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Iran Today or Who wants to be a Millionaire?

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Imagine this. In a moment of crisis in Teheran recently, our President reported in his introductory anecdote, he paid his friendly taxi driver, who came to his rescue to get him to the Austrian Embassy 5,000.000 Iranian Rial. (1 Rial is the equivalent of 0,000022 Euro).

Now does this make Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch a millionaire by throwing around millions? That even the taxi driver in the face of so much generosity showed a conscience and returned 2,000.000 Rial is worth mentioning. In response to this revelation our Vice president Dr Alexander Christiani expressed his heartfelt relief that Prof Tiroch had not invited out of gratitude that taxi driver to Vienna for obvious financial implications.

It is true. The Austro-British Society nearly always gets it right, so Dr Christiani. Only a few weeks after critical events emerged in Iran we meet His Excellency Dr Stefan Scholz, Austrian Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran. You could not be more spot on than that, our Vice President observed! But for a while it seemed that the lecture would have to be called off in case Ambassador Scholz had to return to Teheran.

The diplomatic relationships between Austria and Persia started in 1552 but already before that Persia’s Shah Ismail I (1488-1524) was interested to forge an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor against the Ottoman Empire that not only threatened Persia’s western border but also the eastern flank of the Habsburg Hereditary Lands. Throughout the centuries this relationship seems to have been maintained to the present day allowing Austria despite her loss of size after World War I not only diplomatic advantages but also economic and political. Austria’s contribution can nowadays been described as small but strategic. Austria’s continued presence on so many levels is widely appreciated by the Iranians.

That Iran since the overthrow of the Shah is holding on to its Islamic Mission cannot be denied nor even ignored. While Iran is certainly capable to produce a nuclear bomb within two years according to Israeli sources, if it puts her mind to it, her army once in the days of the Shah the 5th largest in the world is only a shadow of its former self. Most military hardware has been moth-balled and is antiquated. The Air force still relies on Tomcats from the 70s.

Iran is a socialist state with a socialist command economy. The state decides what goods to produce, how much of it and at what price. This is no different to the socialist economy of the former communist GDR in the 1980s.

Iran will most certainly not give up her Islamic Mission. A Revolution is unlikely and the attempt to change the regime from the outside would lead to enormous bloodshed. Iran, however, is important for the region. Its population is young and educated and its youth has been americanised over time. Iran is hungry for investment and investors are habitually nervous about uncertainties, therefore she could be brought back to the negotiating table provided Washington relents leading to a subsequent reduction of sanctions. It is unfortunate the EU play only a secondary role in all this.

The questions put by our members to Ambassador Scholz once again displayed an enormous amount of knowledge and a keen grasp of the situation and equally the patient and detailed response by Dr Scholz was more than illuminating.

The by now famous hospitality of the Café Ministerium that followed, provided us, as usual, with ample food and drink. That next to Ambassador Scholz three more Ambassadors, albeit retired, were present last night must not remain unreported.

Wolfgang Geissler 

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