Chernobyl: public attention and long-term challenges
The anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe receives very little attention in today’s Belarus. The Belarusian organization “For Children of Chernobyl” emphasises the importance of remembering about what happened on 26 April 1986.
Tuesday, 01 May 2012, by HRH Bergen, Based on Rafto Foundation Information
Public coverage of Chernobyl disaster
Olga Daskevich, the Executive Director of the Belarusian organisation “For Children of Chernobyl”, was a teenager in Minsk when the Chernobyl disaster took place. She remembers that the only media coverage that the catastrophe received was the number of people who died. There was no information on the possible consequences.
It took several months before the general public of Belarus was informed about the consequences of the catastrophe. “People did not believe at the time that the radiation might be dangerous”, Daskevich recollects. “When my relatives, who lived in the catastrophe exclusion zone, got the message to evacuate, they brought their furniture and clothes with them. Today we know that that was a wrong thing to do”, she added.
The first protest rally focusing on the Chernobyl nuclear power disaster was arranged in 1989 by Gennady Grushevoy, chairman of “For Children of Chernobyl” and the 1999 Rafto Prize laureate. The rally participants protested against the government which had not informed the general public about the consequences and problems related to the catastrophe.
In Belarus there is still a number of people who participate in events dedicated to the Chernobyl catastrophe day. Those who are more directly affected usually participate in memorial events. There are marches in Minsk and other cities, but the numbers are decreasing.
“This was never a tragedy that could be resolved within 10 years; even so I feel that many Belarusians do not consider the catastrophe to be a long-term challenge. And of course there are more recent global tragedies that attract the world’s attention”, says Olga Daskevich.
“Today, 26 April has just become an historical date for the state of Belarus”, Gennady Grushevoy notes. “People in general give no thought to the catastrophe which occurred 26 years ago. The political opposition in Belarus takes advantage of the day to protest against the today’s political system”, he adds.
On 14 April 2012 "For Children of Chernobyl" organised a youth forum “For a Secure, Just and Human World” in Minsk. The event offered young Belarusians, many of whom came from the Chernobyl catastrophe area, the opportunity to learn about and discuss a number of different issues including those concerning the environment and ecology.
During the last 17 years "For Children of Chernobyl" has arranged festivals, conferences and forums for young people, many of them from the Chernobyl catastrophe area. In addition, the organisation offers health rehabilitation programmes in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The issues concerning the environment and ecology continue to be important areas for discussion. The youth forum “For a Secure, Just and Human World” touches upon these questions. “For Children of Chernobyl provides a platform where the young generation of Belarus are given the opportunity to widen their horizons and see the world in a broader perspective”, underlines Daskevich.
New Nuclear Plant
President Lukashenka announced plans for a new nuclear station in Belarus five years ago. For the last year the government has been involved in developing the infrastructure for the nuclear plant which is to be located close to the Lithuanian boarder.
Gennady Grushevoy is deeply concerned about the government’s plans because of the potential problems that would be caused by an accident at the plant. He emphasises that there are thousands of Belarusians affected by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, who still suffer from illnesses caused by the disaster. They continue to require medical care and rehabilitation - treatment which should have been covered by the state.
HRH Bergen, Based on Rafto Foundation Information