Toronto, Canada (May 3, 2021) – On the occasion of the 35th International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day, The Belarusian Canadian Alliance (BCA), a non-profit organization that represents Canada’s Belarusian diaspora, held an online panel discussion on the topics of nuclear power, civil activism and changes in the Belarusian society over the past 35 years.
“The topic of our webinar was ‘Catastrophe and Denial in Belarus,’ setting the stage for the discussion of the official Minsk’s response to disasters,” said Alena Liavonchanka, the president of the Belarusian Canadian Alliance. “We wanted to come together on April 26 – the day many of us still vividly remember 35 years ago – to remember the victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe and also discuss its legacy in today’s Belarus.”
Participants in the panel discussion included David Marples, a Distinguished Professor with the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, Veranika Laputska, a Co-Founder and Research Fellow at the EAST Center, and Andrey Ozharovsky, a physicist, publicist and critic of nuclear energy.
Explosions at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in late April 1986 contaminated large parts of what was then known as the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The webinar started with the discussion of the social impact of the disaster on the Belarusian society, with Professor Marples leading the conversation. Professor Marples is a regular commentator on Belarus who, in 1996, authored a book called ‘Belarus: From Soviet Rule to Nuclear Catastrophe.”
The Chernobyl disaster is considered to be the worst nuclear disaster in history, both in terms of costs and causalities. 35 years after the Chernobyl crisis, Belarus built a new nuclear power plant – the Astravets Nuclear Power Plant – in the city of Astravets in the Grodno region of Belarus. The facility came online in November 2020 with one reactor, with the second reactor still under construction. From an official standpoint, it was argued that the new plant was needed to offset the dependence on the Russian oil and gas, even though the country did not have the resources or technology to build the facility and had to rely on the Russian funding and reactors Mr. Ozharovsky discussed the technical characteristics of the Astravets Nuclear Power Plant and commented on its threat levels.
“While modern nuclear power plants are much better than Chernobyl’s, they still don’t come with a 100% guarantee,” said Mr. Ozharovsky “We need that [certainty] because of the size of a possible disaster. And even if we forget [about] the disaster, the energy of the new Belarus power plant will be so expensive that they won’t be able to find enough consumers. The energy is expensive, not needed, and a nuclear power plant is very dangerous.”
Ms. Laputska, whose research work focuses on the issues of media analysis, propaganda tools and democratization in Eastern and Central Europe, spoke about denial as a unique crisis response strategy of the Belarusian authorities. Building on the discussion of the Chernobyl disaster, she touched on Stalin’s mass executions in 1937 – 1941 at the Kurapaty Forest in Minsk and other locations, the official Minsk response to the COVID-19 disaster in 2020 – 2021 and the protests in Belarus over the last eight months – arguably the largest protests in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Examining the current political situation in Belarus, Professor Marples considered several scenarios and added that the power and popularity of Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s president, has diminished drastically in recent years. “Lukashenko is now relying heavily on security forces and foreign powers to stay in office, against the will of the [Belarusian] people.”
“Even though the situation in Belarus continues to be very difficult, I hope we can think about the future with some optimism,” said Ms. Liavonchanka. “In this webinar, we wanted to pause and think how we can remember and learn from the past instead of forgetting, ignoring or denying the tragic moments in our history.”
A minute of silence was held at 1:55 PM EST to remember the victims of the Chernobyl disaster.
The webinar ended with a beautiful video from the Belarusian Institute of Arts and Sciences Canada produced by Alex Korolkevitch.
The webinar was moderated by Natalia Smalyuk, an award-winning communications advisor and member of the Belarusian Canadian Alliance.
About the Belarusian Canadian Alliance
The Belarusian Canadian Alliance has represented the Belarusian community in Canada since 1948. Throughout these years, it has built close relationships with many other Eastern European diaspora organizations in Canada, as well as the Coordination Council of Belarus led by the President-Elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The organization has repeatedly called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all illegally detained Belarusians and political prisoners, fully investigate all violations of human rights and run a fair and transparent election.