KIEV: Recently I visited two cities -- Chernobyl and Yalta -- that have moved beyond notations on a map to become symbols of our century. Chernobyl is a ghost town -- a contaminated, deserted place where time stands still. Its name is a warning, informing humanity that the great inventions produced by rational minds also expose us to unprecedented dangers. For when we touch the heart of matter, we also touch the hidden order of Being beyond scientific understanding. We must honour this order if we do not want to fall prey to the arrogant belief that discovering fragments of truth may enable us to master the universe.
Until recently, people in the Europe savagely controlled by totalitarian regimes also lived in a tainted and oppressed environment. A warning against the arrogance of rationality is at the same time a warning against the arrogance of social engineers -- those who believe that a freer and happier life for mankind can be secured solely by devising scientific plans for it from above. We who experienced communism know well the outcomes of such beliefs: dead, artificial cities; gigantic waterworks that fail only after destroying diverse ecosystems; vast, largely anonymous and thus irresponsible states deciding where and how we shall dwell, work, relax or amuse ourselves. Such beliefs engineer a dull and gray life, devoid of anything unique, because individuality is deemed irrational, non-systemic, unnecessary.
Chemobyl holds out another message: a radioactivity that ignores national boundaries reminds us that we live -- for the first time in history -- in one interconnected civilization wrapping the planet. Whatever happens in one place can, for better or worse, affect us all.
The word Yalta, too, has assumed a life of its own, serving for years as a symbol of a division of the world by the great powers: of the large and powerful deciding the fate of the small and powerless without asking their advice, of inadmissibly pragmatic concessions or compromises by democratic governments vis-?-vis the overpowering strength of a totalitarian regime.