Archive for the ‘Iran Election’ Category

20 years ago tomorrow, the world changed. It still moves me today to think back to the momentous events across Eastern Europe that brought about an end to the totalitarian Soviet communist regime. I was a 13 year-old boy living in Ireland at the time but the images I saw on television throughout the preceding months have left an indelible mark on my memory and my outlook on the world. I remember well the images of Solidarity members campaigning for the release of Lech Walesa, the joy of East Germans crossing the border via train from Hungary to Austria, the vast masses of humanity demonstrating peacefully night after night in Prague, Budapest, Leipzig and all over the Eastern Bloc, culminating, of course, in the fall of the Berlin Wall on that glorious night when, after a series of confused diktats laid out by a battered government in the vain hope of turning back the flow of history, the city’s citizens walked freely through their own city and danced on that monumental symbol of division and oppression in a stunning expression of freedom.

At that moment, all our destinies took a change for the better. Throughout the Cold War people lived under the shadow of possible nuclear holocaust and while these concerns had eased throughout the 1980s as Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated various arms treaties, the breach of the Wall signalled the end of this threat. But the greatest aspect of this revolution was that, in many countries, change arrived without the firing of a single shot, another ringing endorsement for the principles of non-violent protest pioneered by the followers of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It showed that when a critical mass of opposition to an oppressive regime is reached, it will inevitably fall without a need for bloodshed.

This gives hope to those who continue to yearn for freedom, for instance in Iran reformers can take heart that, while the Mullahs have managed to cling on to power with their machinations, their days are numbered and eventually freedom will come. It also sets a great example for those who are tempted to follow the dark path of terrorism to further their goals, showing them that there is another way to improve their lot.

I wanted to include one video to illustrate what happened, but there are so many amazing images that I have included four: the first is an ABC synopsis of the events of that amazing year; the second is a moving documentary by Berliner Carsten Cumbrowski, which also captures the confusion caused by the misinterpretations of the government’s orders; the last two videos from Spiegel TV will take you right down to street level for the moments before and after the world changed and shows the tension leading right up to the moments the guards gave in and the good-natured, yet absolute, resolve of the citizens that they would wait no longer. For those who are too young to remember these scenes please enjoy…this is what freedom means:

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`My two dogs tied to a tree by a ten foot leash kept howling and whining for an hour till I let them off. Now they are lying quietly on the grass a few feet further from the tree and haven’t moved since I let them off. Freedom may be only an idea but it’s a matter of principle even to a dog.’ – Louis Dudek.

A momentous event has taken place in Iran over the weekend, which may lead to greater change than anyone had predicted (myself included). The unexpected “landslide victory” of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over reformist opponent Mir-Hossein Mousavi has led to an outpouring of dissent of a magnitude I have not seen since 1989 in Eastern Europe and China and may have ramifications beyond the choice of Iranian president, possibly signalling the beginning of the end (or maybe even the end itself) of the Islamic Revolution. The people of Iran (particularly the young) are demanding true freedom and from now on may no longer be appeased by being allowed to merely let their hair stick  out from under hijabs or get limited access to the internet. They want true control over their own destinies.

The problems for the regime started when Ahmadinejad was declared victor with a massive 62.63% of the vote, when what limited indicators were available pointed to a close contest and possibly a clear victory for Mousavi. In response hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters in Tehran and other cities around Iran came out on the streets and have stayed there. Initially it may have been possible to dismiss the opposition as Tehrani elites, who were acting like New York liberals who didn’t know anyone who voted for George W Bush. However, information has dripped out that backed up their claims: there was a record turnout, which normally is an indicator of strong support for reformist candidates; Ahmadinejad won handily in Mousavi’s home town; the result was announced before polls had closed; and possibly most damningly, there have been claims leaking from the Interior Ministry that the polls were, indeed fixed.

And so people went out and protested. The situation is constantly changing and the Government seems to have been caught off guard and doesn’t seem to know how to respond. It has promised a partial recount, called for unity, attacked the protesters as traitors but doesn’t seem capable of stopping them. It shut down internet access, imposed stringent rules on foreign reporters but (quite hilariously) could not stop Twitter-apparently they called Twitter to ask them to block Iranian access, but apparently those thirty geeks in California were busy playing Halo. And now, amazingly, Twitter has become the voice of the Revolution. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the moment in 1989 when the East German government got its messages mixed up about how much freedom of movement to allow its citizens, leading to a Berlin Wall border guard simply opening up his checkpoint.

Tragically, several people have been killed (and I hope, beyond hope that the bloodshed stops soon)  but this has failed to deter masses of people from gathering for what I consider to be one of the most moving of reasons – to demand their freedom. Often protests such as these fail to have a direct impact on the political process and this can lead to cynicism but sometimes a critical mass of support is reached which is irresistible and the spread of democracy makes another big leap forward and I believe that the protests of recent days are at or close to this point. So come on and join us, Iran, we’re waiting for you with open arms…