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Interview: Three young men in Tehran

NRK reporter Sidsel Vold interviews three young men in Tehran about their situation and their hopes for the future.

Green Revolution, Iran


IRAN: Following a suspect election in 2009, many regime critics were killed in a popular uprising challenging the Iranian leadership. That uprising died out unlike the later popular revolts in the Arab countries from 2010 and onwards. Many young Iranians feel oppressed by the strict Islamic leadership of the country.

We are sitting in an unknown place in Tehran, three young men in their twenties and I.
- The death of Michael Jackson spoilt the Green Revolution, sighs Babak. In the darkest corner of the café, the others nod silently in agreement.
The atmosphere is oppressive.
All three have just said that they would prefer to leave Iran. They see no future here at the moment.
Babak has visited the British Consulate here for two years, asking for a residence permit, but in vain.

Hoping Their Neighbour Will Revolt

- I just want to leave this country. I am trying desperately to get out, says Babak, who is hoping to take a PhD abroad.
Borna would like to go to Europe or Canada, but not to stay forever. He hopes there will be changes in Iran while he lives abroad.
The others laugh briefly. Because this is the heart of the matter: everyone apparently wants their neighbour to revolt.
Aren’t disgruntled Iranians ready to take to the streets in the same way as the Syrians? I ask.
The revolt after the controversial results of the presidential election in 2009 came to an end.
Because when the Basij militia started shooting the people in the streets with live ammunition, the demonstrators stayed home.
In Iran, I am trying to find out what became of the Green Wave and what all the students who took part in it are doing now.
Some have gone abroad. Others are carrying on with their lives and hoping for the best.
While yet others, like these young men, sit moping at cafés.

We Don’t Have Enough to Lose Yet

Everyone shakes their head over the bloodbath in Syria. It’s dreadful.
- Assad can’t survive this. Eventually, all the dictators will fall, Borna believes.
- We Iranians are somewhere between Syria and Europe, says Sina.
- We don’t have enough to lose yet, so we don’t risk our lives demonstrating as the Syrians are doing. But neither are we as civilized as the Europeans, he says.
- Do you dream of a bright future in Iran? I ask.
- “Ma’am, I am just hopeless just now”, Babak repeats sorrowfully.
- We are all living in social depression, say the three of them.

No Mandela

Bazaar in Tehran
Bazaar in Tehran

One is an accountant, the second a musician and the third a graduate engineer.
They are in their prime and are a reflection of the brain drain that has hit the Islamic republic for several decades, but which reached new heights after the 2009 election.
But they believe that change will come. The present collective depression can’t continue.
Sina doesn’t want a revolution, just reform. Babak believes that it is right and proper to impose sanctions on Iran in order to pressure the religious leaders.
However, the sanctions also hit ordinary people. It has become extremely dangerous to fly. Iranian planes get no spare parts, and machine malfunctions are an everyday occurrence.
I wish that Russia and China didn’t support us. It would be better to be completely isolated and force a crisis which would lead to change.
Perhaps if we were subjected to sanctions like South Africa? asks Sina, as if airing a thought.
No, we have no Mandela. Our hopes for reform and change have no leader.

A Warning to the Regime

What do the three think of the Arab Spring?
- The Arab revolt is a warning to the Iranian government, says Sina.
- The Arab Spring isn’t helping me, interrupts Babak.
- Why didn’t the West help us in 2009, when the revolt started here? We had started things rolling, but then Michael Jackson spoilt everything. When he died, the international media went berserk and broadcast nothing else. The world completely forgot Iran. Why did Michael Jackson have to die just when we had finally risen against the regime? sighs Borna.
They stare at the table top. Sina lights another cigarette.
We have to go. It is obvious that neither the customers nor the café owner are comfortable with the presence of foreign journalists.
As we left, it was as if a sigh of relief closed the door behind us.

Translation of article by Sidsel Wold Michaels Jacksons død ødela den grønne våren


  1. Explain the title. What does Michael Jackson have to do with the political situation in Iran?
  2. Why are the Iranians hesitant to take to the streets like e.g. the Syrians?
  3. “Eventually, all the dictators will fall” one of the young men claims. Discuss the point he is trying to make and the possible truth in such a claim.
  4. "-- we have no Mandela." Explain to what they are referring and what they mean by this statement.
  5. How do the sanctions imposed on Iran affect the everyday lives of ordinary Iranians?
  6. Why is there such a tense atmosphere during the interview?
  7. List at least five adjectives that describe the political situation in Iran in general and / or the state of mind of those around the table.
  8. In what way does the interview focus on journalism in general?


Find out the meaning of the following expressions and explain them in your own words:

  • a residence permit
  • PhD
  • the heart of the matter
  • take to the streets
  • in their prime
  • brain drain


  1. In practice, what seem to be the most important criteria for newspaper articles? You may look up a few newspapers to help you search for criteria (news, sport, politics, lifestyle...)
  2. Which criteria do you think should be the most important?
  3. Discuss the statement: “The press must give the public what they want – not what they need.”
  4. Read the related article Newsworthiness – and discuss how this interview exemplifies the theme of the article.
  5. Why has it become harder for dictatorships to filter information about the political situation in their countries?
  6. Point out examples of this from other countries during “the Arab Spring”.
  7. Discuss a definition of “an independent press” – and why that is so hard to establish, even in the western world.


Write an essay based on the following keywords: information flow, democracy, youth, change.


Study riots and revolution where social media and the Internet in general have played an important role. Make a multimedia presentation of the conflicts and the role played by information technology. Finally discuss how you feel information technology may fuel change in the future. Social media, websites, twitter, e-mail and so forth are all part of information technology that can change the world.


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