George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” set in an imagined future where totalitarian rulers deprive their citizens of all agency in order to maintain support for senseless wars, has topped electronic bestseller lists in Russia.
The novel is the most popular fiction download of 2022 on the platform of the Russian online bookseller LitRes, and the second most popular download in any category, the state news agency Tass reported on Tuesday.
The English author’s novel was published in 1949, when Nazism had just been defeated and the West’s Cold War with its erstwhile ally Josef Stalin and the Soviet communist bloc he now led was just beginning. The book was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.
Orwell said he had used Stalin’s dictatorship as a model for the personality cult of the all-seeing Big Brother, whose “thought police” force cowed citizens to engage in “doublethink” in order to believe that “War is peace, freedom is slavery.”
But some see contemporary echoes in the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has eradicated political opposition and critical media from the public sphere in his two decades in power, as well as rehabilitating the memory of Stalin.
His invasion of Ukraine in February prompted new laws that made it a crime to publish any information about the war that was at variance with official statements. The Kremlin shuns the very word “war,” referring instead to its “special military operation”.
Officials in Moscow continue to assert that Russia bears no malice toward Ukraine, did not attack its neighbor, and is not occupying Ukrainian territories that it has seized and annexed.
Last week, Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison on charges of spreading “false information” about the army – for discussing evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian atrocities in Bucha, near Kyiv, which Russia said had been fabricated.
And last month the Kremlin’s spokesman said there had been no attacks on civilian targets, despite wave after wave of bombardment of Ukrainian power facilities that have left millions without heat or light in the depths of winter.
However, the Russian translator of a brand new edition of “1984” sees the parallels with Orwell’s novel elsewhere.
“Orwell could not have dreamt in his worst nightmares that the era of ‘liberal totalitarianism’ or ‘totalitarian liberalism’ would come in the West, and that people – separate, rather isolated individuals – would behave like a raging herd,” Darya Tselovalnikova told the publishing house AST in May.