George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”, set in an imagined future where totalitarian rulers deprive their citizens of all freedom of action 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 Russian online bookstore LitRes, and the second most popular download in any category, state news agency Tass reported on Tuesday.
A man reading “1984” in Moscow. Credit: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images
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 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 cult of personality of the all-seeing Big Brother, whose “thought police” force citizens to engage in “doublethink” 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 during his two decades in power, as well as rehabilitated the memory of Stalin.
His invasion of Ukraine in February led to new laws making it a crime to publish 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 malice against Ukraine, did not attack its neighbor and does not occupy 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 army – for discussing evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian atrocities in Bucha, near Kyiv, that Russia said was made up.
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 plants 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 parallels to Orwell’s novel elsewhere.
“Orwell in his worst nightmares could not have dreamed that the time of ‘liberal totalitarianism’ or ‘totalitarian liberalism’ would come in the West, and that people – separate, rather isolated individuals – would behave like a raging herd,” said Darya. Tselovalnikova told the publisher AST in May.