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The question “How to deal with Iran?” has never been easy to answer and is hardly more timely. The Heinrich Böll Foundation Prague and the Association for International Affairs (AMO) jointly organised the International conference and a series of side events (13 – 15 April) which discussed current developments in and around Iran from different perspectives.

he international conference “How to deal with Iran?” on April 14 brought together senior Iran experts, academics, policy-makers and human rights activists representing a variety of views and policy recommendations. The first panel, called “Iran in internal turmoil”, elaborated in detail on the protest “Green Movement” – its demands, strategies and leaders, as well as on the pillars of the current Iranian regime. Hossein Aryan, political analyst and deputy director of Radio Farda, described the Green Movement as “amalgamous” and pointed out its resulting strengths and weaknesses. He perceives on the one hand its lack of coherence (in ideology, policy and strategy) and on the other its high degree of resilience in terms of its ability to continually demonstrate its opposition in various ways despite harsh repression and censorship. Notwithstanding the claims of the opposition’s leaders that they are firmly determined to remain within the framework of current ruling system, full realisation of their demands (the release of all political prisoners, an end to censorship and freedom of expression) are irreconcilable with the regime’s current nature. Massoumeh Torfeh, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (SOAS), pointed out that the Green Movement is “young, educated and student” but lacks strong support from the bazaaris and working class milieu. Compared to previous reform movements in Iranian history, Torfeh argues, the Green Movement is not so much driven by a particular ideology but rather by what she calls “modern thinking” and a desire for freedom and justice. Of course a secular girl and reform-minded clergy interpret these notions differently. It must be added that this multi-layered structure is also characteristic of the current Iranian regime which, unlike the Shah’s Monarchy, does not rest on a single but rather several pillars, the most important ones being the basiji militia force and Revolutionary Guards, whose main task is not to defend the Islamic Revolution against an external threat but to quell any public protest from Iranians themselves. Fred Petrosians from Radio Farda elaborated in his presentation on the civic journalism and role of modern media which remain important communication channel for the “Green movement” and free expression in Iranian society. In the second panel, focused on the role of Iran in international affairs, presentations were delivered by Patrick Clawson (The Near East Institute, Washington), Özlem Tür, (Middle East Technical University, Ankara), Meir Litvak, (Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University), Ralf Fücks, (President of Heinrich Böll Foundation) and Barbara Lochbihler (head of the EP’s delegation for the relations with Iran).

The conference was followed in the evening by a discussion in Cambridge style at the Charles University. The conference speakers were split up into two opinion camps along the issue of whether “the West is doing its utmost to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons” and offered an interactive and lively debate with more than 120 students present and actively taking part. The Prague conference received coverage in the Czech, Iranian speaking and Turkish media.

Heinrich Böll Foundation Prague
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