George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’ about an autocratic regime that oppresses its citizens is now a bestseller in Russia

December 14, 2022, 5:42 PM UTC
Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Eurasian Economic Summit on Nov. 9, 2022, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
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A novel about citizens living under an oppressive regime in a dystopian society that is constantly at war is currently the most-read book in Russia.

George Orwell’s 1984 is currently a bestseller in the country, according to Reuters. The classic novel was the most downloaded fiction title in 2022 for Russian e-book seller LitRes, and the second-most-popular downloaded book across all categories, according to state news agency, Tass, Reuters reported.

The book was first published in 1949 shortly after the end of World War II, and at the beginning of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union. The plot traces the journey of a man who, like most people in his country, is under surveillance by the ruling party, which is controlled by a totalitarian leader called “Big Brother.” The slogan for the party, called the Brotherhood, is “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

Orwell is believed to have modeled Big Brother on Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union’s most famous autocrat. 

After several years of a democratically elected government that began with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Vladimir Putin took control of Russia and has been in power for decades. The country is currently engaged in a war with Ukraine after invading in February of this year, and protests against the war and the current regime have been suppressed. There are also new laws banning journalists from describing the Kremlin’s actions as a “war” or “invasion.”

Orwell’s book was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988 but is now free for purchase. However, in public comments, Russian authorities portrayed the book as an indictment of Western culture, not Russian authoritarianism. 

“For many years, we believed that Orwell described the horrors of totalitarianism. This is one of the biggest global fakes…Orwell wrote about the end of liberalism,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at a public event in May of this year, according to the Guardian. “It’s you in the West who live in a fantasy world where a person can be canceled.”

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