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2008-10-08
Opening address by Dr. Laima Andrikiene at the Conference "Scientific and Humanitarian Initiatives for Support of Liquidators and Victims of the Catastrophe in Chernobyl"

Opening address by Dr. Laima Andrikiene
Member of the European Parliament

Delivered by Valdas Kilpys, Assistant to Dr. Laima Andrikiene, MEP

October 9, 2008
Vilnius, Lithuania

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear neighbours - participants from Belarus,

Sometimes circumstances are more powerful than we and our wishes are. I would have loved to be with you in Vilnius today, unfortunately, due to my responsibilities and important votes in the European Parliament this week and today in particular I have to remain in Brussels.

First of all, congratulations to all of you and everyone who contributed to this event. I would like to thank organizers, sponsors and partners of the Conference for their understanding and support. Following the Hearing "Chernobyl Today" which took place in the European Parliament in April earlier this year and many of you participated there, today you have a new opportunity to focus on and discuss in-dept the scientific and humanitarian initiatives for support of liquidators and victims of the catastrophe in Chernobyl.

This Conference in Vilnius is a continuation of the Hearing in Brussels, but also a new step, new initiative taken by Prof. Yuri Bandazheusky who dedicated many years of his scientific research and sacrificed a lot to put the problem of the legacy of Chernobyl and especially the situation of liquidators and victims of the disaster on the international and European agendas.

Professor Bandazheusky deserves not only our admiration for what he has already done, but - and this is even more important - our support and assistance, our cooperation in order to continue monitoring and research of the situation aiming to improve environmental, health, human rights situation in his motherland - Belarus, in our region and in Europe as the whole.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The aim of the Hearing in Brussels was to discuss the impact of the Chernobyl catastrophe on the environment, health and society as well as the violations of human rights with a particular focus on the victims of the catastrophe.

In the European Parliament we discussed three "blocs" of issues: firstly, the legacy of Chernobyl disaster, impact of Chernobyl on the health, environment, socio-economic development of the big region in Europe including Belarus, Ukraine, Russian Federation as well as several EU Member States - Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Sweden, etc. Distinguished scientists from Belarus shared their findings and forecasts with the members of the European Parliament, representatives of the European Commission as well as experts from EU Member States. During the Hearing it has been clearly stated that the Soviet Government initially delayed any public announcement that the accident had occurred, and the behaviour of the Soviet leadership has been condemned as a crime not only against population of the then USSR, but also against humanity. We expressed our position that the legacy of Chernobyl must be addressed in Belarus as well as in the EU Member States in order to fight the rapidly growing numbers of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular diseases. We also called on the European Community to continue its efforts and financial support for economic, social and environmental rehabilitation of the regions contaminated by Chernobyl taking into account that the nuclear catastrophe has long-term consequences over large areas in numerous states, and Belarus among them.

Secondly, we discussed human rights situation in Belarus, rights of those who participated in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Liquidators of Chernobyl, human rights defenders, lawyers from Belarus and EU Member States spoke about current situation in Belarus, and also what has to be done to address problems of 120,000 Belarusian liquidators who put their lives at risk in order to save all of us, also of 1.4 million Belarusians who continue to live in contaminated areas, including children. In our Final Declaration we called on the European Community to draw special attention to the situation of liquidators of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Belarus, thus contributing to the democratization of Belarus and promotion of human rights in the country. At the same time we called on the Government of Belarus to assure the social guarantees, medical assistance and treatment to all those affected by the Chernobyl tragedy.

Thirdly, we discussed what could and should be done by the European Union to effectively address the legacy of Chernobyl in Belarus and in the EU Member States to fight rapidly growing numbers of death from cancer, cardiovascular diseases, etc. We concluded our Hearing with the Final Declaration stating that the EU should have a strategy and action plan to address old problems left by Chernobyl, but also new challenges. Our Hearing in the European Parliament stressed the need for the EU to monitor and research the consequences of Chernobyl on peoples' health and the environment of the EU Member States and neighbouring countries, as well as the socio-economic impacts, and welcomed the proposal to establish the International Scientific Research Centre "Ecology and Health" in Vilnius under the auspices of Mykolas Romeris University. I wish - and I work to achieve this - the Centre to become a reality with the co-financing from the EU budget.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are all aware that the Chernobyl catastrophe is the most serious accident in the history of the nuclear industry. People living in the region, including of several EU Member States, has been exposed during the past twenty two years after the accident both from external sources (Cesium-137 on soil, etc.) and via intake of radio-nuclides (mainly, Cesium-137) with foods, water and air. As the consequence acute radiation syndrome (ARS), deaths from cancer, thyroid cancer, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases in population groups exposed to higher doses of radiation, and that is the legacy of Chernobyl people of Belarus and some present EU Member States are facing today.

We also should take into account that the structural parts of the Shelter which has been built in 1986 to contain the damaged reactor have corroded during past 22 years, which could potentially lead to the collapse of the Shelter and thus to the release of radioactive dust into the environment.

Definitely, people living in the areas affected by the Chernobyl accident are uncertain about the impact of radiation on their health and surroundings, and do not know how to lead a healthy life in the region. Therefore, Chernobyl-affected populations need clear, comprehensive and unambiguous information about the accident and radiation.

It is important to underline that the authoritarian nature and the self-isolationist policy of the Belarusian regime create additional obstacles to effectively address the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, and regrettably do not allow for a closer cooperation with the European Union on wide range of issues of common concern, including that of Chernobyl, and do not yet permit a substantial increase of the EU financial support in this regard.

We in the European Parliament welcomed the agreement to establish the European Commission’s Delegation in Minsk and hope that it will help to facilitate the EU efforts to support the political, economic and social reform processes in Belarus and to improve quality of life of the Belarusian people, including those affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe.

And last, but not least - I would like to express serious reservations over the Belarusian government's plans to build a new nuclear plant and I take this opportunity to urge the Belarusian government to rethink their plans as well as timely undertake an environmental impact assessment of the project bringing it in line with the international environmental standards. Now it is our responsibility and obligation to use all our efforts to avoid any similar tragedy like Chernobyl in the future.

Dear participants of the Conference,

I wish you a very successful and fruitful conference. Enjoy Vilnius, your stay in Lithuania and hospitality of Mykolas Romeris University. Thank you for your kind attention.