At some point, a beardy old men in a worn-out jacket sat down on the sunlit bench and told us about the story of a bankrupted Persian-carpets store he had owned. Like many before, he noted: “Life was different during the reign of the Shah. Iran was a beautiful country and everyone was better off. I had customers even from Paris and London. We sold hundreds, thousands of carpets.” While pointing at the black ravens flying through the park, he said: “Back then there were colourful, singing birds around here – not this hyenas. They resemble those who impoverished our country – they spread fear and tear out the food from your mouth.”
I am sure I would be able to find someone on a nearby bench who would compare these ravens to western companies which exploited Iranian natural resources and its industry before the Khomeini revolution in 1979. Many Iranians fear the capital flow from Europe, USA and China will soon after the end of isolation transform Iran into another standardised country as part of the global market. Just very few of those who are afraid of the end of sanctions admit that the image of oriental Iran known from tales has vanished a long time ago. Today Tehran is a huge city with pollution levels nearly as bad as in Beijing and with a similar number of barely finished concrete skyscrapers. The ancient bazaars are filled with flickering LED signs and the amount of Chinese plastic outstrips the spices, carpets and other traditional Iranian products.
Most people I have spoken with during my Iran trip from Tehran to Qeshm Island realised that a country with eighty million inhabitants cannot withstand the process of globalisation. They know the isolation impedes the possibility to enrich their lives with the positive effects of globalisation. During the lectures on international trade in Dresden, we often discussed what consequences a country excluded from international capital flows has to bear. However, a university lecture cannot grasp the dimension of the sanctions. It can only be understood by personally observing the direct impact on daily life in an affected country.
One can spot cars from luxury brands like Mercedes or Porsche on the streets of Tehran. Most people, however, drive old and dangerous Iranian cars, which strongly pollute the growing cities. It is almost impossible to breath during rush hour – and I am writing this despite the fact I spent the last half a year under Moscow’s grey sky. While western imports are available in shops, their number remains low while their prices remain exorbitantly high in comparison to European prices. Iran as a country with huge oil resources lacks petrol due to the missing refinery equipment. Above the mangrove forest, one can see immense flames from oil production sites burning day and night. A part of the natural gas, which could be used more efficiently in an other countries with cutting-edge technology, is uselessly wasted here. Nevertheless, countless Iranians have the newest iPhone. But since they cannot create an Apple ID, they cannot access most apps. They even would not have the possibility to pay for them as nobody has a VISA card. If they manage to somehow download an app, many of them, like Airbnb, Uber and various messengers, would be useless anyway. As we realised, they are not available in Iran. And since Facebook and Google+ are completely blocked by the government, the iPhone is not much better than a Nokia 3310. In the last days of our stay in Iran, we spent some time with a man selling fish from Iran to Europe. He told us that his European bank account's balance was 55 thousand Euros. At the moment, this is just a number. Only once the sanctions are lifted it will become real money.
I consider the deal with Iran to be one of the few successful foreign policy achievements of the last year. The sanctions were a good tool, which fulfilled its purpose well. However, their end is a great message for Europe as well as for ordinary Iranians. As the recent elections showed, the people of Iran tend to ease the chains. Economically, this situation is directly and indirectly an advantage for Europe. On the one hand, Iran has signed important deals with European companies during the last month (for example with Airbus), on the other hand, Iran is causing the oil price to fall even lower due to its exports and it has the potential to become an alternative source to Russian gas imports to Europe in the long-term.
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