...What is most important is saving every human life which is fading away, often unknowing, on the radioactive plains of the former Soviet Union.
Acceptance speech – Alla Yaroshinskaya
Each and every life is unique.
Honourable Members of the Parliament!
Honourable Members of the Selection Committee for the Right Livelihood Award!
I am very grateful for the high honour to be awarded an International Prize and for the opportunity to speak here to this august assembly.
While doing my everyday work for the defence of the rights of ecological refugees and forced migrants, while struggling for glasnost about the consequences of the biggest man-made catastrophe in the history of mankind – the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine, I was, naturally, not thinking about any awards. Therefore, I think, I have the right to believe, and I ask you to share this right with me, that all victims of the Chernobyl accident, as well as victims of other ecological accidents on the territory of the former Soviet Union, which I have dealt with, share this great honour with me.
The very name of Jakob von Uexkull’s award implies two eternal philosophical categories – Life and Man. I omit reflections about how these categories have been understood over the centuries. I shall dwell on the more timely aspect of it: how are these high concepts realized in everyday life.
“Devotion to Life”
This moral imperative was created by a true genius and a unique personage, Albert Schweitzer. I think that this idea, if compared to practice, gives the best illustration of the enormous distance between the philosophical ideal of the understanding of human being and the realization of this ideal in everyday life. I believe that I have the right to think so because I myself have been running this marathon race, the end of which is not yet in sight. I mean first of all the work for glasnost concerning the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, its global scale, and the harmful, sometimes even deadly influence of radiation on Man and Life. And what is most important is saving every human life which is fading away, often unknowing, on the radioactive plains of the former Soviet Union.
The scale of the Chernobyl accident is truly global. According to some scientists, the discharge of cesium-137 is equal to 300 Hiroshimas. A well-known Russian scientist Nikolaj Vorontsov has said: “In any case the whole globe has gone into the Chernobyl zone”. Radiation has affected nearly 80 percent of the territory of Belarus. According to the information I received from my parliamentary inquiry, contaminated agricultural areas in Ukraine make up 7.229 million hectares. According to different evaluations, 6 to 8 million people live in contaminated regions. 1.5 million of those live in the most contaminated region. The official medical estimates show that “87 percent of the adult population of this region have received radioactive irradiation of the thyroid gland.” 1.6 million children have been exposed to radiation doses that can cause different diseases. This severe truth was very difficult, and for a long time impossible, to find out.
The Soviet official doctrine of the secure living in the radioactive region is based on the notorious concept of “35 rems during 70 years”. That means that a person may receive 35 rems during his life time and that will not affect his health, quality of life, or future generations. Experts of the former Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, including the prominent scientists, do not agree with this official concept of “acceptable victims”. They hold to the “no thresh-hold of safety”-concept of radiation dose shared by many other specialists both in my country and in the West.
Official medical representatives, speaking in the Parliament, pointed out that society must evaluate the whole risk and the whole benefit of the decreased acceptable dose. Because if the specified acceptable dose is decreased, it will be necessary to resettle not tens but hundreds of thousands of people. The original conception was based not on the right of people to a decent life but on the mercantile interest of the ruling clique.
If the world community will not intervene, and this conception continues to be the basic one in the CIS, then, according to the conclusion of the UN scientific committee on nuclear radiation, 35 rems received during the life time can give us 1750 to 12100 cases of serious hereditary anomalies per 1 million new-born children of irradiated parents. If we admit that the average life time is 70 years (for 1 million new-born it makes 70 million years), the evaluation of genetic risks will give following evaluations of damage: the dose of 35 rem will give in the first generation 39,000 to 247,000 years of inferior life per 1 million new-born and 46,500 to 358,000 years of decreased life time.
All these figures are little known in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The consequences and the scale of the Chernobyl accident were kept secret by the Soviet government itself, as well as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defence. All my attempts to publish materials about what I had seen in the contaminated regions from the end of 1986 to the beginning of 1987, stumbled across these restrictions. Only in 1989, at the First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union, was I able to make a speech and then publicly give a videocassette about contaminated settlements personally to Michail Gorbachev.
The struggle for glasnost concerning the consequences of the nuclear accident was going on in the Committee for Ecology, in the Chernobyl Committee, and in the Governmental Expert Commission, where I happened to work. But only after the coup on August 19th, 1991 could we get top-secret documents of the operational group of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee – forty secret reports. The adduced facts and the scale of deception are striking. According to these reports, tens of thousands of people, including those with diagnosed “radiation disease”, were hospitalized during the very first months following the catastrophe. In order to keep these facts from the public (human life has never been of any value in my country), the Politburo set new permissible doses, 10 to 50 times above the norm. In this miraculous way the contaminated people recovered at once and were discharged. There exists documentary evidence that in some regions no post-mortem examinations of the dead, including children, were made. Over 200,000 soldiers and officers have been exposed to radioactive irradiation.
The English philosopher John Locke once proclaimed every human being’s right to “life, liberty and private property”. The third president of the United States Thomas Jefferson changed this Lockean formula in the famous Declaration of Independence inserting the expression “pursuit of happiness” for “property”. The UN Declaration of Human Rights (Article 3) says that “Every human being has the right to life”…
What is happening presently in the contaminated regions is the violation of all declarations of human rights. Hundreds of thousands of people are still forced to live in the contaminated regions. Nobody is resettling them. And they cannot afford to move to new places themselves: free prices and inflation have surpassed all expectations. Only today, almost six years later, has it become known that 14 regions in Russia have been contaminated. That means that adults and children have lived on the cesium contaminated lands during all these years. They ploughed and sown this land and swallowed radio nucleids. Yes, their rights to life appear to have been realized, but can it be considered a normal life? I think that in the light of the latest events, and I mean not only the resettles and forced migrants from the Chernobyl region, but also the horrible hunger in Somalia, national wars in Yugoslavia ant the former Soviet Union, everywhere else where the human right to normal life has ceased to be such, the time has come for the UN to change its third article by adding a more precise wording: “Every human being has the right” not just to “life” but to a “worthy life”. I greatly value the UN and hope that it will play a more significant role in the elimination of the consequences of this planetary catastrophe – the Chernobyl accident. If the abolishment of the dangerous confrontation between the two systems – the totalitarian communist one and the democratic one only recently was the main condition for the survival of the mankind, then today, when the Soviet Union does not exist any longer, the factors become ecology as well as war and peace on the territory of the former Soviet Union. The main danger for the world community is that wars take place on a territory well endowed with nuclear power stations. The world must recognize it. First of all, politicians, but also the peoples. In this context I have a concrete proposal for discussion: to set up under the aegis of the UN an international consultative committee for ecological refugees and forced migrants, for the people who are forced to live in the radioactive zones. Such a committee must have the right to make inquiries in all governmental organizations, including IAEA. This committee must have the right to give recommendations in the framework of international law as well as to demand the implementation of these recommendations, under the jurisdiction of the International Court.
Humanitarian aid. In the name of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident I want to express my deep gratitude to all countries, all governments, all nongovernmental organizations that have helped the Chernobyl population. I deeply bow to You.
Unfortunately, this aid does not always reach those to whom it is intended. Sometimes it is plundered by unconscientious people who profit on other people’s sorrow. As a journalist, I have written about how money collected abroad was plundered, even for the purpose of building summer houses for the former party nomenclature. How the new rich Soviet people buy cars abroad for their own profit and import them duty-free under the pretence of the importation of baby food. This is why I believe that the time has come to think about what country will become the guarantor of the control over the distribution of the humanitarian aid to the victims of Chernobyl. As far as I know, Japan took the part of a guarantor for the distribution of the humanitarian aid to the low-income people in the CIS at the Tokyo Conference on October 29-30th, 1992. Perhaps my proposal will become the basis for your discussion and Sweden will become a guarantor of the distribution of the humanitarian aid to the victims of Chernobyl. If you make such a decision in principle, I am ready to participate in the work on such a project.
And finally, the lack of control in the spending of money, including foreign currency, in some foundations and societies who deal with the distribution of aid to the inhabitants of the Chernobyl region, has convinced me of the necessity to start my own international foundation to help ecological victims. This would be the most efficient use of the prize that I have been awarded, for the sake of the continuation of my Chernobyl mission. My friends in the West and in Japan are ready to provide me with every possible assistance. I also hope for your support and understanding of this situation in the CIS.
Human Life – unique and individual – is only a moment in the eternal universe. Humanity should never forget this. We are floating through worlds and stars in order to finally create a life which is worthy of Man.
Thank you for your attention.
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