Chernobyl was a disastrous event that holds name recognition no matter who you talk to. When diving a bit deeper into the conflict and analyzing the competing perceptions of the Soviet Union and the West, it develops into something even more interesting. When looking at the New York Times Moscow’s Silence On Disaster Assailed In Europe, they state that Chernobyl is the “worst nuclear-power disaster in history” and go on to talk about the horrible conditions that would follow the region. In contrast, the Russian Press’ article Chernobyl Warns, Vice President of the USSR Academy of Sciences met with foreign journalists in order to assure the public that this meltdown was being dramatized in the west. For instance, the Vice President says that people in the west are taking too much of an “emotional approach in assessing what happened” and that Chernobyl was a “tiny incident compared to a thermonuclear catastrophe.” It is interesting to look at the differences with these two articles, and how the Russian scientists is downplaying the disaster by comparing it to a thermonuclear war.
This tragedy, with the obvious risk that accompanied it, also brought economic and social consequences to the Soviet Union. In Lewis Siegelbaum’s essay “Meltdown in Chernobyl” he goes on to talk about the cost of cleanup and relocation for thousands of people, which would cost billions of ruble. For the social aspect, Gorbachev took a major hit to his popularity domestically and internationally due to him not reporting the meltdown officially for almost three weeks. This hurt him, especially when glasnost was a key part of the Soviet Union moving forward. As many as 100,000 people died from this incident alone, and this just added to the sense of victimization due to the famine of 1932-1933.
Even though the Soviet Union was at a disadvantage, they were able to prevail in the Great Patriotic War. There were many factors at play that led to the defeat of the Nazi regime, one of them being the ability of the soviet dictatorship to be centralized and to have direct control and rapid mobilization. (Freeze, pg. 385) In addition, due to the absence of many able-bodied men to work in factories or in the fields, women began to make up the majority of the industrial work force and in essence out-produced the Germans. There were many other reasons why the Soviets were able to prevail, such as the improved competence of commanders and the contributions made from the western allies.
Although these were great achievements, they came at a certain cost for the Soviets. In particular, the famine of 1946-1947 would lead the reduction in grain harvest by millions of tons. In 1940, the grain harvest was 95.5 million and in 1946, the total harvested was 39.6 million tons. The drought of 1946 would result in starvation and typhus that would kill thousands. Not only that, the decree of September 19, 1946 “On Measures to Liquidate Breaches of the [Kolkhoz] Statute” took away private land that was used for family purposes. Furthermore, as rationing began to be phased out, the ruble would also experience devaluation which resulted in the kolkhoz peasantry losing all of their savings that were accumulated during the war. These challenges were hard to tackle by themselves, especially with the country having 25 million people homeless, much of the infrastructure destroyed, and one-third of the nation’s wealth being obliterated. (Freeze, pg. 392)
There were some major breakthroughs for women’s rights following the revolution, and Aleksandra Kollontai fought for those rights. One of these rights being the ability for a woman to divorce her husband without “obtaining his or any other permission.” (The New Woman) Social norms would be changed for women at home and in the workplace, as well as in politics. This development and improvement of women’s rights was a major accomplishment at the time. However, in implementing these changes brought other factors into play, one being integration of women into politics where young communists were prevalent.
revolution affected the way gender roles were viewed, and communism contributed
to that. The ideal young communist would show no feminine qualities and
essentially drove women out of the Komosol. In fact, fathers would actively
attempt to not let their wives or daughters to participate in the Komosol due
to the nasty nature of how young communists conducted themselves.
Due to the mistreatment of females in the 1920’s, the only way to be around these young communists was to hinder or eliminate many or all feminine qualities. The People’s Commissar of Health Nikolai Semashko even stated that these women who dealt away with their feminine qualities were “disheveled, frequently dirty hair… [used a] deliberately rude voice” and that it was a violation of “nature itself.” (Revolutionary Manliness) When females are excluded and treated rudely for being feminine, and are not accepted when they part ways with it, it created a problem for women at that time.
The photo is showing a production shop for scabbards at the Zlatoust plant taken in 1910. Scabbards are the leather or metal protective cover for swords or knife’s, which were very important as swords were mass produced. Prokudin-Gorskii was able to capture this image and many others during this time with the help from Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation in 1909-1915. This town was known for metal production and Germans played a key role as employees in these factories.
During this time, the industrial growth of the 1890’s created
the opportunity like this carpentry factory in Zlatoust to be constructed.
Before this photo was taken, other important events such as the 1905 revolution
fought in order to achieve better pay for workers in factories such as the one
pictured above. In addition, these factories align with having one class as a
means of labor, and one class that owns the factories, mills, mines, and land.
None of these factories would have been as successful without the ability to use transportation to distribute scabbards, swords, etc. The location of Zlatoust is located in the Ai River valley to the west of Chelyabinsk and was a central location for trading, and was even the first place to produce Russian cannons. As you can see from the map above, Zlatoust’s geographical location was is in a prime locations to conduct production and distribution of steel-related items. Also, former railway executive Sergei Witte became the Minister of Finance, which improved and helped create the trans-Siberian railway that increased Zlatoust’s value.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford University Press, 2009.