Russian bookstore Dom Knigi

For Russians, Reading Is the New Resistance

May 14, 2023
Andrei Kolesnikov

This is a summary of an article originally published by Foreign Policy.

The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “When Russia launched the war that Russians must not call a war — the ‘special military operation,’ in the Kremlin’s parlance — many Russians immediately recognized the Orwellian reality in which they now lived.”
  • “Suddenly, George Orwell's 1984,  a dystopian novel about a totalitarian regime in a state of perpetual war written in the 1940s, became the most popular fiction book. In 2022, it could be seen in the hands of people strolling on Moscow’s boulevards or lying next to vacationers sunbathing on Kaliningrad’s beaches.”
  • “As the economy foundered, laws against opposition tightened, and news of Russia’s military failures in Ukraine began to trickle in, people started buying noticeably fewer business and self-improvement tomes and more fiction. Predictably, escapism was in high demand: Sales of romance, fantasy, science fiction, and detective books have grown especially strongly.”
  • “But the most intriguing part of the Russian reading list is on the nonfiction side. For about two months after the war began in February 2022, the bestseller on the Ozon online marketplace was the Russian translation of  Man’s Search for Meaning , a book by the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Originally published in 1946 under the German title,  A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp , Frankl explores ways to find strength and resilience in the midst of the worst possible adversity and oppression. The book’s revival is not exactly flattering to the Russian regime.”
  • “Indeed, if book sales are any guide, there has been a surge in interest in Nazi Germany among Russian readers—and that doesn’t mean the usual fare about Soviet heroism during the Great Patriotic War. Bestsellers among educated Russians include newly translated works, such as Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler: A Memoir, which depicts the transformations taking place in Germany in the 1930s through the eyes of a young lawyer. Nicholas Stargardt’s book  The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45 —published in Russian as  The Mobilized Nation — has also become a bestseller, perhaps because Russians have found themselves mobilized in every sense.”
  • “In another parallel to the German experience, more Russians are now contemplating collective guilt and responsibility for their regime, the war, and the widespread atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. In this respect, the publication of  The Question of German Guilt , a series of lectures given by the German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers in 1945, has come at a very opportune moment.”
  • “The question of collective guilt or responsibility arose among the more reflective part of Russian society immediately after the invasion — so powerful was the shock. And these debates have not ceased.”
  • “Russian civil society — split between those who left and those who stayed behind — is not as hopeless as some might believe if these discussions are taking place, and books like Jaspers’s and Haffner’s are being read.”

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.


Andrei Kolesnikov

Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, where he is the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Photo shared in the public domain.