Since I was young, George Orwell’s most famous novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, which appeared in 1948, has been a landmark of political criticism. At the time I was not aware that Orwell was an English socialist who fought with the Trotskyites in the Spanish Civil War, who came into conflict with the forces from Moscow, who worked for the British Secret Service after the war, while denouncing colleagues from his milieu as communists.
Ever since his time in Spain, Orwell was critical of the Soviet Union. Already back in my school years, his novels “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” were rated as plausible works of literary criticism of communism and totalitarianism. As a young man, this criticism strongly appealed to me. At that time I was a decisive critic of National Socialist and Communist Totalitarianism. This has not changed.
“Newspeak” in Orwell’s
However, I have lost my almost completely uncritical attitude towards “Western” politics – I was a well-behaved child of the Cold War. Today when I re-read Orwell’s remarks dealing with the construction and meaning of “Newspeak”, published as an appendix to the novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” I do not primarily think of the year 1948 and global politics of the time, but in inevitably of today’s politics in our own country which claim opposition against all kind of totalitarianisms, bit practice precisely what Orwell has characterised so aptly – in spite of all the paradoxes of his own live.
Concretely: Reading the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech of 23 November 2016 in the German “Bundestag” immediately reminded me of George Orwell’s rulers, except that Mrs Merkel is practising it much more perfidiously and that we are not dealing with a novel but with reality.
George Orwell wrote: “Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc [English Socialism]. The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak was adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten (say, in 2050), a heretical thought – that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc – should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.”
Orwell further writes that words like honour, justice, morality or democracy had been banned from the Newspeak vocabulary – this is where Mrs Merkel is more perfidious. She still uses these words – but she has changed their meaning.
In the beginning of her speech she cited the South American writer Mario Vargas Llosa: “The willingness to live together with those who are different may have been the most unusual step of mankind towards civilization, a step that preceded democracy and was necessary to make it possible.” But she cited this in order to justify her own politics, mainly her migration politics, right away at the beginning of her speech. Maybe also her confession of respect for the “diversity of sexual orientations” which she also intends to demand from the new US president. Was this what the famous South-American writer had intended to say?
Then Mrs Merkel touches on changes in the media, complaining that the mainstream media with their “due diligence for journalists” were not the only that were perceived but that there were also many citizens who “consume media based on a very different foundation [that is without ‘due diligence’], which were less under control [but should be in future?].” Because today we had “fake pages, bots and trolls which could distort public understanding” and “certain algorithms could create self-regulating amplifications of opinions”.
The answer to the question in the square bracket can be found in the next paragraph of her speech: “In order to reach the people, in order to inspire people, we need to deal with these phenomena and, where it is necessary, also govern them.” (Italics by the author)
Has Mrs Merkel now adopted the slogan issued early this year by the resigned head of US secret service James Clapper: What does not suit us is a fake – and nothing but Russian propaganda and controlled by Russia! Let us fight it with all means!
The next paragraph identifies the domestic opponents: “This concern about stability, of course, is amplified by what is happening around us. Populism and political extremism are gaining ground in the western democracies.” Mrs Merkel supports a “culture of debate” – “but it needs to take place respecting the dignity of the opponent. This is the essence and this is lacking in many places.”
A little later Mrs Merkel gets specific: “In connection with the Crimean and the Ukraine we have to recognize a breach of international law and a violation of the territorial integrity of a state.” Two sentences later she claims: “The situation in Syria, especially in face of what is happening in Aleppo, oppresses us every day. I have to state honestly: there are many indications that hospitals and medical institutions are deliberately being bombed. With all due respect: this is internationally prohibited. This has to be prosecuted.” And the opponent is identified here, too: “The Assad regime has to know about this. And, ladies and gentlemen, it is very sad that Russia is supporting this regime.”
But why has Mrs Merkel kept silent about how the current situation in Eastern Europe has developed? About the continuous expansion of NATO and EU towards the Russian border and the strategic concept (at least of the USA) to control the Russian wealth in raw materials? After all, in the 1990s the EU and the USA supported precisely the Russian forces that helped to weaken the country! Why has Mrs Merkel not stated that in February 2014 there was a violent and unconstitutional change of government in Kiev, supported by her government? The overwhelming majority of the population with Russian origin in the Crimean peninsula and in eastern Ukraine did not agree with this! Why doesn’t Mrs Merkel even consider that the Russian government had to fear that violent supporters of the Kiev rebels were also moving towards the Crimean where Russia has an important naval base? Why doesn’t Mrs Merkel acknowledge that Russian troops succeeded in avoiding bloodshed in the Crimean? Or that, in a referendum, an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the Crimean have voted for independence from Ukraine and for a membership in the Russian Federation?
And the situation in Syria and in Aleppo?
Why doesn’t Mrs Merkel mention who brought the war to Syria and why in 2011 this war was carried exactly to Syria? There are well-founded answers to these questions. The Swiss author Daniele Ganser has compiled them in his new book (“Illegale Kriege”). The latest book of the Australian Tim Anderson (“The Dirty War on Syria”) has answers, too. Also the German journalist Michael Lüders (“Wer den Wind sät”) has researched these questions. Mrs Merkel, however, keeps her silence. Why isn’t she addressing the question where from the current occupiers and violent conquerors of East Aleppo got the right to do exactly this: apply violence and seize power? Or the question where these forces got their weapons and who is continuously supporting them? Why is she avoiding any statement about what really happened in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria?
Any war is atrocious and the war for Aleppo is atrocious, too. Nobody should euphemise it. But what is Mrs Merkel doing to end this war? Why is she not supporting the concept that those who have no legitimate right to use weapons should put them down first? Or has she turned into a “revolutionary” who despises legality, state authority and the monopoly on legitimate use of force? Why is she still allied with those who have been fostering terrorism in the Middle East for decades? Why doesn’t she comment on what her party colleague Jürgen Todenhöfer found out when he spoke to an al-Nusra terrorist in East Aleppo – the interview was published in the “Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger” (26 September: “Die Amerikaner stehen auf unserer Seite”)?
And why did Mrs Merkel openly support the war against Iraq in 2003? Why is she silent about the horrors of the war there? Why don’t we hear now, while she is complaining about violations of international law, any statement on her regretting her support of an aggressive war violating international law in 2003? And why don’t we hear a single word about the devastating consequences of this war?
And so forth and so forth.
George Orwell saw his “newspeak” as an instrument of power for Ingsoc – a totalitarian state in war with another superpower. But today we are dealing with more than lies, more than moral failure.
The issue now is to take a stand. Mrs Merkel is not an “evil” person. Mrs Merkel and her likes can also change. But how can this be achieved? First of all: how can she and her likes be stopped? How can they, after so many years of political failure, be made to resign from their offices? How can they be replaced? And how should the country be run in the future? And so forth and so forth.
These are questions for all Germans and for all mankind. Some would answer: Countervailing force is the only way. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Iphigenie” has pointed out a different way: resolute and sturdy humanity has stopped power and violence, creating humanity. I cannot be the judge regarding the right way. But: just watching is unbearable. •
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