WEBINAR: The Chernobyl Effect. Anti-nuclear Protest and the Forging of Poland's Democracy 1986-1990. Environmental Lunchtime Discussion

Has the Chernobyl catastrophe contributed to the fall of communism? Political Science researcher Kacper Szulecki talks on positioning the environmental anti-nuclear protests, which spilled across Poland between 1985 and 1990, in a broader context.

People, Doorway, Brickbuilding, Mask, Helmet, Sield

Photo: Environmental protest, Poznan 1989. From the archive of Tomasz Borewicz.

The talk presents a monograph, forthcoming with Berghahn Books.
For several decades, nuclear energy has been a symbol of modernity and a promise of science-led development, but from the onset, it also caused controversies due to the scale of risks it carried. The Chernobyl explosion was a spark, which ignited a completely new kind of protest against the communist authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland. Protests after Chernobyl – initially linked to the Soviet nuclear plant but later increasingly to domestic nuclear projects – spread dissident mobilization across new groups, cities, towns and villages. Coinciding with a generational and cultural shift in the Polish opposition after 1985, this spawned protest actions and dissident movements with a distinctively new “flavor”. 
At the same time, the starkest protests against the most advanced project – the Żarnowiec nuclear power plant – reached their climax only some months after the first semi-democratic elections were held in June 1989 and the first non-communist government took office in September that year. This means that the history of Polish environmental protests necessitates a new reading of “1989” – as the beginning of a process, and not a watershed date marking the instantaneous switch from communism to democracy. It also begs the questions about the colliding visions of Poland’s emergent democracy and its quality, as perceived by both the former allies within the “Solidarity” opposition and the Communists.​​
Kacper Szulecki is a researcher at the Department of Political Science, UiO. He is the founder of the Environmental Studies and Policy Research Institute (ESPRi) in Poland, and he was also a visiting researcher at the Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies and at the Department of History and Civilization (HEC) at EUI Florence, a Dahrendorf Fellow at the Hertie School of Governance and a guest researcher at the Department of Climate Policy, DIW Berlin. He works primarily on environmental and climate policy as well as energy politics - the democratization of energy systems and the securitization of energy governance. He is also interested in dissent and protest. He edited "Energy Security in Europe" (Palgrave 2017), and is the author of "Dissidents in Communist Central Europe: Human RIghts and the Emergence of New Transnational Actors" (Palgrave 2019).


About the event series

The OSEH Environmental Lunchtime Discussion series consists of short, 10-15 minute presentations by invited guests, followed by a discussion. We invite speakers from a wide variety of fields, both academic and beyond. The presentations are accessible and are aimed at anyone with an interest in environmental issues. All are welcome.

Tags: Environmental Humanities, HF, IKOS, OSEH, Political Science
Published Apr. 17, 2020 9:37 AM - Last modified Aug. 26, 2022 8:22 AM