Croatian journalist Hassan Haidar Diab's impressions of visiting Iran

Hassan Haidar Diab in Tehran (photo: FB)

In mid-February, Croatian journalist Hassan Haidar Diab visited Iran, stayed in Tehran and Isfahan, participated in ceremonies celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, and interviewed several prominent Iranian politicians and Croatian expatriates in that country. Mr. Haidar Diab is an extraordinary figure in Croatian and Balkan journalism. Born in 1963 in the Lebanese capital Beirut, in 1981 he went to study at the University of Zagreb in the Socialist Republic of Croatia, attracted by the position of Yugoslavia in the Third World and the role of Josip Broz Tito in the Non-Aligned Movement. In 1998 he started his career as a journalist working at Zagreb's Večernji list and he wrote numerous articles on international politics over many years.

Haidar Diab has reached the peak of his career in mid-2010s when Syria was hit by the civil war and Europe by the migration crisis. Given that he is a native and fluent speaker of Arabic language, he traveled throughout Europe and Western Asia, working on numerous reports and interviews with refugees and politicians. As a political commentator and expert guest, Haidar Diab frequently appeared on radio and television, including Croatian RadioTelevision (HRT), Bosnian-Herzegovinian Radio Television (BHRT), RTV Slovenia, Al Jazeera Balkans, Nova TV, N1, Z1, ZDF, IRIB, TV Al Mayadeen, etc. He has also lectured widely, for instance at the Police Academy in Zagreb, the Institute for Strategic Issues in Tehran, and the International Ulama Conference in Lebanon.

The quality of Haidar Diab's articles varies and factual errors are not rare, however, he is one of the few journalists in the Balkans who writes for an influential daily newspaper and expounds views of all sides involved in the Syria Civil War and the wider regional conflict. As the very opposite of this approach we may mention Petar Stošić, a pamphleteer for the Croatian tabloid news website Index.hr who, due to his coercive and unapologetic defense of the US government's stances, including Takfiri terrorist groups, was nicknamed "Jihadi Perica" on social networks.

Haidar Diab's neutrality and balanced reporting is internationally renowned and in April 2017 he got permission to interview the most wanted politician in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After a complex process of verification, The Syrian officials explained that Haidar Diab has passed through a complex process of verification and reason for approval lies in the fact that he, unlike many other rejected Western journalists, doesn't have habits of taking words out of context and distorting statements.

In the interview, Bashar al-Assad described Croats as a friendly nation and commended the public opinion in Croatia that recognized what's actually going on in Syria, more than many other European nations. More importantly, the Syrian President emphasized that it would be inappropriate to hold them responsible for hostile errors of the former Croatian government, which include the arms shipment that reached the terrorists, as well as the recognition of Syrian rebels as the only legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Haidar Diab thus showed himself not only as an excellent journalist but also as a diplomat who serves the strategic interests of Croatia, notably the possible continuation of cooperation in gas fields that was temporarily suspended due to war.

During his visit to Tehran, Haidar Diab interviewed Branko Ivanković, a Croatian manager who manages Persepolis Football Club and enjoys the status of a football king in Iran. He led national team to 2004 Asian Cup third place and qualified for the 2006 World Cup, the third time in the country's history, thus becoming an honorary citizen of Tehran twelve years ago. He made history again last year when Persepolis reached the final of the Asian Champions League for the first time since the tournament started. Ivanković lives in Tehran for four years and despite many lucrative international offers, he told Haidar Diab that he enjoys in Iran and wants to end his career there.

"First of all, I'm a professional football coach and I'm going where they call me, where they give me the best conditions, where I can make a career break, and of course where I can earn money. Here in Iran I found all this. I've seen people here like football, they consume it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, football is their passion and love. Working in such conditions is a great pleasure. For example, we lose the match but still we're greeted at the airport by two hundred people, all happy and cheerful of us despite our loss. Last year, we had an average of 55,000 attenders per match, regardless of whether we played home or away. The stadiums are very often sold out. Our home stadium in Tehran is regularly visited by 80 to 100 thousand spectators. There are players who are extremely diligent at the training, who want to learn, to do their best. People here are wonderfully kind, fantastic... My Instagram's account has exceeded a million followers," Ivanković said.

"The life conditions are great, we all have good apartments here. The Iranian food is great, the traditional one belongs to the very top of the world's cuisine, and is very similar to our Balkan cuisine because everything is based on meat. Basically, food is so delicious that we have to be careful not to get fat. People are extremely kind and at every step want to help you and make you feel good and comfortable. Iranians are extremely generous people and respect the foreigners. Of course, as in the case of all countries, each of us in Iran has to adhere to certain rules that are not strange or extreme, but a normal part of the everyday life. I've never experienced any sort of unpleasantness," he added.

Asked about does he miss the nightlife and is there any in Tehran, Ivanković further explained: "Foreigners are often wrong because they think Iran is a country without nightlife. Iranian culture is seven thousand years old. When we have free time, at night we often go to some of the many restaurants that are always full. Inside you can hear different types of music, from traditional and classic to jazz and rock. Everyone can find something for own taste and in this regard Iran is not much different from any European country. A person should come here and personally experience the beauty of this country and the kindness of its people, not to make conclusions based on prejudices."

Haidar Diab also visited the city of Isfahan where he interviewed Ahmad Salek Kashani, an influential Iranian revolutionary politician and close associate of Imam Khomeini. During the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, he had traveled to Sarajevo and mediated in the transfer of arms and instructors from Iran to Bosnia and Herzegovina. "Mr. President, we are not asking anything in return, our moral principle is to help Muslim brothers," Salek Kashani told Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović. "It was the slogan of Imam Khomeini who always said that we should help all Muslims in trouble, but also non-Muslims and the oppressed," he explained to Haidar Diab. "The last time when I arrived at the Sarajevo Airport, I was received by a CIA secret agent with a shepherd dog, who asked me the purpose of my visit. My tears burst out and I thought, my God, Bosnian people suffered so much and after all sacrifices they became an American colony," Salek Kashani added. Further in the interview Haidar Diab and Salek Kashani discussed about the Islamic Revolution, agreeing that Imam Khomeini left a profound and ever-lasting impact on the whole world. Haidar Diab's laudable remarks have been published on the official website of Imam Khomeini.

Filip Vuković

Filip Vuković is a Serbian politologist and investigative journalist from Belgrade, covering the western Balkan area for Serbian, English and Italian outlets. His focus is on nationalism, ethnic tensions and economic policy in the post-Yugoslav area. Currently, he is preparing a PhD dissertation at the University of Padua.

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