By Paul Goble
Thirty-three years ago, the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred at Chernobyl, a disaster that was compounded at the time by the refusal of the Soviet government to admit that it had occurred and is being further compounded by the failure of post-Soviet governments to address the problem.
Many now remember only that this accident caused or allowed Mikhail Gorbachev to launch his policy of glasnost, a policy that even more than the accident undermined the Soviet system; but they forget that his unwillingness or inability to be honest at the time caused the death and suffering of thousands of people to this day.
There are many other things that can and should be said about this tragedy, but three are in danger of being forgotten altogether – and that is especially unforgiveable given that the accident is continuing to affect people and the environment and will do so for 10,000 years or more (snob.ru/selected/entry/123733).
First of all, it is important to remember that the Soviet regime for all its talk about how safe its nuclear power plants were put almost all of them in non-Russian parts of the country, clearly calculating that if anything went wrong, the non-Russians would suffer but not the Russians. Moscow said it planned to supply power to the Soviet bloc but that seems a stretch.
Second, the Soviet government went out of its way to use non-Russians in the cleanup not just Ukrainians and Belarusians who were nearby but others. The most infamous even notorious case involved a group of Estonian reservists who were sent to Chernobyl, forced to work in the clean up but not provided with any protective clothing.
They weren’t allowed to tell their story; but in a move that resembles what the sailors on the USS Pueblo did, they showed by the way they wore their hats that they no longer had any hair because of the radiation. Many of them subsequently died premature deaths from the cancers they contracted at Chernobyl.
And third, because the Soviet government was never held accountable for its role in the accident and its failure to protect its own people, many in the post-Soviet states of the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine have continued to behave as their Soviet predecessors did, apparently confident that they won’t be either.
(On this pattern, see among others charter97.org/ru/news/2019/4/26/331972/ and gordonua.com/blogs/borislav-bereza/v-den-tragedii-na-chernobylskoy-aes-sovetskaya-vlast-snova-pokazala-svoe-istinnoe-lico-i-prenebrezhenie-k-svoemu-narodu-917425.html.)
All three governments must be pressured to behave differently, and the Russian government must be compelled to help pay for it given its oft-repeated claims that it is the successor state to the Soviet Union. Failure to do both is to dishonor the memory of those who suffered and died from Chernobyl and those who continue to suffer and die as a result.