“I knew I had to leave Iran. I’ve known it since I turned fourteen” – says Michał Rezazadeh, who creates Irańczyk w Polsce [Iranian in Poland] channel and fanpage living in Warsaw.
He thought about Switzerland or Germany. But in 2016, while still in Iran, he met a group of Poles. They talked about everything and nothing and it all ended with an invitation to Poland. “And so, I stayed”. Michał started to learn Polish. After four months, he decided that Poland was his place on Earth, his new home.
Talking about what goes on at home is out of question
Asked about why he thought of leaving Iran – “there were many reasons”, he says, starting with religious dictators who impose their own interpretation of religion on Iranians. Every citizen, including atheists and nonpractising people, are forced to follow their rules. Michał notes that this is also impacting the wellbeing of minorities whose discrimination is on the rise. “As a person who grew up in a family where religion was not of utmost priority, I felt this pressure strongly. My parents raised me and my brother to just be good people, not according to the rules of any religion”, says Rezazadeh. Because of all that, he felt as if he had to lead a double life in Iran – the restricted public and the secret private one.
Here’s an example: when he was at school, he couldn’t talk to his friends about any get-togethers that took place at home. Mom invited her friends over, dad his. “Such meetings are, according to the religious dictators, illegal. I was told to never talk about it. Even as a small child, I already knew that there are things one can’t talk about”. He realised very early in his life that he could never fully be himself in his own country. And yet this freedom to be, to exist as oneself is what he believes is a basic human right. “When you feel that you can be yourself and take care of yourself, that’s when you can start doing good things for others too”. Michał Rezazadeh is his words’ best example – he helped Ukrainian refugees from the very first days of the war. Initially at the border, then in Warsaw.
Warsaw is where I can finally be myself
He has always been an open-minded and curious person. He wanted to learn foreign languages, try new things… “All this is what the Islamic Republic is afraid of”, he says. “In order to be myself, I had to leave. I was suffocating. In Poland, I finally felt free. I didn’t have to pretend to be anybody else. Michał laughs and adds that yes, even though nowhere is perfect, Poland is still his place on Earth.
It was here that he celebrated his birthday for the first time. “After I left Iran and settled down, it started to dawn on me that I’m really glad to be here.” For the very first time he craved to celebrate his birthday. Michał begins to talk about what kind of food he prepared for his friends, about how he bought a cake and invited a group over. “I used to have to always be someone that I’m not. I had to hide everything. The music I liked – because it’s illegal in Iran over the fact that it’s sung by female artists. My long hair and an earring were also out of question. But all those things are what makes me ‘me’. It’s the only way I can feel myself”
A series of insignificant events
Returning to Iran in August for three weeks while his mother went under surgery was an intense experience for him. Even leaving the house was stressful. While there Michał tried to renew his driving license, but he wasn’t allowed to do so solely because of his appearance. Apparently in order to get signatures needed, one must look “decent” enough to enter the offices. “It’s a series of those seemingly insignificant events, tiny hurdles that make a big impact on our psyche. That is why people decide to leave,” says Michał.
Since he’s saying he’s happy living in Poland, I ask Michał if he has ever experienced any unpleasant situations.
I notice that he talks about it with surprising lightness. “Such people can happen anywhere” he adds.
One step too far
I had to ask Michał about the current situation in Iran. “The protests over the death of Mahsa Amini have been going on for over 40 days”, I can see him saying it proudly, but at the same time his heart is breaking. “Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman of Kurdish descent, was killed by the so-called morality police, although what kind of morality are we talking about here. She was killed because she covered her hair in an – according to a group of privileged men – inappropriate way.”
It was one step too far for Iranians. People took to the streets because they wanted freedom but what they are met with are repressions and bullets from the security forces. “They kill people in the streets. The authorities are ruthless and brutal. We have reasons to be afraid in Iran. In Europe, human life is of the highest value, just look at the traffic law and crossing regulations. In Iran on the other hand, human life feels so unimportant that when you voice your disapproval towards the rulers, they will shoot you. This is the same Iran where civilisation flourished thousands of years ago. Where Persia was founded. And today I can’t help worrying about my loved ones who are still there,” says Michał Rezazadeh who has been out of touch with many friends and family members for many days.
He cut his hair off in solidarity with Iranian women
Although far away from Iran, he protested in the streets of Warsaw. Cutting his hair off was part of the action. “It’s just a symbol, a little thing that anyone can do, that means a lot. Because in Iran, when people just show up in the streets to protest, they are risking their lives”. He talks about the demonstartion in front of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. “Many Poles were often under the impression that we, Iranians, wanted this religious dictatorship for ourselves. We can all see it now. It’s now our shared responsibility. It’s not just an Iranian thing anymore”, he shakes his head.
According to Michał, if today’s protests do not change anything, everyone will feel the consequences. “Look at what is happening on the Polish-Belarusian border. There are people from Iran in these woods. People who fled from a dictatorship, from a religion imposed on them by a tiny group of men. They are looking for a better and free life in Europe. Meanwhile Joe Biden invites Islamic Republic President Ebrahim Raisi to New York as people die on the streets in Iran. Iran is Russia’s ally and Putin is attacking Ukraine with Iranian drones. The West must stop feeding the Islamic Republic”. That is, if the core values we stand for are to be protected.
An iranian citizen
Michał Rezazadeh speaks out about the issues, but he is also aware that he won’t be able to return to Iran. At least until some major changes are underway. “I am a citizen of Iran, not of the Islamic Republic. For this reason, I wish myself and other Iranians a revolution to take place. This is the only way for Iran to remain Iran and for the people to be free. So that instead of fighting for basic rights on the street, they could enjoy life. Man by nature doesn’t want to fight. But sometimes it gets to the point where one has to defend themselves. And that’s what Iranians are doing today, because their lives are in danger. They have woken up and won’t give up.”
The interview with Michał Rezazadeh was conducted by Julia Parkot.
Translated by Alicja Czarnocka.
The text was created thanks to a grant received as part of the project “I am European. Historie i fakty o migracjach na XXI wiek”. The project is implemented by the Center for Citizenship Education (CEO) and financed by the European Union.