Development of Lithuanian Psychiatry 1918 – 1940

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Arunas Germanavicius

7th May 2009; Goethe Institute Riga, Latvia.

This lecture offers an analysis of the development of Lithuania’s psychiatric services between gaining its independence in 1918 and the Soviet occupation of 1940. Psychiatric services in Czarist Russian territories belonging to Lithuania had been underdeveloped, and in 1903 the only major regional psychiatric hospital was in Naujoji Vilnia (Vileika), a suburb of Vilnius. But its role eroded during the First World War when it served as military base.

Similarly damaging to the emergence of Lithuanian psychiatric infrastructure was Vilnius’ occupation by the Polish army in 1920. So there was only one, if dilapidating, psychiatric institution in Lithuania after 1918, namely the Taurage mental hospital established by German forces on premises not suited to a hospital in the first place. Professor Juozas Blazys was the spiritus movens of Lithuanian psychiatric services, as well of academic psychiatric research, and who led this hospital and held the Chair for Psychiatry at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas City. It was through his efforts that the Lithuanian government started to develop other local psychiatric hospitals. He was an outstanding researcher, clinician, and networker having attended all major psychiatric congresses in Europe and US. He was intimately familiar with the psychiatric research and conceptual foundations of his time, and published many articles, most of them in the scientific journal “Medicina”, debating issues such epidemiology, social determinants and prevention of mental disorders. Among others, J. Blazys also supported the idea of sterilizing mentally ill people. However, he only modestly supported ideas on racial psychiatry advanced by German researchers (Munich institute). Major books by prof. Blazys were his “Textbook on psychiatry” and “Tolerance as principle of culture”, in which he supported humanist and liberal European values, opposing the prevailing totalitarian ideas and intolerance of his time.

Working Group in the History of Race and Eugenics

 

 

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