In parts of Eastern Europe, mentally ill kept under wraps
International Herald Tribune
Across Eastern Europe, laws deprive mentally ill adults of all rights to make decisions, regardless of their differing abilities. Guardians decide where they live, how to spend their money, how they use their property rights or access courts, and even determine their relationships. Often, they are sent to large state institutions forever.
A two-year study of guardianship systems in eight countries found jail-like regimes for patients suffering from a wide range of mental disabilities, from mental illness to intellectual disability. The Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) estimates that one million people in Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union are subject to "significant, arbitrary and automatic" violations of human rights.
"We call it civil death," said Victoria Lee of the MDAC. "Once you are under guardianship, that's it. You basically become a non-person."
Chaotic legislation, unclear standards and ineffective judiciaries mean that it is relatively easy for a family member to have someone with a mental illness or intellectual disability placed under guardianship - simply to get control over his or her assets. "It's not for riches," said Aneta Genova, a lawyer from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. "It's usually for little things, like using a room in an apartment, or renting or selling a property."
A typical story is that of identical twin brothers Kiril and Metodi Mitsev. They have schizophrenia and were sent to a bleak institution, a bone-jarring six-hour ride from Bulgaria's capital Sofia, in 2000. Their brother Julian, appointed their guardian by a court, has never visited. Without his permission, they can not leave the area except on group excursions, and can not change homes.
According to documents kept by the home, the brothers own shares in two buildings and land in Kyustendil, as well as an apartment in Sofia. But their only income is about 40 Bulgarian levs, or $28, per year from their elderly father's pension.