The much-acclaimed series ‘Chernobyl’ tells the story of the 1986 nuclear disaster and the authorities’ attempts to play it down. Ironically, 33 years on, it’s Western leaders who need to learn how to be honest and transparent.
It was the accident which some think led directly to the fall of communism. “Reformers in the Soviet Union, and Mikhail Gorbachev himself, used Chernobyl as an argument for more accountability and greater frankness, because the initial reaction of the Soviet authorities was anything but transparent. It became a symbol of what was wrong with the Soviet system,” says Professor Archie Brown, author of ‘The Rise and Fall of Communism’, as cited in yesterday’s Sunday Express newspaper.
Just three-and-a-half years after Chernobyl, the Berlin Wall came down, and in 1991, the USSR itself ceased to exist.
Western ideologues were quick to gloat, saying that a system which kept telling people lies and trying to cover things up was always doomed to fail, but in terms of openness and telling the truth, are we really much better than the Soviet Union of the 1980s?
Consider the way a succession of illegal wars has been sold to the public. We were told in 2003 that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which could be assembled and launched within 45 minutes. It was false, patently so, yet the Chilcot Report was only published 13 years later, and even now, no one has been prosecuted in relation to a war which led to the deaths of one million and the rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).
In 2011, we went to war again, against Libya. Once more, our politicians were less than honest with us. We were told that we had to bomb because Colonel Gaddafi was going to massacre the inhabitants of Benghazi. Only five-and-a-half years later were we allowed to know the truth. In September 2016, a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report held that “the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence… the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”
Again, we were tricked into war. By ‘nice’ Western politicians, mark you, and not ‘lying’ Soviet ones. Once more, there’s been no accountability. Libya, a country which had the highest Human Development Index in the whole of Africa, was destroyed. It was a far worse disaster than Chernobyl, as indeed Iraq was. When will the HBO dramas on these catastrophes be screening?
It’s not just the illegal wars. There have been cover-ups of plenty of other things, too. Three years after Chernobyl, there was the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans were crushed to death. It was the worst disaster in British sporting history. To add insult to tragedy, the fans themselves were blamed. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun claimed on its front page that fans had urinated on policemen and picked the pockets of victims. It took nearly 30 years to get the record formally put right and achieve ‘Justice for the 96’ when a jury held that the fans were ‘unlawfully killed’. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which wants a public inquiry into the way striking miners in South Yorkshire were ‘brutalised’ by police in the so-called ‘Battle of Orgreave’ in 1984, are still waiting. In 2016, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said there would be no inquiry.
Where’s the openness and transparency here?
Likewise with the cover-ups over suspected Establishment pedophiles and other high-up wrong-doers. We learnt only this year that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had, back in the 80s, personally protected a senior Conservative MP who allegedly had a “penchant for small boys.”
We don’t know whether a leading Soviet politician who was a child-abuser would have been prosecuted. Probably not. But we do know that in Britain in the 1980s, such cover-ups definitely occurred. And who really believes that’s still not the case today?
Bergson and Popper famously divided societies into ‘open’ and ‘closed’ ones, but Western ‘openness’ is not quite as ‘open’ as we’re led to believe. It does not extend to politicians frankly acknowledging the role that Western foreign policy has played in aiding, directly or indirectly, the very same terrorists who have gone on to target Western civilians. That’s a taboo subject, even after the Manchester Arena bombings and the bomber’s link to the MI5-‘sorted’ anti-Gaddafi LIFG, and the slaughter of tourists on the beach in Tunisia by a man who reportedly trained at an IS camp in neighboring ‘liberated’ Libya.
There are many more subjects too that are so taboo I dare not even mention them here. By contrast, dishonest or fact-lite narratives, such as ‘Russiagate’, or the one that holds that the UK Labour Party, an anti-racist party, is ‘awash with anti-Semitism’, hold sway. We CAN talk about these and indeed some commentators talk about little else.
It is the greatest of ironies that at the very same time that we are being told how HBO’s Chernobyl exposes the rottenness of the ‘closed’ Soviet system, a man who does believe in openness and transparency, a free press, and government accountability, is languishing in a maximum security prison in ‘open’ London, facing a possible extradition to the US and sentences of up to 175 years in jail. Julian Assange, whose only crime is wanting to show us what was behind the curtain, is no less persecuted than the Soviet dissidents about whom we heard an awful lot in the 1980s.
It’s been said that if you feud with someone long enough you end up being like them, or at least how you liked to portray them. When we think of the old Cold War and what’s going on today, that seems to have come true.
In its lack of transparency and openness, and the way in which lying has become the new normal, the West is now behaving the way the Soviet Union is supposed to have operated at the time of Chernobyl.
Who, I wonder, will be the equivalent of Mikhail Gorbachev to introduce some much-needed Western Glasnost?