Dmitriev and Orwell

On Tuesday, 26 December, we were waiting for two reports: one about what happened that day at the Petrozavodsk City Court; the other, an account of a recent investigation into the new row over who is buried at Sandarmokh, and how they died.

An excerpt from a long interview with MARIA KARP on Radio Svoboda last Friday, concerning her major new biography of George Orwell (1903-1950), sets these issues in a broad context that embraces the last century as well as this.


As a board member of the Pushkin Club, Maria (Masha) Karp opened the recent London evening in support of Yury Dmitriev. In the following response concerning Orwell’s continuing relevance, she quotes the example of Dmitriev’s work and his present trial.

Karp, MP, in front of CW Orwell

Maria (Masha) Karp, 2017

“It seems to me that Orwell is very relevant today and, in a certain sense, one could even say that he is more relevant than some while ago when people thought that totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, had become no more than historical terms — that after 1989-1991 totalitarianism had vanished. Regrettably, as we see today, totalitarianism has not disappeared.

“In one of Orwell’s articles I came across an excellent definintion of such a system. ‘A country is considered to be totalitarian,’ he writes, ‘when it is governed by a one-party dictatorship which does not permit legal opposition and crushes freedom of speech and the Press,’ [CW, vol 18, p. 445]. In another place, he says that ‘The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary,’ [CW, vol 17, p. 373].

George_Orwell_Place in_Barcelona

George Orwell Place, Barcelona

[…]  In recent years we have seen a growth of such totally mendacious propaganda in Russia. Furthermore (and this is another aspect of Orwell’s contemporary relevance),  the propaganda concerns not only the present but also the past since, in the classic formulation, he who controls the present, also controls the past; he who controls the present, controls the future. This is absolutely true of Russia today.

“We see how the Perm-36 Museum has been shut down and transformed into a museum that celebrates the prison guards and warders of the 1970s and 1980s. We see how at Sandarmokh, where the now imprisoned Yury Dmitriev found thousands executed during the Stalin period, the remains of Soviet POWs, allegedly shot by the Finns, are now being discovered (or so they say).

“Such Orwellian stories have been invented for the sole purpose of distorting what actually happened to the country in the past. And that’s without mentioning the rehabilitation of Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, and the Tsars Nicholas II and, most recently, Alexander III. Russian history has constantly been distorted of late, and this is no chance occurrence: it is, without doubt, one part of the revival of totalitarianism.”

Interview with Maria Karp, Radio Svoboda (in Russian), 22 December 2017