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“Am I in the Soviet Union again?”
After Chernobyl, American historians fight back, and more
April 27, 2023
In this week’s issue of Public Seminar, Paul Josephson and Anastasia Shteinert discuss nuclear Russia and the legacy of Chernobyl, Naman Vakharia revisits Here Is New York, Matthew Dennis takes a warning from Grant’s tomb, and more.
Back in the USSR?
On the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Paul Josephson joins Anastasia Shteinert for a conversation about the place of atomic science in Russia and post-Soviet nations. As Josephson explains, what happened at Chernobyl was a point of no return for the USSR:
The Baltic states, especially Lithuania, were furious, both about the accident and the lies, and they then also remembered that Stalin had used the Red Army to incorporate them into the Soviet Union. They had always wanted to be independent states, and looked more to Europe than they did to the USSR.
I think Gorbachev himself realized that Chernobyl was a crucial event. In general, people came to see Chernobyl and nuclear power as being a Russian colonial enterprise: the Kremlin was putting a dirty industry inside their borders. So, this internal colonialism, or internal imperialism, became a very important narrative for questioning the Soviet state during the Gorbachev years.
In an excerpt from Paul Josephson’s new book, Nuclear Russia: The Atom in Russian Politics and Culture (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2023), the author describes Vladimir Putin’s avid pursuit of a nuclearized Russia. (April 26, 2023)
“2021 and 2022 witnessed the emergence of two strikingly different border regimens along the eastern border of Poland. Those crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border were offered faster border checks and supportive infrastructure, as well as a warm welcome, encouraged by the rhetoric of dignity and proximity. The border crossing from Belarus into Poland saw brutal blockades, racialization of non-European refugees, and rapid border militarization.” Lidia Zessin-Jurek unpacks the global issues arriving at Poland’s door. (April 25, 2023)
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Confronted by book bans, stacked school boards, and right-wing legislation that seeks to radically alter U.S. education, organizations like Historians for Peace and Democracy are fighting back, writes Molly Nolan. “Describing the current culture wars is only the beginning of our intervention: we also need to understand why these attacks are happening.” (April 24, 2023)
“Ironically, memorials—even ones as colossal as the temple that honors the once transcendently famous Ulysses S. Grant—seem to give us permission to forget.” In an excerpt from American Relics and the Politics of Memory (University of Massachusetts Press, 2023), Matthew Dennis offers the cautionary tale of a national hero’s forgotten tomb. (April 24, 2023)
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