Thursday, April 2, 2020

When Iran discovers Vaclav Havel

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In a bookshop in Tehran, in 2007. BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

The life of ideas. What to read – or re-read – in Tehran when the repression is unleashed? In mid-November, while Iran was shaken by a wave of demonstrations, repressed in the blood (at least 304 dead), the Persian Web ignited for texts which make it possible to hold and to resist: collections of poetry Iranian, contemporary or ancient, as The Book of Kings, novels, journalistic stories or essays. The most cited authors are mainly from Latin America and the former Soviet bloc. Two names stand out: the Czech playwright and ex-president Vaclav Havel, as well as the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman.

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"I rushed to read The Power of the Powerless, by Vaclav Havel (several translations of which exist in Persian), says Amir Hossein, 30, a teacher in a small town in central Iran. I would like to understand the acts that others, living in oppressive societies like us, have taken to change their situation. Havel explains that lying is the backbone of totalitarian systems and that the greatest threat to them is to "live in the truth", that is, to react in terms of one's own integrity. "

Like many other educated Iranians living in the country, Amir Hossein has so far been against the "Reversal" of the Islamic Republic of Iran, rather believing in gradual reforms. He therefore always voted for reformist and moderate candidates, in particular for President Hassan Rohani. However, since the crackdown in November, which the Iranian president has also endorsed, Amir Hossein, when reading Vaclav Havel's book, thinks that it is necessary "Get out of this binary choice between reversal or reforms. We have to start elsewhere ”.

"Living in the truth"

He is therefore considering ways to peacefully show his opposition to the principles of the Islamic Republic, including the obligation for Iranian women to cover their heads. "I am thinking of the Iranian activist Farhad Meysami, now in prison. Having been inspired by Power of the powerless, he had a pin made with the slogan “I am against the hijab”. His gesture was very simple and non-violent ”, explains Amir Hossein. So he suggested this book to his friends so that they read it together and try to find an idea, a gesture, to "Live in the truth".

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Another title, mentioned by a significant number of Iranians: Exorcise terror. The incredible and endless trial of General Augusto Pinochet, by Ariel Dorfman, translated into Persian in 2018. In this book, Dorfman tells of the end of impunity for the one who overthrown President Salvador Allende in 1973.

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