EN | BA

Ivan Pernar's Impressions of a Visit to the Iranian city of Mashhad

Ivan Pernar holding a lecture in Mashhad (photo: Facebook)

In mid-May, Croatian parliamentarian Ivan Pernar flew to the Iranian city of Mashhad for a week-long visit and attended an international conference "New Horizon" on Jerusalem. He traveled with a girlfriend, stayed in Istanbul one day, and then went to the eastern Iran. In Mashhad, Pernar also visited several of the city's famous attractions, honored fallen Iranian soldiers who fought against American and Israeli allies in Syria, gave interviews to many established media outlets, and held lectures at the Shahid Beheshti Teachers Training College, the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences of the Ferdowsi University, as well as few high schools. His visit passed completely unnoticed in the Croatian media, but luckily he gave a short report to the alternative news website Logično and published short impressions on his Facebook page.

"The first thing you have to learn in Iran is the patience, the entry into the country has lasted a little longer because my girlfriend needed an entry visa. I did not need it because I possess a diplomatic passport," Pernar said. "I must point out that the citizens of Serbia, a country considered to be less developed than us [Croatia], do not need visas for Russia, China, Turkey and Iran. Without a visa, we Croats can not go either to Turkey or to the United States, which I consider to be a major failure of our diplomacy, especially because we regard these two countries as our partners and allies," he added. Pernar stated that getting the Turkish visa was faster but also more expensive, concluding that travel will cost you either money in Turkey or time in Iran.

"As far as the country [Iran] is concerned, people are very warm and positive, their salaries are lower [than Croatian], but the prices are incomparable. Gasoline and bread are extremely cheap. The Iranian industry is far more advanced than ours, they are one of the largest car manufacturers in the world and almost all the vehicles you see on their streets are domestically produced. The same is with food and other consumer goods," Croatian parliamentarian said. He further praised the city of Mashhad: "It is very nicely decorated, streets have lines of trees, they are very devoted to horticulture. Everything is alive, with countless shops. There are also shopping streets where only shops with computers or cell phones are located, and the large shopping malls that look just as modern as in Zagreb. There's a lot of construction going on, including large and modern buildings, especially hotels." Pernar mentioned the problems faced by foreigners, such as the lack of understanding Iranian numerals, the issues with money exchangers, and poor knowledge of English. "However, if you solve these problems with the help of a local, then Iran is a top place with a high-level of public security, because there is no violent crime. You can go around without fear at any time of day and night, the prices are very low and in fact with little money you can buy a lot of things," he added.

Pernar with Iranian students (photo: Facebook)

Pernar was particularly impressed with the Iranian media, stating that for the first time in his life he experienced the mainstream journalists were really interested in his message, without trying to twist or taking something out of context, not to mention the vicious personal attacks. He gave numerous statements for the local media and his ten-minute speech was broadcasted live on the state television. Pernar emphasized these differences during his lectures in the Iranian educational institutions, and posted the summary on his Facebook page:

I was holding lectures and socializing with Iranian pupils and students. They have been asking me a lot of questions, and I was emphasizing that in my own country I was forbidden to enter the schools and talk to the students just because I disagree with the [Croatian] political elite which follows the rules from Washington and Brussels. It was inconceivable to them [students], they said that they thought there was no censorship in the West, that the media is not controlled, that no one is persecuted for being of a different opinion.

I told students that I was arrested more than 40 times and detained five times, because I took part in anti-government demonstrations and anti-eviction activism. I told them that I am systematically denigrated and humiliated in the alleged "free and democratic" media, just because I disagree with NATO's policy of bombing resource-rich countries with the aim of putting them under American control, and because of my opposition to the European Union which is a colonial project with purpose of occupying our country with credits, privatization, concessions and savings measures directed against the weakest in society.

I also told them that although I'm the most popular parliamentarian, with 250,000 followers on Facebook, I can not get on state television even though it's possible to total unknowns who do not represent absolutely anything in the society. It sounded unbelievable for them that the topics of occupation of Palestine, shooting children in the back, demolishing and abducting houses, are banned for public debate and that those who criticize Israel are ignored by all the mainstream media. In fact, they are getting negatively labeled by the media only because they're pointing out the systematic and massive violations of human rights.

They told me that it means a lot to them when someone from the West say all these things mentioned above, because they thought their media was exaggerating such remarks. I responded that I only wish the Iranian media is lying, that we are a free country where there is no censorship, that there is a space for different opinions, and that we are a country that can independently decide its destiny.

Speeches by a Croatian opposition politician on a semi-private visit, as well as his meeting with Ebrahim Raisi of the Iranian opposition, seemed to be unimportant comparing to the Iranian-Croatian forum held in Tehran only two days before Pernar's visit. Still, his remarks proved to be extremely accurate and timely. From 5 to 9 May, the potential for economic cooperation between Croatia and Iran was discussed by diplomats led by Croatia's Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Martina Dalić, and Iranian politicians from the moderate and permissive Rouhani government. In the same time, on 8 May, the US president Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal, and shortly afterwards the Croatian media reported that American embassy gave Zagreb an ultimatum, demanding to choose between Iran and the USA. The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia officially expressed regret at Trump's decision, but added that "the US remains our partner and ally." On 14 May, Martina Dalić resigned as a minister over leaked emails that suggested she had used her position to help associates benefit from the restructuring of the ailing food giant Agrokor. Interestingly enough, all these events took place at a time when Pernar was in Iran, giving lessons against the American policies and the subordinate position of his own corrupted country.

Marko Knežević

Marko Knežević is a historian and freelance journalist from Bar, Montenegro. He is a frequent traveller to the Middle East and East Asia.