This week in class we focused on Chernobyl and how this related to the ideas of progress and modernity in the Soviet Union. Russia has always been ostracized as a country that is distinct from all others. One reason for this idea is because Russia has always been seen as being behind other nations in technology. Thus, a constant theme throughout the Soviet era was a striving towards modernity and in turn progress. This theme was reflected in the Soviet Union’s policies and actions involving the environment.
To the Russian government, modernity translated into a transformation and exploitation of nature in the name of progress. In essence, the environment was reframed for industrial development. While this was a global movement, the Soviet Union took this idea to a new extreme level. This extremism was able to happen because in the Soviet Union, the civil society had no opportunity to comment or influence government actions like in other countries throughout the world. The extreme manner in which the Soviet Union persued the idea of modernity resulted in the exploration and use of nuclear energy.To the Soviets, nuclear energy represented the ultimate idea of modernity. It was taking the building block of human existence and harnassing it in order to benefit mankind. However, unfortunately when one thinks of nuclear energy and Russia, the idea of progress doesn’t manifest.
However, in studying Chernobyl what I didn’t realize was the true power of nature, and its ability to care for itself. In class, we watched various clips that showed Chernobyl in the recent past and what I saw surprised me. Rather than the barren wasteland that I expected, Chernobyl was surprisingly alive. Vegetation had crept back into the area, taking over and slowly breaking down the buildings. In the past, whenever I have thought about Chernobyl, I have pictured it to be a wasteland, silent, with shriveled up plants, no life, a mere shell of its former self. This class really altered my perspective, and I would welcome the opportunity to study this event in greater detail someday.