After Chernobyl February 14, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Here’s something to think about. According to this piece on Slate, from a week or two back, for Mikhail Gorbachev the primary reason for the demise of the Soviet Union was the nuclear accident (though accident doesn’t quite sum up the enormity of what happened) at Chernobyl. It’s an interesting thesis though he sort of ducks and weaves by linking it to the policy of ‘glasnost’ or openness. Or as he puts it “opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew it could no longer continue.”
Thing is does he believe that absent Chernobyl glasnost, which he introduced a year earlier, would have wended its way to the ultimate collapse of the system? According to one analyst quoted in the article Gorbachev was committed to the Soviet system while simultaneously believing that glasnost would somehow provide the additional extra that would support the system or make it stronger and more resilient.
And another point is made that is well worth thinking about.
Chernobyl, then, represented a fundamental shift in the relationship between the Soviet citizenry and the state. Before the explosion, most Soviets were not discontented dissidents; they believed in the Soviet system, forgave its flaws, and hoped for a better future within its confines. But after Chernobyl, the system seemed potentially unredeemable—and actively dangerous. In the early days of glasnost, stories of Stalin’s mass murders decades earlier slowly bubbled to the fore, but those generally receded, so far removed were they from everyday life. After Chernobyl, though, every citizen’s safety was at stake.
There’s an argument that the pre-Chernobyl situation was a fools paradise, at least in terms of appreciating the realities of the situation, for no state or regime could possibly guarantee every citizen’s safety, and indeed as we’ve seen in the example of Japan in recent years natural and unnatural catastrophes combined – with a connect to nuclear power – make a mockery of any assurance on the issue in the contemporary period (though it is interesting how the extension of nuclear power is now being supported in places that are somewhat unexpected these days). But it is plausible that the mythos of the state, inefficient as it might be in daily life – and on occasion brutal, albeit radically less so than during the Stalinist period (and hard to believe that that wasn’t appreciated by all its citizens), once broken was all but irretrievable.
That said to fix upon Chernobyl as the only element seems difficult to sustain as an argument. As comments under the piece note Afghanistan had a detrimental effect – not least in that the conflict there was one of attrition and a lack of success on the part of the Soviets. And, of course, there were broader socio-economic issues. And as important, perhaps, was the real sense that the USSR was technologically and in many other ways far behind what was termed the ‘West’.
I’ve read some analysis before which suggests that an hardline leader in place of Gorbachev might have kept the show on the road longer, and it is possible that a third alternative, the Chinese route, might have been successful too, at least in terms of consolidating CPSU power in the state. It’s an interesting question as to how long the USSR could have survived and whether that could have been indefinitely. Though another question is what would have been the point of survival alone if it were essentially in the context of political and economic stagnation?