June 2 (Tue) - 12:00pm - 1:15pm
Melanie Arndt
Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, Regensburg

History Corner, Room 307

“Chernobyl children” is not only a common label for the youngest victims of the nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union on 26 April 1986, but also the name that many civic organizations involved in providing help to victims use. In a broader sense, this metaphor has also been applied to social, political, and technical actors who were not directly affected by Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout, including some as far away as the United States. In this paper, I examine the interplay between those different actors from local and global perspectives, and the social and political responses to the elusive threats of a major nuclear accident.

The many legacies of “Chernobyl” are closely intertwined with the Cold War.  Cold War divisions influenced perception of the disaster and the ways in which states and communities dealt with it. I analyze therefore not only the obvious differences because of the different underlying political, social and cultural systems of the societies, but also the similarities and commonalities transcending system boundaries based on the common challenge of having to deal with the profound uncertainties connected with the use of radioactivity. International and transnational involvement in the mitigation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster played an important role in the transfer of knowledge and resources. The paper looks at many of these transfer processes that were multidirectional and resulted in sometime rather paradoxical outcomes -- for example turning “Chernobyl children” into “cosmopolitans.” Archival material in the former Soviet republics and the United States, memoir literature and qualitative interviews with survivors, experts and activists provide the foundation for this analysis.

Melanie Arndt is an historian of environmental and social history who specializes in disasters as transnational processes. Since July 2014, she has been one of three directors of the French-German research project “Contemporary Environmental History of the Soviet Union and the Successor States, 1970-2000. Ecological Globalization and Regional Dynamics (EcoGlobReg)” at the Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, Regensburg, Germany. From 2008-2012 she was the director of an international research project titled: “Politics and Society after Chernobyl: Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, and Germany,” funded by the German Volkswagen Foundation at the Center for Contemporary History, Potsdam, Germany. She has taught environmental history and historical disaster research at Regensburg University, the Humboldt University in Berlin, Potsdam University, and the European Humanities University Vilnius/Minsk in Lithuania. Since December 2012, Melanie Arndt has been working at the Graduate School for Eastern and Southeast European Studies at the University Regensburg, Germany.

After working in Minsk, Belarus from 1996 to 1997, Arndt studied political science, Eastern European studies, and history at the Potsdam University, the Free University in Berlin, and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London. She received her PhD from the Humboldt University. Arndt has published extensively on environmental history, human security, memory, including Health Policy in Divided Berlin, 1948-1962 (Böhlau, 2009) and Chernobyl: Consequences of the Reactor Accident for the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2011).

RSVP requested.

Co-sponsored by the Center for International Security and Cooperation.