How Incompetence ruined the Soviet Union

by Viktorya Muradyan

“Evacuate people!”

“I will decide!”

“Decide now!”

“I am told I can’t.”

“You’ve just told me you decide.”

“I am in charge!”

The five part mini series “Chernobyl” by HBO became the highest rated TV show on IMDb without even airing its last two episodes. This series represents the tragic events that happened on April 26, 1986, in the Chernobyl Nuclear Station in the Soviet Ukraine. The Reactor 4 of the nuclear power plant exploded causing thousands of deaths and long-term fatal effects on the whole region. This show is too realistic for a feature film and too emotional for a simple documentary. It reaffirms the long-discussed hypothesis, that popular art has a greater mission than just entertaining people. It should raise awareness and tell the truth. Because in the 21st century there is no better way to get to people’s minds than through art, cinema and music.

During his retirement, former Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev said that the Chernobyl Disaster marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, collapsing in  1991 regardless his efforts to modernise and reform it. Gorbachev took the leadership almost one year before the Chernobyl disaster and declared the beginning of the new era of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”). He did not have much time, as his efforts were overshadowed by the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster.

It is funny to acknowledge, that against all the external enemies and challenges, it was such a simple thing as incompetency who launched a chain of erosion in the Soviet Union.

Why so? Because what happened in Chernobyl was caused by a double incompetence – the incompetence of those who did and of those who decided who does. Otherwise, how could people see what was in front of their eyes only 20 hours after the explosion? Chernobyl opened the eyes of the ordinary people showing how rotten, coward, hypocrite the Soviet socialism was. The debate, the social activism in USSR got to a whole new level in the aftermath of Chernobyl. The new wave of activism was not led by militants or bureaucrats, it was led by scientists, artists and more importantly by the younger generation.

These people could not stay silent anymore seeing how a state sends people to a mission promising to give a remuneration of 400 rubles and not having enough dignity to tell that they probably won’t come back. They could not believe, that the Velikiy Sovetskiy Soyuz (The Great Soviet Union) had only one cure to the radiation and that was vodka. They could not stand Ministers and Chinovniks, who were as far from the ordinary people, as the Sun from the Earth. It was insupportable to see that hierarchy is just an illusion as people are not really deciding unless they are allowed to. They’ve had enough of the constant control and surveillance of the Government, which, as the KGB deputy described in the series is a “closed circle of trust”.  People were frustrated, that the state was limiting the freedom of speech of the ones who were disturbed the accepted social order and questioned the credibility of the system. Instead, they were preferring those who were lying about their ability to handle the situation but failing big.

And finally, people were furious that the same state was giving power to ignorant and incompetent people who suddenly became something from nothing, took their power for granted by reinforcing it through abuse and pressure. What a perfect dialogue the show writers picked to illustrate this:

“I’ve learnt nuclear physics. Before taking the office you were working in a shoe factory.”

“Yeah, I worked in a shoe factory. Now I am in charge.”

Chernobyl is an illustration of how a simple lie can result in an irreversible disaster. The Soviet Union and its political ideology were built on a culture of lie and fear. The Russian linguist Elena Gorokhova wrote in her memoir “A Mountain of Crumbs”: “The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them”. This culture of lie was so prevailing that people even got cynical about it. Lies, that led to thousands of deaths and eventually to the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

Hence, the misery of the human brain is in its resistance to learn from these kinds of bitter lessons. History should be the first counsellor of the states who still preach socialism or communism, or are on their way of doing it.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organisation as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, click here to submit a guest post!

Image: Pixabay

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