Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Václav Vašků

If you are sensitive, you can find the echo of the tragedy

Prague, Czech Republic, 2009
Czech English

Václav Vašků, Photographer and Environmentalist

If you are sensitive you can feel the echo of tragedy. This is what I experience in places like Chernobyl and the uranium mines. There is a story at each of these places about the relationship between man and nature. How people have impacted the natural environment. And how the misuse of the environment has impacted people.

People who live in regions where there are uranium mines in Czech Republic have a much bigger risk to get lung cancer. The soil of the neighboring communities as well as plants growing close to the tailing ponds are known to have raised levels of radioactivity and heavy metals. At one place of uranium mining called Straz pod Ralskem there is a huge problem with underground waters. For many years concentrated sulfuric acid was pumped deep into the ground to leach uranium core. The method is called "Ins situ leaching" and is devastating for the environment. Today these chemicals present a time bomb threatening to enter the water reservoirs. If it happens that there is a longterm black out, or another type of crises, it would contaminate huge reservoirs of ground drinking water in North Bohemia.    

The American wave of environmentalism came to the Czech Republic just before the Velvet Revolution. There was a feeling here among people that we must do something to take care of our own environment. In 1989, just two days before the revolution, I was co-founder of the first independent environmental organization called Green Circle. After the revolution I was working as a writing journalist. I had been cooperating with Greenpeace since its early days in Czechoslovakia, and went to work there in 1997 as a spokesperson and the media director.

Tváře uranu – Faces of Uranium, Václav Vašků

Just after the revolution, for the first two years, anything seemed possible. Before this I couldn’t even imagine that there would ever be a difference in my life. I didn’t dare to dream because nothing was possible. The feeling of freedom, how it feels to know that I can do what I want or be what I want, was something that I could have never imagined.  

After the first two years we realized that everything was much more complicated then it originally appeared. Real change takes time. It also takes time to heal from the negative impact of Socialism. Now there is a young generation who didn’t know anything about the past and many of them have positive energy. I have a good feeling about this generation. I have hope that we can change the government (to one that is more progressive) and even the world, but ultimately it is up to each one of us to change on the inside.   

Tváře uranu – Faces of Uraniun,  Václav Vašků

This interview was in English
Photo by Janeil Engelstad

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