Ekatherina Zhukova

Whose Responsibility? Chernobyl as Trauma Management in Belarus and Ukraine

How do states respond to traumatic events? Who is deemed responsible to handle the consequences? What are the political implications of these responses? This dissertation looks at the case of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe (1986) and the two most affected states, Ukraine and Belarus. It shows that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Belarusian political elites assigned and evaluated the responsibility of Russia and Europe for managing the prolonged Chernobyl consequences. This was not the case in Ukraine, the host state of the Chernobyl power plant. The Ukrainian political players focused instead on the Soviet authorities as responsible for the failed initial response to the disaster. The dissertation argues that different time lags of responsibility stemmed from the political struggle. In Ukraine, the political players did not make Chernobyl a tool in the struggle for the post-Soviet geopolitical orientation (pro-Russian or pro-European); in Belarus they did. The composition of the national public sphere (state-controlled, non-state, or oligarch-owned) and the sociological fragmentation of the population (pro-European or pro-Russian) restrained this struggle in Ukraine but escalated it in Belarus. The dissertation concludes that making Russia and Europe responsible for the Chernobyl aftermath in Belarus contributed to spoiling or improving the perceived friendship or hostility towards them. In Ukraine, blaming the Soviet authorities as the past perpetrators contributed to the revision of the Soviet past but not of the present relations with Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union. To examine these arguments, the dissertation conducts content, discourse, and narrative analyses of the official and alternative media sources for the period 1992-2014. 

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