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Final Report - Aleg Cherp's visit to the US (March 2-9, 2002)

The primary objective of Dr. Cherp's trip to Middlebury in March 2002 was to deliver a public presentation highlighting the findings of the recent UN Mission to Chernobyl. In addition to this activity, he organized a meeting between ECOLOGIA and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and made several additional presentations at Middlebury college and other schools. These activities are described in more detail below.

1. Public lecture "15 Years after Chernobyl and How the World Has Responded" - (March 6). This lecture was prepared based on Dr. Cherp's participation in the UN Mission evaluating the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. In summer 2001 their Mission met with more than 900 people in dozens of Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian towns and villages affected by the radioactive fallout. In February 2002 the UN launched an official report (http://www.un.kiev.ua:8080/chorn/) suggesting a revival strategy for the region. One of the Report's findings was that most profound detrimental effects of Chernobyl were not directly caused by radiation. The Report presented a complex "downward spiral" of health, environmental risks and socio-ecological well-being into which the local communities were drawn as a result of the nuclear accident, mistaken remediation policies and misinformation originating both from domestic and from international sources. The UN Report has since received controversial reaction from media, environmental NGOs and the nuclear establishment.

In his presentation, accompanied by slide demonstration, Dr. Cherp argued that the consequences of Chernobyl had been "hijacked" by international actors to influence the debate on the future and safety of nuclear energy. This perspective has largely neglected the needs of the affected communities and is largely responsible for their current tragedies.

2.Organizing a meeting between ECOLOGIA and GRI (March 2). Dr. Cherp is a participant in the Global Reporting Initiative (www.globalreporting.org), a major international effort to promote and standardize reporting on economic, social and environmental aspects of corporate activities. During the meeting which he organized, GRI and ECOLOGIA discussed potential areas for co-operation.

3. Speech at Green Mountain College (March 5) focused on Dr. Cherp's personal experience as a member and a co-chairman of the Soviet students' Movement of Nature Protection Brigades in 1987-1991. He described how this movement was formed during the 1960s and what challenges it had during the Soviet time, the "perestroika" of the late 1980s and the transition period of the 1990s.

4. Class presentation on environmental impacts of economic transition in Russia (March 7). Dr. Cherp spoke with Middlebury college students studying transitional economies. This was an interactive discussion of how economic restructuring and economic liberalization may have both positive and negative environmental consequences.

5. Public lecture on the history of environmental policy and environmental movements in Russia at Middlebury College (March 7). Dr. Cherp explained how Soviet environmental policy had been different from that of the West, and how it interacted with the environmental movements.

6. Seminar on sustainability and transition at the University of Massachusets at Lowell (March 8). Dr. Cherp met with the group of international graduate students and staff at the Center for Occupational Health. The discussion focused on similarities between political and economic changes in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa and the implications for social and environmental aspects of sustainable development which these similarities entail.

Conclusions
Most of the meetings and discussions in the United States were very useful for both sides. In preparing these talks, the author had to think of how to connect the issues significant and familiar in the Eastern European context to the interests and concerns of different American audiences. The result was better mutual understanding, within the context of acknowledging differences.

Following are some examples, related to different topics of Aleg Cherpís presentations, of the difference in perception between the US and Eastern European audiences. Each of these presents fruitful areas for continued discussion.

a) The US audience perceives the Chernobyl event largely in terms of radiation risk and safety, whereas the actual impacts on the affected population are largely in the socio-economic and psychological spheres.

b) Very few in the US understand the significance of the local economic development in areas affected by Chernobyl.

c) Part of the US audience believes that the start of the non-governmental environmental movements in the USSR coincided with the reforms of the late 1980s. In fact, there was a considerable informal student environmental movement originating in the 1960s.

d) Especially among Americans, there is no widespread knowledge about the social and environmental costs of the transition from centrally planned to market economies.

e) The differences and similarities between transitional countries of Eastern Europe and developing countries in the rest of the world are, as a rule, not clearly understood.

Report submitted by Dr. Aleg Cherp, April 16, 2002.
Central European University, Budapest, Hungary