Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

Report from Kiev

by David Ellison, Northeast Ohio Greens

Revelation 8:6-10 states that the third angel destroying the earth causes a great star to fall from heaven on the rivers and fountains, killing many who drink the water. The name of the star is "Wormwood," which is the meaning of "Chernobyl" in Ukranian.

During the weekend of April 20-22, Daryl Davis, Michael McMurray and I, all of Cleveland, represented the Greens/Green Party USA (GPUSA) at the Green East/West Dialog meeting in Kiev Ukraine. In coordination with the Green Parties' meeting was an anti-nuclear activist conference which we also attended. called "Lessons of Chernobyl" sponsored by the Heinrich Boell Foundation of Cologne (politically close to the German Greens) and Zeliny Svit (Green World, an NGO close to the Ukrainian Greens), of Kiev. Following the conference and meeting we took an excursion to the exclusion zone around the V.I. Lenin power station, better known simply as Chernobyl.

Chernobyl has entered the consciousness of the people in a ghastly and pervasive way.

Ten years ago, on April 26, 1986, an RBMK type nuclear power reactor, likened to a 1600-barreled howitzer aimed at the sky, exploded and burned, creating the worst atomic power catastrophe to date, and contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Oddly enough, its type of containment, sort of a heavy lid over the reactor, may have actually acted as a pressure relief valve, unlike western-type containment which might have "contained" the explosion just long enough to develop outward thrust, causing damage to neighboring reactors. The following are some reflections on the trip and a report to the membership of the GPUSA.

Kiev is a beautiful city with a friendly population which is undergoing an enormously stressful transitional period. As we found out, many people are concerned about the effects of the Chernobyl disaster and our presence at the conference was generally welcomed by the people. Nearly 800,000 service people in the former Soviet Union were drafted to "liquidate" the catastrophe by putting out fires, burying wastes, and building the sarcophagus. They came from all over the empire, and now are back at home, in many cases suffering from all sorts of ailments, dying and committing suicide at a higher than normal rate. Chernobyl has entered the consciousness of the people in a ghastly and pervasive way.

Ukraine's ambassador to the US, Yuri Scherbak, an epidemiologist and former member of the Supreme Soviet, was one of the primary activists within the former government to pursue opening up the truth of Chernobyl. He was a principal founder of the Greens Party of Ukraine and has recently written about Chernobyl in Scientific American.

The meetings and workshops of the conference were informative and compelling. The contact between Eastern Europeans, the people of the former Soviet Union, and Americans and some other westerners is still relatively new. For people involved in the movement against nuclear power and for democratically controlled, renewable and alternative energy, the material presented was rich in detail and intriguing in its subtleties.

The Chernobyl catastrophe confirms better than almost any other single event of the nuclear age the importance of our work against the nuclear state. Seven new reactors have opened in Ukraine since 1986. Most of the 25 worst reactors in the world, called for closure in 1992 by the G7 (the world's seven richest nations) are still in operation. Money is being funneled into the remnants of the old Soviet nuclear establishment through International Banks and Western nuclear corporations. Westinghouse is deeply involved in the completion of the Slovakian reactor, Mokavoce. Nuclear blackmail is being conducted at the expense of democracy and ecological safety. Chernobyl #2 and #3 remain in operation despite the dangerous situation with the sarcophagus over #4 and the ongoing contamination problems.

The status quo of an inherently anti-democratic and authoritarian industry paired with terribly inefficient and unmetered electric power usage is proving difficult to alter. The tradition of using nuclear power projects as jobs programs remains unchanged. The prospect of a new sarcophagus to cover up the existing one translates into nearly a billion dollars, thousands of well-paying jobs, and continuing denial of the real problems at the site—migrating radioactive ground and water pollution and two unsafe reactors.

The East/West dialog meeting, where the Eastern European and the Western European Green Parties were able to discuss common issues, found some challenging and familiar circumstances. The eastern parties are typically made up of professionals such as scientists and doctors. The western parties tend to be made up of movement activists. A history of Communist Party domination colors the identity of some of the easterners to a great extent. Other easterners, quiet and contemplative, struggle with the language barrier (English is the official language of the E/W Dialog) to express exactly the same concerns and aspirations we all share as Green Party organizers and activists. Questions of organizing strategies, internal and interparty structure, meeting process, policies, all resemble the questions we face with issues around the Nader campaign, national "unity," consensus, voting or campaign finance and ballot access.

While quite similar in concept, the reality in the East poses much more difficult problems than we have in the West. In Slovenia, where the Greens and other anti-nuclear activists would like to place an initiative on the ballot to close the Krsko NPP, 40,000 signatures are required. All of them must be gathered at the police station.

A woman attending the E/W Dialog meeting named Veronica Vann from Western Australia but living and working with the Greens in former Soviet Georgia made a proposal:

. . .how good it would be if some people from Georgia [and other CIS countries] could come with me [to the Gathering in Los Angeles]... This could be [the beginning of] an ongoing-party to-party relationship between sponsored and sponsorer allowing the exchange of information and support. At a time when these countries are undergoing political, social and economic transformation, such gatherings provide an invaluable opportunity for CIS Greens to see and experience different perspectives, ideas, activities and strategies and to learn from these. This in turn helps them to be more effective when they return home. The personal contacts made at these events often lead to long and very productive relationships... It also helps to improve English speaking skills...

However, of course, there is always the difficulty with money here. Not only do the Greens not have very much money, what they do have will not go very far in the U.S. I wondered if you could investigate the possibility of either the Gathering funding some people from over this way or of the individual US parties providing funding. One possible way might be for each of the parties to sponsor one or two people from different CIS countries. However, it may all be too difficult to organize for this year's Gathering. If so, it would still be good to see if some funding can be made available for some people to come from Georgia (and me) and we will try and build something into the program for the next one (if that is what people want)."

The general impression, if there is one, that the European Greens have of the American Greens is that we constantly fight with each other. The hope and concern they express is that we be able, through a national organization, to work cooperatively on certain specific issue campaigns which might involve multinational corporations or international agencies. Of course, the nuclear industry is of primary, unifying concern.

In addition to the three of us representing the GPUSA, Harvey Wasserman of Greenpeace, Michael Mariotte of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and Gene Stilp of Three Mile Island fame attended the conference. Harvey Wasserman inspired us to bring back to the U.S. props from a "manifestation" which took place on the steps of the Ukrainian President Building (former CP Central Committee HQ) April 22—over 40 crosses each bearing the name of an abandoned village in the zone.

The hope they express is that we be able, through a national organization, to work cooperatively on certain specific campaigns...

We took slides of parts of Kiev and the area around the nuclear power plant, including sites in Pripyat, the former city of 55,000 which is now a ghost town. We are happy to make a presentation of these props, slides and our commentary for the cost of travel and lodging. For more information please contact me at the number below.


A bound report entitled Electricity in Eastern Europe, funded through the Heinrich Boell Foundation and prepared in cooperation with the Eco-Institute of Berlin is available for those interested in this aspect of democratization in the East. Call the Heinrich Boell Foundation at +49-(0)221-207 11-0 (or fax +49-(0)221-207 11-51) or call the Eco-Institute at +49-(0)761-452 95-0 (or fax +49-(0)761-47 54 37) to acquire a copy.

A bound report is available on Nuclear Power and Public Participation from the East/West Dialog organizers; Foundation for Education and Training, Anne de Boer call +31 20 620 22 12, or fax +31 20 625 18 49.

Anyone with ideas about developing Ms. Vann's proposal into a financial reality or participating with her in developing an exchange program, including strengthening the already existing international sister-local efforts, please contact David Ellison at +1-216-631-0557.

Michael Mariotte's diary entry of the trip to Chernobyl is moving and worth a read. Copies are available through NIRS: +1-202-328-0002.

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