Why the Chernobyl disaster was recognized as “Soviet, not nuclear”
Why the Chernobyl disaster was recognized as “Soviet, not nuclear”

Global catastrophes in the history of mankind are becoming an increasingly important subject of attention of historians. Their long-term impact and consequences leave a noticeable mark in the minds of people, the fates of entire countries and peoples. It often overcomes national and continental borders.

One of such global disasters, undoubtedly, is the one that occurred on April 26, 1986, in Chernobyl. A significant stratum of scientific, journalistic, memoir and art publications has accumulated over 30 years after the Chernobyl accident. It has reflected the history of the largest technological disaster. The vast majority of them came from the pen of physicists, ecologists, physicians, and historians.

Chernobyl is not only a technical accident, but also a system catastrophe, which cannot be understood outside the socio-political context.

The relevance of the study is also due to the huge impact of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster on the socio-political life of Ukraine and the world. There was an accumulation of information about the accident, its consequences, the study of its causes in the last years of Ukraine’s stay in the USSR. The first studies were journalistic, applied and informational in nature. These were mainly articles of journalists admitted to the disaster zone, which reflected the official point of view. Much attention was paid to the heroism of the liquidators.

In subsequent years, books and articles of direct participants in the events saw the light of the day: V. Bryukhanov, A. Dyatlov, V. Legasov, as well as eyewitnesses to the liquidation of the accident such as police officers, firefighters, communal services, journalists, doctors. They shared memories of the tragic events of the first days of the nuclear disaster, mistakes and heroism of people.

The world’s reaction to the accident was extremely stormy

On the one hand, the first publications about the accident in the West were called upon to demonstrate the imperfection of communism. On the other hand, they had to show the advantages of Western capitalist society. For example, the World Anti-Communist League, used the Chernobyl accident to promote their ideas. Whereas in the works of scientists of the Ukrainian diaspora, the vision of Chernobyl crystallized as a “national tragedy” caused by the “stateless” status of Ukraine. They presented the Chernobyl accident as a harbinger of the collapse of the “Soviet empire”. It was an impulse to awaken Ukrainian society.

Attention was drawn to the classified information, despite the proclamation of publicity. Some publications spread panic. In particular, there were allegations that corpses were lying on the streets in Kiev. However, understanding and analysis of the catastrophe as a global phenomenon replaced ideological publications in the spirit of the Cold War.

Some authors made an anti-nuclear point of view. They accused nuclear power of the tragedy and cited the facts of the joint concealment of the consequences of the catastrophe by the nuclear lobby in the USSR and in the West, including through the IAEA.

A political scientist of Ukrainian descent T.Kuzio claims that “nuclear energy itself is not bad and not perfect, but Soviet inept handling of it.” Politicians convinced the population in the West that the Soviet state model, and not nuclear energy, was the main culprit of the disaster. Thus, they cultivated the view that such an accident is impossible in a capitalist society.

Foreign ideologists, citing examples of Soviet propaganda vividly demonstrated that the main concern of the Soviet authorities was to maintain the illusion of control over the situation. “Nothing terrible happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the situation is under control”. The health of the population was at best on the second place. It was also emphasized that Chernobyl became a catastrophe for publicity. “Until now, there was no better criterion for evaluating the application of the Gorbachev policy of glasnost than the Chernobyl tragedy.”

Sharp articles about hiding the scale of the accident, deficiencies in the organization of construction work, and violation of technological and industrial discipline in the radiation damage zone began to appear in the USSR with the spread of publicity. A heightened attitude towards morality during the Perestroika period contributed to the development of discussion about censorship in the media regarding the consequences of the accident.

“Chernobyl Ecology” was increasingly turning into politics

Chernobyl gave a powerful impetus to social transformations, social mobilization of public. It gave the deployment of environmental movements, subsequently absorbed by national ideologists. As a result, they turned the Chernobyl accident and its consequences into a powerful lever in the hands of opposition forces. After 1991, when the disclosure of archival documents began, the creation of museum exhibitions, the conditions finally developed for a comprehensive study of the socio-political aspects of the Chernobyl disaster. To this day, the Chernobyl archives are the most sought after.

Alla Yaroshinskaya was the first to document the concealment of the scale and consequences of the disaster, censorship in the media. She also published the declassified protocols of the operational group of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU. She wanted to study the causes of the accident and organize the elimination of its consequences. Subsequently, the publication of collections of documents and materials on the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster began.

Many authors studied the information policy of the Soviet government regarding the Chernobyl accident. They emphasized that the Soviet media remained silent until the information was disseminated abroad. Over time, Soviet publications cautiously raised questions of determining the status of the affected population, residents of contaminated territories, financial support for Chernobyl victims, as well as issues of closure of the ChNPP and the related socio-economic consequences.

Transformation of the post-Soviet culture into the “Chernobyl culture”

Chernobyl founded a new ecological worldview, world outlook and lifestyle. It happened not only for residents of the affected areas, but also for the entire population of Ukraine.

There was a transformation into the “Chernobyl culture” for a significant part of the population of the entire post-Soviet culture. The catastrophe caused a sharp change in the usual way of life, value orientations and everyday behavior of people. It accumulated all the problems of Soviet life: abuse of power, irresponsibility, emergency construction, achievement of results at any cost, etc.

The Chernobyl accident made us think not only about the consequences. It made us think about the causes of this terrible disaster, the occurrence of “another potential Chernobyl”. Public concern has become one of the main drivers of politicization of Ukrainian society.

`The preservation and rational use of national natural resources, improving environmental safety, quality of life and public health became the most weighty arguments on the way to Ukraine gaining state sovereignty and independence in 1991.

Intensification of protest activity due to environmental disaster

Researchers view the history of Chernobyl as one of the “blank spots” of the past. The main culprit is the system of the complete depreciation of the freedom and interests of people, of entire nations. This is a system of so-called collective responsibility, or rather, complete irresponsibility of the workers of the communist apparatus, ministries and departments. It is a system of distorted social-class and worldview social values.”

Many perceive Chernobyl as a consequence of the existence of a totalitarian political system in the USSR with the absolute power generated by it. In addition, they think about the ideological monopoly of the center, ignoring alternative opinions. This fact led to the immorality of the system as a whole.

There are some attempts, made to “mobilize” historical science to serve the “needs of today.” They started with the beginning of the policy of decommunization. Hence, the appearance in public space of events entitled “The Lenin Disaster,” or the allegations. “The accident on April 26, 1986, in Chernobyl could only happen in a country like the USSR.”

In the West, ecologists, physicians, and radiobiologists are studying the Chernobyl problem in the context of transnational and global environmental history. A deep understanding of the Chernobyl disaster belongs to the Canadian historian D.Marplz. He studied the Chernobyl accident in the context of Soviet nuclear development. Moreover, the scientist showed the shortcomings of the entire nuclear industry of the USSR. He subsequently analyzed the social consequences of the planetary tragedy. D.Marplz studied the impact of the disaster on people’s lives, environmental consequences. He analyzed the coverage of the tragedy in the Soviet media, and the restoration of life in the infected zone.

Based on the knowledge gained, the scientist urged to perceive the Chernobyl disaster not as the “collapse” of the Soviet system. He called it an unstable state of the technical and social system. These systems swayed in the direction of a catastrophic outcome. In principle, it does not depend on the conditions of the political system, types of reactor or individual staff training. This means it can happen anywhere.

Soviet people were deeply proud of space superiority, nuclear physics. So, Chernobyl was also a terrible psychological blow. Perhaps, it is this trauma that lies the reason for neglect of science in Ukraine over the past 34 years. Previously, the “peaceful atom” symbolized the world and a bright future. Since the Chernobyl accident, it has become a nuclear threat.

Most researchers claim that the Chernobyl disaster dealt an irreparable blow to the image of the Soviet Union in the world, the legitimacy of the Soviet government and the system of Soviet socialism, the policies of Perestroika and the glasnost of Mikhail Gorbachev.

There are still many insufficiently studied aspects of the problem. Chernobyl has not become a lesson for humans yet. The safety of nuclear plants around the world is in danger. The Chernobyl disaster was formally recognized as “Soviet, not nuclear.” The accident at the Japanese Fukushima-1 NPP on March 11, 2011, evidenced the validity of this opinion.

Can the Japanese blame Lenin for what happened? What other proof is needed. The state system in the context of any tragedy is, of course, a huge reinforced concrete argument. But the very use of the “peaceful atom” in the 21st century is an unjustified risk. What this can lead to? See the statistics of cancer deaths in the world. Do you have any more questions?