Listening to members of the Iranian Resistance share their stories of hardship and difficult practices, what I find unique about their perspective on time is that they measure their experiences in decades, not in days, weeks, months, or even years. For them, the passage of time is marked by significant events spanning these extended periods. Each decade represents a distinct episode in their journey of resilience and determination.
Two decades ago, during my prime, when I was Vice President of the European Parliament, I vividly recall the incessant presence of these fervent individuals. They would tirelessly traverse the corridors, dashing in and out of MEPs’ offices with seemingly boundless energy. Their sole purpose, it seemed, was to disrupt our daily proceedings, boldly infiltrating our offices, sometimes without invitation or hesitation.
Initially, I must admit, I regarded their presence as an annoyance. However, as time progressed, their relentless commitment to a cause seemingly distant from my sphere gradually captivated my attention. Intrigued by their narrative, unwavering dedication, and their tireless toil, I shifted my focus toward a cause that would ultimately reshape not only my own career but also my perception of the world.
Over the course of the past few decades, I have closely tracked the journey of these individuals as they navigated through some of the most turbulent regions. My understanding of freedom movements and the indomitable spirit that transcends borders for a noble cause had already been enriched. However, witnessing the extent to which the members of the Iranian Resistance were prepared to venture surpassed my prior experiences.
Here, I want to convey my sheer astonishment upon discovering a profound sense of shared values and perspectives between myself and my newer colleagues among the MEPs. It was during the recent visit of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, that I was struck by the resonance of my colleagues’ words, which echoed my own thoughts and beliefs.
Following the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, Iran changed forever, and the world awoke to a new reality it had ignored for far too long. Throughout the approximately 20 official visits made by Maryam Rajavi and the representatives of the NCRI to the European Parliament, they implored the international community to support the nationwide protests of the Iranian people. Their condemnation of the policy of appeasement pursued by Western powers, their unmasking of the regime’s threats, and their recognition that a vast majority of Iranians yearn for a change in leadership—all these appeals fell on deaf ears in many capitals, failing to elicit the necessary response.
Embracing the new winds of change, some professional businessmen or celebrities rebranded themselves as political activists overnight in a bid to market their own vision of a free Iran, as well as acquire the support of Western politicians. However, their initial foray into the realm of politics left them grappling with the realization that the real world demands more than just social media buzz. Eventually, some of these individuals resorted to denigrating the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and disregarding the years of sacrifice made by its members. As I observed these developments unfold in recent months, it was the composed and unwavering demeanor of Mrs. Rajavi that instilled confidence in me. Then, on May 24, I discovered that I was not alone in my sentiments.
“Your movement was a guide for democracy in Iran over the forty years,” MEP Milan Zver, a member of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “Unlike other movements, you remained true to your values, even when it was difficult. We are grateful to you and your team in the European Parliament for your dedication. Your movement’s history of commitment to democratic principles has demonstrated to us that it is a genuine force fighting for a free and democratic Iran. You want nothing more than freedom for the people of your country.”
“In all these years, you have been the focus of the regime’s campaign,” he rightly recalled. “You have been under all sorts of physical and psychological attacks. They even sent a diplomat to try to bomb your big gathering in Paris. No other movement has received this amount of pressure.”
Another MEP to highlight Mrs. Rajavi and her followers’ personal sacrifices was Mr. Stanislav Polčákt, who stated: “Many of you know that Madam Rajavi’s sister was killed by the Shah regime. Her second sister, pregnant at the time, was brutally tortured and executed by this regime. Not to mention the thousands of executed PMOI members during the 1988 massacres. So, when we talk about paying the price, Madam Rajavi is a true example and icon. I should add that at this point, more than 3,600 PMOI activists and members have been arrested and disappeared after the nationwide protests began.”
“Members of her movement were the only active opposition to the regime and made many sacrifices in their personal life for their dreams of a free Iran. That is why we greatly respect them in the European Parliament,” he added.
MEP Javier Zarzalejos, a member of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, also stated: “Mrs. Rajavi leads the largest organized opposition in Iran. Mrs. Rajavi is the tireless leader of Iran’s opposition, who has repeatedly called for a commitment to a free Iran here in the European Parliament over the past 19 years. Mrs. Rajavi lost thousands of her colleagues and friends in the 50 years of struggle against two dictatorships, including six members of her family. She was one of the leaders of the student movement in the Shah’s era.”
The same was also echoed by my former colleague and former European Minister of Poland, Ryszard Czarnecki.
“It has been almost two decades since I entered this parliament for the first time, and I have supported the democratic movement of Iran. Many of my colleagues in this House and I have experienced this resistance many times. We have observed the ups and downs, and we have concluded that this movement has the ability to overthrow this regime and has a democratic platform. Mrs. Rajavi reflects an ability to rebuild Iran’s future. This movement truly stands on its own feet and has successfully overcome all the challenges faced by its people,” Czarnecki said.
“Madame Rajavi has been saying for years that this regime cannot be reformed,” Ivan Stefanec, a member of the EP Human Rights Subcommittee, bitterly recalled. “It does not get along with nice language. As long as this regime exists, the suppression and exportation of terrorism will continue, as we know, unfortunately, nowadays, during this Russian criminal invasion of Ukraine as well”.
His next comments were stronger, debunking the claims of those Iranian propagandists who argue they can reason the Islamic Revolutionary Guards into a peaceful power transition.
On May 24, @Maryam_Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of #Iran (NCRI), attended a meeting in the European Parliament to discuss #IranRevolution, the new wave of executions, and the European Union’s responsibilities. pic.twitter.com/9qly1pkTXS
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) May 31, 2023
“My country, Slovakia, suffered during the Second World War and many years after that. Hence, we do understand and feel what dictatorship is, what it means to be a democrat, and what it means to resist repression. We also have the experience of Ukraine and the atrocities of Russia in the heart of Europe. So, we can understand that it is not possible to sit in front of this religious dictatorship and let it be just blind and not resist. Looking at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the French Declaration of Citizens’ Rights, and also in the Declaration of Independence of the United States and many democratic countries, we see that rebellion and resistance against the tyrannic regime are the rights and duty of citizens,” Mr. Stefanec concluded.
The Italian MEP Gianna Gancia highlighted that in the current situation in Iran, where the possibility of overthrowing the regime has come closer than ever after 44 years, the son of the ousted monarch and dictator had declared himself as the leader of the opposition. However, she added, this claim by the dictator’s son is not taken seriously by anyone. Mrs. Gancia stated that over the years, NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi has demonstrated not only to the people of Iran but also to the entire world that achieving freedom and equality requires sacrifice and total dedication. She has shown that without dedicating everything to the cause, it remains an illusion.
MEP Jan Zahradil, who has been in touch with the Iranian Resistance for two decades, succinctly captured the essence of the matter with his remarks: “From my experience, I can say that this is the only credible, the best organized exiled Iranian opposition by far. I feel the necessity to say that just now because we have seen some people around here probably smelling the coffee, as we used to say, and because they feel that the fall of the regime is approaching, suddenly they started to try to portray themselves as natural leaders of the opposition, which of course they are not. Because we haven’t heard about any of them until very recently, unlike about PMOI, which has been a very natural representative of the exiled opposition since a very long time ago.”
Time, the ultimate arbiter, renders its verdict with uncompromising precision. Anyone who enters politics opens himself or herself to criticism and public scrutiny. Status brings fame but also responsibility and serious risk-bearing. However, those who earn the prestige of resisting a brutal tyrant also must cope with wounds, pain, and suffering.
Curiosity arises among certain individuals as to why alternative factions failed to garner the same level of attention and admiration bestowed upon Mrs. Rajavi during her presence in the European Parliament on May 24. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that certain pseudo-analysts and media speculators are inclined to devise their own explanations for this exceptional enthusiasm. Nonetheless, speaking as one who has lost their career to this cause, I would be the least inclined to take offense or feel slighted.
To those who do care to ask, as a seasoned MEP, I would respond: While it is true that we have collectively moved beyond our oppressive rulers and endured challenging circumstances, time still serves as the very phenomenon that enables us to discern between authenticity and deceit.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently president of the Brussels- based International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)