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Journal Article

Chornobyl's Folklore: Vernacular Commentary on Nuclear Disaster

Larisa Fialkova
Journal of Folklore Research
Vol. 38, No. 3 (Sep. - Dec., 2001), pp. 181-204
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814900
Page Count: 24

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Topics: Jokes, Folklore, Disasters, Rumors, Humor, Rhyme, Child psychology, Narrators, War, Radiation accidents
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Chornobyl's Folklore: Vernacular Commentary on Nuclear Disaster
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Abstract

Though folklorists have long known Chornobyl as a small Ukrainian town with diverse traditional cultures, it became the symbol of nuclear disaster for many others following the meltdown of its reactors on April 26, 1986. Today, "Chornobyl folklore" is defined exclusively in terms of those narrative forms that developed following the accident. These forms include rumors, personal narratives, children's games, short rhyming chastushkas, parodies of popular songs, and jokes. Previous scholars have largely considered this material from the perspective of individual collections; this article attempts to compare and analyze all the available material. It concludes that despite its name, Chornobyl folklore is by no means local. Its global proliferation is due to different processes, including dissemination through the mass media. When considered in comparison with folklore about the Gulf War, Chornobyl folkore is clearly a branch of the broader genre of "gallows folklore"-folklore born out of perilous circumstances. Further, its distribution on diverse occasions, in a variety of languages, and by people of different ethnic origin may reflect the emergence of a widespread "post-Chornobyl" identity.

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