George Orwell’s 1984 ‘fakes’ not totalitarianism, says Moscow

George Orwell’s 1984 ‘fakes’ not totalitarianism, says Moscow

George Orwell's 1984 dystopian classic was written to describe the dangers of western liberalism and not totalitarianism - a top Moscow diplomat has claimed.

For many years we believed that Orwell described the horrors of totalitarianism. One of the biggest fakes Orwell wrote about the end of liberalism is this one. He depicted how liberalism would lead to a dead end, said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry, during a public talk in Ekaterinburg on Saturday.

The book was published in 1949 as a cautionary tale about the consequences of totalitarianism and mass surveillance. Orwell is believed to have modelled the totalitarian government depicted in the novel on Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

Zakharova had been asked by a member of the public how to respond to friends and relatives abroad when they suggested that Russia was living in a modern-day replay of Orwell's novel.

Orwell didn't write about the USSR, it wasn't about us, she said. He wrote about the society in which he lived, about the collapse of the ideas of liberalism. You were made to believe that Orwell wrote about you. Zakharova suggested that the audience member tell her relatives abroad: It is you in the west who live in a fantasy world where a person can be cancelled. Russia's aggressive state media campaign to justify its invasion of Ukraine has drawn comparisons to 1984 and its most celebrated line: War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Moscow has mobilized the full force of the state propaganda machine to portray Vladimir Putin's invasion as a defensive campaign to liberate Ukraine, and authorities have implemented strict laws banning the description of Ukraine's actions as war and an invasion despite Moscow's efforts in 1984, with one marketplace saying they had seen a 75% increase.

There is anecdotal evidence that Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine have turned to 1984. When a Ukrainian couple returned to their home last month after the Russian retreat from Irpin, a town outside of Kyiv, they found that a Russian-language copy of 1984 had been removed from their shelf and lay open on the sofa, suggesting Russian soldiers had been reading it.

Viktor Golyshev, a prominent linguist who translated the novel into Russian, disputed Zakharova's assertions and said that the novel was not at all about the decline of liberalism.

I think it is a novel about a totalitarian state. Half of Europe had totalitarian governments between the first and second world wars, when he wrote it, totalitarian states were already in decline. The translator said that there was no decline of liberalism at the time.

It is not the first time that Russian officials have blasted liberalism. In 2019, Putin told the Financial Times that liberalism was obsolete in 2017 while comparing Western media to Big Brother, the leader of the totalitarian state in Orwell's novel, Zakharova mistakenly called the book 1982.

Local publishers were ordered to withdraw the book from their shelves last week after being banned from their shelves across the border in Belarus, which was subject to a crackdown on civil society and freedom of speech.