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Post-Chernobyl Mobilization Beyond the State: the Cases of Belarus, Ukraine, and Germany

“Chernobyl greatly affected me…It changed by perception of the planet and made the Cold War even more archaic and meaningless. But this is not the only lesson I learned from Chernobyl…Chernobyl clearly demonstrated how much responsibility is not only on politicians, but also on scientists, engineers, architects – since their mistakes can cost the lives and health of millions people.”
M. Gorbatchev

Although there are many perspectives on what were the major factors in ending the Cold War and melting the Soviet iron curtain, it is difficult to disagree that the Chernobyl disaster was one of the major catalysts of the changes in the world order at the end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s.

The delay in publicly announcing the aftermath of the catastrophe, and the ignorance on the side of party and state leadership had far-reaching consequences not only for the population’s health, but also for further political development in Ukraine and Belarus, which in 1991 became sovereign states. Even after attaining sovereignty, Chernobyl was no less of a „social catalyst“; on the contrary – the newly achieved free space, that had not existed under communist leadership, could now be used for communication and mobilization.
The perception of and engagement with ecological problems were some of the defining catalysts and a driving force for the erosion of the state-controlled monopoly on politics through the mobilization of citizens’ movements in the former Soviet Union at the beginning of Perestroika (Cf. Sahm 1999). The accident in the nuclear power plant Chernobyl resulted in a previously unknown sensitization and mobilization of large groups, particularly in the badly affected republics of Belarus and the Ukraine. The objective of this panel is to examine this mobilization and its development as well as the impact of the iron curtain melting on these processes.

The panelists will look at the development of patterns of civil action by individuals and non-governmental organizations through the prism of civil society development in the Chernobyl-affected states.

Alexandr Dalgawski will explore dynamics of development of critical, nonconformist thinking in written sources in historical prospective in Belarus by sharing the results of his research of the written sources (complaints applications, petitions, resolutions of meetings, of social and political demands), which citizens and groups submitted to various local, republican, allied administrative bodies in Belarus.

Anastasiya Leukhina will look into the development of the post-Chernobyl civil ecological movement in Ukraine; how ecological NGOs emerged, what role they played and how they developed throughout the years, following the Chernobyl catastrophe. The influece of technical aid from the other side of the iron curtain in these processes will also be explored.
Dr. Melanie Arndt will examine how non-state actors in Germany and Belarus framed their opposition to the government’s response to the catastrophe’s aftermath and to nuclear energy as an acceptable source of energy. The main focus will be on the cooperation between German and Belarusian civil societal organizations and transfer processes between German and Belarusian Chernobyl-initiatives.

Saturday 31 October 12.00-13.30 Session 8