Ignorance Is Strength: In Russia, it’s “1984”
Posted by sanityinjection on May 19, 2009
When future historians try to put a date on the demise of the post-Soviet era of freedom in Russia, they may well choose May 19, 2009.
The event hardly comes unanticipated. Virtually since its beginning in the peaceful revolution of 1991, Russia (whose leaders now sneer at peaceful revolutions in other ex-Soviet states) has moved in the direction of authoritarian government and restrictions on basic freedoms such as freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. While retaining the forms of democracy, the Kremlin has learned how to use its control of the media and the intelligence services to ensure that its candidates win the important races.
Up until now, one could at least argue that Russians were better off than they were under communism because they at least have freedom of speech and of the press. But that’s about to change.
The Kremlin announced today that it is forming a new 28-member commission whose mission is to combat “the falsification of historical facts and events aimed to disparage the international prestige of the Russian Federation.” Now let’s read between the lines. The commission won’t have any power outside Russia, so the bit about protecting the country’s international prestige is a lame fiction. The real goal is to make sure that the Russian people only know the history that the Kremlin wants them to know.
In case the meaning of this isn’t crystal clear, note that the commission will be headed by the President’s chief of staff and will include various Kremlin officials including members of the foreign and domestic intelligence agencies. You might well ask why the services of Russia’s spy bureaus are needed to fight battles over how Russian history is portrayed. Let me spell it out for you: since Russian history includes everything up to the present moment, any Russian anywhere in the world can now expect to be held accountable for any statement made about his or her country. In fact, the intelligence services can easily fabricate evidence that any opponents of the Kremlin have distorted Russian history. Together with a new law being drafted to make any criticism of Soviet actions during WWII (such as the Katyn massacre) a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, you can pretty much write the obituary of the free exchange of ideas in Russia and give it today’s date.
The outrage is not lost on Russia’s beleaguered liberals, who expressly compared these moves to George Orwell’s “1984” (Reminder: This book is required reading at Sanity Injection!). Orwell’s nightmare totalitarian dystopia had as one of its mottos, “Ignorance Is Strength”. And indeed, Russian leaders seem to believe that keeping their people in ignorance of truth will keep their government strong.
Russian-American comedian Yakov Smirnoff enjoyed a brief period of acclaim in the 1980s for his jokes about Soviet repression. In this case, he might say something like, “In America student can write report on history of government. In Soviet Union, government writes report on student and student is history!”
It would be funny, if it weren’t so deadly serious. The Soviet Union, for all intents and purposes, is back, minus the collective socialism and the red flags. The model of governance for today’s Russian leaders isn’t Washington or London but Beijing.