Tehran Diary Daily Life in Iran, One Year after the Uprising

Saturday marks the first anniversary of the disputed Iranian presidential election, which sparked street protests leading to dozens of deaths and countless arrests. How is the atmosphere in the country today? Five Iranians describe their lives over the space of one week in May.

Friday, May 21, 2010

+++ Today, the opposition website Rah-e Sabz ("Green Path") quotes the cleric Mehdi Karroubi: "The Iranian people were humiliated. The most terrible psychological pressures were exerted on all classes of society, which now have no hope of a better future."

In a statement, the environmental authority downplays an air pollution report. The concentration of particulate matter in the air is "not dramatic," it says. +++

Mohzen Sahabifar, the shopkeeper. Our Friday is not a day of rest for me. In fact, it isn't any better than all the other days. There is smog over Tehran again, and the people, as is so often the case, are in a bad mood. On the way to my shop, all it takes is one word and everyone starts to complain: about rising prices, mismanagement and the politicians' lies.

When I push up the grate in front of my shop, I see half-empty shelves. I don't have enough money to adequately invest in merchandise. Besides, very high inflation is driving wholesale prices to unaffordable levels. The price of one household cleaner rose by 16 percent just in the time between two orders.

Nowadays, I see almost more beggars than customers in my shop. They tell me how badly off they are. Then I point to my cash register, which hardly has any money in it, and I say that one day I just might join them, if our economy continues to go downhill.

The rent for my shop, which is little more than one room, is the equivalent of $250 (€208). I have no heat in the winter and no air-conditioning in the summer. But I have rats in front of the door and I have to take the subway to find a public toilet. And this in a country where there are people who become billionaires overnight. People stand in long lines in the supermarket across the street. They practically fight over the milk which on sale there. How are we supposed to survive now that the government is drastically cutting subsidies?

Nasrin Sotoudeh, the human-rights activist. Finally, a Friday when I don't have to go to the office. Such holidays have become rare since the protests against the election last year. But I also can't get certain images out of my head when I'm at home. I constantly see Bahare Hedayat and Milad Assadi in front of me. Two days ago, the two students greeted me cheerfully when we ran into each other at the revolutionary court. I had to pick something up, and the two were on the way to their trial. They were sentenced a short time later. Bahare got nine-and-a-half years and her fellow protestor Milad got seven.

My husband watches the children in the evening, and I go to a concert with a friend who has been living in the United States for many years. The singer performs modern songs about freedom and democracy. And about the price you pay for it. My friend is surprised that this sort of thing is permitted here. I talk enthusiastically about our freedom of speech. But, as I explain to her, the sad thing is that often there's no freedom after the speech.

Manijeh Hekmat, the film director. This Friday is my third day without being constantly tortured by my thoughts. I get up and look at the blue sky from my apartment on the eighth floor. I can smell the sea. I breathe in the fresh air. I'm in Cannes, at the film festival, and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with friends and colleagues from around the world. Cannes is the opposite of Tehran: calm, friendly, easygoing, colorful, cosmopolitan. But this year I can't even get away from my native Iran here. No matter where I go, people ask me about my colleague, the director Jafar Panahi. He was arrested about three months ago, yet another example to intimidate people. Panahi was supposed to be part of the jury here in Cannes. The other members of the jury demonstratively leave his chair empty.

My country is divided, and I even notice it here. Iranian film is represented at two different stands. We independent filmmakers stand at one of them, and our counterparts from the government-run institutions at the other. I also approach them, and we have a conversation. Everyone feels sympathy for Panahi. The actress Juliette Binoche cries. I fight to hold back my tears. But none of the Iranians dares to be part of the solidarity conferences. We don't want to give the government a reason to act against us.

We are so concerned that we are even afraid to openly greet colleagues like Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Bahman Ghobadi, two filmmakers who now live in exile. We worked with them for decades in Tehran. Both are associated with the Green Movement around Hossein Mousavi.

I yearn for artistic freedom, for the freedom of Cannes. The French are showing films here that deal with the colonial past in Algeria. We in Tehran are far away from such self-criticism. In our country, the government's film commissioner stands there and says that my film "Women's Prison," filmed during the time of President Mohammad Khatami, paints things in a negative light. For people like that, the tiniest bit of criticism is rebellion. My last production, a comedy, was censored 40 times.


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