Posted: 2022-04-18

The Russian state today shows some of the characteristics of Orwell's dystopian world

HE whole barbaric mess of Putin’s and Russia’s war on Ukraine reminded me in many ways of George Orwell's novel 1984. Orwell's genius was to encourage readers of his novels to develop critical thinking and to be sceptical of any form of ‘ism’ that manipulates truth through the misuse of language and political propaganda. 1984 has not lost any of its power as the world portrayed in which 'War is Peace', 'Freedom is Slavery’, and 'Ignorance is Strength’, sounds like news from Russia Today and also similar to Trumpian sound bites via Fox News. It rings truer now more than ever.


Orwell understood that oppressive, totalitarian regimes always needed enemies and that these can be created arbitrarily by whipping up popular feelings through propaganda   – something that Putin has done, claiming that he is liberating Ukraine from a fascist dictatorship. Orwell’s iconic dictator Big Brother could be Putin as they share the need to crush opposition, a fanatical terror of dissent, and the misuse of the strong man in power.


Putin's crazy propaganda machine was recently illustrated when BBC Radio Ulster interviewed Sergei Markov, Putin’s former spokesperson, who argued that people were fleeing Ukraine in terror of the fascist regime and that the recent atrocities in Bucha were self-inflicted. These claims have been refuted by Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, whose members on the ground in Ukraine have collected testimonies that unarmed civilians are being killed in their homes and streets in acts of unspeakable cruelty and shocking brutality. Amnesty International, as we know in Ireland, is a credible organisation. It is a global movement of more than 10 million people in over 150 countries which campaigns to end injustices and abuses of human rights, so I know whose version I would accept as being factual. Also, I would have more faith in RTE and the BBC's news coverage of events in Ukraine than Russia Today.


For the refugees who have arrived in Ireland over the last month, the main reason that the Ukrainian women and children have given for leaving their country is the hellish, indiscriminate bombing of their towns and in particular Mariupol where thousands of civilians and hundreds of children have been killed. No one has mentioned that they are escaping a totalitarian neo-Nazi regime.


Putin in particular has mentioned the Azov Battalion as proof of neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine. Yes, it does exist, yet Al Jazeera, which has investigated this notorious group, reported that it is small in numbers, probably 800 members, and is considered a fringe element in the overall democratic national structures within Ukraine. 


What Putin has failed to acknowledge is his own neo-Nazi mercenary group which is integrated within the Russian army, the Wagner Group. This group was founded by Dimitri Utkin in 2014 in St Petersburg and its insignia is the valknut, an old Norse symbol appropriated by white supremacists. Utkin has been identified to be a neo-Nazi when photos of him appeared last year with tattoos with Waffen-SS inked on his shoulder. So who is Putin trying to fool?


Sadly, Russia has become a less tolerant and open society over the last few decades under Putin's leadership. I recall a series of television programmes on the BBC in 2019 by the DJ and television presenter Reggie Yates called 'Far Right and Proud'. He interviewed knife-wielding far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis who believed that if you were not white then you had no place in Russia. He also interviewed LGBT activists who were in constant fear of persecution and heard horrific stories of those who had survived vicious racist and homophobic attacks. 


There are of course neo-Nazi groups in many European counties and an increasing number of far-right political parties which Putin himself is alleged to have supported financially. It is a ridiculous slander to call the democratically elected government of Ukraine ‘fascist’ to justify his invasion of Ukraine. It is also an insult to the memory of the Soviet Army which played a major role in defeating Nazi Germany in the Second World War.


Once upon a time, Putin would have called himself a communist and an adherent of the Marxist philosophy of dialectic materialism. Look at his belief system now as we would say in the North he has been born again, having found god in the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Krill, head of the church, blessed the Russian army at the start of the war in Ukraine.


It is difficult and frustrating to witness this extraordinary crazy, unjust attack by a major power on an independent, peaceful, democratic nation. It is great to hear that the rock band Pink Floyd has released a new single called Hey Hey, Rise Up in support of the Ukrainian people with proceeds going to the Ukrainian humanitarian relief, so why not buy it in solidarity?  

Roger Kelly April 2022