Russia today is like a lost chapter from Orwell
The media has a right to question Russia, but cannot do so when the state is fostering an increasing sense of nationalism, writes Lyudmila Ulitskaya
Like many Russian citizens, I am deeply concerned about increasing restrictions on freedom of speech in my country, about ever-expanding legislation and arbitrary bureaucracy that affect all aspects of Russian life. I am worried by the authorities’ attempts to impose on us a cultural ideology that, in many respects, mimics the style of Soviet-era propaganda. I am frightened by the judicial system’s increasing dependence on these very authorities.
Because of this, I signed Pen International’s open letter to the Russia authorities protesting their increasingly regressive approach to freedom of expression.
The most recent evidence that restrictions on freedom of speech are tightening appeared only days ago, when the Russian authorities effectively shut down Rain, a TV channel, after it asked a simple question.
This question was: “Did Leningrad need to be sacrificed in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives?” The Siege of Leningrad took place 70 years ago. It saw between 600,000 and 1.5 million citizens killed, though the exact number will never be known; many died from cold or hunger. The siege has an iconic place in Russian history.
When the question was asked, the backlash – immediate and enormous – resulted in Rain’s closure. The very act of asking such a question was regarded as an insult to the citizens of Leningrad and to all Russians who had heroically, and with great sacrifice, won the war against fascism.
In the face of huge public outrage, Rain apologised to its viewers. But the apology was not considered sufficient.
I believe that the media has a fundamental right to ask these kinds of questions about our past, present and future. The question about the Siege of Leningrad hit a nerve as it goes straight to the core of something that is going on in Russia now and which should worry all of us. The state is fostering an increasing sense of nationalism in Russia; it is trying to create an image of our past in which everything was good – old Soviet propagandistic myths are even starting to circulate again.
The question about the casualties at the Siege of Leningrad should be asked, but the offence it caused tells you a lot about what the future might hold. Many people seriously believe that everything we are told about what happened in Russian history is completely true and that everything that is happening in Russia today is completely true and that the Russian authorities are guilty of no errors, crimes or historical sins. What is happening feels like an unwritten chapter from Orwell: we are right, we are always right, we are right in everything, and whoever questions the correctness of this indomitable unfailing power is cursed.