Author: Kevin Liffey
LONDON (Reuters) – George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”, set in an imagined future where totalitarian rulers deprive their citizens of everything to maintain support for senseless wars, has topped the electronic bestseller lists in Russia.
The novel is the most popular fiction download of 2022 on the platform of Russian online bookseller LitRes and the second most popular download in any category, 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 former ally Josef Stalin and the Soviet communist bloc that he now led was just beginning. The book was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.
Orwell said he used Stalin’s dictatorship as a model for the cult of personality of the all-seeing Big Brother, whose “thought police” forced citizens to engage in “double-mindedness” to believe that “War is peace, freedom is slavery.”
But some see contemporary echoes in the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in his two decades in power eradicated political opposition and critical media from the public sphere, as well as rehabilitated 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 contradicted official statements. The Kremlin avoids the word “war” itself, referring instead to its “special military operation.”
Officials in Moscow continue to maintain that Russia bears no ill will toward Ukraine, that it has not attacked its neighbor, and that it is not occupying the Ukrainian territories 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 military – for discussing evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian atrocities in Bucha, near Kiev, which Russia said was invented.
And last month, a Kremlin spokesman said there had been no attacks on civilian targets, despite waves of bombing of Ukrainian energy facilities that left millions without heat and electricity in the dead of winter.
However, the Russian translator of the brand new edition of “1984” sees parallels with Orwell’s novel elsewhere.
“Orwell could not even in his worst nightmares have dreamed that the era of ‘liberal totalitarianism’ or ‘totalitarian liberalism’ would come in the West and that people – separate, rather isolated individuals – would behave like an angry herd,” said Darja Celovalnikov’s publishing house AST in May.
(Reporting by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)