See the beautiful Taormina without tourists it is very sad. The houses hang on the hills as if about to plummet over a cloudy sea; hotels, bars, restaurants and shops weep in disgust with their owners and employees with their arms crossed at the doors, hoping that the impossible will save them from ruin. But in the midst of this desolation is this force of nature, Antonella Ferrara, who made this miracle possible: that the literary festival Taobuk will be held for another year, and with Svetlana Aleksievitch, the Belarusian journalist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, as a guest of honor. The ceremony will take place in the beautiful Greek theater (which is, in fact, Roman), as always.
Although I love Taormina, and Sicily, I’m here for Svetlana, above all. I read your book on Chernobyl this year (Chernobyl Voices) and, I think for the first time in my life, I wanted to meet her author and talk to her. The conversation was frustrating because she speaks only Russian, in addition to Belarusian, and was with a Bulgarian translator, which did not make things easier. She is a very simple woman, 72 years old, who has studied and dedicated herself to journalism all her life and is now in trouble with the jackal that has terrorized her country for 26 years – Alexander Lukashenko – because she is one of the seven leaders of the Coordination Council led by the opposition against the electoral fraud that he recently perpetrated to perpetuate himself in power. After Taormina, Svetlana will take refuge in Germany because she fears being detained in Minsk, where she lives.
In Chernobyl Voices, and I suppose that in her other reports published in magazines and newspapers, and then compiled into books, she dialogues with hundreds of men and women about the central fact, and then turns those conversations into monologues of isolated people or human groups, who pour a great diversity of opinions and exhibit a very rich showcase about what happened – in the case of Chernobyl, the explosion of one of the four reactors of the nuclear power plant -, which allow the reader to form an opinion about it or, as in this case, float in a sea of doubts.
What really happened in that small Ukrainian town very close to the Belarusian and Russian border, on April 26, 1986, at an hour and twenty-three minutes in the morning, when, because of the explosion, were the fourth energy block and the building that contained it in that nuclear power plant destroyed?
We learn about it in a fragmented way: from the wife, newly married, of a firefighter, who is called to put out the fire and who goes there the way he was, wearing pants and a tank top. And for the apprehensive cats who suddenly stop eating the thousands of dead mice that appear on the streets. The firefighter’s wife will meet her husband again in a hospital Moscow, days later, in agony, with their bodies covered with putrefied sores, and the cats of Chernobyl will also perish, contaminated by radiation or slaughtered by the soldiers in charge of not leaving any animals that could contaminate people alive in the region. Thus, peasants, teachers, political leaders, teenagers, the elderly, doctors, historians, soldiers, pastors and these strange trades that appeared out of nowhere, the looters, the dosimetrists, the liquidators, and the grandmothers of that terrified girl who hanged themselves appear.
Those were the times of Gorbachev and yes perestroika, and he wanted to save communism and the USSR by opening up dialogue and with flashes of freedom everywhere. But it was too late, communism and the USSR were dead and buried, and the appearances of the new leader on television, calming spirits, ensuring that normalcy had been restored in Chernobyl, did not deserve credit from anyone, especially those who , in the vast affected area, they continued to be contaminated, to get sick, to die, and women giving birth to bald children, without fingers, without ears and without eyes. The churches were filled with people, and the commissioners were in tears with the bodies attacked by the “rem” and the “roentgen”, who had finally learned to differentiate, uselessly.
I have seldom read a book so striking that it so clearly presents the future that awaits us if we continue so suicidal and stupid to fill the world with nuclear power plants that could make us disappear, like the victims of Chernobyl, in a worldwide carnage, from which no one would escape, except, perhaps, some species of bacteria half living, half stone.
The woman who wrote it, Svetlana Aleksievitch, stands before me and has not lost her reason by writing these explosive pages. Eat slowly, with a certain appetite, removing the veils that cover half your face, which, according to the viperine languages, are due to radiation who suffered while collecting those materials about Chernobyl. It is not true, of course. His face is clean and diaphanous. Passing through Russian and English, which she barely scratches, I tell her that her book kept me awake for several nights, and she asks me about the Incas. Is there a lot of literature on your mythology? I say yes, but, as they did not know the writing, it was the Spanish chroniclers who collected the first reports about the gods and miracles of Incario. Svetlana does not know Latin America and would like to go there someday.
I do not ask you, of course, what is not said in your book, nor in the splendid series that was made about him, and that no one knows, and that, of course, no one will ever know: what exactly happened in Chernobyl that night of astonishment? Who was to blame? Was it a human error? Was it a poorly designed machine? Why did it explode what shouldn’t explode at all? These were the questions that everyone asked themselves, starting with Gorbachov, and that both in the book and in the film remain underlying this extraordinary and almost perfect research that resulted from the Chernobyl Voices. Questions that have no answer for an obvious, but inexpressible reason. Nobody knows, or better said, everyone knows, but it cannot and should not be said. Because? For a very simple reason: because we are all guilty at the same time, for action or for inaction. From the last-rate employee who falsified his information in order to value himself and justify his work, to the director of the exchange, who did the same, and for the same reasons as the last of his employees, to let his bosses know that there , things were well conducted, because there was someone who knew how to do his job, etc. Everyone changed the truth a little, or a lot, because they could not do anything else without weakening and becoming vulnerable to sanctions and the silent struggle against everyone, which was life within the system. Who, what failed? Everyone and nobody, nobody failed, it just happened like that, and it is neither possible nor convenient to waste time trying to find out. The best thing – and this is the genius of the book and the series – is to shut up and try to face the consequences of what happened, even if it is by committing suicide, like that teacher who explodes his own brains, after taking off his shoes, like all nights.
I say goodbye to Svetlana Aleksievitch, telling her that I admire her very much, that few writers did for the literature of this time what she did by writing a book that she believed was just journalism.