Donna Harati

Donna Harati (Women in Black in Serbia): Donna spent the 2007 and 2008 summers working in Zambia with Project Concern International, and helping a peer mediation program for at risk youth in Zambian schools. Donna also taught English in Mauritius through Learning Enterprises. At the time of her fellowship, Donna was pursuing a degree in Cultural Politics with a focus on social justice from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. While at university, she also worked with incarcerated adults and court adjudicated youth through Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice. After her fellowship, Donna wrote: “I was faced with questions I did not know even existed. If my experience in Serbia taught me anything, it was that being complacent is simply not an option.”

Watching Iran from Serbia

21 Jun

Both of my parents were born and raised in Iran, so I have felt especially invested in the historic, heart-wrenching, and at times, horrific, events in Iran during the past week. I have been constantly checking liveblogs (I highly recommend Nico Pitney’s blog over at Huffington Post), mesmerized by the power of citizen journalism. I am overwhelmed by the courage young people my age (and of every age) are showcasing in Iran, a courage I doubt I will ever even begin to comprehend in my lifetime. The graphic and raw image of the young protester Neda dying captured on camera hasn’t left my mind since I watched it and probably never will.

Commentators are asking if Iran will be the next China or Zimbabwe, but being in Serbia, a country that has struggled to find its footing after bringing down its own oppressive regime only a few years ago, is really coloring how I see the events in Iran. In interviews I’ve watched with leaders of the resistance movement in Serbia, they explain how many people did not want to get involved at first because they didn’t know what the alternative to Milosevic would be. In time, they were convinced that, first things first, Milosevic had to be brought down. The catalyzing moment in Serbia was when Milosevic rejected claims of a first-round opposition victory in elections for the presidency in September 2000, a situation somewhat similar to that in Iran today. The people had had enough. They refused to accept the state line any longer and took to the streets. Was the opposition candidate perfect or ideal? No, but the people felt that it was time for their voices to be heard.

the toppling of Milosevic's regime

the toppling of Milosevic's regime

The following quote by a female architect in Iran sums up what I believe is a similar sentiment in Iran:  “Many criticize us and wonder what does Mr. Mousavi have that is so special? They argue that after all he is one of the many in that corrupt system of the Islamic Republic and will never act against it. My argument is that this is not about Mousavi, but about people realizing that they are not followers like a herd of sheep that goes anywhere it is summoned to go. They will know that the individual will does matter and that their actions can be effective and can speak louder than any specific person; this to me is the most important aspect of these events. Now either Mousavi or anyone else who will end up in power, they will have the understanding of what people want and what they are capable of, and how they can voice their requests. This is the significant and important step and now that Mousavi has chosen to go ahead, we will support him.”

And so the Iranian people have had enough, and they are bravely fighting for their rights, for their voices, for justice. Of course, I am full of hope, but at the same time, being in Serbia has created a set of fears and anxieties about the future of Iran I doubt I would otherwise have. In 2003, Prime minister Zuran Djindic, who many Serbians saw as a statesman of hope who could bring a brighter future, was assassinated. Since then, many politicians from the Milosevic era have found their way back to power.

We were in Northern Serbia last week interviewing a WIB activist, and her friend was curious to hear our impressions of the Serbian people. He asked if we saw the Serbian people the same way he did. I told him I didn’t quite understand what he meant, and he responded, “well, I think we are a….what’s the word….raw? rugged?…people now.” As we continued talking, I realized the word he was looking for might have been “broken”. They fought so hard for change that now that what they have isn’t what they expected, the will to fight again is simply not there. My statements are based on limited conversations with a specific subset of the population, but I have been really affected by their despair. The road to freedom can be long and arduous, but it seems that maintaining that freedom might be the true challenge. No individual should feel broken as a result of the broken state of his or her nation. I can only hope that Iran will not be a China or a Zimbabwe or a Serbia, but an Iran, a model for people around the world who are tired of not being treated with the respect they deserve as human beings.

Iranian protesters marching in Tehran on June 15, 2009.

Iranian protesters marching in Tehran on June 15, 2009.

Posted By Donna Harati

Posted Jun 21st, 2009


  • Sarah

    June 21, 2009


    Great post! I’ve been wondering about your thoughts on what is happening in Iran right now & the work you are doing over there sounds really radical & wonderful. Can’t wait to hear more!


  • Andrew

    June 22, 2009


    Very interesting post, Donna. Thank you for sharing.

  • anjum

    June 22, 2009


    “this is not about mousavi” : Iran is showing us that we dont need a common identity/ideology in order to mobilize around common struggle. truly creative power!

    thanks for posting donna.

  • Helah Robinson

    June 24, 2009


    Very powerful Donna. I know we’ve all been following the events in Iran, and it’s really interesting to get your perspective after having spent so much time with WIB.
    Thanks for the post.

  • Farzin

    June 24, 2009


    Great post! I agree with the female architect. I don’t think this about Musavi anymore. He was loved by Khomeini. I actually heard that he tried to resign and Khomeini begged him not to. Go figure.

    Anyway, hopefully the democratic urges of Iranians will overcome. I hope any family that you have in Iran is safe.

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