Sat, 08 Apr 2000

Iran's youth samples a taste of modern life

By Dietrich Alexander

BERLIN (DPA): If you guessed the snowy slopes were Aspen, Saas Fee or St. Moritz, you're way off target. This is Dizin in Iran, just 100 kilometers north of Tehran.

Seen by many as the country's foremost ski resort, Dizin is one of the places of refuge where Iran's young people can behave like others of their generation in the countries of the free world.

A trace of freedom can be felt there. Chadors, the veils typical for Muslim women, are absent. The religious hardliners around Ayatollah Ali Khameni and feared watchdogs of morality do not stand in the queues at the ski-lifts and check whether the women are wearing make-up.

The young people are looking for their niches in the new Iran, where the difficult return to the international community is advancing extremely slowly after more than two decades.

Young people are becoming much more courageous since the moderate Mohammed Khatami took office as President in 1997 and are testing the limits of a regime that has evidently outlived itself.

The great success of the reform-oriented forces at the general elections of Feb. 18 is encouraging young Iranians to claim more freedoms for themselves.

In the meanwhile, there are Internet cafes in the major cities where Iranian net surfers may establish contact to kindred souls throughout the world and absorb with a thirst for knowledge everything that is discussed in the chatrooms.

And, those with a knowledge of English browse through the homepages of the international news stations and inform themselves independent of the mostly censored local newspapers.

If the Council of Guardians feels that a newspaper has gone too far out of bounds, it is shut down without any further ado. It is one of the peculiarities of the country that the paper then appears again a few days later under a different name.

However, the density of the Internet is limited. An hour of surfing in the few Internet cafes in Tehran costs US$2.50. That is a lot of money in a country where there is concealed unemployment of up to 50 percent.

Only 10 computers are available at Tehran University and the queues are correspondingly long. The young women and men do not allow themselves to be deterred, nevertheless.

The oases of freedom are recognizable everywhere, especially where the state control apparatus is not present. Thus, young Iranians keep enjoying their leisure-time on the snow-covered mountain slopes and imagine themselves on the ski runs of the free world.

Or they spend their holidays on the island of Kish, a free trade and liberal zone in the Persian Gulf far away from Tehran's center of power. However, the simplest and comparatively cheapest possibility is the Internet which in Iran is at the crawling stage of its triumphant advance.