“It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grammes a week.”
Upon reading these words on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four a few years back my first thought was, “Wow, the west is really paranoid about socialism.” Because I thought, this is ridiculous. A government media (“the Ministry of Truth”) says whatever it wants to say and all of it is accepted as the absolute truth even though there is clear and undeniable evidence that most of it is false? People of power trying to rewrite history in their favor? (Not distant history either, mind you. Things like erasing any evidence that they said there would be an increase in chocolate ration in the press conference last week and replacing it with evidence that they issued a warning that there might be a decrease in chocolate ration in the coming weeks, even though last week the people were there, listening to their TV sets, when they made the announcement.) And people accept this because… well, why? Because they’re brainwashed? Because the government is altruistic? Well that’s not credible!
So flash forward to yesterday where the head of the Department of Medicine in our University called us to a meeting. We knew it had something to do with our Ethiopian New Year’s/End of Semester break, partly because there’s only a few weeks till the vacation starts and partly because we’d heard rumors. First he announced that there would be a new head for Pre-Clinical students because our school has been “failing to achieve its goals” these past few years (although, very clearly, it hasn’t been failing, especially since just last year we were selected as the best medical school of the country). Then he gave out printed out copies of a set of rules and a calendar of the medical semester. Our vacation days were omitted from that calendar. When a student finally pointed that out, the Department Head stared at him blankly and said, “What are you talking about? What vacation?”
He claimed that there was no such thing as a New Year’s break, and there never has been. In the past decade neither the Head of the Department of Medicine, nor the Dean of Mekelle University had any idea about any End of Semester Vacation (although, around this time last year, we all remember reading a notice telling details about that same vacation issued by the very same department).
None of us were fooled by this, of course. We all remembered the truth. We didn’t go out praising the school for giving us New Year’s Day off, as I’m sure the citizens of Oceania from Nineteen Eighty-Four would have. But as I left the meeting amidst outraged students promising to fight this, I realized that the danger George Orwell wanted to point out isn’t that we might be subjects in such a rule as Oceania’s; the danger is that unchecked authority figures would try.
I’m not most concerned about my school. Schools are obviously not much of a democracy. But I live in a country whose only television station is owned by the state. If our school is willing to try this tactic on the students, what’s to stop the television from trying the same tactics on the citizens? And what if it’s already tried it? What if we are somehow demonstrating our happiness about the new increase in chocolate ration?
TL;DR: My university tried to rewrite history in its own favor. This makes me worry quite a lot about the media in my country.