When the news of an accident at the Njonoksa Nuclear Research Center in the White Sea in the Russian Federation was announced last week, it sounded like an April 1986 echo: the secrecy, the peace that has just begun to arouse suspicion, the nameless victims and the awfulness for possible consequences of a nuclear accident that simply transcends borders and generations. Even if the damage cannot be compared to the Chernobyl disaster – the fragments in the reports are enough to trigger a flashback. It could happen again, and then it would start with news breaks, half-truths and blatant lies.
Mikhail Gorbachev called the reactor explosion of Chernobyl the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. He probably meant not only the economic cost of the disaster, but also the symbolic and political: the powerful Soviet Union could not protect their citizens, the decisive, supposedly scientifically sound ideology, failed in practice. And when that meant something, too little worked.
The end of the Soviet Union also put an end to communism until the novels of Michel Houellebecq and Didier Eribon feel the emptiness of the loss of this crazy but strangely binding ideology. If you look at it, the 1986 nuclear accident is also at the beginning of our post-ideological, post-modern day – where everything seems easy, but doesn't feel it. Chernobyl is our great helplessness. After the age of ideology, the area of freedom began, where things do not always do justice and fear flourishes. A look at the paperback deals at the department store is enough: Amid all the cheap, beautiful items, the counselors stacked up against back pain, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
Material has never been so good to people, yet the joy is overcast and turns to many extreme thoughts and parties, dissatisfied, nervous and depressed, as if all this, all growth, is ultimately disappointed.
A series about our era
To make sense of the present, one turns to the arts. For several days, the five-part series "Chernobyl" by Craig Mazin at Amazon and Apple is available for a fee, previously they could only see in this country the circle of Sky subscribers. Your reputation for being one of the best series in the world is justified. Each era has its formative series and this is ours. In five parts, the fate of the time is told actors, but in essence it is not a reconstruction of what happened back then. Unsurprisingly, Russian voices have risen, some found wrong or trendy – they are probably right. But "Chernobyl" is a series about our present, about the fears of individuals, overloaded institutions and developments whose consequences we can no longer understand.
In one scene, we see a meeting of the Politburo in the Moscow Kremlin shortly after the reactor explosion. The responsible minister takes the floor and explains that fortunately the situation is stable. You're just about to face a major nuclear disaster and the core of the reactor is exposed and shining, so it's nothing stable, but he says: There are no riots, the phones are off there, no one learns anything.
All for the interior climate
Anyone who has attended professional meetings will often recognize this: The good news first is to please the manager. The narcissism of the group that wants to be confirmed for not having made any mistakes. And neglect of the outside world in favor of the indoor climate in the hall. The nuclear power plant processes are complex, dangerous, simply depressing, but to continue everything as before – it warms the political heart.
The series shows very well how the political and bureaucratic hierarchy initially deals with the message of a changing, all-threatening information: roaring and threatening. This is the very first reaction at night in the factory control room and later on the political sphere. As if the boss's authority could also scare radiation, illness, even death, if only the employees were pressed enough.
Instead of looking at and analyzing the flow of information together, they take help with the funds that have always helped: When the Chernobyl minister wants to fly over the open reactor by helicopter as quickly as possible, the traveling nuclear expert urges him to stop it. It means a safe, quick and painful death. But the minister does not disagree and threatens the pilot that he will get him shot unless he flies him over it. The expert comments: If you fly over the open reactor, pray tomorrow to get shot.
Scientist Legassov's figure speaks the central phrase: "We are dealing with something that has never happened before on this planet." The spectators recognize the motto of our time. One can think of climate change, annoying politicians, the change of power from Europe to Asia. But it also fits with enormous upheavals in the economy, the media or in parties. Employees of a car company that until recently made an incredible amount of money selling gasoline-powered vehicles will find the series as credible as bankers or reporters.
Artificial intelligence, digitalization, globalization – fortunately, all these phenomena are not deadly and as such are not as severe as the Chernobyl disaster. But the symbolic vibration, the feeling of moving in unfamiliar terrain, and the futility of a familiar worldview that seemed just perfect until then.
Collaboration as a resort
The protagonists of "Chernobyl" change over the course of the five episodes and develop in very different, even surprising ways. The experience of the nuclear disaster is not depicted as fate but as man-made accident from which people can find their way out again. And the series, with all the gloomy and melancholy masterful view, also recommends a way out: the collaboration. A more significant, apocalyptic disaster, namely a full-blown heat explosion, threatened in the days after the fight against the consequences had begun.
There were several experts, politicians and three divers, later hundreds of miners needed to ward them off. They sacrificed their health for it, if not their lives. They could not be moved by money or positions, so the series unspoken implies how an open society would cope with such an unknown-size challenge. One recognizes what the insight into a common, as concrete as possible goal of the forces and abilities is capable of releasing. And you also learn how hierarchies and their insistence on common procedures in rescue operations can hinder. If everything is different, do everything differently. That is the message of this masterpiece.