30 March 2020, Monday, 20:24
People’s Quarantine

Personal Chernobyl

Personal Chernobyl
Iryna Khalip

Now feeds on social network are read as Alexievich's books now.

But three years ago, less than a thousand people participated in the Charnobylski Shliakh event on the 30th anniversary of the disaster. However, the picture is the same, no matter how much time passes - thirty, twenty-four, thirty-three years.

Everything was different in the last century. Adults still remember Charnobylski Shliakh-1996 - ten years after the disaster. It was the procession of 50.000 people. It was held not on Bangalore Square, but on Skaryna Avenue. This procession was not afraid of police cordons and batons. It was the first time when political prisoners, the first political emigrants and the first human rights organization "Viasna-96" appeared in Belarus. Then tens of thousands of people participated in Charnobylski Shliakh several times. It seems that the year of 2001 - it's the fifteenth anniversary - was the last time when many people participated in it. That's all. Last century, naphthalene. It was not only the last century but also the last millennium. There is no need to wipe away the radioactive dust from those old events and to disturb the reactor, which has passed on to its eternal rest. The world is already shaken by catastrophes, wars and terrorist attacks. And the Belarusians have their own challenges, and the main one is just to survive. It would seem there is no place for memories and moreover for the tragedy of the past.

And all of a sudden TV screens show "Chernobyl" - a foreign series in a foreign language, starring actors who challenged much time to learn the name itself. And this series removes the plug that has been blocking our memory for decades. The point is not that everyone watches and discusses it. The main thing is that everybody burst with memories of their own Chernobyl and told stories of "the explosion at the nuclear power plant and my family". And it turned out that Chernobyl is like World War II: it affected every Belarusian family. It turns out that there are no lucky ones who could escape it. You know, such subspecies as "Belarusian without Chernobyl" does not exist. No matter how hard Lukashenka's breeders try.

Now feeds on social networks are read as Alexievich's books. If a user was not born or was young at that time, he quotes his parents' stories. Some of them had a physicist who called and demanded to run to the pharmacy to buy Ascorutin, and it became scary because this call meant something horrible happened. Others had grandparents in Khoiniki and Brahin. The third had a mother with some contacts. She managed to send her daughter to the summer camp on the Black Sea. There were many children from Kyiv, but not a single Belarusian child, except the daughter of an active mother. The fourth ones ran under the radioactive rain, the fifth ones marched at the May Day demonstration with flags and posters. Parents of the sixth ones were sent to the burning Chernobyl, and they rejoiced that it was not Afghanistan. The sevenths ran away as far as possible from Chernobyl. The eighths, tenths, hundredths ... Everyone had his Chernobyl story.

It's strange that Belarusians burst with memories of their Chernobyl only after the series. However, the great power of art is always mysterious. It's great that this series is released. And it's scary that it is released. Because it is a surgically accurate reproduction of the story for authors and foreign viewers. And it is a film about our lives nowadays. We, unlike the creators of the series and the audience, live there, behind the screen. It's the life full of lies, with its defeating silence about the consequences of the catastrophe, with the same mediocre power chosen by no one. Human life is not worth a penny like it was thirty years ago. Survived liquidators are deprived of benefits because it was assumed that they would die soon. They were not taken into account when planning the state budget. Now they live without privileges. Because there was no Chernobyl, it is time to forget. Especially since today's mediocre people are building a new plant in the middle of Europe and dropping reactors.

Still, it is great that Belarusians remembered about their own Chernobyl experience. This means that the state program of silence about the consequences is defeated by the living memory. And there is a chance that we will manage to stop the construction of a new nuclear power plant and change everything. But to do this, we need to be on this side of the screen. Because we are still supporting characters in this terrifying, almost documentary film.

Iryna Khalip, especially for Charter97.org