Thursday, August 8, 2019

Myths and reality about HBO's Chernobyl series

The series refer to the explosion that took place on April 26, 1986 in nuclear reactor no 4 of the Chernobyl power plant close to the city of Priyat in northern Ukraine. Although this highly-acclaimed US-British production manages to kindle the viewer's interest by gaining an unexpected impact, it is neither unique nor original. It consists a more "clever" and better elaborated effort to combat the communist ideology through anti-sovietism. 

Is socialism responsible or its violation?

The series chooses to emphasize on problematic situations highlighted by the plot. Such as the alienation of Party and soviet state's leading cadres from the people, the bureaucracy, careerism, as well as serious issues related to the delay in technological renewal, the shortages in medical supplies, protective measures and others. Were these phenomena existing and real irrespective of the tone of the exaggeration given by the film? Definitely, they were. But what do the series' creators do not tell us? 

That all these are taking place during a period when the process of recession of the socialist construction, the process of the restoration of capitalist relations has come to its final phase. It is the era of "Perestroika", the period when the counterrevolution became an official state policy in the CPSU and the USSR. No USSR would exist just five years after the accident, as a result of counterrevolutionary events which became the peak of a long course of violations and degeneration, with a basic element being the introduction (in economy, in the political and social relations) principles, values and methods that had no relations with socialism. The social forces which sought and achieved the overthrow (of socialism) were omnipresent and had the lead. For anti-communists, a popular method is to charge socialist construction and power with extraneous elements and phenomena which characterize the period of recession and violations. 

Exaggerations and distortions

The series is inspired by spiteful exaggerations and distortions. Here are some characteristic examples:

- The series refer to 93,000 deaths and compares the accident with the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Without doubt, the Chernobyl nuclear accident was an extremely serious incident. Its effects on the environment, on health and psychology and on the biological and social life of thousands of people in large geographic region of the USSR were severe, as they were the impacts on agricultural production and especially in the mental health of thousands of people in areas far-away from the borders of the soviet territory. But there is a long distance between these facts and the series' claim that the deaths may have reached 93,000. 

According to UN research data, Chernobyl's counted casualties, all of them firefighters and factory workers directly exposed to radioactivity, were 30 within the first 100 days and 14 in the next 10 years. In the worst of cases, according to UN research, 3,000 to 4,000 more people will live less than the expected due to their exposure to radioactivity. 

AS UNSCEAR, the scientific committee of the UN, points out "there is a tendency to attribute the increase in the incidents related to cancer to Chernobyl's accident, but it must be noted that this increase had already been observed before the accident in the affected areas". Indeed, shortly before and mainly after the overthrow of socialism in the USSR, there is a continuous - to date - decrease of the average life expectancy, due to the rapid deterioration of the standard of living of the popular strata, alongside with the downgrade of the Health system, factors which are not only or mainly related to Chernobyl and which do not seem to be taken into account by the creators of the series and their sources. 

A respective accident in capitalist territory at the same period, taking into account the then level of scientific and technological development in safety issues of the industrial nuclear plants, would have multiple consequences. Today, of course, "after the Chernobyl accident" and the study of the factors that caused it, "the safety of nuclear power reactions has been significantly strengthened internationally". 

But what surpasses any limit of arbitrariness in "Chernobyl" TV serie is t he comparison that smolders in certain scenes between a nuclear accident, such as the one in Chernobyl and a consious crime, such as the one committed by the USA in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, slaughtering more than 200,000 people. 

- It is, at least, inaccurate that the soviet leadership was hiding for days the truth regarding the extent and the negative effects of the accident, delaying to take measures for the people's protection. Even bourgeois descriptions recognize the imperssive speed of the state's response which ensured that "by the next day 50,000 people would move and 280,000 people by the end of the year". 

In order to substantiate the view of the conscious downgrade of the accident, the series supports that the soviet state entrusted the management of the case to an "insignificant" and sidelined state agent, as he is self-presented in the series, Boris Shcherbina. But who was Shcherbina? He was the Vice President of the Council of Ministers who had previously served as Minister of Energy. Indeed, how many more titles should Shcherbina have in order to be considered as "trustworthy"? As an "unpopular" and "sidelined" man, Shcherbina is presented as the exception, an honest, responsible and moral person...

- In order to irritate the emotions, so that the soviet state is identified as a state-oppressor, the series uses the method of subjection. It presntes necessary and decisive actions taken to address the exposure to radioactivity as an indication of the soviet state's brutality. The melodramatic stories, which show the absolutely appropriate and reasonable moves of the soviet state as proof of its brutality, are characteristic. The removal, for example, of an elderly farmer from her place despite her will, although it was necessary, it is presented as... violent uprooting of elderly people. Likewise, the killing of the area's pets, who could be carriers of radioactive contamination, is presented as a deliberate killing of defenseless - after the departure of their owners - animals. 

Such a malicious approach towards communism could not avoid becoming even ridiculous. The image of the supposedly "unsuspecting" and "gullible" soviet citizens who, hugged tenderly, were enjoying the beautiful colors of the nuclear explosion like it was the sunset, is indicative! Another example is the scene with the veteran communist who, striking his rattan, emphatically states that the faith in socialist power consists a leninist heritage, apparently in order to underline that the "blind obedience" is not some  kind of deviation from communist theory and its application; on the contrary, it is an inherent part of its "totalitarian" character. 

But the truth cannot be hidden...

What the series cannot hide - no matter if it tries to distort it - is the fact that in the Soviet Union, even in the conditions of 1986, even just before the last phase of the counterrevolution, the feeling of self-sacrifice, of offer, the taking of measures regardless of the cost, the mobilization of popular masses were the factors which successfully dealed with the accident. These virtues were the heritage of a society and a power in which the working man was at the center. The ability of the state to mobilize on time, in an organized and effective way, hundreds of scientists, firefighters, workers, miners and to mobilize, in a short period of time, all the available means, even all the liquid nitrogen of the huge country - situations which are impossible in capitalism - can only be explained through the organization and the infrastructure created by the central scientific plan. 

The series cannot silence the fact that the soviet state did not take into account the cost in money in order to save as many human lives as possible, something that is in blatant contrast with capitalism that balances them with money, thus leading to casualties. 

The supremacy of the socialist system, the older achievements of which had not been totally abolished yet, is manifested despite the series' effort to prove the opposite. 

However, the greatest question that remains is why, approximately 30 years after the overthrow of socialism, the ideological staffs of capitalism are still dealing with this "failed" social system? Is is because the ghost of communism continues hovering over the world? Does the series try to respond to the majority of young americans who state that the prefer socialism rather than capitalism? "Ok, guys. You can be with socialism. But, for God's sake, stay away from the only dangerous, the real enemy of the exploitation system, socialism-communism".

Article originally published in "Rizospastis" newspaper (27-28 July 2019, page. 30).
Translation and editing by