Congresswoman Oakar Chamber of the House of Representatives
Congresswoman Oakar’s resolution declared
that the House of Representatives: (1) conveys American sympathy to the Ukrainian people over the Chernobyl accident; (2) calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to allow relatives of the victims to receive word about the fate of family members; (3) supports the U.S. offer for technical and medical assistance to the Ukraine authorities; (4) expresses its support for European nations that have been affected by nuclear radiation from the accident; (5) calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to facilitate the furnishing of technical and humanitarian assistance through appropriate international organizations; (6) deplores the Soviet Union's failure to notify and provide information to the world about the Chernobyl accident and calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to permit the international press to cover the accident; (7) calls upon the Soviet Union to permit the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an investigation of the cause of such accident and to share the results with other nations; (8) calls upon the President to take steps to establish at the Agency a mechanism for an automatic response to any nuclear accident that threatens the health and safety of the public; and (9) calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to allow the American people to provide assistance to the victims and their families by facilitating the prompt delivery of humanitarian packages.
It may have been the first time for Congress to call on Soviet Ukraine – separate and distinct from the Soviet Union – to take any action.
And, Congresswoman Oakar wanted swift action! There was immediate push-back from the Department of State demanding that references to “Soviet Ukraine” be deleted. Oakar ignored the State Department objection insisting on quick action and then-House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante Fascell (D-FL) – and staff director Jack Brady – pushed forward and had the resolution marked-up in committee and reported to the full House by Unanimous Consent on May 1,
it then was agreed to by the entire House on the same day! Think of it – action on legislation introduced on April 30 was completed the next day - May 1
And obviously as a result the House acted on the very same day that – at Mikhail Gorbachev’s insistence – the annual May Day parade took place in Kyiv with radiation settling down on the unsuspecting participants and the citizen watching the event. There was even a celebratory bicycle race – all the better to breath in the radiation.
While Gorbachev kept critical information from Soviet citizens those same citizens were, among other things, celebrating the Union.
Despite Gorbachev’s later attempts to re-write history, Chornobyl and its disgraceful cover-up must not be forgotten. The lessons must be learned and remembered to inform foreign policy.
Among so many other things Chornobyl stands as a critical example of the evil that develops and breeds within a totalitarian state, in this case the Soviet Union.
As Bill McGurn wrote recently in
The Wall Street Journal
, “Communism has always been far more about Lenin than Marx – that is, about getting and holding power, rather than any economic arrangement.”
This was true in the Soviet Union whether the leader was Lenin, Stalin,
or Gorbachev and it is true in Putin’s Kremlin as well. This reality must inform our relations with the Kremlin.