20 April 2011

Chernobyl Tourism: Time to Put an End

In the runup to the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and the crisis at Fukushima, there have been a deluge of reports from journalists tracking the legacy of humanity's worst nuclear disaster. Once underneath a veil of secrecy, the fourth reactor has been photographed by photojournalists perhaps more than any epicenter of disaster. Initial forays into the zone provided a window of a lesson that should not be forgotten. Photographers, including Gerd Ludwig, Yuri Kosin and Igor Kostin -- even "Kid of Speed" -- handled their subject with care and intensity. Their work, and the work of many others, raised awareness of the ongoing suffering and warned humanity that the nuclear genie has still not been put back into the bottle.

That is until the rise of Chernobyl tourism. It has been branded as extreme tourism. The only problem is that as opposed to jumping off a cliff, you see the site that caused, and continues to cause, lots and lots of suffering. Business Ukraine magazine wrote an op-ed that is spot on:

They will no doubt then publish breathless accounts of their trip which highlight the apocalyptic scenes which they encountered in the ghost towns of the evacuated area, accompanied by artsy photo galleries depicting poignant scenes of abandoned playgrounds and decomposing children’s toys ... There is an argument of sorts to be made that tours of Chornobyl are educational in nature and should therefore be encouraged, but in reality this is intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind that deliberately ignores the uncomfortable realities of today’s Chornobyl tourist trade. We all know that the vast majority of people paying for coach trips to the exclusive zone are doing so not out of some high-minded desire to be better informed about the potential horrors of atomic energy, but rather in order to goggle at the devastation and pose for ironic holiday snaps in front of the sarcophagus encasing of the ill-fated reactor. It is the tourism equivalent of drivers who cannot resist slowing down in order to gawp at the grizzly aftermath of a particularly gruesome car crash – understandable perhaps on a human level, but hardly the kind of thing which civilized societies would usually condone or encourage.

Certainly, a few press tours could be arranged every year. But with Chernobyl tourism any photojournalist hack and day tripper can get in a minivan and drive to the zone and snap away. Seriously, how many more pictures of the dilapidated apartment blocks, the Pripyat kindergarten, the ferris wheel, the planted gas mask, the weeds with geiger counters do we have to see? The images of nuclear apocalypse are now, sadly, cliche.

On another note, encouraging such tourism is completely counterproductive to the minimal efforts Ukraine is trying to make in attracting visitors for Euro 2012. I'm sure the Ministry of Tourism spent a good deal of money on its latest effort "It's All About U," but Chernobyl tourism has chipped away at the attempt to create an image that Ukraine, indeed, has worthy tourism sites aside from ogling at a blown-up RBMK.

1 comment:

  1. The love for creepiness is in youngster`s nature, so let people do what they want and than harvest on cross promotion.