Active Cultures, 18×24, acrylic on canvas, 2011
Twenty-five years ago in the Soviet Union, an unprecedented disaster required a political body to choose between its own survival and that of its citizens. Electing the route of obfuscation rather than transparency, the weeks-long denial of the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine, demonstrated loyalty to a deteriorating regime instead of workers who were being half-lifed. That very week, all citizens were required to participate in outdoor radioactive parades throughout the Union to show their solidarity on May Day.
America is not the U.S.S.R. Here, individuals may rock the boat without being shipped off to Siberia. We celebrate such modern feats as black presidencies and Egyptian revolutions for this reason. Yet America is the land of also NIMBY, where the responsibility to actively defend healthy democracy is voluntary (much like voting). After Katrina, outsiders with means helped thousands of displaced persons find foster homes; a few weeks ago, relief money poured into Japan from private donors to aid tsunami victims. In the case of Soviet Jews, fresh in our minds from Gal Beckerman’s account, many Americans, acting as private citizens, played a key role in empowering refuseniks.
Active movements in favor of transparency and free-flowing information only aid this environment of, for lack of a better word, tzedakah. The efforts of Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger; Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg; and even WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange have facilitated research and discourse by reducing the barriers between individual and primary source. And there’s nothing that checks a politician like a few informed constituents.
Margarita Korol’s exhibit commemorating the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, The Transparency Projects: Empowering Minorities and Majorities, opens at KGB Bar on Thursday, April 28 with readings by several authors including Gal Beckerman. She was born the week of Chernobyl in Ukraine and moved with her refusenik family to Chicago as a child.
In this piece of urban pop art propaganda from the series, Active Cultures, Assange is nourished by a booming brand of kefir that had its start among empowered Soviet immigrants in Skokie, Illinois in 1986.