Walk past the Green Party headquarters in Mitte this week and you’ll see a circle of white tents pitched on the grass, 24 hours a day, directly opposite the door. Banners, billboards and a temporary shrine in English and Persian tell you that this is a protest in solidarity with the women of Iran. Walk by in the evening, and the noise hits you like a wall. They bang on the door and sing songs of resistance. Grief, anger and resolve are palpable in the air.
Ripples from the Iranian uprising have reached Berlin. As a generation of schoolgirls across Iran protest against the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country’s morality police, they are being joined in solidarity by demonstrators across the world.
Ahead of a large planned rally at Großer Stern on Saturday, October 22, we spoke to Raha Farokhi of the newly formed collective Feminista Berlin to find out why they’re camped outside the Green party headquarters – and what Berliners can do to help.
According to your Instagram account, Feminista Berlin emerged from the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement currently sweeping Iran. How did the group form in Berlin?
After Mahsa Amini died at the hands of morality police in Iran, people took to the streets. Then the government shut down the Internet and started killing them. Every day, every night, the government is torturing them – but on the national media it’s like nothing is happening.
This is for human rights, for freedom of choice, for freedom. To choose what we want to wear and what we want to believe.
We couldn’t physically join the people in Iran. But there are two things we could do. One is to be their voice and show what’s happening there, so other people can understand and help. And the second is to force the government in other countries to help us and expel their Iranian ambassadors, for example, and stop trading with Iran.
We are not social activists. We are not political activists. We don’t know a lot. But this is something that all of us understand. We may not be experts, but what we know is that by continuing to do business with Iran, they are sending money indirectly to the government to kill more people on the street. And we want to stop this.
This is the biggest feminist movement in the whole world and it’s happening in Iran.
We gathered after seeing just one message on Twitter that said ‘who can help to do something outside Iran?’ and from that we created a group. We have a 24-hour sit-in for seven days outside the Green Party headquarters. We chose the Green Party because one of their main pledges is to support any feminist movement. And this is the biggest feminist movement in the whole world and it’s happening in Iran. This is for human rights, for freedom of choice, for freedom. To choose what we want to wear and what we want to believe.
We want the German government to stop trading with Iran, to not help them buy weapons to kill or torture more people.
You describe yourselves as Iranians in exile. Why did you leave Iran and what made you choose Berlin?
I had my own company in Iran and it was going well. I didn’t have to leave because of the economic situation. I wanted to be myself. I wanted to not be forced to wear the hijab. I hated it. I wanted to be myself, so I preferred to have no money and to leave all the success I had built there and leave the country because I wanted to be free. That was the only reason.
You’re critical of Germany’s ‘passivity’ towards the Iranian regime. What specifically would you like the government to do?
We want them to act. We want to have their support, not just verbally, but in real terms. If they want to focus on helping the feminist movement in Iran, they should focus on that, not this nuclear deal. They want to sanction people from Iran, but the people getting sanctioned are not the people who have any impact. It should be for people who are responsible for the economic relationship between Iran and Germany or other European countries. The big players should be sanctioned.
Do you sense that this uprising will bring about real change in Iran?
I hope so. We’re inviting more people from different cities and different countries. And we have a lot of requests – people want to hear about our experience. This was the first time we’d ever done anything like this, but now we can share what we know.
We are not social activists. We are not political activists, we don’t know a lot. But this is something that all of us understand.
We’ve been here for five days now. Two days ago, someone from the Green Party gave us 30 seconds of their time. They talked to us for 30 seconds. Then yesterday, finally, Pegah Edalatian (the Green Party’s deputy federal chairwoman and diversity spokesperson) came and talked to us for 20 to 30 minutes. They are listening to us because we’re outside the door, they know we’re here, but we expect answers.
You feel you didn’t get answers from Pegah Edalatian?
No, we did not. We are not getting answers. We want more.
What’s the most helpful thing that Berliners can do in solidarity?
We ask people who voted for the Green Party to join us. To have a stronger voice. If they voted for the Green Party, they should expect them to do something about this situation. If people join us, they are also putting pressure on the government. And it helps us.
You’ll be at Platz vor dem Neuen Tor until Saturday October 22. What’s next?
Last night we had a session to work out the next steps of the movement, but we have this (sit-in) until Saturday, October 22 and then there’s a big uprising planned for 3pm the same day at Großer Stern in Tiergarten. That’s the big one.
Two weeks ago there was a huge protest in Toronto, and the organiser of that is coming to Berlin to help put together a similar event here. So right now we’re focusing on that.
And we’ll keep trying to get answers from Annalena Baerbock, from the Green Party. But if people want to show support in the next couple of days, they can come to where we are outside the Green Party headquarters. They can show their support like that.
Follow Feminsta Berlin on Instagram for the latest updates.