Iran's 20-year culture war draws to an end
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, March 13 - Iran's Islamic government has honoured prominent
writers in a public ceremony that marks a political about-face from two
decades of official hostility toward the country's secular intellectuals.
Reformist newspapers on Saturday featured front-page coverage of Ataollah
Mohajerani, the liberal minister of culture and Islamic guidance, handing
out prizes for literary achievements since the 1979 revolution to secularists
who not long ago were vilified, harassed and even murdered. (Read news in Persian)
The recognition follows last year's string of "mystery murders"
of at least four writers and nationalist politicians, later blamed on rogue
elements in the security services.
Among those honoured at Thursday's ceremony was novelist Mahmoud
Dolatabadi, long relegated to the sidelines of official Iranian culture
as a pro-western stooge.
"This marks a turning point because they are now paying attention
to people who have not been listened to for the past 20 years," writer
Houshang Golshiri told Reuters. "All we have seen in the past 20 years
The Zan daily, close to moderate President Mohammad Khatami, hailed
the event with a banner headline: "A new era in Iranian literature
begins with reconciliation between writers and the government."
The culture minister, himself a target of conservative critics of Khatami's
political and cultural reforms, said writers had to feel secure in order
to realise their creative talents.
"Our effort is to allow writers in this country to be able to work
in a quiet atmosphere and to be creative," state-owned Iran daily
quoted Mohajerani as saying.
"But it is natural that we live in a system that has characteristics
well-known to our writers," he said in an oblique suggestion that
restrictions on intellectual life were unlikely to vanish altogether anytime
The ceremony appeared to mark the public reversal of two decades of
official persecution of cultural figures seen as less than supportive to
Iran's Islamic system, backed up a recent decision to allow the resurrection
of the pre-revolutionary Writers Association.
It was in that spirit, said Dolatabadi, that he and his fellow writers
accepted their prizes.
"I feel a sense of responsibility toward this trend toward freedom,
individual and social rights and negation of violence," the author,
who was not present at the ceremony, said in a message.
"I accept the prize and I thank you." Dolatabadi offered
his prize to the families of Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Pouyandeh,
two of the victims of the mystery murders that shocked the nation and eventually
brought down the conservative-backed minister of intelligence.
Mohajerani said the new atmosphere surrounding the arts would promote
better work by Iranian artists. The rehabilitation of the Writers' Association
has drawn fire from conservative elements.
A commentary in the hardline daily Kayhan said Mohajerani's ministry
was irresponsible in allowing the group to be reconstituted.
"With the help and support of the culture ministry, the writers
association has once again surfaced. Among it members are a bunch of people
linked to the former regime and to anti-revolutionary currents. These are
people who have no ties to the masses," the newspaper said.