtrodden people, sick with all sorts of real and imagined illnesses and not knowing what to do with their new freedom. Of course they are tempted to give up control to anyone, no matter what they say, as long as they sound confident and promise to solve everyone's problems. Such leaders -- who know how everyone should live and what needs to be done -- are always easy to find. One reason is that hypnotism, psychology and para-psychology are still not sufficiently studied and, therefore, they seem mysterious -- especially to our unenlightened masses. Together with the sense of mystery comes the sense of a force that "will come and change everything for the better." All you have to do,then, is convince the people you have some supernatural gift that can make them feel better, and they will be yours. It is a primitive scenario, but it happens all the time. Russia is the perfect place for it. Wherever people want to be hypnotized, they certainly will be. Here people actually can't live without it: After all, when a caged bird gains its freedom, it does not know how to find food for itself and it dies. Or it returns to the cage. In the center of Moscow, one of the most famous hypnotism schools in Russia is doing a booming business. Its founder, Gennady Goncharov, is not the least bit embarrassed by the fact that he has no medical background. His school was registered seven years ago without any particular problems with the government. During those seven years, the school has graduated 10,000 people, all of whom now possess hypnotist's diplomas. Goncharov says that 70 percent of his students are "new Russians," the directors of Moscow's stores and businesses. The school's credo is that hypnosis is useful in any field: If you are a doctor, use it in your practice. If you are a businessman, use it in your business. This logic is very attractive to the new Russians, who are trying to increase their profits by any means. In general, those who are accepted by the school are strong, healthy, outgoing people who are natural leaders. Nonetheless, Goncharov is convinced that people who learn hypnosis do not learn to attack others, but to defend themselves, although one would think that it is the weak and sickly people the school politely turns away who are most in need of defense. Even Goncharov worries that when you give a person a weapon "as powerful as the atomic bomb," you might be opening the door to trouble. Goncharov, by the way, also helps advertising firms prepare television commercials. The phenomenon of hypnosis has always intrigued, frightened and attracted people, long before the first scientific studies were conducted at the beginning of the 19th century. Rumor, debate, speculation has always surrounded hypnotism, whether it takes the form of a shaman's dances, gypsy fortunetelling, the research of Freud or the charisma of Hitler. Hypnotism is clearly more than just a medical matter. In the hands of one hypnotist, it can become a tool capable of healing the sick; in those of another, it can cause those very illnesses, madness or even death. Under hypnosis, a person may begin to play the cello like Rostropovich or to draw or write poetry. A killer can be instructed to murder, though it is well known that someone who would not otherwise murder cannot be made to murder even under the deepest hypnosis. That means that hypnosis is not all-powerful and a person can rise above it and be stronger than it. In Russia, this is not the case. Here, hypnosis has become a way of life. Either hypnotize or be hypnotized. Either attack or defend yourself. Either steal or go begging.But what is the government doing about this? If only a clear law were passed regulating the activity of all these half-baked hypnotists and allowing only licensed medical specialists to practice hypnosis, the country would be spared this amateur interference in healthcare. Of course in Russia, which has never had great respect for the law, such legislation might be poor protection. They say that as soon as a person begins to accumulate some capital, buy some property and to feel protected by civilized laws, he or she also begins to feel truly free inside. He does not need to rely on others. If this is so, then the most effective "medicine" for Russia's psychic dependence and social infantilism is rapid reform, the development of a market economy and a democratic society. With luck, Russia will be able to cure itself. Natalya Gamayunova is a reporter for Vek. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.