English author George Orwell’s dystopian and widely acclaimed novel 1984 has topped the e-book bestseller charts in Russia, as reported by Russian state news agency TASS. 1984 is a post-World War II novel published in 1949 set in a dystopian future where totalitarian rulers are in an endless war and engage in propaganda, state surveillance, and distortion of history to keep the citizens loyal to them.
The novel is the most popular fiction download of the year on the Russian online bookstore and is the second most popular download in any category. Notably, 1984 was banned in the former Soviet Union until 1988.
When the novel was first published, it marked the end of fascism and Nazi culture in Europe and also announced the start of the Cold War with the US-led Western Bloc and the Soviet Union (USSR). Orwell, who identified himself as a democratic socialist, has been known to model the state in his novel after Nazi Germany and the Stalin-led Soviet Union. The book highlights the distortion of facts in society used by the state to stifle independent thought and make citizens “doublethink” into believing that “war is peace, freedom is slavery.”
This is not the first time the novel has hit the bestseller list. When former US President Donald Trump took the White House in January 2017, sales soared in 1984. Comparisons were made on social media between the book and the phrase “alternative facts” popularized by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway when she tried to justify Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration.
Do Russians see the novel’s action reflected in the Putin regime?
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one can only wonder if the Russians see any kind of reflexive reflections in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political approach to the flow of information in the country. Notably, Putin has been in executive control of the Russian Federation since 1999.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February this year, new laws have emerged that make it a crime to publish any kind of information that is not in line with official statements and the narrative established by state media. The Kremlin does not use the word “war” to describe its involvement in Ukraine, but instead uses the term “special military operation”. Moscow has repeatedly claimed that it is only liberating the residents of Ukrainian territories that have wanted to join Russia from the very beginning.
In August this year, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was sentenced to an additional nine years in a high-security prison in Moscow after a Russian court found him guilty of additional charges to his already strongly denied charges by the Russian government. Navalny is currently serving his new sentence in a high-security penal colony, which will put him in much tougher conditions. Navalny was supposed to be released in a year, but now has to stay for an extra eight years.
Last month, the Kremlin said there had been no attacks on civilian targets, despite reports of heavy bombardment of Ukrainian power plants that have left millions without heat or light in the depths of winter. Russian politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced last week 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, as Russia said it was made up.
Russian translator of a brand new edition of 1984, Darya Tselovalnikova, drew parallels to Orwell’s novel elsewhere. “Orwell could not have dreamed 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,” Tselovalnikova told the newspaper . publisher AST in May.
The fictional works of Indian-born Eric Arthur Blair (he took up the pseudonym ‘George Orwell’) have been embraced by society even today. With the digital age now occupying our lives, the race to dominate the flow of information through misinformation and disinformation, the dystopian novel 1984 has echoing parallels to today’s political society in the 21st century.