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Saturday, 30 April 2011 10:13

Chernobyl Commemorated

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The sun was shining on Gendarmenmarkt as we approached the French Dom (cathedral). We were supposed to be at the commemoration ceremony at 1pm, but when we got there we were told that the ceremony would not start until 2pm. The extra time gave me the opportunity to look at who, apart from the organised group, had decided to spend the afternoon commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy instead of being in a park with friends and a barbeque.

We were definitely the youngest ones there. 40 students out of around 170 people in the Dom; I would have guessed the average age to be around 60. Many of the older people had to support themselves with canes or were in wheelchairs. They were "time witnesses" - people who themselves had had their lives changed by the catastrophe 25 years ago. Some of them looked like they were suffering from medical conditions, perhaps a legacy of their brief experience of Chernobyl, but I cannot tell for sure. Nevertheless, they were all dressed up, and it was clear that this moment was important for them.

When the ceremony began, I suddenly became nervous about our contributions to the ceremony. What if they thought they were stupid? We had spent the whole week debating and discussing the aftermath of Chernobyl and though I felt like we were quite knowledgable and understood the gravity of the accident, I couldn't help but think that we would never feel the same as the older generation around us. About halfway through the ceremony, it was our turn to take the stage and perform a play that had been prepared during the previous week.

I couldn't help but think that we would never feel the same as the older generation around us.

It was received really well, and I was proud of the theatre group who had worked very hard to get everything ready. Then Lorenz, who is from Switzerland, took the stage to participate in a panel debate about nuclear power. He presented a manifesto that we had prepared during the week which contained a longterm wish for a Europe without nuclear power.

People's reactions came as quite a surprise to me. They thought that we had been way too pragmatic and people in the audience applauded loudly when a doctor, who also participated in the debate, said that he would have much preferred an immediate shutdown of all nuclear power plants in Europe. Rather then engaging with the debate their minds had been set to believe that nuclear power was negative, and only negative.

When I thought about it later, in made sense to me, though. The people who cared enough to attend this ceremony were people who had been directly affected by the accident 25 years ago. Of course they had strong opinions on nuclear power, stronger than ours. And of course they thought that we were too pragmatic - everything but absolute opposition to nuclear power would have been too pragmatic for them. I handed out the manifesto to all of them when the ceremony was over - I think most of them were just happy with the fact that a group of young people actually cared enough about their fates to attend this event. And I am happy about that.

You can read more about the project and read the manifesto as well on www.chernobyl-25.eu

Juliane Dybkjaer is reporting live from the Eustory "25 Years After Chernobyl" event in Berlin. As part of the commemorations Eustory have brought together young Europeans from across the continent to interview survivors, write a new history of the event, and discuss what the future of Europe will look like.

Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2011 16:00

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