Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Tehran Spring

By Paul Iddon

A broad historical comparison that bares consideration.

Anti-regime demonstration in Tehran.
The recent passing of the former Czech President, playwright and dissident Václav Havel gives one a rather timely occasion to reflect upon the history of former Czechoslovakia and the substantial role he played in it.

Today as political dissidents and women are struggling for their human rights and right to practice freedom of speech are languishing in the likes of Evin Prison the informal civic initiative dubbed Charter 77 which Havel helped to draw up during Czechoslovakia's oppression bares uncanny relevance to the present situation in Iran. In particular its description of its signatories as: "loose, informal, and open association of people . . . united by the will to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world" aptly describes how the struggles of various different Iranians for the most basic reforms and rights inevitably binds and inextricably ties them in the same struggle against the oppression which the regime inflicts upon them.

The title of this column isn't meant as an allusion to this years protests in Iran - that were an offshoot from the Arab Spring - but instead is an allusion to the Prague Spring of 1968. This is more of a broad comparison, as I don't want to convey the impression that I am the sort of person who stated that Mir- Hossein Mousavi was Iran's Lech Wałęsa. But I think there are several factors that bare a comparison of the Tehran of present and the Prague of the Soviet era.

The infamous intervention by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satrap satellite states into Czechoslovakia in 1968 when Alexander Dubček attempted to reform the countries socialistic system – under his policy of 'socialism with a human face' – was one of the first signs that showed the Soviet system was resorting using brute force as a means of prolonging its lifespan, clearly fearing reform would inevitably bring it down. In the intervening period (post Prague Spring 1968 to 1989) Havel and his various Czech dissident friends helped disseminate information and played an important role in the peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution, which saw a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy.

The manner in which Dubček simply waited following his removal by force from his position as Prime Minister in 1968 until a completely new generation of Czechoslovakians grew up under a regime that simply repressed them and tried to suppress their desire to voice certain discontentment's they had bares a striking resemblance between the aged senile totalitarian regime in Tehran today – which is becoming clearly senile and has shown itself to be readily prepared to utilize brute means to upkeep a status quo favourable to their survival and dominance – and the young and upcoming generation – which is more enthusiastic and strives to implement basic liberal values such as the emancipation of women, a free press and the right to free speech and an accountable government - whom like their Czechoslovakian counterparts of the day are gradually working in earnest to metamorphose Iran into a more pluralistic and secular democracy.

The Islamic theocracy in Iran attempted to reform itself in the mid to late 1990's under President Khatami in an attempt to curb the growing discontent among the growing future generation. Whilst these reforms did see to young Iranian's participating in politics and having a genuine interest in ensuring they had a stake in their future it proved to be only a superficial exercise. This was made painstakingly clear when a group of young Iranian students in 1999 mounted a peaceful demonstration in response to the closure of a reformist newspaper. The Basij responded with sheer and brute violence, raiding student dormitories, harassing women and even throwing students off third storey balconies breaking their bones and fatally paralyzing them. President Khatami “disowned” these protesters and went so far as to state in light of the violence exercised by authorities against a peaceful demonstration that such a defiance on the ban of a public gathering was "an attack on the foundations of the regime."

A friend of mine who lives in Tehran lamented to me a while back how he doesn't understand why so many young people strive to come to Tehran and added that if it weren't for family and friends he would like to move to another city stating that Tehran no longer encapsulates Persia's unique traditional feel and character as much as other cities such as Isfahan do. Furthermore long term inhabitants like him feel as if they are becoming “strangers” in their own town. The past year has seen – among other things – the importation from rural areas by the regime of boys aged no older than 14 to join the Basij to violently suppress gatherings and demonstrations. This is just another reminder of how petty the regime really is, and like the Soviet Union of the Prague Spring era is devoid of social cohesion and is being facilitated in a brutal manner to maintain the theocracies hold on power – in a manner similar to how the senile Brezhnev leaderships ineptness and self interest led to economic stagnation that eventually culminated in the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union.

One of the most foul and deplorable thing about this regime is that it actually has the gall in light of such a contemptible record to continually act as if it is a beacon of emulation and morality that all Iranians should look up to for guidance when looking for moral standards to set for themselves. When it has clearly shown time and again that it possesses no moral qualms over using murder and rape as a means of enforcing its self-centred solipsistic status quo.

The numerous and various aspiring Iranian liberal democratic secularists who want to move Iran and its people from the clutches of this dangerous, ruthless and whimsical theocracy have to face the fundamental reality in their struggle, that is that the leadership sees them as expendable and dispensable subjects of its rule. Once they recognize this stark reality and dispense with this unreasonable unsavoury regime and see it the way it sees them they will have reached the defining moment in their long, harsh and courageous struggle, and will therefore inevitably and ultimately prevail.


Anonymous said...

Paul, I personally drove by car through the so-called "Iran Curtain" and toured socialist republics in 1975. Before their economies tanked in the 1980s, these socialist republics were visibly viable. There was total employment, free universal healthcare and free university educations to those that qualified. And they were the cleanest and crime-free countries I have ever seen.

Anecdotally, I've come across folks from former East-bloc soviet republics here in the U.S. Some, like an East German woman my age back when the Wall fell were believers in socialism. Another, a nurse from Ukraine, asserted that they had traded for a little more freedom, in exchange for full employment, universal healthcare and housing, and state provided advanced education and vocational training. I've heard similar things from friends from Croatia and Serbia, as well as an acquaintance from Bulgaria.

Now I'm not saying our Western countries should become socialist based upon the old Soviet model. What I am saying is there are alternate narratives contradictory of the one where Eastern bloc socialism was oppressive and not viable. And I can back this up with my own personal experiences of actually touring through these countries in 1975.

And as for the incident that took place in Prague in 1968, it might interest you to know that there were many similar incidents in the Unites States during that same general time period. I personally walked through the burned out section of Watts, California in the mid 60s, seeing firsthand the aftermath where armored cars, military jeeps, and submachine guns were employed by the National Guard to restore order. Scores had been killed in the process, and this was by no means an isolated incident, during a time also when numerous political leaders were actually assassinated, shot dead in the street.

But I want you to understand, Paul, that the only reason I bring these things up is to inform you that your "Spring" narrative is overly simple, and has been impressed upon you through one-sided, agenda driven narratives popularized through propaganda during the Cold War. Myself, I have the advantage of having actually been there and seen it with my own eyes.

As for Iran and the "Tehran Spring," isn't it interesting how the voting in Cairo is going 70% Islamic, very much supporting Khamenei's contention that the Iranian revolution of '79 is the successful example of an independent and Islamic nation now being followed by Arab countries such as Egypt.

I say tolerate these people's wishes of an Islamic based republic. That's up to them to decide. Even in the Iranian case, multiple polls show that a healthy majority support in varying degrees their Islamic Republic. Who are we to say otherwise? Sure, for our Western countries, we might prefer our own national interpretations of Western liberalism (I do). But live and let live in this world, I say.

And Paul, please don't base your social understanding of Iran solely on certain northern Tehran attitudes. Okay, so your friend can't blare out Metallica or Young Jeezy on a boom box on Valiasr street. But over here, there'd be objections to certain street rituals performed during Ashura. My advice? When in Rome, do as the Romans do... And live and let live.

Anonymous said...

Mr Paul.. dele khoshi dari shoma !

Somebody give this guy a job.

Dariush London.

Anonymous said...

Paul Iddon is a propagandist
not a journalist,he has no journalistic ethics. good journalism is refraining from a personal opinionative viewpoint.
you dont use terms like (whimsical)
(deplorable), the objective is impartiality and fairness. that is why his credibility, is questionable. Mr Iddon you have a long way to go. you do not practice good journalism, just good old fashion hate mongering.

Paul Iddon said...

@ Anon 8:13 AM

Thank you for giving us an insight into our thoughts and contributing to the wider discussion.

This article wasn't intended to make a conflation between socialism and the present Iranian Islamic system but is simply a broad comparison between how an ideologically devoid and aged senile leadership - which in both cases only sustain a certain status quo through suppressing those whom demand rights, dignity and government accountability - can only last so long - is bound to inevitable collapse - and can only address only so many of the salient issues and qualms that the up and coming future generation may have in a sincere and mature fashion.

'your "Spring" narrative is overly simple, and has been impressed upon you through one-sided, agenda driven narratives popularized through propaganda during the Cold War.'

I'd contend I'd be the first to point out in any discussion about the Cold War the salient fact that the US and UK were involved in suppressing a flourishing democracy through subversion and a seizure of power a whole 3 years before the infamous crushing of the insurrection in Hungary by the Soviet Union. So I don't believe I'm guilty in that respect.

'Okay, so your friend can't blare out Metallica or Young Jeezy on a boom box on Valiasr street.'

That single sentence is after poisoned and ruined what was for the most part a perfectly good and sound disagreement.

Do you care to read what my friend actually said - or more aptly lamented?

He was simply stating how as I quote him that 'Tehran no longer encapsulates Persia's unique traditional feel and character.' This is because of the political turmoil and the violence executed mostly by brute regime thugs like those of the Basij.

Does 'do as the Romans do' apply to Persia? One of the oldest civilizations in the world?
If my friend were to have children, are you saying that they shouldn't be allowed read famous Persian tragic romance love stories uncensored because some bitter old men seemingly just cannot tolerate expressions of romance and affection?

Go tell that 'live and let live' mantra to them, because they sure as hell don't practice it...

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:13 AM

That's because the people of Egypt don't now what a bunch of liars and traitors these Islamist are.
Khamenei is the chief of all liars in the Islamic regime and that the greater majority of Iranians have found out not to trust Islamist and would like to see the death of the Islamic Theocracy.

Anonymous said...

Dariush dele shoma ham khosheh !

Is it because your living in a free country with all its freedoms you've forgotten how the Iranian people are suffering under a fascist religious ideology?
Or are you one of those hypocrites who loves the freedoms and life styles of the West but would like to see the Iranian people live and be governed by the life style of the nomadic deserts of Arabia.

Paul Iddon has a job and he has proven that he performs consistently well despite the abuse he receives from regime apologists.