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Reading Ukraine In Iran

Iranians hard-liners see the crisis in Ukraine as representative of the dangers of democracy.
WASHINGTON -- "Kyiv's historic day" or "Dem-wreck-cracy!"

The way Iranian media have portrayed Ukraine's turmoil depends on which side of Iran's political divide they stand.

Hard-line media have given readers the impression that the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych following months of antigovernment protests is a cause for mourning. Those skimming through the reformist press were likely to become excited about the developments in the eastern European country.

The differences highlighted the stances and world views of the two sides: on the one hand hard-liners' wariness of the West and popular protests, and on the other, a hunger for change among reformists who have been increasingly pushing for the release of Iranian opposition leaders.

In one example, the reformist daily "Etemad" carried the following headline about the February 22 freeing of Yulia Tymoshenko, a jailed leader of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution: "The release of the Orange Lady on Kyiv's historic day." And next to the story, the daily published comments by Iran's parliament speaker regarding Iranian opposition figures who are under house arrest.]

"Regarding the house arrest of [Mir Hossein Musavi] and [Mehdi Karrubi], I have to say that there is no reason for individuals to be under arrest. These things should be fixed," Ali Larijani was quoted as saying in an interview with the French "Le Figaro."

The front page of another reformist daily "Shargh" also appeared to welcome Tymoshenko's release, with a front page that proclaimed: "The Orange Day."

That coverage was in contrast with the hard-line and conservative press, which have been quick to dismiss the events in Ukraine as a Western-backed coup that will bring the country only darker days ahead.

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The newspaper "Vatan-e Emrouz" chose an apocalyptic scene for its front-page story devoted to events in Ukraine. A man holding Ukraine's flag walks along a street strewn with rubble against a smoke-filled backdrop. "Dem-wreck-cracy!" read the headline of the hard-line daily, which said Kyiv had fallen as the result of a pro-Western street coup.

"With the coming to power of the Orange [forces] and the influence of the United States and the West in the country, Ukraine's dark days have just begun," wrote the ultra-hardline daily "Kayhan."

The daily claimed that CIA and other Western intelligence services had helped repeat "the Orange Revolution" and brought down Yanukovych.

The conservative "Resalat" said the situation in Ukraine was the result of "Western meddling" in the country's affairs and that the real crisis had just begun.


The hard-line media have been using some of the same language in their coverage of the 2009 antigovernment protests that shook the Islamic establishment. The protests and the opposition movement have been described as "sedition," while protesters have been accused of trying to launch a color revolution with the backing of Western countries.

State controlled television, which is controlled by the hardliners, has referred to the pro-Russian Yanukovych as Ukraine's " lawful president" while presenting Tymoshenko as someone jailed for abuse of power and economic corruption.

Warnings about Western influence in Ukraine were echoed by the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, who said the events in Ukraine should be a warning to independent countries that they should not be duped by the United States.

"The lesson America and Westerners who believe in liberal democracy gave to the people of Ukraine is a historic lesson for all independent nations to be wary of the smiles and satanic ideas of capitalism," Firouzabadi was quoted as saying in the Iranian media.

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The reports also said that Firouzabadi had expressed "regret" over the events in Ukraine.

U.S. based Iranian political analyst Mohsen Sazgara says Iranian leaders are wary of popular uprisings against dictators, unless they can put their own spin on it. They did so in the case of uprisings in Arab countries, which Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described as an "Islamic awakening" that had been inspired by Iran's 1979 revolution.

"A people's revolution, armed forces joining the citizens, the release of opposition figures, and the fall of the government is a mirror in which the Islamic Republic sees its own destiny," Sazgara told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

On February 24, Iran's Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi went to great length to explain that Ukraine was not Iran and the Iranian media should not get excited about events in Ukraine.

"Our country and our establishment are not comparable to these places," Pourmohammadi said, while adding that the Iranian regime was "stable" and "powerful."

Pourmohammadi added that the Iranian press should show not go overboard in its coverage of the events in Ukraine and feel "victorious."

"Something has happened in Ukraine, some newspapers put a headline as if it had happened in Iran," he said.

Radio Farda broadcaster Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah contributed to this report
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.