Sunday, May 11, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Officials Mistreating Survivors of 1957 Soviet Nuclear Accident

Paul Goble

Ankara, May 12 – Russian officials are mistreating the survivors of the 1957 nuclear accident in the Urals, refusing to pay them the pension supplements they are legally entitled to, apparently pocketing the money, and using delaying tactics in court in the hopes that they can outlast the dwindling number of such veterans.
Because this accident took place so long ago and has remained almost entirely out of the public eye and because the number of survivors is now so small, the victims of the Mayak catastrophe have generally suffered in silence. But now some of them are seeking to exploit Internet media portals to attract attention to their plight. .
An example of this new phenomenon, one that reflects the increasing desperation of the survivors, is a letter sent by one of their number, Galina Pashnina, to the website. In it, she paints a picture of official indifference, malfeasance and chicanery that stands out even under Russian conditions (
“We, who were evacuated from various villages as a result of the accident at Mayak,” her letter begins, “ask you to help us solve our problems. Since 2000 and even earlier, in connection with inflation, the monthly benefits we are supposed to be receiving have been indexed” by law, but officials have not given us the money we are supposed to receive.
According to the declarations of the officials responsible for this, Pashnina continued, they have distributed the money in a completely correct manner and consequently owe us nothing, but “where our money has gone, we can only guess.” The victims of the long-ago disaster “have not received it.”
As a result, Pashnina said, she had gone to court to try to force them to pay what they have been supposed to. She hired a lawyer, but the latter did not show up at the hearing, and consequently, the local court issued the following decision, one that would have pleased Gogol’s heroes:
“According to the provision of the Federal law about the federal budget, reliable financial conditions are created for the realization of the norms, defined in other federal laws, published before its adoption and specifying he financial responsibilities of the state; that is, indicating the means and materials guarantees and the necessity of corresponding expenditures.”
But, “at the same time,” the court continued, “to the extent that the federal budget must be based on the principles of balance, reliability and reality, the federal legislator is within its rights, after having preserved the extent of the guaranteed compensation to stop the action of financial norms which guarantee the realization of the rights and freedoms of citizens.”
“Why such [obfuscation and] injustice?” Pashnina asked. And then she pointed to the logic of legal delay, the kind that animated those in the Chancery Courts described by Dickens in “Great Expectations” and very much in evidence in a small district far from Moscow, the attentions of human rights activists, and the focus of the media.
Apparently because those who control the money and probably are pocketing it, Pashnina suggested, are counting on those who have filed suit to die before they can collect. Six of the 185 veterans in her town have died in the last three months, many are elderly, and more will certainly die before the court reverses itself.
Moreover, the veterans who are not receiving the money they have a right to cannot possibly find work and cannot even use the local lake to catch fish that might supplement their all too meager diets. On the one hand, and despite Russian laws against age discrimination, no one locally will hire any of the 80 percent of the victims who are over 55.
And on the other, a wealthy “new Russian” has bought the land around the lake near the village and prohibited the local people from catching fish. Once the weather warms up, she suggested, local residents are sure they will be banned from swimming. And other new companies are cutting down the woods that the villagers have used for firewood.
Consequently, the future for the village and especially for the surviving veterans of a nuclear accident the Soviets did so much to try to hide and to whose survivors the Russian government committed itself to help have been left to die, at a time when as the Western media likes to say Moscow is flooded with money from the sale of oil.
“In general, who are we? And who needs us? Will the government ever think about its citizens?” It is clear that Pashnina has doubts that it will do so before she and the others who continue to suffer from the actions of officials has grave doubts that this will happen before she and they die off.

No comments: